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June 20, 2013 / subramanyam

Pygmalion Effect

          As a kid my hand writing used to be horrible(not that it is great today—its manageable :-)), some of my teachers tried teaching me a thing or two about it but in vain.  Slowly but steadily I was getting branded as a student whose hand writing was worse and this sort of started inducing and reinforcing  the fact that my handwriting was bad. 

          Then in class VII, a teacher by the name Vijaya Padma madam came to our class. She was our social teacher. Even this madam was shocked when she saw my hand writing. However, she recognized that I loved history and started encouraging me there. Instead of getting into my handwriting and admonishing me, she used call me to the teachers room and discuss about history with me. One day,  in one of those subtle conversations she brought up the topic of handwriting . I was slightly getting switched off as this teacher too was hinting at the same thing and wanted to move away from there. She did not give up, she used to praise my knowledge and interest towards history and used to say that I can definitely improve my hand writing if I take it up seriously. She always made learning  little more challenging and made me feel good as I practiced cursive writing. 

          Every time she looked at my class work or my home work books she used nod, smile suggest an improvement or two and always reassure me that I was doing a good job. I do not know when it started but in the  6-8 months she was there with the school, my hand writing picked up (it stayed there after she left 🙂  and that’s a different story ). If I can write cursive hand writing today it’s probably because of her.  How did that teacher bring upon that change me ?  

          As I read management today, I realize that it is called Pygmalion effect or the self full filling prophecy. You can get the story of Pygmalion here .

         The Pygmalion effort speaks about the fact that teacher’s expectations are the key to the students achievements. It has been time and again proved particularly in the schools that when teachers have high expectations from their students and communicate this to them non-verbally they see that the students do achieve much and much more than the potential they exhibit.

 Pygmalion in Management

         Coming to our world and management, J. Sterling Livingston, a professor at Harvard Business School wrote an article called Pygmalion in Management, where he says that  “Manager/Supervisor’s expectations are key to the development and achievement of Subordinates”.  This was later reinforced by a lot of experiments in many organizations.  These studies do reveal the fact that if the managers have high expectations about their subordinates. They  indeed tend to show this in non verbal cues. For example, they tend to give them more ambitious tasks, keep in constant touch with them and communicate their high expectations in many non-verbal cues such as facial expression, eye contact, reassuring voice etc.  The very fact that their superiors are taking out time to spend with them works on the minds of the subordinates and that motivates and helps them perform better.   

         It is said that we humans have an innate tendency to feel motivated when we see/ realize that someone has high expectations of us.  That gives a high and we start putting in more and more into the  work we do. So the leaders who believe in the potential of their team members keep giving them more and more challenging tasks and keep assuring them that they indeed can achieve it and support their members through the journey, this makes the subordinates expand their potential and scale heights they never knew before. 

         Ok, now I am boss and I start defining my expectations to people. Every task for me is a motivating one and every time I start

The Pygmalion Effect is the best when the Probability of Success from the subordinates perspective is 0.5 on a scale of 1.

The Pygmalion Effect is the best when the Probability of Success from the subordinates perspective is 0.5 on a scale of 1.

 giving non-verbal cues will that work ?  To me it won’t.  Studies again tell us that the Pygmalion effect is the maximum on the people only when the probability of attaining the task is at 0.5 on the scale of 1.   When the task is easily doable (Probability >0.75), or when the task is extremely difficult (probability < 0.25)  the effect of Pygmalion on them tends to go down.  

So how do you use Pygmalion to generate effective results in your team ?

     1.   As ever you ought to have a clear vision of what’s need to be done. (the work or the task at hand)

    2.   Have a high regard for your team and a belief that your team members are achievers. Have trust and faith .

    3.    Understand the profile of your team member to identify what he did very well previously and what according to you would be a very good challenge for him. Make sure you pick something that the team member himself feels has a 50% chance of succeeding at.

    4.   Put that goal in front of him/her  and start supporting them in their endeavor. Now don’t be surprised if the they surprise themselves and  you.



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