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Honoring Douglas McGregor and the 50th anniversary of The Human Side of Enterprise
Article Type: Introduction From: Journal of Management History, Volume 17, Issue 2
The purpose of this special issue of the Journal of Management History is to re-visit, re-assess, and honor the work of Douglas McGregor, particularly his book The Human Side of Enterprise (1960), which is now more than 50 years old.
The 1960 Human Side of Enterprise popularized the idea that managerial assumptions about human nature and human behavior are all-important in determining managers’ styles of operating. In this book, McGregor stated:
[…] it is not important that management accept the assumptions of Theory Y. These are one man’s interpretations of current social science knowledge, and they will be modified – possibly supplanted – by new knowledge within a short time. It is important that management abandon limiting assumptions like those of Theory X, so that future inventions with respect to the human side of enterprise will be more than minor changes in already obsolescent conceptions of organization human effort” (McGregor, 1960, p. 245).
After reviewing these articles, you can decide whether we have modified or supplanted McGregor’s theories.
This special issue is in line with the Journal of Management History’s primary objective to reflect on the historical development of management concepts, by apprising current and future scholar and practitioners about the experiences of those in different times. Possibly because of the topic of this issue, the journal might broaden its readership here with first-time readers from the Management Consulting, and organization development (OD) and Change Divisions of the Academy of Management who treasure the work of Douglas McGregor as most influential to their fields.
The field of OD is oriented toward planned change and improving organizational effectiveness, and espouses values that Douglas McGregor helped to shape. McGregor aided in the early development of the OD field, and according to contributing authors, McGregor espoused OD values – those humanistic values of trust, dignity, autonomy, interdependence, and self-control. While not solely derived from McGregor, these values were made explicit in his writing and his interactions with others.
McGregor was a consultant par excellence, making evident the link between assumptions and how those assumptions impact our behavior. His consulting work involved organizations such as Dewey Chemical, Union Carbide, and General Mills, to name a few. With regards to his colleagues, I am reminded of my earliest readings in OD, particularly in Lewin’s biography The Practical Theorist (Marrow, 1969), wherein Kurt Lewin and Rensis Likert and Douglas McGregor would meet to discuss the future Center for Group Dynamics. What exciting times these were for our fields – management, leadership, OD, and change.
A 2001 article by Bedeian and Wren (2001). Wren entitled “Most influential management books of the 20th century” that appeared in Organizational Dynamics, ranked McGregor’s The Human Side of Enterprise as Number 4 of the 25 most influential management books of the twentieth century. So, these current articles are not the first to recognize McGregor’s contribution – in fact, Charles Carson investigated McGregor’s work in a Journal of Management History 2005 article, “A historical view of Douglas McGregor’s theory Y”. Following Carson then, in 2007 at the Annual Academy of Management Conference held in Philadelphia, I chaired a showcase symposium entitled “Doing well by doing good: the legacy of Douglas McGregor” with the Management History, Management Consulting, and OD and Change Divisions. The high attendance and energetic participation were indications that McGregor and his theories were still alive and well, and of interest to academics, practitioners, and most importantly here, to the Management History Division members representing the JMH readership. This mention of the 2007 Academy Conference is necessary, as this special issue includes some of those same presenters from that McGregor session now here as authors; namely, Dr Edgar Schein, Dr Warner Burke, Dr Peter Sorensen, and myself. It also compels a special thanks to the journal’s Editor David Lamond who, at the same 2007 Academy session, suggested this special issue.
But with Bedeian and Wren’s and Carson’s previous attentions to McGregor and The Human Side of Enterprise, perhaps McGregor and his theories may be passé or all-written-out. After all, what can be new here? McGregor’s Human Side of Enterprise, is now a half-century old, it has been reviewed and praised in a 25th anniversary edition, re-printed countless times, and is now available in a 2005 annotated version. Even the Heil et al. (2000) book, Douglas McGregor, Revisited: Managing the Human Side of the Enterprise is now available on Kindle – what a way to appreciate the past via electronic medium! I can only answer this question with a quote from the French philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal who claimed, “Let no one say I have said nothing new: the arrangement of the material is new.” (Pascal, 1670). So rather than let the readers think that this is not new contribution, instead we challenge each other with provocative thoughts, questions, concerns and dilemmas.
