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  • During the past 30 years, managers have been bombarded with 2 competing approaches to the problems of human assistants and system. The offset, usually called the classical schoolhouse of organization, emphasizes the need for well-established lines of authority, clearly defined jobs, and authority equal to responsibility. The second, ofttimes called the participative arroyo, focuses on the desirability of involving organization members in decision making so that they will be more highly motivated.

    Douglas McGregor, through his well-known “Theory X and Theory Y,” drew a distinction between the assumptions nigh 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 exist treated this way, so they tin can avoid responsibleness.
    • Theory Y—the integration of goals—emphasizes the average person’due south intrinsic interest in his piece of work, his want to be self-directing and to seek responsibility, and his capacity to be artistic in solving concern problems.

    It is McGregor’due south conclusion, of form, that the latter arroyo to organization is the more than desirable ane for managers to follow.i

    McGregor’due south position causes confusion for the managers who try to choose between these two conflicting approaches. The classical organizational approach that McGregor associated with Theory X does piece of work well in some situations, although, as McGregor himself pointed out, in that location are also some situations where information technology does non work finer. At the aforementioned time, the approach based on Theory Y, while it has produced skilful results in some situations, does not always do so. That is, each approach is effective in some cases just not in others. Why is this? How can managers resolve the confusion?

    A New Approach

    Recent work by a number of students of management and organization may help to answer such questions.2
    These studies point that there is not one best organizational approach; rather, the all-time arroyo depends on the nature of the work to be done. Enterprises with highly anticipated tasks perform amend with organizations characterized past the highly formalized procedures and management hierarchies of the classical approach. With highly uncertain tasks that require more than extensive problem solving, on the other manus, organizations that are less formalized and emphasize cocky-control and member participation in determination making are more than constructive. In essence, according to these newer studies, managers must design and develop organizations and then that the organizational characteristics
    the nature of the task to be done.

    While the conclusions of this newer approach volition make sense to almost experienced managers and can alleviate much of the confusion nigh which approach to cull, there are still two important questions unanswered:

    1. How does the more formalized and controlling organization affect the motivation of organization members? (McGregor’south most telling criticism of the classical approach was that information technology did non unleash the potential in an enterprise’s homo resources.)

    2. As important, does a less formalized organization always provide a high level of motivation for its members? (This is the implication many managers take 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 basic assumptions which move beyond Theory Y into what nosotros call “Contingency Theory: the fit betwixt chore, organization, and people.” These theoretical assumptions emphasize that the appropriate pattern of organization is
    on the nature of the work to be done and on the item needs of the people involved. We should emphasize that we have labeled these assumptions as a step beyond Theory Y because of McGregor’s own recognition that the Theory Y assumptions would probably exist supplanted by new noesis within a curt fourth dimension.iii

    The Written report Blueprint

    Our study was conducted in iv organizational units. Ii of these performed the relatively certain job of manufacturing standardized containers on high-speed, automatic product lines. The other two performed the relatively uncertain work of research 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 by that company’s direction every bit containing one highly effective unit and a less constructive one. The study design is summarized in Showroom I.

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

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

    An especially useful approach to answering this question is to recognize that an private has a strong demand to master the world around him, including the job that he faces as a member of a work organisation.4
    The accumulated feelings of satisfaction that come from successfully mastering one’s environment can be called a “sense of competence.” We saw this sense of competence in performing a item chore every bit helpful in understanding how a fit betwixt chore and organizational characteristics could motivate people toward successful performance.

    Organizational dimensions

    Because the 4 report sites had already been evaluated by the corresponding corporate managers as high and low performers of tasks, we expected that such differences in operation would exist a preliminary inkling to differences in the “fit” of the organizational characteristics to the task to be done. Only, first, nosotros had to define what kinds of organizational characteristics would determine how advisable the organization was to the particular task.

    We grouped these organizational characteristics into 2 sets of factors:

    one. Formal characteristics, which could be used to judge the fit between the kind of chore existence worked on and the formal practices of the organization.

    2. Climate characteristics, or the subjective perceptions and orientations that had developed amongst the individuals about their organizational setting. (These too must fit the job to be performed if the organization is to be effective.)

