Researchers examine 'great expectations' in the workplace

Apr 29, 2008

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have found that employee performance in the workplace, like students’ grades at school, is greatly influenced by managers’ expectations of that performance.

An analysis of results from twenty-five years’ worth of experimental research conducted at banks, schools, the Israel Defense Forces – and even summer camp – shows unequivocal results: when a leader expects subordinates to perform well, they do.

“A self-fulfilling prophecy goes into effect,” says Prof. Dov Eden from Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Management, who conducts and directs the experiments. “Managers and leaders would be well-advised to expect a lot, and let people know they expect a lot. The message should be genuine and consistent.”

Expectations Feed Performance

In one of Prof. Eden’s experiments, he divided bank branch managers into two groups. One group of managers was told that their employees were exceptional; the other group was told nothing about their employees’ performance potential.

When Prof. Eden analyzed performance results, he found a significant difference between the branches. There had been no pre-existing differences between employees, but the branch managers who were led to expect more, got more — their branches scored higher in terms of profitability and overall economic success.

This effect has been found in dozens of organizations: high expectations have a positive effect in business and in many other social arenas, Prof. Eden says.

A “Pygmalion” Effect

His findings confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that the “Pygmalion Effect” can be created among leaders and subordinates. Subordinates get a 3-to-1 boost in their performance success rate if a leader expects more from them, says Prof. Eden. “Success” is determined by any number of relevant factors, such as completing a course, a performance rating on the job, or grades in a training program.

But “if a leader has high expectations, it doesn’t mean that a subordinate will perform three times as well,” Prof. Eden says. “It means that he or she will have a three times greater chance of being above-average.”

A Boost of Confidence

Study results indicate that when a manager expects a lot from an employee, the manager’s leadership style changes and subsequently boosts the employee’s self-confidence. “If your boss believes you can excel, you are more likely to believe in your own capacity to succeed,” says Prof. Eden.

The result holds true for any supervisory position, adds Prof. Eden, who has studied this phenomenon at banks, in schools among principals and teachers, at summer camps among counsellors and campers, in university-based tutorial programs and in the military among commanders and their subordinates.

The Pygmalion research expands on studies of the “experimenter effect” in the 1960s, the notion that an investigator can unintentionally influence the outcome of an experiment in significant ways.

The recipe for success, says Prof. Eden, is to “expect a lot from people. You'll get more. Have high expectations and reinforce them with positive messages to the employee, even if it requires being a good actor.”

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Explore further: Best of Last Week – First map of hidden universe, pursuit of compact fusion and new clues about the causes of depression

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New health scans provide data on ancient mummies

21 minutes ago

A mummy rolled down hospital hallways here on Sunday. Amen-Nestawy-Nakht, a 3,000-year-old Egyptian priest, was getting a CAT scan at Barnes-Jewish. It was probably his second. The lastonewas a couple of decades ago, when ...

'Great wall of Jakarta' plan to combat floods

1 hour ago

Jakarta has launched a multi-billion-dollar scheme to build a huge sea wall to combat flooding as the Indonesian capital sinks, but there is scepticism about its chances of success in a country with a history ...

Recommended for you

US company sells out of Ebola toys

Oct 17, 2014

They might look tasteless, but satisfied customers dub them cute and adorable. Ebola-themed toys have proved such a hit that one US-based company has sold out.

Social trust eroded in Chinese product-tampering incident

Oct 14, 2014

For about a decade, Chinese consumers weren't getting what they paid for when they purchased Wuchang, a special brand of gourmet rice that has a peculiar scent. The quality was being diluted when less expensive rice was aromatized, ...

The 2014 Nobel Prizes at a glance

Oct 13, 2014

(AP)—All winners of the 2014 Nobel Prizes have now been announced, starting with the medicine award a week ago and ending with the economics prize on Monday.

User comments : 0