Have you heard of the Pygmalion Effect? It was first coined by Harvard researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobsen, who observed that students performed better when their teachers believed they had the potential to be great. Their famous experiment saw pupils selected at random and labelled as bloomers, ie children with strong potential. Lo and behold, those students then went on to significantly out perform their classmates. What’s interesting is that the effect continued, even after the student was no longer taught by the teacher who believed they had potential.
A few decades later, research was conducted by Brian McNatt to see if this would be replicated in the workplace. Could managers literally believe their employees to be better and create a self fulfilling prophecy? Over three thousand employees were studied across a range of companies, with the same results. When managers believed employees had excellent potential, the employees performed accordingly.
McNatt concluded his study by suggesting managers “recognise the possible power and influence in a) having a genuine interest and belief in the potential of their employees… and b) engaging in actions that support others and communicate that belief… increasing others’ motivation and effort and helping them to achieve that potential”.
So, in other words, he recommended that managers begin to see employees as exhibiting great potential as a matter of course. Some research earlier this year built on this work, and underlined the importance of trust to the success of this phenomenon.
Central to the pygmalion effect is a fundamental improvement in performance and behaviour. Whilst on the management side of the fence the motivations are clear, on the employees side they are moving from the comfortable status quo into a more unknown future, all based upon your belief in them.
Central to this is that your employees need to believe that you can deliver on your promised future. This is a relatively simple judgement of their talents as a leader. Are you skilled enough to take them from one state to another. If your employee believes you have this ability then your influence is manifest.
Equally important to trust is your perceived integrity. Your team might believe you to be very skilled, but if they don’t believe what you say, it will be very hard for them to trust in your vision for them.
The final factor is an emotional one. Employees need to believe in your inherent benevolence. They need to believe that you care for their wellbeing and will go out of your way to help and support them.
If you can provide your team with all of these things then you form one side of a powerful social contract that employees will feel duty bound to reciprocate in the form of renewed effort.
How does this affect social business?
Well, social business is in its purest form asking employees to change their behaviour. Often it’s asking them to change behaviours that have been honed from decades spent in the workplace. You want them to shift from thinking individually to thinking collaboratively. To start caring as much for their colleagues performance as for their own. The pygmalion effect shows that a positive perceptual approach lie at the heart of this transformation. If you as the manager believe your team are collaborative and sharing naturally then they stand a good chance of becoming so.Original post