By Barry Maher
Benefit from the Hawthorne effect.
This is a phenomenon first noted way back in 1924--
several years before the era's leading "can-do" guru,
Herbert Hoover, led the nation into the Depression. Elton
Mayo was trying to study the effect of lighting on
productivity at a Western Electric plant in Hawthorne,
Illinois. He divided workers into two groups. For the test
group, he increased the illumination in their work area.
Productivity went up. For the control group, he left the
lighting the same. Productivity went up.
That made no sense to Mayo, so he tried another
study. He took a group of female workers, gave them
regularly scheduled rest periods, company paid lunches and
shorter work weeks. Productivity went up. Eighteen months
later, all those perks were eliminated. And productivity?
It went up once again.
Mayo concluded that productivity increased every time
he paid attention to workers.
Tip: Pay attention to your people.
You might never get them to leap out of bed at 6:00
AM with delight at the prospect of heading off to work. But
you can make them a lot happier and a lot more productive
once they arrive. And you can keep them from ever asking,
"Why am I wasting my time here?"
Of course there's always the school of management
exemplified by the CEO who told Fortune magazine,
"Leadership is demonstrated when the ability to inflict
pain is confirmed." If that's what you believe and you
think that fills the glass for you, good luck to you.
You're going to need it.
Low, Lying Fruit
Still, Hawthorne effect or no Hawthorne effect,
effective long term management means rewarding behavior you
wish to encourage, and only that behavior.
Don't claim you want long range planning then base
bonuses on the short-term fix. Don't expect innovative
thinking if you give the best evaluations to employees who
march lockstep to the company beat. Don't look for
streamlining and promote those who create ever more
complicated controls. Don't expect cost cutting when
departments that exhaust this year's allocation get more
money next year, and those who don't spend every cent face
Rewarding accomplishment is usually more effective
than rewarding behavior. Whenever possible set quantifiable
goals, track progress towards those goals, then reward
Reward each employee according to what motivates them
personally: more responsibility, more recognition, pats on
the back, perks and privileges, more freedom, more
challenges, fancier offices, exposure to decision makers,
titles, parking spaces, staffing, more flexible hours, the
opportunity for more creativity. Even a lunch or dinner
with you can be an extremely meaningful reward for some
people. Just as it could be the worst possible punishment
Additional training can be a particularly effective
reward. It demonstrates the commitment the company has in
the employee's future. Yet it's giving them something they
give right back to the business.
Never reward indiscriminately. I know of one manager
who sends out a steady torrent of "You're Fantastic" cards.
Everyone gets them. For everything. All the cards are the
same, and none ever mentions a specific reason for the
"He probably fills them out in advance at home at
night then writes in the name as needed," one of his
clerical people decided.
Most of the cards quickly find their way into the
trash. Some people do save them: for the "Pearl Harbor
files" they keep to defend against possible disciplinary
action or dismissal. And more and more of these people are
keeping Pearl Harbor files. Though all they ever hear from
the boss is how wonderful they are, he's developed such a
reputation for insincerity that nobody trusts him. He's not
gay, but that reputation, coupled with his favorite cliché,
has earned him the nickname, "The Low, Lying Fruit."
Once while flying back from a successful European
trip, George H. W. Bush took the time to personally write
40 notes of appreciation to various members of his
presidential staff. When aides compared the various notes,
they discovered that every single one of them was
different. To me, the sheer volume of notes might call in
question their sincerity and devalue the worth of any one
of them. But I'll bet each of those 40 people appreciated
his or her note. And most of them probably still have them.
Tactic: Compliment people who deserve it. Always
individualize the compliment with specifics. When the same
compliment is given repeatedly to several different people,
it rings false--even when it isn't.
Tip: Compliment the action not the individual's
"Gee, you're so intelligent," is general, may be
embarrassing and can sound insincere. But, "Damn, that was
a smart idea you had in the meeting today," rings true, and
it's less likely to make the recipient self-conscious.
Still, as Elton Mayo discovered in Hawthorne,
Illinois, back in 1924, any attention is better no
The Elements of a Great Manager
An article describing four elements of great managers: selecting the right people, setting clear expectations, knowing your staff and developing your staff.