In a series of very famous experiments at the Western Electric Hawthorne works during the 1920's and 1930's, Henry Landsberger discovered something very different from what the research team expected. The intent of the studies was to explore workplace productivity. Instead, they discovered something that has had a tremendous effect on how managers operate to this day.
Workers' behavior often changes in response to extra attention.
The changes observed by the research team are reported to have faded away after the study was complete and nobody was looking.
Cubicle dwellers of today will smirk and say, "Of course!" We have all popped our head into someone's cubicle only to see them sheepishly close a game of solitaire and pretend they were engaged in a project.
Likewise, in the navy, young officers are often reminded that "You get what you inspect." Even in modern organizations, where we try not to micromanage, follow through is important to securing any objective, even if that follow through is a simple, "How is it going? Are we on target for that deadline?"
Of course, we all want to think that we are immune to the Hawthorne effect, ourselves.
"I am equally productive no matter who is watching!" says my ego.
Yet every opportunity we have to lead others reminds us that Landsberger was on to something!
The productive leader will not see the Hawthorne effect as a negative thing. It's not that people are slackers when nobody is looking. On the contrary, if we do our hiring well, people can be trusted to do the right thing for the most part. The Hawthorne effect becomes a powerful tool when we use it to apply praise and assertive follow through strategically.
Since it matters who is watching, how can you leverage your attention as a boss?
Can you apply doses of praise at the right moment?
What about overtly demonstrating interest in what your subordinates are doing?
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