Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Employee Performance and the Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne studies helped us understand that a persons social network and environment has as much influence as their innate abilities. I recently read an article in the Economist that brought up a a lot of great ideas I learned in college. A person's potential is defined as much by the environment as it is by their actual abilities.

I know this is a little odd. While looking for a dog I went down to the animal shelter and was show a
mild Chihuahua that was afraid of everything. It was meek, mild, was frightful of its own shadow and barely took any treats you provided it.

I asked the volunteer what the story was with this lifeless dog? She stated with some sadness that the dog lived with other dogs in an old man's house and it was at the bottom of the dog pack. It ate last, got pet last, got its food last. It was simply socialized to be seen as "not worthy".

That got me thinking of corporate culture. We are so busy with trying to win the next promotion that we sometimes start treating others as though they are the bottom of the list. We don't see their potential because we have not actually created the right environment. In essence, we socialize others as thought they are not important so they act in unimportant ways.

It does seem as though the most selfish of us seem to get promoted. The complete lack of concern for others with the notion that one must achieve above all ethical considerations take precedence. This is the fault of our system and the fault of company administrators. But they are only responsible so far.

It is hard to blame leadership either as they are under pressure to produce results. People with a selfish disposition do get results. They simply don't care one way another. They seek to make strong performance metrics that enhance their position; even if there is cost to employee moral. The result is often strong performance by all team members.

Somewhere along the line it would seem that short-term results and long-term performance would clash against each other. The environment that might be created through narrow focus might also encourage less performance as employees are forced into specific responses that pleas their bosses. Creative think is discouraged.

I do believe it is possible to create a performance based environment where positive group interaction can lead to the best of both words of employee performance. Results are more inclusive and different contributions are encouraged because metrics can sometimes be limited if they are not capturing all of the required data.

This will require a level of civility and inclusiveness within the environment. People should not be sidelined because they haven't got the same social connections. Their performance should be encourage and they should be actively sought out to form their opinion. Those opinions lead to personal "buy in" and greater performance.

Open environments encourage the ability to act and interact in ways that encourage new ideas, norm formation of teams, and pushing of expectations in ways that have a wide draw in. Because much of this environment is created through social-psychological knowledge it can be difficult for people calculating the bottom cost to create. Someone would have to use multiple parts of their brain to grasp what specifically can be done and how it can be calculated in terms of dollars.

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