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Task vs. Person preference


Explanations > Preferences > Task vs. Person preference

Task | People | So what?


This is the classic managerial preference question that is enshrined in such icons as the Blake-Mouton Grid and McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y.

The standard situation is a manager motivating their people. Do they focus more on what is to be done, or do they spend more time on the softer people stuff, making sure they are happy, etc.? This task-people question also applies to both entire organizational cultures an individual people doing their job.

Although people can swing between task and people, the best place is often a balance between the two. In fact in many models, task- and people-focus are independent scales.


People with a task focus put getting the job done as the highest priority, before any people considerations. People are seen purely as a means to getting the job done and any human considerations are generally viewed as a waste.

Meetings with others are brief and business-like. Detailed work plans are drawn up.
There is a general belief that without close attention people will get distracted, work slowly and otherwise act inefficiently.

Subordinates are thus motivated with clear objectives and regular reviews. This is largely based on a view of 'rational man,' that people are relatively simple and that motivating them correctly is simply a matter of pressing the right buttons. People are seen as generally selfish and lazy. The manager-worker division is quite clear: you think-they do. Motivation is based around Control and the simple exchange of money for compliance.


Attention here is paid to the emotional well-being of other people. There is a general belief that if the people are happy then they will be optimally motivated to do the work they are given. In addition, it is assumed that they will also think intelligently about the work and, with a minimum guidance, will plan, monitor and improve much of what they are doing.

The role of the manager is thus seen more as being to motivate and support people. In Transactional Analysis terms this is about being a Nurturing Parent rather than a Controlling Parent.

There is also an underlying belief in such principles as Intrinsic Motivation and empowerment. People are seen as being basically good and caring, and also too complex for simple behavioral techniques to work. The basic manager-worker division (although there is much less of a division here) is 'I guide and support-you think and do.' Motivation is based around Identity and social exchanges that create loyalty and other emotional ties.

So what?

In motivating people start by understanding the beliefs that motivate both you and them.
The generally agree best position here is often seen as being a balance of both task and people focus.

See also

Self vs. Others preference, Trompenaars' four cultures

Ohio State Leadership Studies, Michigan Leadership Studies

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