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  • During the past 30 years, managers have been bombarded with ii competing approaches to the problems of homo assistants and organization. The first, ordinarily chosen the classical school of organization, emphasizes the need for well-established lines of say-so, clearly defined jobs, and authority equal to responsibility. The 2nd, often chosen the participative approach, focuses on the desirability of involving organization members in decision making and so that they will be more highly motivated.

    Douglas McGregor, through his well-known “Theory X and Theory Y,” drew a distinction betwixt the assumptions most human motivation which underlie these two approaches, to this effect:

    • Theory 10 assumes that people dislike piece of work and must be coerced, controlled, and directed toward organizational goals. Furthermore, most people prefer to be treated this way, so they can avoid responsibleness.
    • Theory Y—the integration of goals—emphasizes the average person’s intrinsic interest in his piece of work, his desire to exist self-directing and to seek responsibility, and his capacity to be artistic in solving business organisation bug.

    It is McGregor’s determination, of grade, that the latter arroyo to arrangement is the more desirable ane for managers to

    McGregor’s position causes confusion for the managers who try to cull between these ii alien approaches. The classical organizational approach that McGregor associated with Theory Ten does work well in some situations, although, equally McGregor himself pointed out, in that location are likewise some situations where information technology does not work effectively. At the same time, the approach based on Theory Y, while it has produced practiced results in some situations, does not ever exercise so. That is, each arroyo is effective in some cases just not in others. Why is this? How can managers resolve the defoliation?

    A New Approach

    Contempo work by a number of students of management and organization may help to answer such questions.2
    These studies indicate that there is not one best organizational approach; rather, the best approach depends on the nature of the work to be washed. Enterprises with highly anticipated tasks perform meliorate with organizations characterized past the highly formalized procedures and management hierarchies of the classical approach. With highly uncertain tasks that require more extensive trouble solving, on the other hand, organizations that are less formalized and emphasize self-control and member participation in determination making are more effective. In essence, co-ordinate to these newer studies, managers must design and develop organizations and so that the organizational characteristics
    the nature of the task to be done.

    While the conclusions of this newer approach will make sense to well-nigh experienced managers and can alleviate much of the confusion virtually which arroyo to cull, there are even so two of import questions unanswered:

    1. How does the more than formalized and controlling arrangement affect the motivation of organization members? (McGregor’s most telling criticism of the classical arroyo was that it did not unleash the potential in an enterprise’s human being resources.)

    2. Every bit of import, does a less formalized organization always provide a high level of motivation for its members? (This is the implication many managers accept fatigued from McGregor’s work.)

    We take recently been involved in a report that provides surprising answers to these questions and, when taken together with other recent work, suggests a new set of bones assumptions which motion beyond Theory Y into what we call “Contingency Theory: the fit betwixt task, organization, and people.” These theoretical assumptions emphasize that the advisable pattern of organization is
    on the nature of the work to be done and on the detail needs of the people involved. We should emphasize that we have labeled these assumptions as a stride beyond Theory Y because of McGregor’southward ain recognition that the Theory Y assumptions would probably exist supplanted past new noesis within a short time.iii

    The Written report Design

    Our written report was conducted in four organizational units. Two of these performed the relatively certain job of manufacturing standardized containers on high-speed, automated production lines. The other two performed the relatively uncertain work of inquiry and development in communications technology. Each pair of units performing the same kind of task were in the same large company, and each pair had previously been evaluated past that company’s management as containing 1 highly effective unit and a less effective i. The study design is summarized in Showroom I.

    Exhibit I. Study Design in “Fit” of Organizational Characteristics

    The objective was to explore more fully how the fit between organization and task was related to successful performance. That is, does a good fit between organizational characteristics and task requirements increase the motivation of individuals and hence produce more effective individual and organizational functioning?

    An especially useful approach to answering this question is to recognize that an individual has a strong need to master the world around him, including the chore that he faces as a fellow member of a work organisation.4
    The accumulated feelings of satisfaction that come up from successfully mastering 1’s environs can be called a “sense of competence.” We saw this sense of competence in performing a particular chore equally helpful in agreement how a fit between job and organizational characteristics could motivate people toward successful performance.

