Don’t hire brilliant people and tell them what to do; Measure what matters
Last week we blogged about Measuring your Measurement Framework (or KPIs) and the previous week we discussed the problem of measuring productivity in general and arrived at a conclusion that some of the problem is the measurement frameworks themselves. With that being said, we now ponder, why is it that people being measured leads to massive productivity gains? Let’s explore.
The mere presence of someone else can make the brain sharpen its focus. In the company of a friend, monkeys became more productive at a simple job, researchers report from 2015’s April edition of Cerebral Cortex. This diligence was accompanied by heightened activity in brain regions that focus attention.
The results clarify why performance can change when an observer hovers nearby, even if that observer isn’t talking or interacting in any way. This effect, known as social facilitation, might explain why people sometimes excel when an audience is watching.
In the company of a friend, the monkeys touched the images about three times more than when the monkeys worked alone, the researchers found. Brain activity changed too. PET imaging revealed that brain regions known to be involved with attention, including the frontal and parietal cortices, were more active when the monkeys worked while an observer hovered nearby. That suggests that the presence of another monkey hones the brain’s focus.
But the influence of an observer could easily shift, depending on the particulars of the situation, Monfardini notes. In the experiment, the bystander was a familiar monkey; a strange or hostile observer might evoke a completely different effect. The effect of an observer may also change depending on the task at hand. Easy or well-known tasks may be enhanced by another’s presence, while difficult tasks might actually suffer. And the brain regions involved might also change depending on the scenario.
If shifts in attention — and therefore performance — occur when people are observed, the results could have far-ranging implications, Monfardini says. “This should be taken into account in school, at work, and more generally in everyday life.”
Given the similarities between people and monkeys, it’s “very likely” that the same reaction occurs in people’s brains, says psychologist Michael Posner of the University of Oregon in Eugene. Attention is “involved in most things we do,” he says, including external actions and internal thoughts, memories and emotions.
Neuropsychologist Chris Frith of University College London calls the results interesting but cautions that more studies are needed to understand what’s going on in the brain. Because brain regions are multitaskers, it’s difficult to say whether changes in attention are behind the improved performance.
The Hawthorne effect essentially says that we do better when other people are watching us. This was observed during a series of experiments conducted during the 1920s and 1930s at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works electric company. The purpose was to understand how different elements of the work environment—lighting, breaks, and hours spent at work—might affect productivity.
In one experiment, the researchers changed the lighting to see how it affected workers. They found that any change—brightening or dimming of the lights—resulted in increased productivity. Similarly, when the researchers cut out breaks and extended the workday, productivity also increased. Surprised by these results, the researchers finally concluded that the increased levels of productivity resulted from increased attention, rather than the changes made to their environment. The Hawthorne effect now describes improved performance due to one’s being observed.
Next week we’ll look to examine how software can help impact remote work and how productivity can be gained within the right frameworks.
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