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The Virtuous Cycle: Performance and Support

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As my kids get older, I’ve noticed that the Hawthorne effect (first cited in 1958, but relating to studies conducted in the 1920’s & 30’s) is very much alive and well.

Both of them have participated in sport of some kind or another since they started school. They do it mostly for fun, but there is also a small part of them that wants to be really good (especially in my son’s case). My son has both tennis and badminton lessons; my daughter, trampolining. They are both good (but not outstanding) in their chosen sports.

In both the tennis and trampolining, the club is happy to take the money and they go through the motions of coaching them. The kids enjoy their time, but they aren’t passionate and although they do improve, its only slowly. The coaches spend more time with the kids (or parents) who demand their attention or have extra (private) lessons.

In badminton, my son has been given lots of attention and praise by his coach. We get regular feedback on his progress too. He has been actively encouraged, challenged and supported from the beginning. As a result, his performance has improved at a much greater rate than in other sports, and his motivation and commitment to badminton has also increased. This of course, brings more attention from the coach, which means his performance improves, and encourages us to let him have more lessons. It’s a virtuous circle.

virtuous circle

Maybe managers should treat all their team members as potential champions, even when their performance is nothing special. Maybe the attention, support and challenge will motivate someone to try just a little bit harder and perform just that little bit better, just as it did in the original Hawthorne study. We all need to feel that someone is rooting for us; that we want to make someone proud.I’m not sure if my son has more natural talent for badminton than tennis, but his performance is certainly better. I don’t know if his performance led to the extra coaching support, or if the extra coaching support led to his improved performance: All I know is that the two are clearly linked and that this 'virtuous cycle' runs both ways.

Setting goals, giving regular feedback, coaching, and motivating people are fundamental responsibilities of a coach…and of a manager. They are the things that result in high performance. If your managers need help getting into these habits, our bite-size training modules can help. Little, frequent boosts can make a huge difference to everyone's performance.

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