The CEO of the organization was sitting with his hands on his head, eyes closed, terribly upset. As I entered his office, he looked up with worried eyes.
"Hey ! What is wrong ?" I was concerned.
"I am really worried ! And puzzled.. ! I don't know what is wrong . I have done everything possible , but still there is no improvement in the productivity of the employees ! My job is under fire ... bosses from the Head office in Chicago have asked for an explanation ... !"
I offered him a glass of water . I waited till he gulped it down. " Well, can you summarize what steps you have taken to improve productivity ?"
"I have hired managers from the best technical institutes. I have personally reviewed the project plans, estimates and conducted periodic reviews. I have introduced piped music and office parties to motivate the staff, I have even increased the salary of the facility by using whatever little discretion I had .... but still there is just NO improvement in the productivity ! In some of the projects , the productivity has decreased ... !" He panted .
"Hmm... " I said . "What about the softer aspects ? "
"What ..? "
"The softer human aspects , which have hard effects on the organization ..."
"Please elaborate "
"Ok. Let me take you back to the basics.
Recall the famous experiment which changed the concept of Leadership - The Hawthorne Studies. These experiments were conducted for an organization named Western Electric, in Chicago. the experiments were done by the great thinker Elton Mayo in conjunction with Harvard and MIT. It was a period when the Scientific management theory (Taylor) was in vogue which elucidated the use of time and motion and shop-floor methods of management.
First experiment : The Great Illumination
This experiment wanted to conclude the relationship of physical working conditions with the productivity of the workers.
Two teams of 6 people each were created. Initially both teams were allowed to work under the same level of lighting so that they could acclimatize to that level. After a period of time, the illumination of one of the group was varied. First , the illumination was increased. And the productivity increased. After some time , the lighting was decreased. But still the productivity increased ! The productivity kept on increasing till the team could not see at all. Strangely, the productivity of the second group , where the illumination was unchanged, also increased !!
So, the relationship with the physical condition and the productivity remained inconclusive.
2nd Experiment : Relay team experiment
6 females were chosen to be a part of the experiment. There job was to assemble telephone relays . They were provided with snack breaks and reduced work time and their productivity soared ! After some time, their breaks were discontinued and then their original work timings were again restored. Their productivity remained constant. Then they were given autonomy to create their own processes and again their productivity increased. But , here too, strangely when everything was back to the original settings, their productivity , still continued to increase !
So, it was concluded that incentives did not make much of a difference to the productivity, though autonomy did make some difference.
But then ... what was the missing link ?
3rd Experiment : Interview experiment
About 21000 employees were interviewed by a large number of interviewers. In the interviews the feedback and the ideas of the staff were meticulously noted. The workers talked about varied aspects - not only related to work but their family problems and how it affected their work , they talked about their supervisors etc. And all through the experiment, the productivity soared and soared !! This experiment gave a "ventilating effect" and the workers could speak out their hearts . They felt that their problems are reaching the management and they are being heard.
What made the difference ?
Softer and social/human aspects led to the improvement in the productivity .
In all the three experiments , the groups were aware that they are being observed. They got a feeling of participation in the decision making of the organization. The feeling that they are also important to the organization , their cooperation is being sought by the management in solving crucial problem, boosted their productivity. A feeling of self respect, dignity made them feel integrated with the organization which in turn had an effect on their productivity.
The "I" feeling got replaced with "We" feeling. Suddenly, the problem of the organization became their own problem.
"So you see, the Softer and the human aspects made all the difference ! "
"Hmm" he said , deep in his thoughts "Yeah ... , I am getting your idea ... I think I know what I should do ... "
"Thanks a lot ! "
"You are welcome ! It is my job as a coach to make you see !"
As I stood up to take my leave , I grinned my mischievous smile.
"What ?" He said
"Well ! All the three groups knew that they are being observed. So a fourth experiment was done - the wire cabling, where they were unaware that they are being observed, and again , some startling things were noticed ... "
"Tell me ..."
"Some other time .... now you might get even more confused" I winked and went out of his office into the glorious sunny morning ...