Functional Blindness

The old “Theory X and Theory Y” concept has been with us since 1960 when Douglas McGregor wrote his best seller The Human Side of Enterprise in which he proposed two theories by which to view employee motivation.

In the spirit of our “Generational Gems,” we offer the following anecdote for your consideration. You may want to read it a couple of times for clarification. Your first inclination may very well be to laugh it off as ridiculous … thinking nothing like this could ever really occur. Yet, the more you think about it, the more you may realize that this kind of thinking isn’t quite as far fetched as first thought.

Author John Gardner points out that “Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects.” I’m sorry to report that this observation may very well apply to a constantly growing number of organizations in today’s chaotic environment!

Does this kind of thinking exist within your current culture? Don’t dismiss it too lightly. We see examples of it every day in newspaper and business magazines. Don’t let it happen to you.

The boards of the two fiercely competitive companies decided to organize a rowing match to challenge each other’s organizational and sporting abilities. The first company was strongly “theory X”: ruthless, autocratic, zero staff empowerment, etc. The second company was more “theory Y”: a culture of developing people, devolved responsibility and decision-making.

Race day arrived. The “Y” company’s boat appeared from the boathouse first, with its crew: eight rowers and a helmsman (the cox). Next followed the “X” company boat and its crew—eight helmsmen and a single rower.

Not surprisingly the “Y” company’s boat won an easy victory.

The next day the “X” company board of directors held an inquest with the crew, to review what had been learned from the embarrassing defeat, which might be of benefit to the organization as a whole, and any future re-match.

After a long and wearing meeting, the “X” company board finally came to their decision. They concluded that the rower should be replaced immediately because clearly he had not listened well enough to the instructions he’d been given.

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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