Cows with Names Produce More Milk. Udder Nonsense?

I'm on my way back to California after spending a week in NY and CT (OMG was is HOT - can't wait to be cold in Santa Cruz). Flying my favorite airline, Southwest, I came across a quite amusing story in the Spirit Airlines Magazine titled Cows with Names Produce 68 More Gallons of Milk.

OK - had to read that story - work could wait (especially at 5:45am).

"Udder nonsense?" begins the article.

Apparently, over a 10-month period a cow produces an average of 1,981 gallons of milk. But by referring to their cattle by name, farmers in this study saw a spike in milk production.


"Scientists believe that personal attention improves cows’ comfort levels while lessening their fear of human contact. This just goes to show that even cattle don’t like being herded."

The story reminded me of the famous Hawthorne studies we studied in B School whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they are being studied - not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.

We (and cows) like the attention.

But the Hawthorne studies also showed how productivity levels due to the increased attention was short-lived (less milk next year?). Over time, workers get use to the constant supervision and their work eventually slows until production returns to normal levels.

The Hawthorne "effect" continues to be a controversial management theory today with many experts opposing the theory (maybe the Cows have Names study will settle the debate).

But one thing is for sure - management, employee engagement, morale, etc. continue to be hot HR topics as employers look to boost productivity. But maybe it is as simple as having a genuine interest (and respect) for employees, their development and their lives.

Labels: ,