Great Performance Starts with Great Expectations

Much has been written about the Pygmalion Effect (most notably a study by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson), or the notion of self-fulfilling prophecy, from the viewpoint of parenting and teaching, but the same can be said for businesses. Do you scold, criticize, and demean your employees, or do you positively and constructively encourage them?

The famous George Bernard Shaw play “Pygmalion” (remade as the musical “My Fair Lady”) is one of many works of literature based on the Pygmalion Effect. In this famous tale, Professor Henry Higgins sets out to transform Eliza Doolittle from cockney flower girl to a respectable socialite. The process worked, but only to an extent, due in part to bad intentions.

Perhaps the most formalized adaptation of the Pygmalion Effect can be found in the military, especially boot camp training for recruits. The Marines are known for taking young, potential soldiers with various backgrounds and abilities and tearing them down, only to build them back up as Marines. Some wash out along the way, while others are transformed from the person they were into the strapping young leaders of tomorrow.

Some would argue that the tearing down part is psychologically harsh and potentially harmful. But it provides a clear example of the effects of both negative and positive reinforcement. People with strong wills and determination will strive to overcome criticism, but many will accept the badgering and succumb to what they assume to be their fate.

Conversely, praise and compliments delivered constructively towards a positive goal will often yield the intended results. The person feels supported and inspired, while also not wanting to disappoint the person giving the encouragement.

via Great Performance Starts with Great Expectations.