    We measured these attributes through questionnaires and interviews with about forty managers in each unit to determine the appropriateness of the organization to the kind of task existence performed. Nosotros besides measured the feelings of competence of the people in the organizations so that we could link the appropriateness of the organizational attributes with a sense of competence.

    Major findings

    The main findings of the survey are best highlighted past contrasting the highly successful Akron plant and the loftier-performing Stockton laboratory. Because each performed very dissimilar tasks (the former a relatively certain manufacturing task and the latter a relatively uncertain enquiry job), we expected, as brought out earlier, that at that place would have to exist major differences betwixt them in organizational characteristics if they were to perform effectively. And this is what we did find. But we besides plant that each of these constructive units had a better fit with its particular task than did its less effective counterpart.

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

    Formal characteristics

    Showtime with differences in formal characteristics, we plant that both the Akron and Stockton organizations fit their corresponding tasks much better than did their less successful counterparts. In the anticipated manufacturing task environment, Akron had a design of formal relationships and duties that was highly structured and precisely defined. Stockton, with its unpredictable inquiry task, had a low degree of structure and much less precision of definition (see Showroom Ii).

    Exhibit II. Differences in Formal Characteristics in High-performing Organizations

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

    “We’ve got rules here for everything from how much powder to utilize in cleaning the toilet bowls to how to cart a dead body out of the establish.”

    In dissimilarity, Stockton’s formal rules were and 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, you may need more rules and a job definition for him. But we’re not novices here. We’re professionals and not the kind who need shut supervision. People around here
    produce, and produce under relaxed weather. Why tamper with success?”

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

    • Akron’s highly structured formal practices fit its predictable job considering behavior had to be rigidly divers and controlled around the automated, loftier-speed product line. There was really only 1 mode to attain the establish’due south very routine and programmable chore; managers defined it precisely and insisted (through the plant’s formal practices) that each man do what was expected of him.

    On the other hand, Stockton’due south highly unstructured formal practices made merely every bit much sense because the required activities in the laboratory but could non be rigidly defined in advance. With such an unpredictable, fast-irresolute task as communications technology research, there were numerous approaches to getting the job done well. As a consequence, Stockton managers used a less structured pattern of formal practices that left the scientists in the lab gratis to respond to the changing task state of affairs.

    • Akron’south formal practices were very much geared to
      concerns as its task demanded. For example, formal production reports and operating review sessions were daily occurrences, consistent with the fact that the through-put time for their products was typically merely a few hours.

    By contrast, Stockton’due south formal practices were geared to
    concerns, equally its task demanded. Formal reports and reviews were fabricated only quarterly, reflecting the fact that research often does non come up to fruition for three to five years.

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

    “There’s something here that keeps yous from existence scientific. It’s hard to put your finger on, but I guess I’d call information technology ‘Mickey Mouse.’ There are rules and things here that get in your way regarding doing your job as a researcher.”

    Climate characteristics

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

    Perception of structure:

    The people in the Akron plant perceived a nifty deal of structure, with their behavior tightly controlled and defined. One manager in the plant said:

    “We tin’t let the lines run unattended. We lose money whenever they do. And so we brand sure each man knows his task, knows when he tin have a break, knows how to handle a change in shifts, etc. Information technology’s all spelled out clearly for him the day he comes to work here.”

    In dissimilarity, the scientists in the Stockton laboratory perceived very little structure, with their behavior only minimally controlled. Such perceptions encouraged the individualistic and artistic behavior that the uncertain, apace changing research job needed. Scientists in the less successful Carmel laboratory perceived much more structure in their organization and voiced the feeling that this was “getting in their mode” and making it difficult to practice effective research.

    Distribution of influence:

    The Akron found 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 constitute than Stockton’due south scientists did in their laboratory. The task at Akron had already been clearly divers and that definition had, in a sense, been incorporated into the automated product flow itself. Therefore, there was less demand for individuals to have a say in decisions concerning the work procedure.

