Written by Howard Fenton, Senior Technology Consultant at NAPL

Every once in a while, I get involved in a project that includes a guarantee of increased productivity. Generally speaking, I consider this unfair, because what if the staff refuse to participate, then the project fails. But if you really want to increase productivity then you should take advantage of the mystical and magical phenomenon known as the Hawthorne effect.

In one of the great ironies in research this effect was discovered by Harvard professor Elton Mayo while Dr. W. Edward Deming was working on his Ph.D. in the Western Electric Hawthorne plant in Chicago. Coined the “Hawthorne effect,” it showed that “Individual behaviors are altered because they know they are being studied.”

The Hawthorne effect became the cornerstone of Mayo’s research and resulted in his book The Human Problems of an Industrialized Civilization (1933). Mayo’s experiments showed that an increase in worker productivity was produced simply because someone was watching. The idea is that if you pay attention to someone, their performance will improve.

That means that simply the act of measurement itself impacts the results of the measurement. Just as dipping a thermometer into a vial of liquid can affect the temperature of the liquid being measured, the act of collecting data changes the results.

Some people go even further and say that simply providing training will increase a person’s performance even if the training doesn’t teach them how to be better at their jobs. The psychological theory is that sending someone to training makes them feel like they are important and valuable and like the company is investing in them, which results in them working harder.

For us in the graphic arts, this is more obvious in production areas. All you have to do is chart waste or spoilage in the prepress department, pressroom, or bindery and people will start to become motivated to see the line go down (decrease waste or spoilage). It is not uncommon to see savings of $20,000 to $40,000 a year on things like paper waste and plate rework.

Where will you post a chart?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Technology Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.