    Organizational dimensions

    Because the iv written report sites had already been evaluated by the respective corporate managers as loftier and low performers of tasks, we expected that such differences in operation would be a preliminary clue to differences in the “fit” of the organizational characteristics to the job to exist done. Simply, first, we had to define what kinds of organizational characteristics would determine how appropriate the arrangement was to the particular task.

    We grouped these organizational characteristics into two sets of factors:

    1. Formal characteristics, which could be used to judge the fit between the kind of task being worked on and the formal practices of the organization.

    two. Climate characteristics, or the subjective perceptions and orientations that had adult among the individuals most their organizational setting. (These too must fit the job to be performed if the organization is to exist constructive.)

    Nosotros measured these attributes through questionnaires and interviews with almost 40 managers in each unit to determine the appropriateness of the organization to the kind of task being performed. We too measured the feelings of competence of the people in the organizations and so that nosotros could link the appropriateness of the organizational attributes with a sense of competence.

    Major findings

    The principal findings of the survey are best highlighted past contrasting the highly successful Akron constitute and the loftier-performing Stockton laboratory. Because each performed very different tasks (the former a relatively certain manufacturing task and the latter a relatively uncertain research chore), we expected, equally brought out earlier, that there would have to exist major differences betwixt them in organizational characteristics if they were to perform effectively. And this is what we did notice. But we also institute that each of these effective units had a better fit with its detail task than did its less effective counterpart.

    While our major purpose in this article is to explore how the fit betwixt chore and organizational characteristics is related to motivation, we first want to explore more fully the organizational characteristics of these units, so the reader will better understand what we mean by a fit betwixt task and system and how it tin can lead to more constructive behavior. To do this, we shall place the major emphasis on the contrast betwixt the loftier-performing units (the Akron plant and Stockton laboratory), but nosotros shall also compare each of these with its less effective mate (the Hartford plant and Carmel laboratory respectively).

    Formal characteristics

    Beginning with differences in formal characteristics, we found that both the Akron and Stockton organizations fit their respective tasks much better than did their less successful counterparts. In the predictable manufacturing task surround, Akron had a blueprint of formal relationships and duties that was highly structured and precisely defined. Stockton, with its unpredictable research task, had a depression degree of structure and much less precision of definition (encounter Showroom 2).

    Showroom II. Differences in Formal Characteristics in Loftier-performing Organizations

    Akron’s pattern of formal rules, procedures, and control systems was so specific and comprehensive that it prompted one managing director to remark:

    “Nosotros’ve got rules hither for everything from how much powder to apply in cleaning the toilet bowls to how to cart a dead body out of the plant.”

    In contrast, Stockton’s formal rules were so minimal, loose, and flexible that ane scientist, when asked whether he felt the rules ought to be tightened, said:

    “If a man puts a nut on a spiral all day long, yous may need more rules and a chore definition for him. But we’re not novices hither. We’re professionals and not the kind who need close supervision. People around here
    produce, and produce under relaxed conditions. Why tamper with success?”

    These differences in formal organizational characteristics were well suited to the differences in tasks of the ii organizations. Thus:

    • Akron’southward highly structured formal practices fit its predictable job because behavior had to be rigidly defined and controlled around the automatic, high-speed product line. There was actually but one way to accomplish the plant’s very routine and programmable task; managers divers it precisely and insisted (through the plant’s formal practices) that each man exercise what was expected of him.

    On the other hand, Stockton’s highly unstructured formal practices made just equally much sense because the required activities in the laboratory simply could not be rigidly defined in advance. With such an unpredictable, fast-irresolute task as communications applied science enquiry, in that location were numerous approaches to getting the job washed well. As a consequence, Stockton managers used a less structured pattern of formal practices that left the scientists in the lab gratis to reply to the changing task situation.

    • Akron’due south formal practices were very much geared to
      concerns equally its chore demanded. For case, formal production reports and operating review sessions were daily occurrences, consequent with the fact that the through-put fourth dimension for their products was typically just a few hours.

    By contrast, Stockton’s formal practices were geared to
    concerns, as its chore demanded. Formal reports and reviews were fabricated only quarterly, reflecting the fact that research often does not come up to fruition for three to 5 years.

