#SwitchandShift is the new Home of Theory Y


Welcome to the new home of Theory Y! We’re glad to have you.

What is Theory Y, you ask? It’s an eminently forgettable name for a transformative new concept in leading humans. …”New,” that was, in 1960.

If you went to business school, you probably had to read excerpts from Professor Douglas McGregor’s seminal book, The Human SIde of Enterprise. Certainly, if you’ve read the works of Dan Pink, Gary Hamel, Vineet Nayar, and most of the other authors featured in the Business Heretic’s Library, you’re familiar with Theory Y – even if you never heard the term.

Way back when, in the days when Mad Men was a way of doing business, rather than a popular retro TV series, M.I.T.’s Sloan Foundation awarded its first grant for the advancement of management theory. The Human Side of Enterprise was the result. In it, McGregor introduced readers to two underlying leadership philosophies, Theory X and Theory Y. Depending on which outlook a leader – and an organization – ascribed to, the workplace was either driven by control (by management) or commitment (of workers). McGregor’s case was that you could only have one: cake or eat it, you might say.


[The] workplace was either driven by control (by management) or commitment (of workers)


In his book, he fleshed out which outlook was better at achieving organizational goals, and why. To quote the master:

In Theory X:

  1. The average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if he can.
  2. Because of this human characteristic of dislike of work, most people must be coerced, controlled, directed, threatened with punishment to get them to put forth adequate effort toward the achievement of organizational objectives.
  3. The average human being prefers to be directed, wishes to avoid responsibility, has relatively little ambition, wants security above all else.

In Theory Y:

  1. The expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as play or rest.
  2. External control and threat of punishment are not the only means for bringing about effort toward organizational objectives. Man will exercise self-direction and self-control in the service of objectives to which he is committed.
  3. Commitment to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement.
  4. The average human being learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept but to seek responsibility.
  5. The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly distributed in the population.
  6. Under the conditions of modern industrial life, the intellectual potentialities of the average human being are only partially utilized.

If I may summarize: leaders who ascribe to Theory X believe that people are lazy and sneaky, and that they must be controlled and coerced into doing a good day’s work. Leaders who buy into Theory Y believe the best about people: that we long to do well, to throw our entire selves into our work, and that when we fall short of that level of commitment, it is management’s fault, not the workers’.


Leaders who ascribe to Theory X believe that people are lazy and sneaky


Of course, McGregor took a whole book to flesh this out, not a blog post; indeed, each of his chapters could easily be expanded into a book in its own right – and many, many of our most insightful business books of the past 53 years indeed do just that! So please bear with me if you find this post cursory.

My next book, due out about this time next year, is a hard and (I hope!) inclusive look at the future of business leadership based in large part on McGregor’s Theory Y. What makes the Twenty-Teens and -Twenties any different from the 1960′s, or the 2000′s, for that matter? That is also at the heart of my book, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with you!

In the meanwhile? In the meanwhile, you have every last post on Switch and Shift to help you master the implications of Theory Y and bring its practice into your workplace. That is why I say, with extraordinary pride, that this little site of ours is the new home of Theory Y.

If you believe that business is first, last, and all in between about people, and that most people can be pretty darn amazing if they’re enabled and set free to shine – well, if that’s where you’re coming from as a leader, then Switch and Shift is your home, as well.


Business is first, last, and all in between about people, and that most people can be pretty darn amazing


Welcome home! Now go out and bring a a friend home to visit ;)


For more on Theory X versus Theory Y, I recommend Control or Engagement, Never Both.

 Art by Piet


Keynote speaker. Author of A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive. Three-time CEO. Chairman and Founder of Switch and Shift. Ted Coiné is one of the most influential business experts on the Web, top-ranked by Forbes, Inc., SAP Business Innovation, and Huffington Post for his leadership, customer experience, and social media influence. Ted consults with owners, CEOs and boards of directors on making their companies more competitive by making them more human-focused. He and his family live in Naples, Florida.

  • reply Ben McCahill ,

    Hi Ted,

    great post! To me what makes things different from the ’60s is social media – particularly the way that folks interact, and the lack of attention span/ way that people now take in information. I’d be interested in your perspective on that.
    Also: How does your thinking in this area tie in with Daniel Pink and his recent books – Particularly “Drive”

    • reply Ted Coine ,

      Hi Ben,

      I’m sorry for the late reply – somehow this missed my attention! Anyway…

      I completely agree with you on the ’60s versus now – so much so that I’m writing a book on just what you describe. Social media isn’t the story, leadership is. Social is the catalyst that is making more human-centric leadership necessary. In the last century, you could treat customers and employees well or poorly, as long as your advertising budget, sales force, and recruiting staff were strong enough to compensate for the bad karma you were sowing with a Theory X perspective. In the social era (which has barely gotten under way)? Good luck.

      As for Dan Pink and “Drive” – that is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s the first one we listed in The Business Heretic’s Bookstore. See some others we recommend: http://switchandshift.com/businesshereticslibrary

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