When it comes to establishing premium service and care in top practices, how we behave in the business environment is as important as how we communicate. Our actions can either be productive or remain stagnant. If they contribute to the business’s success, then collectively, the practice will do well. However, if our actions are never changing for the better or remain flatlined, then the business can suffer.

I feel that much of success in business has to do with the power of observation as described by the Hawthorne Effect.

The term “Hawthorne Effect” was coined by psychologist Henry. A. Landsberger, in 1950, refers to our social environment and our actions. He reviewed some experiments at Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric Plant outside Chicago, between 1924 and 1933.

In efforts to increase productivity among the workers, the company spent years tweaking and altering factors such as lunch hours, pay schedules and level of lighting. Workers predictably became more productive when the lighting was brighter. Reviewing the data decades later, Landsberger concluded that workers increased productivity because they could tell there was an interest in them and how they worked. He defined the Hawthorne Effect as a short term improvement in performance caused by observing workers. In other words, people change their behaviour when they think others are watching.

Today, the Hawthorne Effect phenomenon is as pertinent as ever, for example, with social media. There are billions of us on Facebook, more than a quarter-billion on Twitter, and hundreds of millions on Pinterest, Google+ and other networks. Smartphones allow us to plug into our social media audience continuously.

Never before could we so quickly and easily share our behaviour with others and get the opinion of scores of people who are “observing” us and perhaps leading to modified behaviour.

The Hawthorne Effect if used correctly can also be applied to the business of dentistry especially in the leadership of our teams.

Team members seem to take on more productive behaviours and work harder if they feel some measure of authority observing their actions and daily work quality.

Several strategies can be used to improve and enhance teamwork by utilising the power of observation. This will contribute to improved team performance and better quality of care.


Tips on applying the Hawthorne Effect:

  • Regular individual team appraisals are essential to make it known that managers are observing how well the team are working. Those team members that feel that there is really no one there to oversee how well they work may very easily slip into a comfort zone where they are not as productive as they could be.
  • Regular team meetings on improving the quality of care given by the team in their various roles become critical to maintaining productivity and staying ahead in business. Team members need to understand what is vital to the practice principal. This helps them to understand what is expected of them.
  • Regular observation walks through the practice of observing the team going about their business. Noting discrepancies or incorrect tendencies can have a significant impact on establishing positive employee behaviour. The team needs to know that managers are not just confined to their offices but are observant in noting the efficiency of the operating systems of the practice. Here the manager will be observing things like correctly running processes, adherence to practice rules and that the team are following the practice systems as trained. This also allows managers to highlight what elements are working and which are not. Thus contributing to increasing practice productivity.
  • Accentuate the positive. As Ken Blanchard explains in his book “Whale Done”, catch your people doing the right things and applaud them for it. Appreciate your team when they do things correctly and/or redirect their behaviour when they do things incorrectly. As such, they will be able to make a shift in their actions, collaborate in a better way and be encouraged toward the required behaviour. This fosters repetition of such behaviours, thus leading to an increase in productive behaviours.


Keeping in touch by careful observation with the realities of everyday business in your practice can help enhance systems and functions. It will help to also highlight the unmet needs of your practice and team. Thus facilitating better leadership and the results achieved.


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