Monday, November 10, 2008

I Failed Today...

I spent a good chunk of time today trying to change a new policy that was recently adopted by an organization I'm affiliated with. I didn't change any minds, sadly, despite my best effort in writing and in person.

Without going into the details, I'll just say the policy was a classic Theory X approach to managerial problem solving. It was almost literally a textbook example. 

While I questioned the decision maker's data and the analytical model on which the policy was based, my main objection was based on the fact that the policy essentially communicated the following message: We do not trust you. We think you are irresponsible and unprofessional.  

When I pointed this out and suggested it was neither a good nor accurate nor productive message to send, the policy maker nodded his head and said "Yup, that's the impression I want to these kids to get."


I resisted pointing out that the organization in question is not made up of kids. I did try a few different angles, but quickly realized I was facing a genuine, committed Theory X manager, who was doing this stuff on purpose, not out of ignorance or by accident. Yikes.

What's interesting is that Theory X management has been almost entirely discredited, both in theory and practice. The pessimistic view that workers are lazy, irresponsible and need constant supervision and direction simply doesn't hold water. This approach can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, with workers living up (or rather, living down) to expectations, but I don't think it's overstating the case to say Theory X is wrong. To be precise, Theory X is unnecessary and counterproductive, even though it can lead to short-term "success" for certain organizational objectives. In my opinion, any positive behavioral changes that come out of Theory X management are not worth the cost in lost trust, respect and humanity.

So, I said my piece, explained the cost, suggested alternatives and tried unsuccessfully to get the policy changed. It's not a huge deal, and the policy probably won't last for long, but I'm still kinda bummed I wasn't able to convince him. I'm not sure there was anything I could have said that would have made an impression, but I must admit - it was kind of fun to try.


Gabe said...

As I often ask, what does professional really mean? It seems managers often use it against employees instead of honoring them with it. What's more, aren't military officers already considered professionals? Then why institute a policy that counters this claim.

Professionalism is over-rated. I rather be a trusted amateur than a mistrusted professional.

Passante said...

Good point, Gabe! Me too.

dad said...

Hi Dan: you nailed 'Theory x' personality type and 'Theory X' system of management right on the head.... 'distrust' is the name of their game....and they don't even trust you, which is a deep shame....keep up your 'Theory y' style anyway, even in the face of being outranked by a Theory x...... I of course trust you, but then I'm only your ... Dad