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The Hawthorne Effect: One of CSA's Added Values

By Julio Gil-Pulgar, CCSA, CIA, MBA

WHEN WE CONDUCT CONTROL SELF-ASSESSMENT (CSA) WORKSHOPS at the United Nations Development Programme, we try to ensure the participation of all members of the team or organizational unit and encourage them to contribute their ideas and opinions freely. So, soon after the conclusion of a CSA workshop, when an employee told me how inspired and motivated he was by having been invited to express his views in front of his team, I was reminded of the Hawthorne Effect. 

The research conducted at the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company in Chicago between 1924 and 1933 formed a classic study on organizational behavior. One of the purposes of the study was to demonstrate how productivity was affected by physical working conditions. The outcome of the research was the genesis of the Human Relations School of thought, which dealt with the psychological and sociological aspects of management and later evolved into the Behavioral School of thought. 

Management and the Worker, a book by Harvard Professor of Human Relations F.J. Roethlisberger, describes how researchers in 1924 attempted to discover how lighting affected worker efficiency. Two isolated groups were assigned to do the same job. For one group, the working conditions remained consistent. For the other group, the intensity of the room's light was gradually varied. The output of both groups was measured to see whether productivity fluctuated when a subject was exposed to lighting variations. At the conclusion of the study, Roethlisberger noted that both groups had increased their productivity, so the experiment did not indicate the existence of any relationship between changes in lighting and worker productivity. 

As a result, additional studies were necessary to determine whether changes in environment indeed affected worker productivity. For example, in 1927, six experienced female workers were selected to work in a separate room, isolated from the main work site. Their work consisted of assembling telephone relays. Researchers introduced a series of physical changes and observed and recorded any modifications in the workers' behavior. Meanwhile, a mechanical device recorded each worker's output. Monetary compensation, illumination, temperature, length and frequency of rest periods, work time, and other working conditions were changed periodically, and the type and quality of supervision was also altered. 

Roethlisberger's researchers endeavored to gain the workers' cooperation by seeking their opinions about the changes that were to be imposed. In fact, the workers occasionally influenced whether a new test variable would even be introduced. Throughout the study, the workers' health and well-being were considered, and their feedback was eagerly sought. 

But, whether working conditions were improved or worsened, the workers continued to increase their production of the telephone relays. This baffled researchers, who had expected a correlation between the physical changes and the rate of production.

The explanation that the workers gave in subsequent interviews revealed that their increase in production was related to a freer, more pleasant work environment. In effect, the workers felt more valuable because the researchers paid attention to them. They also felt empowered because their opinions had been solicited. Consequently, the workers weren't reacting to the physical alterations to their work environment, but to the psychological changes. Unexpectedly, the Hawthorne experiments had revealed the importance of relationships in organizations and the link between human relations and productivity.

Like in the Hawthorne experiments, CSA involves staff, seeks their opinions and comments, and encourages free discussions on matters affecting their working conditions. CSA provides staff with a forum, through which participants gain a clearer understanding of the team's common purpose and objectives. They become aware of risks and controls and the importance of their responsibility to maintain the effectiveness of internal controls. 

CSA workshops enable participants to challenge the assumptions on which management's strategic plans are formulated. CSA is a powerful team-building tool that helps colleagues analyze and evaluate their roles and interrelationships within the team. It also empowers them to make recommendations for improving controls and seizing opportunities, and it requires that they take full ownership of changes that are made, increasing the likelihood that their suggestions will be implemented. 

In addition to providing reasonable assurance that all business objectives will be achieved, CSA provides a plethora of added values, including human or psychological benefits. Indeed, as in the Hawthorne experiments, CSA boosts team members' commitment and fosters the creation of an empowered workplace.



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