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What Do You Expect?: When Motivating Employees, Expectations Are Everything

During the 1930s, researchers from Harvard University conducted productivity studies at Western Electric's Hawthorne facility that demonstrated how management attention generates immediate productivity increases. However sustained, long-term productivity is facilitated when management communicates the consistent message that employees will perform to the expectations of established standards.

More than 300 additional studies support the fact that an employee's achievement goes beyond their individual personal ability and mirrors their manager's expectations. These findings indicate that employees perform in accordance with what is expected of them, even above their own beliefs in their abilities. This fact can play a significant role when it comes to individual performance.

It is important for managers to understand that if they openly demonstrate they believe an employee to be competent and worthwhile, then they are likely to be more effective and perceive their job to be more rewarding. Managers reinforce this concept when they encourage and are responsive to their employees, provide them more challenging assignments, and offer additional assistance and support whenever needed.

The phenomenon commonly referred to as the Pygmalion Effect stresses that achievement mirrors expectations more than individual ability. An individual's performance is affected by his or her self-image. This concept sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment. Its main principle supports the belief that employees can work up to and beyond their own perceived abilities by rising to meet the expectations managers have of them.

Managers have the ability to alter overall performance through expanding their employees' self-confidence and by building their self-esteem. These actions impact performance by expanding individual personal perceptions of what one can accomplish.

The nature of business means employees must deal with daily stress and inevitable missteps and failures that impact their self-esteem and confidence. Managers can positively support their employees by keeping the Pygmalion Effect in mind. They can build expectations that employees will readily overcome any setbacks and continue to work toward success.

A manager's attitude toward their employees also directly affects their performance. They are often astonished to discover that when employees are given a chance to prove themselves, they display more talent and ability than the manager initially imagined.

The second aspect of increasing productivity is the level of attention provided by managers. Attitudes, expectations, and attention establish what gets done and how. The Hawthorne studies show that the time and attention invested by management is directly proportional to results. In most organizations time is the scarcest of available resources. Employees understand that when a manager is visible to them, he or she is investing a valuable personal resource in their performance. Consequently, a visible manager is an effective one.

When most people think about leadership, they perceive it to be found only at the top levels of an organization. However, in reality, effective leadership takes place on a one-to-one basis. Managers work directly with each of their employees to enhance their capabilities and personal commitment to achieve positive results. The power of a single manager's attitude, expectations, and attention can impact productivity and positive results more radically than anything else.

Organizational changes actually occur on individual levels. Good managers understand that success occurs slowly but consistently, one small change at a time. While each single change may not appear meaningful unto itself, when measured across time and the entire workplace, the impact is enormous.

When managers positively impact their employees' performance to increase their productivity step-by-step, they begin to contribute consistently and successfully toward the achievement of the organization's goals. Each small success builds ongoing commitment. Overall change occurs because everyone has a chance to commit and contribute to it. Progress is the result of many things being done differently - not major management decisions.


Excerpt: Motivating Employees: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series. (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI, 2011) $ 17.95 USD.

If you would like to learn more about problem solving techniques, refer to Motivating Employees: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series. This skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions.

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