employee performance vs team to suck

This is not an article about quantum physics or belief psychology or a self-help theory about how ‘what you believe comes about’. Not directly anyway.

I have worked in 3 countries, 4 different cultures and with 5 different employers and have had the opportunity to observe across different continents on how the whole ‘expectation paradigm’ works, irrespective of where on earth you are. When I started this article – it was going to be purely based out of my experience but I have learned that this phenomena was studied and given a name:  it’s called Pygmalion effect.

In gist: Your expectation of your subordinates literally decides on how well OR otherwise they perform. In other words, if you expect your employees to suck at the job, they will not disappoint you. If you expect your employees to excel at the job, they will succeed in at least meeting your expectation, vis-a-vis, excelling at the task.

If you think this is purely related to work environment – think again. In an experiment Dr. Montague Ullman and Dr. Stanley Krippner have proved that the ‘expectation’ of the experimenter skews (read changes and determines) the results of the experiment. If you pause for a second and think about this, it is mind boggling. Imagine why different scientists find ‘contradictory’ SCIENTIFIC proof for any given subject at hand.

Now applying that concept back to our workplace discussion. Pygmalion effect study shows that the expectations of a supervisor of their subordinate directly impacts the performance and morale of the subordinate.

I mentioned that I started off the article with my personal experience as basis and it was this:

I have received 4 ‘above and beyond’ awards in last 6 months and over 12 in the last 3 years, that is about 1 per every quarter. I have received accolades from Staff to CEOs for my articulated yet simple to understand responses and 2 clients made specific request for me to stay on their accounts (when a change in team was proposed).

For the same period (more in the past six months or so!), I have received and continue to receive feedback from 1 or 2 supervisors stating that I do not ‘meet their expectation’. It created such a doubt, briefly, that I had to vet to see if I am below the mark and got reassurance knowing that the stellar feedback that I was getting was indeed from highly regarded individuals in the firm which helped me regain the confidence.

Back to these 1 or 2 supervisors – not only was I not ‘meeting their expectations’ but there were other superstars (at my level) that were falling below their standards.  Funny thing is their standards were NOT that high and they continuously got POOR feedback from the clients they served.

I firmly believe that when you start ‘expecting high’ of others – they can sense it – which boosts their confidence which furthers their clarity in thinking which shows in the work product and voila – you got a quality product from a happy employee.

On the other hand, when you scorn about every minute thing ignoring completely the good things that your subordinates do for you, they always second guess what they are doing and this reduces their confidence in their work which further affects their quality and like a self-fulfilling prophecy, you get a crappy product from a dissatisfied employee.

As the time goes by, subordinates simply say to themselves “no point in exerting myself for this manager, its never going to be good enough anyway.”  This lack of motivation further deteriorates the involvement in their work.

This claim is not based on mumbo jumbo self help stuff. It is a distilled nugget of wisdom from various fields of study (medical, scientific, social and work circles).

There is another side to this story as well.  ‘You see in others what you secretly see in yourself’ is a popular psychology theory.  If you see high caliber in yourself then you will easily accept the same possibility from others.  Essentially what this means is that these ‘hard to please’ people may in fact be very insecure individuals.  They react out of the fact that someone will uncover their incompetence someday.  This is what the study refers to in this paragraph based on findings by Linkert: “His (Managers’) confidence in his subordinates leads him to have high expectations as to their level of performance. With confidence that he will not be disappointed, he expects much, not little”.

So when you expect others to suck at whatever is that they are doing for you – you are indirectly saying I am not good enough.

When everything is said and done (and not taking into consideration of the exceptions), how your team performs is directly linked to what you expect of them.

So, let me ask you: do you expect your employees to suck?  Or do you expect them to soar?


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