Don’t forget the Hawthorne Effect

From 1924 to 1932 a Western Electric factory outside of Chicago called the Hawthorne Works ran a series of experiments to understand the impact of certain conditions on productivity. The most famous of these experiments was testing the impact of different levels of light. In this study, as well as their others, the productivity would indeed improve, but over time return to its normal range.

This research was studied in 1958 by Henry A. Landsberger who suggested that the novelty of being research subjects and the increased attention from such could lead to increased productivity, temporarily. He later coined the phrase, “The Hawthorne Effect.

The Novelty of Being Research Subjects

Every day, every shift, and every hour of an operation is a chance to run an experiment. A research experiment; complete with a hypothesis, variables, and of course research subjects happen over and over. Landsberger suggested that if people view the activity as an experiment and themselves as research subjects, there is a greater chance of increased productivity, merely from that fact.

Increased Attention

Landsberger also suggested that simple attention is a key ingredient in productivity improvements. Experience teaches us that if we take the time to engage or interact with an operator about their tasks, we learn so much more than reading reports. We also know from experience that following up on actions and projects helps us see if we are ahead or behind pace, but it turns out that the simple fact that you as a leader are showing interest can be a key ingredient to better performance.

Daily Management and the Hawthorne Effect

We already see Daily management, especially at the activity level, as an effective way to react quickly when a process falls behind. It also allows for a clear way to identify problems while they are small and in the moment. But we have learned that it also serves as a way to begin the conversation about each cycle, hour, and shift being an experiment and begin to treat the operators as researchers running the experiment. It is a way to standardize leadership interest in the experiment. Every hour the supervisor walks by to see the results of the experiment and have a conversation with the researchers about their discoveries.

Help your organization remember the powerful impact of The Hawthorne Effect and help them use Daily Management as a way to promote its impact every day.

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He is also the founder of UTV Advisors, a business consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, PA.


Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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