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Mary Jo Asmus

Hi Steve,

Great post, and I've thought about this too. I believe a partial answer might be Jungian in nature. As you are well aware, there are certain types that have a more natural proclivity and talent toward others and are naturals at building relatonships. There are others that are not. If those who don't have the natural preferences toward relationships aren't spurred on to develop them in some way (sometimes it's "pain" - in the psychological sense), they don't learn to develop their non-preferential side. In other words, they may have hit a brick wall, and the only way through it is to develop the human relationship part of their personality.

I see this all the time when individuals have been promoted into management positions for their technical skills, but their "people skills" are lacking. They are sometimes unaware of the fact that developing the people part will have a great effect on their leadership and their organizations! The good news - it can be developed, if the person is willing.

Now - I know the answer to your question is varied and more complex than that. But this might be one piece to the puzzle.

Miki Saxon

Hi Steve, I think the reason the Hawthorne Effect isn't common knowledge is that it's too simple. But dress it up in more esoteric language, such as employee motivation/engagement and it's easier to convince people that they require the help of professionals. If every manager was taught to do that early on a lot of consultants would be out of business, hundreds of books wouldn't sell, etc.

Jo Jordan

Tiz called rents. When we take a premium on our salaries, and we know the premium has no basis, we are motivated to have complicated solutions. That sounds complicated to me!

Once we begin with the notion of trying to make the extra bit on top, then we have to find all sorts of complicated ways of managing people.

Why don't we just "trade" with employees? We daren't because our emperor's clothes would be obvious. They are obvious to them of course. But they would become obvious to us too.


Hi Steve,

I have used the Hawthorne Effect to design survey processes that enhance how leaders and employees view each other. I am glad you brought it out in discussion. Simple but effective. For those interested there was a person before Mayo. I look to her as the roots of human relations management.
She was around at the same time Taylor was starting scientific management.



Great story. The key is (I think) not just to express interest, but to be genuinely interested in employees. I've seen organizations where any number of surveys and "open dialogs" were conducted, but the day-to-day behavior of management spoke volumes about distrust and lack of care about the interests of front line workers.

Asking the question. "What do you think?" is the beginning. Willingness to act on the answer is the key.

Thanks, as always, for your excellent posts! - Roy

Dan McCarthy

Steve -
Thanks for the bringing the Hawthorne Effect back. I’ll bet it was new information for a lot of readers, and a good reminder for others. So darn simple… just pay attention to your employees – show that you care about them. No matter what you do, they’ll usually appreciate a sincere effort.

Steve Roesler

Mary Jo,

Yes, that natural bent is certainly a factor, based on observation and research. This is where the EI/EQ material can come in handy. For some, it provides an intellectual foundation to do what others do instinctively.

What continues to baffle me is the unwillingness and/or inability of people who, even when directed, still don't provide a modicum of attentiveness. It's in these instances, after training/coaching, that a continuing managerial role needs to be questioned.

Steve Roesler


I dare say you're onto something here:-)

It sounds a lot more important to "provide ongoing feedback, support, and interaction" than to "talk with your people a lot."

Having said that, I've noticed a lot more "down to earth" stuff going on, with more and more people dumping corporate-speak. If this continues, everyone will have to say exactly what they do: noun-verb-object.

That could be a game changer, eh?

Steve Roesler


Indeed, "piling on" creates an appearance of increased importance and complexity, when what employees are looking for is a simple, "How are things going with you today?"

Steve Roesler


Well, I actually am familiar with her work, having spent time at NTL in Bethel teaching and working with some of the folks mentioned in the article.

I would recommend that readers who want to look further at some seminal work in human relations have a closer look. The wikipedia entry is a good place to start.

Thanks for adding that one, Ryan.

Steve Roesler

Hi, Roy,

Yes, I guess I took for granted that inquiring minds would automatically realize that we're talking about the "real deal" here, not just an attempt at faux attentiveness.

You've got the money line, Roy: "Willingness to act on the answer is the key."

When people see the follow-up action, they know someone has not only listened, but heard.

Steve Roesler


It is so darned simple.

You know, after reading and responding to the discussion here, it just occurred to me: We used to see a better understanding of this when we actually *taught* the Hawthorne effect.

Perhaps for some learners the notion of acting on a theory makes "attentiveness" more important and acceptable than just "doing it because it's what people need."


Waddya think?

peter vajda

Hi Steve,

In one of your comments, you say, "What continues to baffle me is the unwillingness and/or inability of people who, even when directed, still don't provide a modicum of attentiveness. It's in these instances, after training/coaching, that a continuing managerial role needs to be questioned."

a thought:

no one behavior takes place in a vacuum...the conscious and unconscious psychodynamic forces operating within each of us, under the hood, come to bear on who we are and how we are in any given moment.

