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What the Heck Is the Hawthorne Effect and How Can It Help Hospital and Healthcare Marketing?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Green dart hitting a target bulls-eyeYou're more likely to hear about "The Hawthorne Effect" on a TV game show than in a hospital marketing staff meeting. The name of this management concept is a bit obscure, but you may already be working for you. So what the heck is "The Hawthorne Effect," and how can it help hospital and healthcare marketing?

Answer: It's one of your best marketing and advertising management tools to raise patient satisfaction, increase new business or to track and improve almost any measure of hospital marketing performance. (What's more, this concept is equally useful for healthcare provider practices, medical group and in many areas of marketing management.)

Students of business management might advance to the Final Jeopardy round if they recall that the Hawthorne Effect suggests, in part, that people's performance improves when work is being measured.

Frankly, there's a lot more behind this 1950's business label, but the core concept that contemporary business managers find useful today is, "What gets measured, gets improved." Variations of the idea are also powerful, and include:"If you don't measure it, you can't manage it." And, "What gets measured gets done."

Many hospital marketing and management objectives get stuck at the "lofty goal" stage when they are born without a quantifiable means to gauge progress and success. Without the proper measurement tool, individuals who become responsible for achieving a goal don't really know if they are doing a good job. They may feel busy and good at their job (or not), but true progress remains vague to them and unclear to their supervisor.

True measures of performance are critical in hospital marketing and advertising for many reasons. Not the least of these is having the means to demonstrate—in clear and specific numbers—how the marketing team or department contributes to the bottom line.

Hospital and health system administrators are constantly facing challenges of "constrained resources" and struggle with decision about budget and resource allocation. Meanwhile, hospital marketing, advertising and public relations executives need to manage for optimized performance, AND demonstrate a measurable contribution to the organization's goals.

The cornerstone questions for managing performance.

  • GOALS: What are you trying to achieve? Objectives can be for the overall organization, for the team or department, or for an individual job function. Goals are often expressed as in big chunk annual or quarterly numbers, but smaller monthly, weekly or even daily goals can be more practical slices.
  • UNITS OF MEASURE: How do you quantify the goals and the work? Is the unit of measure in number of patients, dollars or activity completed? For example, winning some number of new patient appointments may not be as useful or specific as knowing the dollar value of the resulting case size. Quantify in units of measure that can be documented, recorded and reported.
  • PERFORMANCE RATIO: How does performance compare to goals?Make this comparison often. It's of little help to check actual performance only at the end of the month and discover that a course correction in week two would have made the difference between hitting or missing the mark.
  • ROADBLOCKS & FIXES: What's getting in the way and what do we need to adjust? An important additional value of key performance indicators is when they reveal what's not working. By finding roadblocks and problems early, they can be removed or solved and the overall system improved.

No doubt you can think of dozens of activities or performance areas where this would be useful to your organization's marketing efforts. Perhaps it's in measuring patient satisfaction or in how a given activity increased the number of patients using a medical service. But it's best to first identify those performance indicators that are truly important to meaningful results or goals.

Ask yourself, what makes the most difference, and focus on those critical—difference areas first. Without monitoring and testing, performance—and goal achievement-is only wishful thinking. There is no precise means to know if a department, a team or an individual is contributing to defined goals.

Our long-time readers will recognize that we are advocates of a related marketing performance concept. That is, Return-on-Investment; the only gauge of what's working. If you are not testing, tracking and calculating ROI, you do not know if your marketing and advertising is successful or wasteful. Accurately determine what's working and do more of it.

Textbooks will take these performance and organization improvement principles a step further in advising, "What gets measured gets done. What gets measured and fed back gets done well. What gets rewarded gets repeated."

You'll find related articles on this topic in our library of free resources.

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