McGregor's legacy: the evolution and current application of Theory Y management

Peter F. Sorensen (Benedictine University, Lisle, Illinosis, USA)
Matt Minahan (The Minahan Group, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Publication date: 12 April 2011



This paper is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Douglas McGregor's The Human Side of Enterprise. The paper identifies major management approaches cited by McGregor as being examples of his Theory Y management principles. The paper traces the historical development of each of these approaches and their application today. The paper also addresses two major contemporary issues, namely, the relation of Theory Y management to today's positive change theories based on social construction, and the question of the universal/global applicability of Theory Y.


This paper reviews McGregor's original article, then traces the historical development and application of McGregor's major concepts through the identification and review of relevant historical and contemporary literature.


Major findings provide strong evidence that McGregor's Theory Y concepts and related management approaches have grown in application, are closely related to appreciative inquiry and social construction. There is also evidence that McGregor's concept of management may be universal and has application across national cultural boundaries.

Practical implications

The findings indicate that McGregor's concepts have widespread acceptance and application today, and have been systematically and empirically related to organizational success and effectiveness. More important, however, are the enormous implications related to the growing body of empirical evidence that these concepts have universal application considering the continued movement toward globalization.


Although well known, McGregor's Theory Y management has received little systematic efforts at identifying its historical growth and contemporary applications, particularly in terms of contemporary issues relating it to appreciative inquiry, social construction and universal applicability.



Sorensen, P. and Minahan, M. (2011), "McGregor's legacy: the evolution and current application of Theory Y management", Journal of Management History, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 178-192.

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