Written by Joe Driscoll

November 25, 2009

What happens around your house when company is coming?

Have you ever noticed what happens around your office when visitors are coming?

After you make the announcement that visitors will be coming to your office, you don’t have to tell your employees to look sharp, clean their desks, or police their work areas. It just happens. Why? Because all of us perk up a little bit when we know somebody is going to be paying special attention to what we do.

Attention” is the command that military leaders use to call their troops to the alert. When the troops are standing at attention, they look sharp.

Attention, that is paying attention to people, is a manager’s key to maintaining his or her employees alert and ready. When you pay attention to your employees, they’ll look sharp.

There’s a school of thought that says pay attention to people and you won’t have to worry about your other management problems. There’s more than a little truth to that. The “pay attention” to people school owes its origins to the famous Hawthorne Studies of the 1920s.

The first studies that documented the importance and influence of human factors on production resulted out of the management studies conducted at the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company in Chicago. These studies conducted between 1924 and 1932 began with a scientific orientation, but ended with some surprising results.

The researchers in the Hawthorne Studies believed that if productivity was studied long enough under a variety of different working conditions, the working conditions that optimized production would eventually be identified. The initial variable that was tested was the lighting in an electrical assemble room.

The researchers intent was to determine the relationship between the intensity of lighting and the efficiency of production workers. Two groups of employees were monitored. The light intensity for one group was varied, while the light intensity for the other group was held constant. The results of the tests surprised the researchers.

While much was learned about human interaction in the working environment from these studies at the Western Electric Company, one central theme emerged. Commonly referred to as the Hawthorne Effect, the important point that came from these studies was that people respond positively when you pay attention to them. With a number of important researchers watching their every move, asking their opinions, and paying heed to their answers, it didn’t make any difference how bright the lights were.

Turn the lights up, productivity goes up. Turn the lights down, productivity goes up. The management attention that was given to the workers in the test group had such a strong positive impact that it more than offset the negative impact of any poor working conditions.

The message is simple. It’s been documented since the 1920’s. It’s the Hawthorne Effect. People respond positively when somebody pays attention to them. Attention, the manager’s commandment for the 90’s.

Bring customers into meet with your employees, quality improves. Say hello to people in the morning, morale goes up. Conduct employee meetings, production goes up. Listen and respond to your employees ideas, profits go up.

What’s the message? Pay attention to people and things improve. Oh sure, some conditions are better than others, but given any set of conditions, paying attention to people is the single best management practice that’s known.

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