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McGregor, HBO's The Industry, and What’s Not Being Said

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

Tired and saddened by current events and the 24-hour news cycle, I've turned my attention to the past.

While I'm positive that this is not everyone's definition of a good time, I love to dive into old management books to see what's changed and what's withstood the test of time.

Recently, I stumbled across Douglas McGregor, a social psychologist who coined his management worldview as "Theory X and Theory Y." According to an HBR article from 1970:

  • Theory X assumes that people dislike work and must be coerced, controlled, and directed toward organizational goals.

  • Theory Y assumes an intrinsic interest in work and that people desire to be self-directing and creative in solving business problems. (McGregor sided with Theory Y. )

Regardless of what side of the Theory X/Y aisle you sit on, both theories rest on a foundation of assumptions, generalizations, and beliefs held by individuals and collectively across an organization. Some are explicit. Others are implicit. And it takes a certain level of managerial awareness to unpack what beliefs are consciously and unconsciously held.

Sounds tough. Right?

Well, McGregor also suggested a simple exercise to start decoding the generalizations and beliefs held on your team and in your organization. Next time you're in a meeting, jot down the assumptions of the speaker(s). Some will be explicitly (clearly stated); others will be implicit (requiring filling in the dots).

Okay, time to put this into practice. To make it more fun, let's watch a 3-minute clip from the first season of the HBO show The Industry. For content, the clip shows several recent graduates interviewing for a job at Pierpoint, a top investment bank in London.

For each character, jot down the assumptions, generalizations, and beliefs you observe. Remember, it's more than what's being said—watch for the body language and what is not being said.

What surprised you? What do these interviews tell you about the culture of Pierpoint?

This week, we challenge you to note the explicit and implicit assumptions within your team and your organization. As McGregor once said:

Tune your ear to listen for assumptions about human behavior, whether they relate to an individual, a particular group, or a person in general. The length and variety of your list will surprise you.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you agree more with Theory X or Theory Y?

  2. What's more important—what's being said or what's not being said? Why?

  3. How can you pay attention to implicit communication and body language remotely?


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