Are You X or Y?

Neely Young

J. Knox Dye was a tough boss. I worked for him in the 1980s when I was publisher of the Daily Citizen-News in Dalton. I have used him as an example for handling my own management challenges with employees, union workers and vendors.

Dye said there are two approaches with dealing with people, Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X goes something like this:

Your employees are no-good slobs. They are lazy and out to beat you out of every bit of time and money you pay them.

Ask your employees to fill out and turn in daily reports on their activities. Review these reports weekly and point out to them any or all deficiencies. Never tell them they are doing a good job – they might let up on you.

Pay them under scale. They don’t deserve a good salary. Make them ask for any raises. Overwork them. Dye knew one boss who used to say, “Work them till their tongues hang out.”

Hold lots of staff meetings. Employees are not to be trusted and need constant oversight.

Design a tough rules and regulations handbook. Fill it with statements such as, “Employees who are 15 minutes late will have their pay docked.”

Design a skimpy vacation policy. Call employees halfway through their vacation and ask them about a problem at work. Make them bring in a doctor’s note if they are out sick.

The best way to enhance production is to assign two employees the same project and pit them against one another. Give tough employee reviews, without an accompanying raise. If workers find a new job, tell them that you’re hurt, and you’ll never give them a recommendation in the future.

Employee turnover is good, because it keeps overall payroll lower.

Theory Y turns Theory X on its head. It maintains that your employees are a tremendous asset and source of ideas. Respect for each individual should be a major requirement for management.

Do away with weekly or monthly reports. Hold hands-on goal-setting meetings at the beginning of each quarter, then let the employees achieve goals in their own way. If the boss constantly has to kick ass, it’s his leg that will wear out.

Hold few meetings. Instead, encourage your employees to get closer to their customers. Free up time with as little paperwork as possible.

Keep your staff lean, pay over scale, and give bonuses in money or time. Recently, one company’s manager was so pleased with a special project he gave his whole staff a Good Friday off.

Give large doses of sincere praise. Use humor and good cheer. One person I know writes little notes of encouragement on the stub of each employee’s monthly paycheck. One comment might be “You hit deadline this month, good job!” Notice he didn’t say, “You missed deadline the last six months, it’s about time.”

Spend lots of time walking around the plant or office. This gives you an advantage – you can spot, and handle, problems as they arise. Encourage employees to give you new ideas and suggestions and reward them when they do.

Give all employees 20 days off a year to take when they want. This would include all vacation, sick days and holidays.

Have no policy manual at all or as small a one as possible. Anything that goes into a manual takes away the boss’s ability to make spot decisions. Lawyers will hate you.

Turnover is bad. It takes almost six weeks or more to train a new employee. Any salary reduction will be more than offset by lost revenue, which results from diminished contact with customers. Your competitors will fill the void.

Dye was a tough but fair boss whose management style followed Theory Y most of the time, even though it sounds a little radical. Most of Theory Y’s principles come from In Search of Excellence, written in 1982 by Thomas J. Peters and Bob Waterman, Jr.

Knox Dye was a great boss because he gave me the freedom to achieve goals using my own ideas and innovations. He passed away several years ago, yet his memory lingers in my mind. He was a little tight on the salary part, but I’ll forgive him for that. For if there is one great truth in all of business, it is that no person on earth thinks he or she is overpaid.

Neely Young is the editor and publisher of Georgia Trend.

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