    Moreover, in Akron, influence was perceived to exist concentrated in the upper levels of the formal structure (a hierarchical or “top-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’southward members perceived themselves to take a low degree of liberty vis-à-vis superiors both in choosing the jobs they work on and in handling these jobs on their own. They as well described the type of supervision in the plant equally beingness relatively directive. Stockton’s scientists, on the other hand, felt that they had a great bargain of freedom vis-à-vis their superiors both in choosing the tasks and projects, and in handling them in the way that they wanted to. They described supervision in the laboratory as being very participatory.

    Information technology is interesting to note that the less successful Carmel laboratory had more of its decisions made at the pinnacle. Because of this, at that place was a definite feeling past the scientists that their particular expertise was non being effectively used in choosing projects.

    Relations with others:

    The people at Akron perceived a great deal of similarity among themselves in background, prior work experiences, and approaches for tackling job-related bug. They also perceived the degree of coordination of effort among colleagues to be very high. Because Akron’s job was and then precisely defined and the behavior of its members so rigidly controlled effectually the automatic lines, it is easy to come across that this pattern too made sense.

    By contrast, Stockton’s scientists perceived not just a neat many differences among themselves, especially in educational activity and background, only also that the coordination of effort amidst colleagues was relatively depression. This was advisable for a laboratory in which a dandy variety of disciplines and skills were present and individual projects were important to solve technological issues.

    Fourth dimension orientation:

    Every bit we would expect, Akron’due south individuals were highly oriented toward a relatively short time bridge and manufacturing goals. They responded to quick feedback apropos the quality and service that the constitute was providing. This was essential, given the nature of their job.

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

    “We’re not the kind of people here who need a pat on the dorsum every day. We can wait for months if necessary earlier we go feedback from colleagues and the profession. I’ve been working on ane projection now for 3 months and I’m however not sure where it’s going to take me. I can live with that, though.”

    This is precisely the kind of beliefs and mental attitude that spells success on this kind of chore.

    Managerial mode:

    Finally, the individuals in both Akron and Stockton perceived their chief executive to have a “managerial style” that expressed more than of a business for the job than for people or relationships, merely this seemed to fit both tasks.

    In Akron, the applied science of the chore was so dominant that top managerial beliefs which was not focused primarily on the task might have reduced the effectiveness of operation. On the other paw, although Stockton’due south research task called for more individualistic problem-solving behavior, that sort of behavior could have become segmented and uncoordinated, unless the top executive in the lab focused the group’south attention on the overall enquiry job. Given the individualistic bent of the scientists, this was an important force in achieving unity of effort.

    All these differences in climate characteristics in the 2 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 system climates that showed a perceptibly lower caste of fit with their corresponding tasks. For case, the Hartford plant had an egalitarian distribution of influence, perceptions of a low degree of structure, and a more than participatory blazon of supervision. The Carmel laboratory had a somewhat meridian-heavy distribution of influence, perceptions of high structure, and a more directive type of supervision.

    Competence Motivation

    Considering of the difference in organizational characteristics at Akron and Stockton, the two sites were strikingly different places in which to work. Simply these organizations had two very important things in common. First, each organisation fit very well the requirements of its task. 2d, although the beliefs in the ii organizations was different, the upshot in both cases was effective task performance.

    Since, as we indicated earlier, our chief business organisation in this study was to link the fit between organization and job with individual motivation to perform finer, we devised a two-part test to mensurate the sense of competence motivation of the individuals at both sites. Thus:

    role asked a participant to write creative and imaginative stories in response to half dozen cryptic pictures.

    asked him to write a creative and imaginative story about what he would be doing, thinking, and feeling “tomorrow” on his task. This is chosen a “projective” examination because it is assumed that the respondent projects into his stories his own 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 feelings of competence than did their counterparts in the lower-fit Hartford and Carmel
    We found that the organization-task fit is simultaneously linked to and interdependent with both individual motivation and effective unit operation. (This interdependency is illustrated in Exhibit IV.)

    Exhibit Four. Bones Contingent Relationships

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

    Our answer to these questions is that we exercise non think in that location are whatsoever single crusade-and-effect relationships, only that these factors are mutually interrelated. This has important implications for management theory and practice.

    Contingency Theory

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

    For example, 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 but because they were coerced to do so. According to Theory Y, they should accept been involved in decision making and been cocky-directed to experience so motivated. Nothing in our data indicates that either fix of assumptions was valid at Akron.

