First let me tell you the interesting story of how researchers first discovered the effect.
A guy called Henry Landsberger was analyzing some studies conducted in the 1920’s/30’s at a factory called Hawthorne Works. The researchers were trying to find out how lighting affected employee productivity. They noted the productivity baseline, then they increased the lighting in the factory, then measured productivity again. Productivity had gone up. However, the story doesn’t stop there. After the lighting was decreased back to normal, the productivity gains remained!
What was going on?
It turned out that the employees were not responding to the lighting changes, but were instead responding to the increased attention - to being observed!
Landsberger coined the term The Hawthorne Effect in 1958 to describe the phenomenon where:
Individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.
What this means for research and management is contentious, but it’s safe to say that the implications are big - it’s worth remembering this concept from both the perspective of the observer and the observed.
I do think management guru Peter Drucker might have been alluding to the The Hawthorne Effect - when he said:
What gets measured, gets managed.