So, for example, while I'm thinking Hawthorne Effect, another element(or elements)is (are) operating. For example, in quantum physics there's a dynamic called called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle-namely, that the observer creates what s/he observes; we create our subjective experience.

So, while one part of me may say objectively (logically, so to speak), in some flavor, "engage folks to be more productive..." another part of me, (the subjectivity of it all) may be countering, "I'm fearful of relating to folks..." or "they'll never come around no matter what I say or do..." or "engaing folks is a never-ending proces where I just do more and more for 'them' and they do less and less for me..." or...

This is why, for me, the incredible proliferation of management books, videos, "technologies" and all that stuff often never produces the "change" one hopes to experience.

Until or unless the psychodynamics (psycho-social-spiritual aspects) of relating to others are consciously included in the equation, many will continue to express their frustration, "bafflement" and other forms of "Why don't people get it!" reactivity to the resistance to "research" that seems to be a no-brainer.

It often has to go beyond the "brain." Few choose to go there...as you say, are unable or unwilling. Maybe that's where we need to really "turn the lights on."

Wally Bock

Steve, this reminds me of the number one supervision secret: show up a lot. When you do that you get to know your people and they get to know you. And you can have conversations, real ones, about lots of things.

Simple enough. So why don't managers do it? Here are a few reasons for teaching and coaching them over several years.

It's way too simple. Managers want a six step process or a fancy name (see above). Nope, just show up a lot.

It's not "real work." Managers think they have to be doing serious "manager work" all the time or it doesn't count on judgment day. Nope. Conversations about work that happen naturally are better than, "come to my office, now" conversations. And other conversations establish the more personal relationships that make highly productive teams possible.

They don't know what to talk about. If you talk to people naturally, they will demonstrate what they're interested in. The odds are very good that you have something in common with everyone who's on your team. Simple questions can help you discover what that is in each case.

Finally, most managers get a lot of bad advice on this. For example one common bit is to "set the other person at ease," like there's a switch or magic incantation for that. If you're around your people a lot and you have lots of conversations, you won't have to worry about them being at ease most of the time. On the other hand, if the only time you ever talk to them is to give directions and evaluation or the only time you show up is to deliver bad news, no magic incantation will help.

Jackie Cameron

Great post and I am really struck by Wally's comment. The best leaders and managers I know or have heard of are those who are willing to engage in conversation - real meaningful stuff about family, holidays, interests. And - crucially - also listen to the answers.

When working with a group of managers on a university programme recently I was leading a session on listening skills. The students are required to submit a report on the application of their learning back in the workplace. I was interested to see how many of them had chosen the point "disengage your mouth"( listening without jumping in with answers/comments) in the top tips for listening handouts I had given them. The manager who asks questions to genuinely hear the answer and also gives the person they are asking time and space to give that answer surely must win hands down. Even if this is not considered to be "real work".

I friend told me about a poster she saw in a therapist's office which said

"what you need is a good listening to"

For me there is nothing guaranteed to make me feel valued - at work or anywhere else than to be listened to.

Wally Bock

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.


Wally Bock


Hello Steve,

Dan said very true that for all the reader this may or may not be a new idea but the presentation is really very unique. That a very good story. And through your reply strategy very smartly you have putted another example of applying this "Hawthorne Effect" on different places too.


Steve Roesler


There was a time--I'm thinking back to the 1970s and through to the late '80s--when psychodynamics was valued by organizations. We would invest in week-long events (sometimes longer) designed to enable executives to learn more about what was really ticking underneath the surface. That has given way to "what can you do 'for' me in an hour and in a medium that doesn't require me to 'be there'."

Sort of makes you want to go "Hmmm?"

Steve Roesler


There's nothing I could add to that. I'm reminded of Peter Sellers' perceived genius in the movie "Being There". Perhaps that could become the sales tool for convincing managers that just "showing up" is a darned good thing.

Steve Roesler


If that phrase "what you need is a good listening to" hasn't yet been copyrighted, I suggest we start a product line!

Steve Roesler


It is good to see you here and I appreciate you adding to the conversation.


Hi Steve,

Just wanted to let you know that we've somewhat belatedly responded to your blog post, Just Pay Attention To Me, on our own blog. Not so much challenging your argument, but perhaps looking at it from a different perspective. You can view it here: http://www.fortunegroup.com.au/Blog/February-2010/You-cant-build-a-business-on-top-performers.aspx

Would love to hear your thoughts, either here or on our blog!


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