    At the two less constructive sites (i.e., the Hartford plant and the Carmel laboratory), the formal organizational characteristics did not fit their corresponding tasks almost likewise. For example, Hartford’s formal practices were much less structured and controlling than were Akron’s, while Carmel’due south were more than restraining and restricting than were Stockton’due south. A scientist in Carmel commented:

    “There’south something here that keeps you from being scientific. Information technology’s hard to put your finger on, but I approximate I’d telephone call information technology ‘Mickey Mouse.’ There are rules and things here that get in your style regarding doing your job as a researcher.”

    Climate characteristics

    As with formal practices, the climate in both loftier-performing Akron and Stockton suited the corresponding tasks much meliorate than did the climates at the less successful Hartford and Carmel sites.

    Perception of structure:

    The people in the Akron plant perceived a slap-up deal of structure, with their behavior tightly controlled and divers. I director in the plant said:

    “Nosotros can’t permit the lines run unattended. Nosotros lose money whenever they do. So we make sure each man knows his job, knows when he can take a break, knows how to handle a change in shifts, etc. It’due south all spelled out clearly for him the day he comes to work here.”

    In contrast, the scientists in the Stockton laboratory perceived very lilliputian structure, with their beliefs only minimally controlled. Such perceptions encouraged the individualistic and creative behavior that the uncertain, rapidly changing research job needed. Scientists in the less successful Carmel laboratory perceived much more structure in their system and voiced the feeling that this was “getting in their way” and making it hard to practice constructive enquiry.

    Distribution of influence:

    The Akron plant and the Stockton laboratory also differed substantially in how influence was distributed and on the character of superior-subordinate and colleague relations. Akron personnel felt that they had much less influence over decisions in their plant than Stockton’south scientists did in their laboratory. The task at Akron had already been clearly defined and that definition had, in a sense, been incorporated into the automatic production flow itself. Therefore, there was less need for individuals to accept a say in decisions apropos the work process.

    Moreover, in Akron, influence was perceived to be full-bodied in the upper levels of the formal structure (a hierarchical or “acme-heavy” distribution), while in Stockton influence was perceived to be more evenly spread out among more levels of the formal construction (an egalitarian distribution).

    Akron’s members perceived themselves to have a low degree of freedom vis-à-vis superiors both in choosing the jobs they work on and in handling these jobs on their ain. They too described the type of supervision in the plant as beingness relatively directive. Stockton’s scientists, on the other hand, felt that they had a not bad bargain of liberty vis-à-vis their superiors both in choosing the tasks and projects, and in treatment them in the style that they wanted to. They described supervision in the laboratory as being very participatory.

    It is interesting to note that the less successful Carmel laboratory had more than of its decisions fabricated at the pinnacle. Because of this, there was a definite feeling by the scientists that their particular expertise was non being effectively used in choosing projects.

    Relations with others:

    The people at Akron perceived a cracking deal of similarity among themselves in background, prior piece of work experiences, and approaches for tackling job-related problems. They likewise perceived the caste of coordination of effort among colleagues to be very high. Because Akron’s job was so precisely divers and the behavior of its members so rigidly controlled around the automated lines, it is easy to see that this blueprint too made sense.

    By contrast, Stockton’s scientists perceived not only a keen many differences among themselves, especially in education and background, simply as well that the coordination of effort among colleagues was relatively low. This was advisable for a laboratory in which a great diverseness of disciplines and skills were present and private projects were important to solve technological problems.

    Fourth dimension orientation:

    Equally we would expect, Akron’s individuals were highly oriented toward a relatively curt time span and manufacturing goals. They responded to quick feedback concerning the quality and service that the plant was providing. This was essential, given the nature of their chore.

    Stockton’s researchers were highly oriented toward a longer time span and scientific goals. These orientations meant that they were willing to wait for long-term feedback from a enquiry project that might take years to complete. A scientist in Stockton said:

    “We’re non the kind of people hither who need a pat on the back every day. We can wait for months if necessary earlier we get feedback from colleagues and the profession. I’ve been working on one project now for three months and I’m all the same not sure where it’s going to accept me. I can alive with that, though.”

    This is precisely the kind of behavior and attitude that spells success on this kind of task.

    Managerial style:

    Finally, the individuals in both Akron and Stockton perceived their chief executive to accept a “managerial manner” that expressed more of a concern for the task than for people or relationships, but this seemed to fit both tasks.

