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The Transcript

Welcome back. Thank you so much for joining me for module three of LA 101. This module is called Elton Discovers Engagement. We’re going to be talking about the sociologist Mr. Elton Mayo. On your screen, you’ll see a beautiful picture of this man and talking a little about his management theory. There is a nice quote that I thought summarized very nicely about his significant contributions to the workplace and to organizational theory and the human relations movement altogether. It also focused on the areas that I think are the reasons why he resonates so well with me.

On a very high level, his management theory states that he proved that employees are motivated far more by relational factors than by monetary rewards or environmental factors. The big study where he did this was called The Hawthorne Studies. This is where we get the verbiage or the phrase saying “the Hawthorne effect.” The original purpose of the experiments was to study the effects of physical conditions on productivity. This experiment took place at Western Electric’s factory at Hawthorne, a suburb of Chicago, in the late 1920 and early 1930s. For the most part, the entire study was conducted under the supervision of Elton Mayo. He was an Australian-born sociologist who eventually became a professor of industrial research at Harvard.

Basically, what they did in this study is they took two groups of workers in the Hawthorne factory, and they used them like guinea pigs. One day, the lighting in the work area for one group was improved dramatically while the other group’s lighting remained unchanged, so you had a variable group and then a fixed group so that you can measure them against each other. Basically, long story short, the researchers were surprised to find that the productivity of the more highly illuminated workers increased much more than that of the control group or the fixed group.

Then, they played with the working conditions even more so where they changed their working hours, their rest breaks, and so on. In all cases, what they found is their productivity improved. When a change was made, their productivity improved more. So no matter what they did, the productivity of the workers, especially in the environment where they were changing the elements, whether the lighting, whether the work conditions, the productivity improved.

The conclusion that they came to was not so much the environmental factors, it was the fact that somebody was paying attention to them. It was the fact that they felt like they were part of something bigger. They were a part of this study. They were contributing to, I don’t know, the future, a larger vision. They felt bought in. And because they were given special attention and they felt valued, they were producing more.

This is when we first started to see that it had nothing to do with lighting. In fact, when this study was originally conducted, Western Electric’s main goal was to find out the perfect lighting conditions for employees. When the study started, the results became so out of whack and basically inconclusive for them that they wanted to cancel the study, but it showed Mayo that there was something else here, so much so.

There’s another study that I read about that Elton Mayo was involved in that he did as a follow-up to this particular study. He was invited back to another organization where he was working with a group of women that were in a very labor-demanding intensive job, and they were experiencing high levels of turn over. They just could not keep people in those positions. What he did was he actually went in and talked to these women and found out that they had certain needs in regards to breaks or how they were tired. Basically, conducting what we do now that are called focus groups but listening to the employees and providing benefits based off of their requests. He started to see drastic improvement in that department and started to produce measurable results.

The reason why I bring Elton Mayo into this conversation is to talk about it as we talk about the premises of, the basis for Leadership Arts Associates, it is the focus on people. It is actually appreciating them, making sure they feel valued, having discussions with them, and starting there. Most of the time, when we do any kind of legwork except if the client has forced us to go in a methodology that is not one of our initial proposal because sometimes we will take different doors just to get in because we know that we can help an organization, we always start with an assessment piece. And all the time that assessment piece is getting access to your staff and having candid conversations with them to find out what’s really happening.

Leadership and the hierarchies of management were designed for a specific purpose. They were designed so that we all functioned and focused on different areas. The higher up you are, the more strategic you are supposed to be. I know that a common complaint is from your frontline saying “They don’t understand what it’s like down here.” They’re not supposed to. There’s supposed to be checks and balances in place going up through the hierarchy to make sure that that piece is taken care of. Any time when you’re hearing complaints of that nature on the frontline, there’s a disconnect somewhere in the middle management chain. But truly, your president and your executives are supposed to be focusing on the strategic pieces and the vision. Then, it’s the management divisions in the middle that are really focused on making those visions and those goals happen.

The one thing that will never change is that your frontline, your staff, are always going to have a really great pulse on what the culture is and how it’s actually functioning and living and breathing and being alive because it is kind of an animal on its own. So when we go in and start our work, we want to talk to those people. We want to find out what their perceptions are because perceptions are reality. What are they experiencing every day and their challenges.

It’s funny how most of the time, I get a lot of resistance from leadership thinking that it’s going to turn into just a big venting session. You’ll be very surprised to find out … Not to find out, but to find that most of the time when I’m talking to staff, they have some of the best ideas. They just aren’t given the opportunity to share them. And the requests that they’re making actually make sense. They’re logical. Or they’re not too demanding.

If your hiring processes are accurate, if you’re holding people accountable, if you set expectations, if you have a really great way of sorting through, filtering who should be on your staff, you’re going to have this group of dynamic individuals who you’ve already kind of picked to carry out your vision. So why would we not want to hear their feedback and their buy in or their thoughts on what we can do to make the organization stronger. If those pieces are in correctly, that’s exactly what they provide, is feedback on how to make the organization stronger.

I’m a big, big, big believer in that at Leadership Arts Associates, yes, we’re professionals. Yes, I’ve read all kinds of theory. I’ve gone to school. I have years of experience and so do the rest of my team. However, I think a large batch of these answers are internal, whether it’s internal to the organization, internal to yourself, and you just need someone to ask the questions. You need someone to put you in the spotlight and say you are important, you’re part of something bigger, and let’s go from there.

That is module three, me introducing you to Elton Mayo and the Hawthorne studies. You can see a little bit of how that plays in. In the next module, we will be covering Heron and Reason’s four ways of knowing, also known as the wider ways of knowing. This is really where the art piece, if you want to talk about the creative piece, comes alive for Leadership Arts Associates. I will talk to you in the next module. Thank you.

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