X, Y Motivational Theory and Project Management

I had recently had a number of conversations with different people on the motivation theory of X and Y. Basically, this theory says that there are two motivational approaches managers have: one that assumes people are inherently bad and lazy and need to be managed by fear (X managers); and one that assumes people are inherently driven by good intentions and find satisfaction in working and having results (Y managers). This is an empirical theory, that is not proven scientifically, therefore I can afford to suggest an extension to it. The fact that managers seem to take either one approach or the other can be easily observed in every organization. Based on my observations, what I suggest is that:

1. The theory is self-enforcing; that is: if one manager treats people as bad and lazy and uses fear to "manage" them, people tend to act as expected, by being bad or lazy, at least when it comes to interacting with the said manager.

2. The X management style is not working in the IT field (maybe neither in some other creative fields or professional services fields). I perceive IT people as highly educated, highly paid, self-aware people that have strong values and self respect. When confronted with an X manager, they will willingly leave the company or (worse) stay and perform poorly until they can find a better job.

These two assertions have multiple consequences in Project Management, because as the definition of the project states, the project is "a unique endeavor", by unique meaning that an assigned project team has to be creative enough to find a path from specifications to the finished product. It also means budget or timeline are not necessarily accurate, which presses for even more creativity and involvement into finding solutions and taking the extra-work necessary for the project success. My opinion is that creativity and extra (productive) work don't go well with X, they can only be found in the Y managed teams.

I am a fan of the Y theory mainly because I genuinely find people interesting and I like to treat them with respect. I also try to be objective enough to understand the weaknesses of such an approach. When people happen to have different agendas or are not productive at work because they use their energy on something else, they find it easier to do this under the governance of an Y manager. The art here is to capture such deviations and intervene with assertiveness (by openly discussing and exposing the problem). Still, I believe that if someone is not correcting their behavior after such a talk, there is very little use to try and force them into the desired change (e.g. by changing managing approach to X). This would be like resisting reality, e.g. that the other person does not feel like working on the same agenda as you do (more on Resisting resistance here: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2012/09/dealing-with-others-insecurities/).

So while I address the weaknesses, I still use the Y approach and I can confirm I have better results then colleagues that use an X approach.

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