I do not want to improve myself, I know enough!

Many of you are familiar with McGregor theory X and Y. If I simplify it, theory X presumes people are by default passive, managers have to push them and direct them to achieve results. In theory Y managers believes people are by default active and can self-direct, willing to take the tasks and deliver outstanding results. If something is wrong, it is usually management which creates obstacles rather than positive environment, where people can fully engage in their work. This is how is believed by this theory, and how it is often taught not only in agile management courses.

Now, come to reality. I have experience with several customers that people openly refused activity on self-improvement, because “We do not want to engage more, we are ok with where we are and do not want to learn new things. We are already experienced enough.” In other words, they are satisfied with status quo.

They do not want more money (which could be available, if more sophisticated work could be done). It also do not prevent them from complains how “inadequate” they are paid. They do not deliver high quality of output either (well, quality is just at the level where customer still tolerates it and is after few pushes not willingly paying the bill). Customers, who seek for something fresh and innovative go elsewhere if they have a choice. Simply output is not enough for outstanding results and without skills quality cannot be improved. Surprisingly, in all cases I observed people are empowered, have all what they need for work, supportive management, and many freedoms in decision making, which they do not use. Access to new competence via trainings is available, but mostly ignored, because “We know already enough”.

Managers and owners are frustrated as they would like to go after better and challenging things but they cannot. People value good atmosphere in the company, therefore they often come to work in the morning (well, not every day, which creates problems). At other end, at 5pm, computers are turned off and nobody stays almost any minute longer (practically always) regardless work is done or project completed. Most people do not take work home as their machine remains at workplace and no activities are carried remotely. Attempts to implement learning activities through voluntary community of practice on site have failed.

Is McGregor theory still valid? Does really people by default want to deliver something? Does people still care about their profession? Why so strong ignorance to learning new skills? Any way to change it?

What is your experience? I ask, because this situation is not unique. I see it quite often.


About author: Michal Vallo helps managers to understand agile techniques, benefit from its adoption to their organizations and consequently radically improve organizational overall performance. He is principal, agile trainer, coach and manager at Aguarra, founding member of Agilia community and organizer of Agilia Conference / Agile Management Congress in Olomouc and Agilia Budapest Conference.