Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Human side of Enterprise - Douglas McGregor - 1960

The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor - 1960.
A review of an extraordinary book by Peter A Hunter, Author of “Breaking the Mould.”

This is the most difficult book it has ever been my extraordinary pleasure to review.

For some time now I have, at intervals, come across the influence of this book and have never thought to look for the source or follow up the reference.
When I was given a copy of the book I glanced at the first two pages intending to put it on the shelf next to the growing pile of “management” books I keep there for a rainy day.

Two hours later I was making excuses about why everything else could wait until I had finished it.
I didn’t get the book finished in one sitting but at that first sitting I resolved to do what I could to bring this fifty year old wisdom back to the fore.

To say that Douglas McGregor was way ahead of his time is obvious, but to assume that his time has passed is just as wrong.
“The Human Side of Enterprise” shows us how to make more money by doing less work but, because it sounds too good to be true, we assume that it must be, and therefore disregard it.

In the cynical sixties the book got a mixed reception, those who understood and practiced the McGregor philosophy were in the minority and those who were absolutely sure that the McGregor proposition could never happen were the huge majority.

I was neither but assumed that the cynics were right because I heard no other point of view.

What caught my eye first in the book was that this was the source of the Theory Y Management Strategy. Douglas McGregor characterised the current management practises as Theory X and in this book he proposed the antidote to the destruction that was waged by Theory X managers.
He called it, “Theory Y”

Initially this was going to be a simple review whose purpose was to bring to another generation the astonishing wisdom that McGregor had developed in coining the terms Theory X and Theory Y.
Unfortunately, after revealing the grace and power of this alternate theory of management practice, instead of acknowledging that this was an epoch shattering piece of work and being content, the book continues to become even more powerful with every turn of the page until it is almost impossible to write succinctly about the innovative thinking and wisdom of this book without running out of superlatives. You might want to read that sentence again.

Here is a selection of quotes culled from the pages.
You might be forgiven for thinking that this is a book of quotes, it is not.
It is simply so powerful that the quotes seem to leap off every page.

They are as true today as they were when Douglas McGregor wrote The Human Side of Enterprise nearly fifty years ago.

“The effectiveness of organisations could be at least doubled if managers could discover how to tap into the unrealised potential present in their workforces.”

“The ingenuity of the average worker is sufficient to outwit any system of controls devised by management.”

“When people respond to managerial decisions in undesired ways the normal response is to blame them, rather than managements failure to select the appropriate means of control.”

“A half a century ago industrial management had, in the threat of unemployment, a form of punishment which made the use of authority relatively effective.
The situation today is vastly different.”

“When the use of authority does not work don’t use less or more. Use another means of influence.”

“When objectives are externally imposed indifference or resistance are the most likely consequences.”

“It is one of the favourite pastimes of management to decide, from within their professional ivory tower, what help the field organisation needs and then to design and develop programs for meeting these needs.
Then it becomes necessary to get the field organisation to accept the help provided.
This is normally the role of the Change Manager; to implement the change that no-one asked for or wants”.

The above quotes are all taken from the text of this book, written fifty years ago.
All of them could have been written yesterday and still be true.
This book heaves with the lessons that we should have learned fifty years ago.

Peter A Hunter
Author – Breaking the Mould

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