Performance Management


When paying attention matters.

The Hawthorne Studies are the stuff of Management 101 legend. Famously, a 1920 study that was intended to understand the effect of the working environment on the productivity of factory workers instead produced a groundbreaking insight, an understanding that has formed the basis of management science.

The Hawthorne experiment was named after the factory in which the experiment took place, Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works in Illinois. The factory had commissioned research to study the effect of the working environment on productivity; specifically lighting, timing of meal breaks and the length of the workday. Researchers assumed that there would be a direct correlation between decreased standards in working conditions and productivity, however they soon discovered that this wasn’t the case. In the most prominent aspect of the study - the effect of lighting on productivity - researchers were quick to observe that even when illumination was decreased to the levels of candlelight, production increased.

The insight was that the workers were responding positively to their supervisors’ attention, and that observation changes behaviour.

This understanding has shaped the way we lead and manage, and particularly the way we regulate performance. It is the foundation of the performance improvement plan; the act of closely observing an employee’s behaviour as a remedy to sub-standard productivity.

And the insight continues to hold true, as time and again we see that employees will respond to attention, feedback and timely intervention.

Simply put, employees want to know how they're doing

Simply put, employees want to know how they’re doing. Isolation and a lack of consideration are a sure fire way to lower engagement and performance. Leaving people to just ‘get on with their job’ can work for a time, but is not sustainable. What you ignore will persist, escalate and become a bigger problem.

So next time you’re quick to judge a person’s performance – take pause and look at what may have caused their lowered productivity. You may be surprised that a simple and honest conversation, one where you pay attention, offers an immediate solution and way forward.

Hawthorne Effect