Douglas McGregor

American professor of management

Douglas Murray McGregor (1906 – 1 October 1964) was an American organizational theorist and management professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and president of Antioch College from 1948 to 1954. His 1960 book The Human Side of Enterprise had a profound influence on education practices.


  • Management cannot provide a man with self-respect or with the respect of his fellows or with the satisfaction of needs for self-fulfillment. It can create conditions such that he is encouraged and enabled to seek such satisfactions for himself, or it can thwart him by failing to create those conditions.
    • Douglas McGregor (1957), "The Human Side of Enterprise," in: Adventure in Thought and Action, Proceedings of the Fifth Anniversary Convocation of the School of Industrial Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, April 9, 1957. Cambridge, MA: MIT School of Industrial Management.

The Human Side of Enterprise (1960)


McGregor (1960), The Human Side of Enterprise; Annotated Edition, 2006

  • The key question for top management is what are your assumptions (implicit as well as explicit) about the most effective way to manage people?
    • p. 1; as cited in: Abraham Harold Maslow, Deborah Collins Stephens, Gary Heil. Maslow on management, John Wiley, 1998, p. 96
  • Every managerial act rests on assumptions, generalizations, and hypotheses — that is to say, on theory. Our assumptions are frequently implicit, sometimes quite unconscious, often conflicting; nevertheless, they determine our predictions that if we do a, b will occur. Theory and practice are inseparable.
    • p. 6 (2006; 8)
  • Human behavior is predictable, but, as in physical science, accurate prediction hinges on the correctness of underlying theoretical assumptions. There is, in fact, no prediction without theory; all managerial decisions and actions rest on assumptions about behavior. If we adopt the posture of the ostrich with respect to our assumptions under the mistaken idea that we are thus “being ‘practical,” or that “management is an art,” our progress with respect to the human side of enterprise will indeed be slow. Only as we examine and test our theoretical assumptions can we hope to make them more adequate, to remove inconsistencies, and thus to improve our ability to predict.
    • p. 11 (2006; 13)
  • The ingenuity of the average worker is sufficient to outwit any system of controls devised by management.
    • p. 12 (in 2006 edition)
  • Classical organization theory suffers from "ethnocentrism": It ignores the significance of the political, social, and economic milieu in shaping organizations and influencing managerial practice.
    • p. 16 (p. 23 in 2006 edition)
  • We live today in a world which only faintly resembles that of a half century ago. The standard of living, the level of education, and the political complexion of the United States today profoundly affect both the possibilities and limitations of organizational behavior. In addition, technological changes are bringing about changes in all types of organization. In the military, for example, it is becoming increasingly difficult to manage a weapons team in the field as a typical infantry unit was managed a couple of decades ago. Such a team requires a high degree of autonomy. Instead of following explicit orders from superiors, it must be able to adjust its behavior to fit local circumstances within the context of relatively broad objectives. (It is interesting to note the attempts that are made — by "programming" for example — to retain central control over the operations of such units. Established theories of control are not abandoned easily, even in the face of clear evidence of their inappropriateness.) Underlying the principles of classical organization theory are a number of assumptions about human behavior which are at best only partially true.
    • p. 16 (2006; 23)
  • Knowledge accumulated during recent decades challenges and contradicts assumptions which are still axiomatic in conventional organizational theory. Unfortunately, those classical principles of organization — derived from inappropriate models, unrelated to the political, social, economic, and technological milieu, and based on erroneous assumptions about behavior — continue to influence our thinking about the management of the human resources of industry. Management's attempts to solve the problems arising from the inadequacy of these assumptions have often involved the search for new formulas, new techniques, new procedures. These generally yield disappointing results because they are adjustments to symptoms rather than causes. The real need is for new theory, changed assumptions, more understanding of the nature of human behavior in organizational settings.
    • p. 17 (2006: 24)
  • The effectiveness of authority as a means of control depends first of all upon the ability to enforce it through the use of punishment. In the two organizations which have been the models for classical organization theory, the situation with respect to enforcement is clear. In the military, authority is enforceable through the court-martial, with the death penalty as the extreme form of punishment. In the Church, excommunication represents the psychological equivalent of the death penalty.
    • p. 27 (in 2006 edition)
  • Behind every managerial decision or action are assumptions about human nature and human behavior.
    • p. 33
  • The average human being has an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if he can.
    • p. 33; Essence of Theory X
  • 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.
    • p. 47
  • It is probable that one day we shall begin to draw organization charts as a series of linked groups rather than as a hierarchical structure of individual "reporting" relationships.
    • p. 175
  • The essential task of management is to arrange organizational conditions and methods of operations so that people can achieve their own goals best by directing their own efforts toward organizational objectives.
    • p. 178
  • Above all, it is necessary to recognize that knowledge cannot be pumped into human beings the way grease is forced into a machine. The individual may learn; he is not taught.
    • p. 211 (p. 289 in 2006 edition)
  • Delegation means that he will concern himself with the results of their activities and not with the details of their day-to-day performance. This requires a degree of confidence in them which enables him to accept certain risks. Unless he takes these risks there will be no delegation.
    • p. 220 (in 2006 edition)
  • It is one of the favorite pastimes of headquarters groups to decide from within their professional ivory tower what help the field organization needs and to design and develop programs for meeting these "needs." Then it becomes necessary to get field management to accept the help provided, and a different role is taken by the staff: that of persuading middle and lower management to utilize the programs.
    • p. 227 (in 2006 edition)
  • Man will exercise self-direction and self-control in the service of objectives to which he is committed.
    • p. 326
  • The approach that dominates organizational theory, teaching, and practice for most of the twentieth century looked at organizations from the top-down, starting with a view of the CEO as the "leader" who shapes the organization's strategy, structure, culture, and performance potential. The nature of work and the role of the workforce enter the analysis much later, after considerations of technology and organization design have been considered. However, if the key source of value in the twenty-first-century organization is to be derived from the workforce itself, an inversion of the dominant approach will be needed. The new perspective will start not at the top of the organization, but at but at the front lines, with people and the work itself — which is where value is created. Such an inversion will lead to a transformation in the management and organization of work workers, and knowledge. This transformation was signalled by McGregor, but we must go further.
    • (2006; 366) Section "Beyond McGregor's Theory Y," by Thomas A. Kochan. Prepared for the Sloan School 50th Anniversary Session on October 11 (2002).

Quotes about Douglas McGregor

  • [Douglas McGregor] coined the two terms Theory X and theory Y and used them to label two sets of beliefs a manager might hold about the origins of human behaviour. He pointed out that the manager's own behaviour would be largely determined by the particular beliefs that he subscribed to....McGregor hoped that his book would lead managers to investigate. "But that isn't what happened. Instead McGregor was interpreted as advocating Theory Y as a new and superior ethic - a set of moral values that ought to replace the values managers usually accept.
    • Graham Cleverley (1971), Managers & Magic, Longman's.
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