Bryce’s Management Series (Part 5 of 5)


Management Styles (X, Y, and Z).


This is part five of a five part series describing the fundamentals of management and should be of particular interest to young people entering the work force or as a refresher for managers.  Over the last forty years as a management consultant, I have learned a few things along the way.  Hopefully, this will help newcomers entering the work force.

Whenever I bring up the subject of micromanagement, it inevitably leads to a discussion regarding the three basic theories of management (X, Y, and Z). Most young people are unfamiliar with these theories and, as such, I want to provide a brief description of each so they can distinguish between them.

First, a particular management style is ultimately based on how a manager perceives an employee. For example, if a manager thinks a worker is lazy, the manager will spend more time supervising the individual. In contrast, if a manager has faith in the worker’s judgement, the manager will allow the employee to supervise himself. Perceptions, therefore, plays a significant role in formulating a management style.

There are basically three perceptions management considers:

The worker’s intelligence level – Whether the individual is considered capable of rising above their current position, or has exceeded their level of competency (the “in over their head” phenomenon). This is often gauged by the number of mistakes the worker makes and their ability to grasp new ideas.

The worker’s motivation – Whether the worker is perceived as a self-starter and aggressively tackles assignments, or is lazy and needs to be coerced. This is primarily measured by the amount of time needed to supervise the individual.

The worker’s attitude – Whether the worker is viewed as stimulated by their job and enjoys their work, or is adverse to work and apathetic to accomplishing anything. This can be analyzed by the amount of time spent conquering job assignments (obsessed with meeting a deadline versus a “clock watcher” mentality), and the employee’s deportment as a professional (sharp and articulate versus slovenly).

Whether these perceptions are real or not, management will base their style of management on these variables. Many people understand the power of image, and often try to mislead others, particularly their superiors. Knowing these variables, many a worker has tried to convey a false image to their employer. For example, an impeccable taste in dress may be a charade for incompetence. Someone who spends an inordinate amount of time at the office, yet produces nothing, is not an effective measure of an individual’s productivity. In other words, just because an employee is strong in one area, they may be weak in another. Management will ultimately base their opinions based on all three variables, not just one.

Over the last 100 years, three distinctly different theories of management have emerged: Theories “X”, “Y,” and “Z”. All three are based on how management perceives the work force in terms of their intelligence level, motivation and attitude towards their job. Consequently, this perception becomes the basis for formulating formal policies and standard practices towards managing employees. Although the delineation of “X”, “Y,” and “Z” represent totally different management philosophies, few companies will formulate a style of management based on a single theory. In reality, companies use various elements from all three theories based on different situations, everything from autocratic control to casual democracy.

Developed from time-and-motion studies by Frederick W. Taylor (19th century Industrial Engineer)

* Autocratic rule.
* People have a natural aversion to work.
* People need to be coerced to achieve goals.
* Average person prefers to be directed, wishes to avoid responsibility, has little ambition, and wants security most.

Developed from experiments at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works in Chicago (1930’s). Management giving special attention to people resulted in improved performance.

* Work is as natural as play or rest.
* People will achieve goals they deem important.
* Commitment/reward relationship.
* People accept and seek responsibility.
* People can use imagination and creativity.
* More brain power is used.

Developed by William Ouchi (UCLA) based on study of Japanese businesses during the 1970’s. Observed higher productivity because Japanese society encourages mutual trust and cooperation.

* Long term employment.
* Employees need freedom to grow.
* Group decision making.
* Subordinates are whole people.
* Management is concerned with welfare of subordinates.
* Open communications.
* Complete trust.
* Cooperation vs. competition.

Today, America lives in a Theory X world of micromanagement, where the boss makes all of the decisions for the workers and closely supervises their actions. Here, workers feel encumbered by management and yearn for more freedom. As I came into the workforce in the 1970’s it was more of a Theory Y type of world, where employees were empowered and expected to supervise themselves. I have also witnessed Theory Z firsthand in Japan. Here, there is a deep respect for the human spirit. Consequently, trust between management and workers is cultivated.

Why the shift from Theory Y to Theory X in this country? My guess is that management has become overzealous in taking credit for success. Should a project fail, the workers are blamed. If it is a success, management expects to be rewarded. I also believe workers tend to shun responsibility. If something goes awry, they can blame management’s supervision. This is why I am a believer of Theory Y where people are asked to be professional and supervise themselves. By empowering people in this manner, you can manage from the bottom-up, not just top-down.

Just remember, it is all about perceptions; how managers perceive the workers, how the workers perceive themselves, and how we perceive our values.

I hope you have found this series on management useful.

If you would like a free copy of Bryce’s Laws on Management, click HERE.

In the meantime, if you would like to discuss this article with me, please drop me a line at

Keep the Faith!