    In Akron, the technology of the task was so dominant that top managerial beliefs which was not focused primarily on the task might accept reduced the effectiveness of performance. On the other hand, although Stockton’s inquiry task called for more individualistic problem-solving beliefs, that sort of behavior could have become segmented and uncoordinated, unless the acme executive in the lab focused the grouping’s attending on the overall enquiry task. Given the individualistic bent of the scientists, this was an important forcefulness in achieving unity of endeavour.

    All these differences in climate characteristics in the ii loftier performers are summarized in Exhibit III.

    Exhibit III. Differences in “Climate” Characteristics in Loftier-performing Organizations

    As with formal attributes, the less effective Hartford and Carmel sites had organisation climates that showed a perceptibly lower degree of fit with their respective tasks. For example, the Hartford plant had an egalitarian distribution of influence, perceptions of a low degree of structure, and a more participatory blazon of supervision. The Carmel laboratory had a somewhat top-heavy distribution of influence, perceptions of high structure, and a more directive blazon of supervision.

    Competence Motivation

    Because of the difference in organizational characteristics at Akron and Stockton, the two sites were strikingly different places in which to work. But these organizations had two very important things in common. Get-go, each organization fit very well the requirements of its chore. Second, although the beliefs in the two organizations was unlike, the result in both cases was effective chore performance.

    Since, as we indicated earlier, our primary business organisation in this study was to link the fit between arrangement and job with private motivation to perform effectively, we devised a two-office test to measure the sense of competence motivation of the individuals at both sites. Thus:

    role asked a participant to write artistic and imaginative stories in response to six ambiguous pictures.

    asked him to write a artistic and imaginative story about what he would be doing, thinking, and feeling “tomorrow” on his job. This is chosen a “projective” test because it is assumed that the respondent projects into his stories his ain attitudes, thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants, all of which can be measured from the stories.5

    The results indicated that the individuals in Akron and Stockton showed significantly more than feelings of competence than did their counterparts in the lower-fit Hartford and Carmel organizations.6
    We found that the arrangement-task fit is simultaneously linked to and interdependent with both individual motivation and effective unit of measurement functioning. (This interdependency is illustrated in Exhibit Four.)

    Exhibit Iv. Basic Contingent Relationships

    Putting the conclusions in this form raises the question of crusade and result. Does effective unit of measurement performance issue from the task-organization fit or from higher motivation, or mayhap from both? Does higher sense of competence motivation issue from effective unit performance or from fit?

    Our answer to these questions is that we do not remember there are any single cause-and-upshot relationships, but that these factors are mutually interrelated. This has important implications for management theory and do.

    Contingency Theory

    Returning to McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y assumptions, we can now question the validity of some of his conclusions. While Theory Y might aid to explain the findings in the two laboratories, we clearly need something other than Theory Ten or Y assumptions to explicate the findings in the plants.

    For case, the managers at Akron worked in a formalized organization setting with relatively little participation in decision making, and yet they were highly motivated. According to Theory X, people would work hard in such a setting only considering they were coerced to do then. According to Theory Y, they should have been involved in decision making and been self-directed to experience so motivated. Nothing in our data indicates that either set of assumptions was valid at Akron.

    Conversely, the managers at Hartford, the low-performing institute, were in a less formalized organisation with more participation in conclusion making, and yet they were non every bit highly motivated similar the Akron managers. The Theory Y assumptions would suggest that they should take been more motivated.

    A way out of such paradoxes is to land a new set of assumptions, the Contingency Theory, that seems to explain the findings at all iv sites:

    1. Man beings bring varying patterns of needs and motives into the work organization, but one central need is to achieve a sense of competence.

    ii. The sense of competence motive, while it exists in all human beings, may be fulfilled in dissimilar ways by different people depending on how this need interacts with the strengths of the individuals’ other needs—such as those for power, independence, structure, accomplishment, and affiliation.

    iii. Competence motivation is most likely to exist fulfilled when there is a fit between job and organization.

    4. Sense of competence continues to motivate fifty-fifty when a competence goal is achieved; once one goal is reached, a new, higher one is set.

    While the cardinal thrust of these points is clear from the preceding discussion of the study, some elaboration can be made. Start, the idea that dissimilar people have different needs is well understood by psychologists. Still, all also oftentimes, managers assume that all people take similar needs. Lest we exist accused of the same mistake, we are maxim merely that all people have a need to feel competent; in this
    way they are similar. But in many other dimensions of personality, individuals differ, and these differences will determine how a particular person achieves a sense of competence.