While only authors Warren Bennis and Edgar Schein personally knew and worked with Douglas McGregor, all contributors have been influenced, challenged, and/or driven by McGregor’s concepts. This special issue begins with a Harvard Business Review re-print of Warren Bennis’s 1972 article, “Chairman Mac”. Bennis considered “Doug” McGregor a role model, and that McGregor embodied the theories he wrote about. Warren’s bias about McGregor is clear, claiming, “he was a genius because he had clarity of mind, a rare empathy for the manager, and a flair for the right metaphor that established a new idea”. Warren also credits McGregor’s contributions for other including Likert, Haire, Clark, Blake and Mouton, Argyris, Schein, Leavitt, Shepard, Beckhard, and others who owe their acceptance and development to McGregor’s writings.
Edgar Schein presents three different perspectives of Douglas McGregor, as the title of his contribution indicates. Exploring Douglas McGregor as theoretician, philosopher and behaviorist reminds us of McGregor’s complex “cosmology”. In Schein’s section on McGregor as theoretician, we are challenged to reconsider whether we first change the values and behavior will follow, or change behavior and values will follow.
The first article referring to McGregor’s work as legacy, Warner Burke first re-examines McGregor’s work in 1959 with Dick Beckhard at General Mills, and therein the very naming of OD. Burke then presents a rich historical piece for OD and consulting presenting the similarities of Argyris’s espoused theories contrasted against McGregor’s Theory X and Y. Burke provokes with the notion of whether Theory Y was an interesting idea but has had little impact, or that Theory Y has changed the course of how management is practiced. Ultimately, and with Shakespeare’s Othello as a backdrop, we understand Burke’s stance to be that practicing a Theory Y style pays dividends.
McGregor believed that “the capacities of the average human being for creativity, for growth, for collaboration, for productivity (in the full sense of the term) are far greater than we yet have recognized” (McGregor, 1960, p. 244). And so too, did Marvin Weisbord, as he attempted to apply Theory Y real time in organizations. Elements of participative management, labor, and McGregor’s concepts versus those of Frederick Taylor have critical importance. This paper is the most personal of all contributions here, encompassing systems thinking, practice, and the dilemma of a father/son predicament portrayed by both the McGregors and Weisbords.
McGregor attempted to substantiate the thesis that the human side of enterprise is “all of a piece”, and that the theoretical assumptions that management holds about controlling its human resources determine the whole character of the enterprise, and they determine the quality of its successive generations of management (McGregor, 1960, p. vi). With that, Sorensen and Minahan present the impact of McGregor’s theoretical assumptions and set of values. As both authors each have been practicing OD and change for 30+ years, they make the strongest connection to OD in terms of their discussion of delegation, centralization, and decentralization, participation and consultative management. They present the question of the universality of McGregor’s concepts, and leave the decision to the reader.
Utilizing actual quotes from The Human Side of Enterprise, Thomas Head places McGregor’s statements in the contexts of lessons learned and lessons lost. Issues forgotten including management as a source of many employee problems, and how still today we struggle to admit that management is the problem. Head provokes us with the question of why we have misplaced McGregor’s warning about the source of problems which often come from management. As readers, we can reflect on McGregor’s lessons before making any predictions.
Memes, motivations and models become the forefront for Lerner’s thought piece. With a macro perspective, Lerner provides two contemporary frameworks that offer new insight to management, similar to how McGregor’s concept provided insight to the behavioral sciences. According to Lerner, these frameworks inform us of human conditions and both build on McGregor’s legacy. With many thoughts and suggestions, Lerner also challenges us with Thoreau’s age old question, “why do people who seem to have lower needs fully met still lead lives of quiet desperation?” Shall we leave that for future McGregorians?
So within this new arrangement, some new thinking and potential research ideas involving Douglas McGregor and his Human Side of Enterprise have emerged, worthy of new investigation by future contributors. And in an effort to consider these special issue articles as not being passé, I am reminded of the late Drucker who would encourage our re-visiting of McGregor’s work, claiming, “With every passing year, McGregor’s message becomes ever more relevant, more timely, and more important” (Drucker, 2000). We welcome your thoughts.
Therese F. YaegerGuest Editor
Bedeian, A. and Wren, D. (2001), “Most influential management books of the 20th century”, Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 221–5
Drucker, P. (2000), “As quoted”, in Heil, G., Bennis, W. and Stephens, D. (Eds), Douglas McGregor Revisited: Managing the Human Side of the Enterprise, Wiley, New York, NY
Heil, G., Bennis, W. and Stephens, D. (2000), Douglas McGregor, Revisited: Managing the Human Side of the Enterprise, Wiley, New York, NY
McGregor, D. (1960), The Human Side of the Enterprise, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY
Marrow, A. (1969), The Practical Theorist, Knopf, New York, NY
Pascal, B. (1670), Pensées, Garnier, Paris