RMG Networks Blog

What does a social experiment at a manufacturing plant in the 1930s have to do with increasing employee productivity in the fast moving, technology-driven world we live in today?

From your own personal perspective does your behaviour change when you think other people are watching?

Imagine achieving wonderful results….only to get no reward or recognition?

On the surface, the three questions above may not appear to have any correlation.

To help connect these dots together consider the “The Hawthorn Effect.” which highlights the correlation between the social context of a workplace environment and employee productivity.

At the Hawthorne Works factory, two groups of employees were subjects of an experiment working in slightly different conditions: one group performed their usual daily tasks under increased lighting levels and the other group with reduced lighting. Importantly, both groups were told that their productivity was being observed and measured. So which group experienced the biggest gain in productivity? Neither; they both increased the same. After additional trials, the scientists concluded that the simple act of observation alone was enough to result in an increase in productivity. This became known as “The Hawthorne Effect.”

Hawthorne Effect

However, these productivity improvements were short-lived and after a few months the productivity levels fell back to their original levels – suggesting that for sustainable productivity improvements, a vital ingredient was missing.

From a leadership point of view today, organisations face the challenge of keeping individuals updated with information about their performance on well-defined key performance indicators (KPIs). By providing team members, from shop floor employees to supervisors to senior management, with a tailored view of KPIs, organisations give themselves the opportunity to transform productivity.

Doing so can result in productivity gains up to 24% when combined with employee communication that simultaneously allows them to pay sufficient attention to ”people” and to tap into the natural emotion.

From a manufacturing and supply chain perspective, one of the most frequent themes shared during conversations and meetings with our customers around the world is that of latency of relevant information, and that communication of early warning signals of possible problems was of paramount importance. This meant getting timely visualisation to the correct people, who are in a position to take corrective actions at the point of impact.

Supply Chain Visualisation

Another of the key themes that keeps re-occurring in supply chains is the importance of employee engagement and how to create and maintain an emotional connection. Specific, timely employee communication has the potential to enhance this emotional connection, increasing both employee productivity and employee engagement.

These were groundbreaking concepts in the 1930s and are equally valid nearly 100 years later.

Employee engagement has become so important – to the point that organisations that do not pay sufficient attention to people are consistently less successful than those that do.

In conclusion: Instead of treating the workers as an appendage to “the machine,” the Hawthorne experiments brought to the forefront the importance of concepts such as motivational influences, job satisfaction, worker participation and effective leadership in producing high-performance teams. By combining this real-time performance information with the decision support process to enable supervisors to proactively manage employees, an organisation can transform the productivity of its operations.

Companies are now deploying performance metrics on display boards, or a manager’s desktop or mobile device with individuals or groups’ colour-coded KPIs, allowing for immediate action to turn a “red” business alert to “green.” Irrespective of language or culture, workers across the world recognise and respond to red versus green results.

Let us show you how RMG NetworksTM and our Visual Supply Chain solution can provide benefits similar to the Hawthorne Effect for your employees. Contact us today or download our white paper on Real-Time Performance Management with Digital Signage for Supply Chain Operations.

Supply Chain White Paper


About the Author:

Trevor Long is a Business Development Director for Supply Chain Solutions for RMG Networks’ EMEA operations. Trevor has over 20 years’ experience in providing strategic solutions to simply compelling information for businesses. Connect with Trevor on LinkedIn.

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