    Conversely, the managers at Hartford, the low-performing found, were in a less formalized organisation with more participation in decision making, and nevertheless they were not as highly motivated like the Akron managers. The Theory Y assumptions would suggest that they should have been more than motivated.

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

    1. Homo beings bring varying patterns of needs and motives into the piece of work organization, but i fundamental need is to achieve a sense of competence.

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

    three. Competence motivation is virtually likely to be fulfilled when at that place is a fit between chore and organization.

    four. Sense of competence continues to motivate even when a competence goal is accomplished; once one goal is reached, a new, college one is set.

    While the central thrust of these points is clear from the preceding discussion of the study, some elaboration tin can exist fabricated. Start, the idea that different people have unlike needs is well understood by psychologists. However, all too ofttimes, managers assume that all people have like needs. Lest we be accused of the same error, we are saying only 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 case, the people in the Akron plant seemed to be very dissimilar from those in the Stockton laboratory in their underlying attitudes toward uncertainty, authority, and relationships with their peers. And because they had different need patterns along these dimensions, both groups were highly motivated by achieving competence from quite different activities and settings.

    While there is a need to further investigate how people who work in dissimilar settings differ in their psychological makeup, one of import implication of the Contingency Theory is that we must non only seek a fit between organization and task, but also between task and people and between people and organization.

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

    Implications for managers

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

    Managers can start this procedure by because how certain the task is, how often feedback about task performance is available, and what goals are implicit in the task. The answers to these questions will guide their decisions nearly the design of the direction hierarchy, the specificity of task assignments, and the utilization of rewards and control procedures. Selective use of training programs and a general accent on appropriate management styles volition move them toward a job-organization fit.

    The problem of achieving a fit amid job, organization, and people is something nosotros know less near. As we have already suggested, we demand farther investigation of what personality characteristics fit various tasks and organizations. Even with our limited knowledge, still, there are indications that people volition gradually gravitate into organizations that fit their particular personalities. Managers can help this process past becoming more aware of what psychological needs seem to all-time fit the tasks available and the organizational setting, and by trying to shape personnel pick criteria to take account of these needs.

    In arguing for an approach which emphasizes the fit amid task, organization, and people, nosotros are putting to balance the question of which organizational arroyo—the classical or the participative—is all-time. In its identify we are raising a new question: What organizational approach is about advisable given the task 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 change, information technology may well be that the more than participative arroyo is the almost appropriate. But there will yet exist many situations in which the more controlled and formalized organisation is desirable. Such an organization need not be coercive or punitive. If it makes sense to the individuals involved, given their needs and their jobs, they volition find it rewarding and motivating.

    Last Note

    The reader volition recognize that the complexity we have described is not of our ain making. The basic deficiency with earlier approaches is that they did not recognize the variability in tasks and people which produces this complication. The strength of the contingency approach nosotros have outlined is that it begins to provide a style of thinking near this complexity, rather than ignoring it. While our cognition in this surface area is still growing, we are certain that any adequate theory of motivation and organization will have to accept account of the contingent human relationship between chore, arrangement, and people.

    ane. Douglas McGregor,
    The Homo Side of Enterprise
    (New York, McGraw-Colina Book Company, Inc., 1960), pp. 34–35 and pp. 47–48.

    2. See for example Paul R. Lawrence and Jay W. Lorsch,
    Arrangement and Environment
    (Boston, Harvard Business organization School, Division of Research, 1967); Joan Woodward,
    Industrial Organisation: Theory & Exercise
    (New York, Oxford University Press, Inc., 1965); Tom Burns and G.M. Stalker,
    The Direction of Innovation
    (London, Tavistock Publications, 1961); Harold J. Leavitt, “Unhuman Organizations,” HBR July–August 1962, p. 90.

    three. McGregor, op. cit., p. 245.

    4. Encounter Robert Due west. White, “Ego and Reality in Psychoanalytic Theory,”
    Psychological Issues,
    Vol. Three, No. 3 (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 Business concern Schoolhouse, unpublished doctoral dissertation, 1969).

    6. Differences betwixt the 2 container plants are significant at .001 and between the inquiry laboratories at .01 (ane-tailed probability).

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