Monday, March 8, 2010

Hawthorne Effect

In between 1924 and 1932, experiments were conducted in a factory to study the effect of parameters like illumination, work breaks, work day length and salary / incentives on productivity. When illumination was increased for a test group the productivity increased. However when the illumination was decreased the productivity did not go down. The researchers concluded that the change of productivity was because the operators in the test group felt motivated that they were being 'special' and that Management was 'interested' in their work.

You can see the above link in Wikipedia to know more.

I came across an interesting experiment, have a look, it is a six minute video on youtube.

When people crossing the road were informed that jaywalking was not the right thing, a good number of people avoided it. It is a good experiment worth spending your six minutes on.

The larger concept is that people need to be told and retold what they are supposed to do. And, they need to know that their performance is being monitored. Just doing this will ensure that a good majority of employees will adhere to the processes in the short term at least. Even if we have it in our SOPs we need to keep re enforcing the message to the process owners / process executioners again and again. They need to be told that it is important that they follow the process. With 80% of your employees or subordinates getting in line, your job will be reduced to monitoring the remaining 20%.

Over a long term of course this may not work. A house with a sign "Beware Dangerous Dog" will surely keep away people for a while. But, if a bark is never heard, I am sure there will be people who will take a chance. For long term process adherence, we actually need to incentivise individuals according to the degree to which processes are being followed by them.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Green Scams

For all my support to the issue of going 'Green' I think that companies are taking us for a ride. Projects that plan a saving of a few million metric tons of green house gases are common in newspapers. This is then linked to the equivalent of removing a few million cars from the road. I think we sum up all the gases the benevolent companies will save, by 2015 we might go into a negative, where we are actually sucking back some carbon emitted in earlier years!!

The first suspect is the method the firms use to calculate and project the savings. A company could project a 50% increase of business in the next few years. Accordingly they could extrapolate the emission to an increase of 50%. They could then show a petty saving on this extrapolated amount.

next, as a learned friend pointed out, is the concept of net pollution reduction versus the gross reduction. Electric cars are not totally pollution free. Electricity generation is polluting and the lead acetate batteries are dangerous to dispose. So the pollution from increased generation of electricity and the disposal of batteries has to be subtracted from the gross savings of vehicular emission. I believe that when stating reduction targets, instead of informing the net savings, companies are giving the gross savings value. This could be substantially higher than the real savings achieved.

Like pointed out in the previous post, some savings could be merely shifting of activities to vendors. While the company has reduced emission, there are no supply chain wide cuts. Such activities might in fact increase the transportation and hence the net carbon emissions.

I have always maintained that a cigarette smoker giving up the habit definitely benefits the environment. But, the bigger benefit is to himself. He would probably add a few more years to his life, and it is impossible to calculate the cost benefit of this act.