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XY, which is your company?

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The work of MCGREGOR has been largely forgotten. It was in 1960. Another century...

He predicts the future of the business world with vision, from a simple observation: Beliefs and "philosophies" of leaders concerning "employees" have a profound influence on the organisation and culture of their companies.

He establishes two basic types, which he calls "X" and "Y" .

Leaders and managers of "X" companies think that, for most people, work is a constraint, so they need to be "supervised" , “controlled” ; that what interests employees primarily is their wages, job security, benefits; they do not like responsibility, are not capable of innovation and creativity; that tasks should be divided, organised into a process. They are convinced that you should "manage performance" and "productivity" and that to do this you should have measurable detailed, accurate indicators, that breaches of rules and objectives should be penalised. They think that you need authority, discipline, to measure performance closely, and penalise when it is low (or below average). Leaders and managers of "Y" companies think that people like to work, like to progress and learn, that they are capable of the best in an enabling and confident environment. They believe that employees like to do their best, like to feel responsible and being accountable, are capable of initiatives which are intelligent, well thought out, useful and self-checking. They are therefore convinced that performance is linked to autonomy, do not see the need for more controls, sanctions and hierarchy and, above all, that the leadership of managers is an asset which is stronger and more effective than their authority.

The reality of business is mixed.

Many managers have "Y" speech, and on the personal and practical, "X" in the exercise of their functions. This creates dysfunction (due to the discrepancy between words and deeds), and of course mistrust.

There are also "X" employees, convinced that managers are primarily cynical exploiters under the command of leaders who are only interested in finance, margins and productivity.

When "X" employees work in "X" companies, day to day life proves their point.

Set in the modern context of business, McGregor's theory sheds light on the difficulties of management and some major current topics, such as: suicide in the workplace, complaints of harassment at work, absenteeism, lack of motivation, fraud, lower productivity, turnover, demand for training in "innovation" , "creativity" , "motivation" , "motivation of employees" , "tools for managers" .

Any employee who is conscientious, motivated, loves their work, wishes to develop their skills and contribute to the success of the company has no chance to thrive in an "X" environment. "X" companies and organisation generate suffering at work, particularly by reducing employee autonomy, "supervising" them closely, leading them with authority, by establishing cumbersome (and sometimes very onerous) processes. These companies and organisations end up getting caught up in reports of harassment, entrench their positions of distrust vis-à-vis employees, and further surround themselves with precautions with the aim of being "blameless" in legal terms, therefore more processes, more controls, more restrictions, especially for managers who end up not knowing what is expected of them, except "do not make waves" , by dint of paradoxical orders (Get returns, performance, and most importantly, without any dissatisfaction on the part of your employees). "X" companies and organizations implement programmes to reduce absenteeism, increase motivation, equip their managers with "toolkits" which get heavier over the years, induce us to listen (not for agreement), and keep their eyes on the quantitative indicators of performance. They promote the annual appraisal of performance, sometimes even set quotas (e.g. no more than 10% or 15% of "very good" appraisals), and rules for dealing with under-performers, which most often lead to layoffs.

"X" companies and organisations are those which, at the slightest gust of wind, adjust the numbers down, and generally maintain job insecurity, in the name of the rule of prudence.

"X" companies and organisations have problems with managing time and priorities, as they advocate total responsiveness, and at the same stick to tight schedules, cross-functionality, and time savings. These are companies with changing priorities, "top priorities" , because there are so many of them and they are so at odds with each other that we get lost.

"X" companies consider that the "Y" theory of management is characterised by idealism, and are in Lala land.

By a coincidence I cannot explain, they prefer to recruit employees who are themselves convinced of the merits of the "X" theory, who elect representatives sharing this negative and pessimistic vision of the world of work, and therefore primarily make demands which reveal difficult situations. When recruiting "Y" employees, they suffer quickly and either succeed in creating a "Y bubble" or they resign themselves and go off-track.

The "Y bubble" is a service, a work unit, a department, at times a management board, where relationships between people are full of trust, mutual respect, and intelligent cooperation. There is a certain goodwill and solidarity between colleagues, peer support, and an alleviation of constraints of type "X" .

Of course, the "Y bubbles" remain subject to the predominant "X" culture and therefore experience some dysfunctions.

"X" companies also implement training in innovation and creativity, because they lack it, and their leaders do not understand that by clipping the wings of independence, they "castrate" innovation.

The "Y" company is the choice of the human dimension of its organisation; it recruits employees who believe in them, in their added value, and in the future. It reduces "processes" , constraints, directives, orders, commands and obligations, to a minimum. Targets are set with employees, means are proportionate, performance is analysed in its collective dimension, they agree, they understand each other, ambitions are healthy, humility is a value, as is common sense. We do not resolve problems with "procedures" , "processes" , finger-pointing and penalties. Managers in a Y company create and maintain a calm working environment, are committed to developing the skills of their employees, and impart their enthusiasm for collective success.

This is not reality for many companies and organisations, as many practise the "X" model, compounded by "Y" speech. The beliefs of “X” leaders endure, they are maintained by the various everyday aspects of businesses and organisations. Those of “Y” leaders can only prevail by being taught in business schools, to begin with, by benefitting from media hype and above all by being affirmed more forcefully, particularly in large companies and organisations.

A final word?

"Y" is not better than "X" . It is the mixture of types that is harmful. And worse, to harbour "X" beliefs and thus set up an "X" working organisation, by wishing to have the benefits (motivation, enthusiasm, responsibility, innovation, mutual assistance, leadership, to name a few) of "Y" organisations, is simply "codinde"*, as they say in Quebec.

Sincerely yours,



*Codinde = [Quebec, familiar] Stupid; silly.


Gérard-Dominique Carton- La lettre du GCCG © « XY, which is your company? »