Hawthorne effect: What is it and why should we care?

Yesterday I came through a very interesting article about the current trend in Continous-Improvement Strategy. In every company or firm that I know, there are some kinds of Continous Improvement activities going on. The article below exposed the dismal state of current trend in Continous Improvement process. 60% of Six Sigma projects did not yield the expected benefits and 98% of Lean manufacturing project is futile.

The articles, like my intuition, says that all diets work, and all diets fail. Continous Improvement process typically return to where they are. Why is that? It might come from a very basic Psychology 101 knowledge : Hawthorne effect.

It was observed that the behavior of people changes when they recognize that they are part of an experiment. So something like Placebo effect happen when the firm implement a new continous improvement project. At first, morale is high, the project improve their operation. Everyone is exuberant until they figure out later that their production crashs. The betterment is just a transient state would finally turn into nightmare.

This is the reason why many ineffective, worthless or even flawed Continous-Improvement project starts and improve the operation at the beginning due to what I call the Placebo Effect of Manufacturing and Hawthorne Effect. These haphazard style of implementation would in the end hinder worthwhile effort in the end when the staffs look at each other and say : “Not another fad again?”

Not only that, Hawthorne effect points out the dangers of relying on short-term impact of any performance improvement. If the managers push the efforts so hard, the labor morale would plummet and company would be in a worse situation than before the project.

To conclude, Managers should carefully design and test an improvement project because that would be crucial to the health of whole organization.