The Human Element | David Schonthal

Summary of: The Human Element: Overcoming the Resistance That Awaits New Ideas
By: David Schonthal


Embark on a captivating journey as we explore the powerful themes and thought-provoking concepts in David Schonthal’s book, ‘The Human Element: Overcoming the Resistance That Awaits New Ideas’. Delve into the dynamics of traditional organizational theories, particularly Theory X and Theory Y, and reassess your beliefs about management’s role in fostering productivity and innovation. Uncover the flaws in conventional assumptions about human nature, authority, and motivation, and grasp the essence of what truly drives employees to excel at their respective tasks. As we navigate through this engaging summary, you will gain vital insights and learn to foster a more desirable work environment fueled by trust, understanding, and collaboration.

Challenging Assumptions of Traditional Organizational Theory

The Irrelevance of Theory X for Modern Management

Do you assume that people are inherently lazy and need authoritarian oversight to be productive? According to Theory X, this is the most effective way to manage people. But this theory is becoming outmoded for three key reasons. Firstly, hierarchical models don’t apply to modern businesses, where cross-departmental responsibilities are frequent. Secondly, it failed to account for an organization’s political, social and economic milieu, thereby making it “ethnocentric”. Lastly, it assumes that only authority can force people to work, which is an unreliable assumption about human nature as persuasion and cooperation often work better.

Conventional organizational theory pervades the idea that authority is the central, indispensable means of managerial control. However, Theory X establishes an adversarial relationship between management and employees, since pessimistically viewing human nature assumes workers are incapable of independent thought and self-direction. Managers operating under this assumption think that close monitoring of employee behavior is essential since they care only about their Friday’s paycheck. Such managers believe that workers produce only if “Big Brother” is watching them. Rather than relying on authority, persuasion and cooperation by challenging earlier assumptions about human motivation may be more effective.

Motivating Employees: Myths and Realities

Many organizations believe that people don’t want to work, and that coercion and punishment are necessary to motivate employees. However, this is a myth. The truth is that people do enjoy work, but only when it is meaningful and gives them a sense of purpose. Rewards and incentives can also be effective motivators, but only when they are tied to performance and provide a sense of progress. Additionally, employees want autonomy and control over their work, and feel more motivated when they have a say in decision-making. In short, if organizations want to motivate their employees, they need to focus on creating a sense of purpose, providing meaningful rewards and incentives, and giving employees a sense of autonomy and control.

Theory X Management – A Recipe for Failure

Theory X management style breeds an atmosphere of insecurity that stifles a worker’s natural urge to excel. Management’s obsession with authority and control prevents creativity and takes away the sense of ownership, pride, and accomplishment employees have in their work. Instead of encouraging cooperation and teamwork, this approach creates an environment where workers feel threatened, pitted against each other, and focus only on self-preservation. This strategy fails to recognize that employees need more than just financial incentives to stay motivated. Employees’ desire respect, acknowledgment, and a sense of accomplishment. Management’s inability to provide a sense of worth, importance, and autonomy leads to an unmotivated workforce that goes through the motions, doing just enough work to avoid being fired. To foster innovation, workers must feel safe and comfortable taking risks, a feeling impossible to achieve in a Theory X management approach.

The Benefits of Theory Y Management

Theory Y management advocates for respecting employees’ intelligence, creativity, and accountability, which results in a self-motivated and disciplined workforce. Unlike the punitive Theory X management, Theory Y is based on the notion that people don’t inherently dislike work, but rather poor management is the root of an unproductive and uncooperative workforce. Theory Y assumes that employees will perform best under a management style that allows them freedom to achieve organizational objectives on their own terms and without unnecessary threats or pressure. This theory also underscores people’s need for accountability, creativity, and a sense of accomplishment. Managers who embrace Theory Y can create an environment in which employees are satisfied by their jobs and motivated to act for the benefit of the company. The dichotomy between Theory X and Theory Y management highlights the need for effective leadership to create a positive and productive work culture.

Two Theories of Company Management

This book presents two perspectives for managing employees in a company.

Theory X argues that a company should have strict hierarchies and employees should not deviate from the chain of command. This creates a confrontational environment since workers are unaware of their supervisor’s monitoring. In contrast, Theory Y-based companies have a more collaborative approach. Employees are notified directly when there is a problem, enabling them to solve it promptly. The supervisor’s report still climbs the ranks, but by the time it reaches management, workers have already addressed the issue.

Theory Y views employee behavior as a reflection of management methods of control and organization. Therefore, if employees are not fulfilling their duties, it’s management’s responsibility to improve their methods. Employees in Theory Y-based companies are grateful for feedback and understand that the company isn’t trying to punish or spy on them. Mutual respect rather than suspicion between the employer and workers form the foundation.

Overall, the book explains how these two theories offer distinct managerial approaches and how Theory Y can motivate employees to be more productive, creative, and responsible.

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