    Thus, for example, the people in the Akron plant seemed to exist very dissimilar from those in the Stockton laboratory in their underlying attitudes toward uncertainty, authorization, and relationships with their peers. And because they had different demand patterns along these dimensions, both groups were highly motivated by achieving competence from quite unlike activities and settings.

    While at that place is a need to further investigate how people who work in dissimilar settings differ in their psychological makeup, one important implication of the Contingency Theory is that we must non only seek a fit between organization and task, merely too betwixt task and people and between people and organization.

    A further point which requires elaboration is that one’due south sense of competence never really comes to residue. Rather, the real satisfaction of this need is in the successful operation itself, with no diminishing of the motivation equally one goal is reached. Since feelings of competence are thus reinforced by successful performance, they tin can be a more than consistent and reliable motivator than salary and benefits.

    Implications for managers

    The major managerial implication of the Contingency Theory seems to remainder in the task-organization-people fit. Although this interrelationship is complex, the best possibility for managerial activity probably is in tailoring the organisation to fit the task and the people. If such a fit is achieved, both effective unit performance and a college sense of competence motivation seem to result.

    Managers can showtime this process by considering how sure the task is, how frequently feedback nigh chore operation is available, and what goals are implicit in the task. The answers to these questions will guide their decisions well-nigh the design of the management hierarchy, the specificity of job assignments, and the utilization of rewards and command procedures. Selective apply of training programs and a general emphasis on appropriate management styles volition move them toward a task-arrangement fit.

    The problem of achieving a fit amidst task, organization, and people is something we know less about. Equally we have already suggested, we need further investigation of what personality characteristics fit diverse tasks and organizations. Even with our express noesis, however, there are indications that people will gradually gravitate into organizations that fit their particular personalities. Managers can help this process by condign more aware of what psychological needs seem to best fit the tasks available and the organizational setting, and by trying to shape personnel selection criteria to take account of these needs.

    In arguing for an approach which emphasizes the fit amongst chore, organization, and people, we are putting to rest the question of which organizational approach—the classical or the participative—is best. In its identify we are raising a new question: What organizational approach is most appropriate given the chore and the people involved?

    For many enterprises, given the new needs of younger employees for more autonomy, and the rapid rates of social and technological modify, information technology may well be that the more participative approach is the most appropriate. But there will even so be many situations in which the more controlled and formalized organization is desirable. Such an system need not be coercive or punitive. If it makes sense to the individuals involved, given their needs and their jobs, they volition find information technology rewarding and motivating.

    Terminal Note

    The reader will recognize that the complexity nosotros have described is non of our own making. The basic deficiency with earlier approaches is that they did non recognize the variability in tasks and people which produces this complication. The strength of the contingency approach we take outlined is that it begins to provide a fashion of thinking near this complexity, rather than ignoring it. While our noesis in this area is all the same growing, nosotros are certain that any acceptable theory of motivation and organization will accept to take business relationship of the contingent human relationship between task, arrangement, and people.

    1. Douglas McGregor,
    The Human Side of Enterprise
    (New York, McGraw-Loma Volume Visitor, Inc., 1960), pp. 34–35 and pp. 47–48.

    2. See for example Paul R. Lawrence and Jay W. Lorsch,
    Organization and Surround
    (Boston, Harvard Business Schoolhouse, Sectionalisation of Inquiry, 1967); Joan Woodward,
    Industrial Organization: Theory & Practise
    (New York, Oxford University Printing, Inc., 1965); Tom Burns and G.1000. Stalker,
    The Management of Innovation
    (London, Tavistock Publications, 1961); Harold J. Leavitt, “Unhuman Organizations,” HBR July–August 1962, p. xc.

    3. McGregor, op. cit., p. 245.

    4. See Robert W. White, “Ego and Reality in Psychoanalytic Theory,”
    Psychological Issues,
    Vol. 3, No. three (New York, International Universities Press, 1963).

    5. For a more detailed description of this survey, see John J. Morse,
    Internal Organizational Patterning and Sense of Competence Motivation
    (Boston, Harvard Concern School, unpublished doctoral dissertation, 1969).

    6. Differences between the two container plants are significant at .001 and betwixt the research laboratories at .01 (one-tailed probability).

    A version of this article appeared in the May 1970 outcome of
    Harvard Business Review.