The Hawthorne Effect – we’ve probably all heard about it at some point, a training course some years ago or some consultant mentions it after you show him the dramatic improvement in results after adjusting focus.
I’m not going to do a full reccy on the subject, click the link above for more information if you like. What I was thinking though, is how often we ignore it and think that our efforts to make an improvement were the only influence on the result. More importantly, how often have we moved on to the next issue over & over again to chase the current KPI focus of someone from the head shed? Moving back & forth between various issues wondering why we can’t seem to maintain the results once we switch focus.
Sure, it doesn’t always happen, we don’t always lose all the gains, but if what you are seeing is really the Hawthorne effect rather than real, sustainable improvement, it is likely that you are failing to establish appropriate standards to underpin your improved results. Sadly, we too often get excited by the results & think things are better now, we can go look at some other aspect of our business. The reality too often, is that we merely witnessed this effect & before underpinning the new performance with appropriate standards, we move on to the next hair fire.
Why does this happen? Most likely we are focusing on the results, the measurable output of the process. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t look at these things, they are invaluable to an organisation in terms of helping us identify where the problems are. To truly solve the problems though, requires new standards, new or improved systems to make any lasting change.
It’s too easy to be happy with results without truly understanding how we got them. Focus on the inputs, the process, the way we work & the results will come. Focus on the results only & you are likely to be victim to an ever changing focus, following one Hawthorne effect improvement after another only to revert back to previously “fixed” areas of your business as the effect wears off.