I always love on the court television show Judge Hatchett, when she tells people: “I expect great things from you!”
The Pygmalion Effect says that when we have high expectations of performance for people, they perform better.
In other words, how you see others is how they perform.
While behavior is driven by a host of motivational factors (recognition, rewards, and so on), behavior and ultimately performance is impacted by genetic and environmental factors—“nature and nurture”—and the nurture aspect includes people’s expectations of us.
Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, people live up or down to expectations.
For example, studies by Rosenthal and Jacobson showed that if teachers expected enhanced performance from selected children, those children performed better.
When people have high or low expectations for others, they treat them differently—consciously or unconsciously—they tip off what they believe the others are capable of and will ultimately deliver. In the video, The Pygmalion Effect: Managing the power of Expectation, these show up in the following ways:
- Climate: The social and emotional mood we create, such as tone, eye contact, facial expression, body language, etc.
- Inputs: The amount and quality of instruction, assistance, or input we provide.
- Outputs: The opportunities to do the type of work that best aligns with the employee and produce that we provide.
- Feedback: The strength and duration of the feedback we provide.
In business, expect great things from people and set them to succeed by providing the following to meet those expectations:
Additionally, treat others in the style that is consistent with the way that they see themselves, so that there is underlying alignment between the workplace (i.e. how we treat the employee) and who the employee fundamentally is.
Normally people think that setting high expectations means creating a situation where the individual’s high performance will take extra effort – both on their part and on the part of the manager.
However, this is not necessarily the case at all. All we have to do is align organizational expectations with the inherent knowledge, skills, and abilities of the employee, and their individual aspirations for development.
The point is we need to play to people’s strengths and help them work on their weaknesses. This, along with ongoing encouragement, can make our goals a reality, and enable the organization to set the bar meaningfully high for each and every one of us.