Employee Motivation, the Organizational Environment and Productivity

Self-fulfilling prophecy or pygmalion effect at work

Better Management by Perception

Corollary 5

  • Once formed expectations about ourselves tend to be self-sustaining

Exactly how do we communicate the expectations responsible for the Pygmalion Effect? The process works in very similar ways with people as it did with Clever Hans.

In 'Educational Sociology: a realistic approach (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980), Thomas L. Good, Jere E. Brophy list a dozen ways in which teachers and managers may behave differently toward students and workers.

Corollary 6

  • Good managers produce employees who perform well and feel good about themselves;
  • Bad managers produce employees who perform poorly and feel badly about themselves
Self-fulfilling prophecy in action

One of the critical tools a manager uses to influence employees is the performance review. Most managers underestimate its importance. Certainly the review is used as a report card, as a means of calculating the size of raises, as a way to introduce areas needing improvement and as a permanent record of what someone has accomplished.

Much more importantly, though, reviews influence future performance. They offer a good example of how self-fulfilling prophecies work, for good or ill.

Take the case of a bright, young, aggressive employee. Let's assume she is abrasive, disruptive and disrespectful at times. However, she can also be creative, hard-working and full of enthusiasm. Given proper channeling, she can produce excellent results.

Some managers, required to assign her to a performance category, would call her "excellent" They're impressed by her strengths. Others, focusing on her weaknesses, would call her "poor." Still others, weighing the pluses and minuses, would call her "average." Even with the scant information you have, you can see that any of these ratings could be justified.

But what these managers are doing probably unknowingly, is helping to determine the young woman's future performance. If she's rated "excellent," what will happen? She will tend to be even more abrasive, disruptive and disrespectful. She will also probably be more creative, enthusiastic and hard-working. She will do more of what she believes her manager wants.

What if she's rated "poor" She will likely be less abrasive, but she will also be less creative and enthusiastic. Suppose she's rated "average" Depending on what her manager says about the rating and why she got it, she may adjust her behavior slightly.

The variable here is the manager's rating. It is based on the manager's values, prejudices and feelings. Most employees will take the cues and alter their future behavior accordingly.

Next | Corollaries 7 & 8