New to HR? Templates, tools and development to make you a seasoned pro in no time.
Shawn Premer shows how doing the right thing for employees leads to positive business results.
Is your employee handbook keeping up with the changing world of work? With SHRM's Employee Handbook Builder get peace of mind that your handbook is up-to-date.
Build competencies, establish credibility and advance your career—while earning PDCs—at SHRM Seminars in 12 cities across the U.S. this spring.
#SHRM18 will expand your perspective – on your organization, on your career, and on the way you approach HR. Join us in Chicago June 17-20, 2018
Managers’ expectations influence employee performance
Members may download one copy of our sample forms and templates for your personal use within your organization. Please note that all such forms and policies should be reviewed by your legal counsel for compliance with applicable law, and should be modified to suit your organization’s culture, industry, and practices. Neither members nor non-members may reproduce such samples in any other way (e.g., to republish in a book or use for a commercial purpose) without SHRM’s permission. To request permission for specific items, click on the “reuse permissions” button on the page where you find the item.
Can we, as managers, affect individual performance by the expectations we hold of others? Research indicates we can, as does Hollywood. “The Raven,” a 1935 horror classic, offers a bizarre but highly entertaining example of expectations gone awry.
Bela Lugosi plays surgeon Richard Vollin, who falls in love with a patient. The patient’s father, a judge, disapproves of the relationship. As a result, Vollin becomes obsessed with revenge and devises tortures for his intended victims. But he needs a henchman.
Enter Boris Karloff as Edmund Bateman, an escaped murderer and thief who wants to reform his ways. He asks Vollin to perform plastic surgery on his face and hide his true identity. In discussing how he became a criminal, Bateman reveals that ever since he was born, people have called him ugly. “Maybe if a man looks ugly, he does ugly things,” He reasons.
The pronouncement triggers Vollin’s imagination. He concludes that if ugly people do ugly things, then there would be no limit to the acts a truly hideous-looking individual could perform. Instead of merely altering Bateman’s face, Vollin severely disfigures him in the hope that Bateman will carry out the doctor’s plan of revenge.
Those plans are undone as Bateman repents his evil ways and ultimately sacrifices himself to foil the doctor’s plan.
Experiments in Expectations
Being called ugly motivated a fictional character’s ugly acts, but do such labels shape real-world behavior? The classic Oak School experiment in 1968, conducted by scientists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, provides compelling evidence that they do. The researchers told teachers that 20 percent of 650 elementary school students were identified as having high intellectual potential from the results of standardized achievement tests. These students’ names were shared with their teachers.
At year’s end, the children were again tested, and those earlier identified as most promising showed the most growth. There was one problem: The children identified as having high intellectual potential were selected at random. The only difference between them and the rest of the students was in the teachers’ minds. Expectations, and the way those expectations manifested themselves, made the difference.
Rosenthal and Jacobson followed up the experiment, this time using laboratory rats as students and technicians as teachers. A “special breed” of rats was identified, and the techs were asked to train all the rats to move through a maze and find food as quickly as possible. The results: Though the rats were identical in breed, the ones labeled “special” outperformed the others because of the techs’ higher expectations. In fact, the techs found the “special” rats to be far more personable as well.
Out of the Lab
In the workplace, high expectations must be linked to specific, achievable objectives to transform performance. I learned this as a young production supervisor at a Midwest automotive transmission facility. When I gave machine operators specific output quantities just beyond their normal output, the results were far better than when they were given no numbers or numbers that were impossible to attain. For objectives to motivate, they must present a challenge but still be achievable.
The best result links a challenging objective with high expectations. However, if the employee views the objective as impossible, even if in reality it can be achieved, the result will be poor regardless of expectations. The other outcomes offer middling results.
Where Expectations Meet Performance
Create a Performance Monster
To hit the right spot on the performance chart, managers should raise expectations and set objectives by:
Performance management need not be a horror show. Managers should appreciate the powerful intersection of great expectations and challenging objectives. The resulting high performance will be monstrous.
The author, based near Philadelphia, is a 20-year HR veteran in the manufacturing and defense industries, specializing in performance management.
You have successfully saved this page as a bookmark.
Please confirm that you want to proceed with deleting bookmark.
You have successfully removed bookmark.
Please log in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please sign in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please purchase a SHRM membership before saving bookmarks.
An error has occurred
Recommended for you
Talent Attraction Study: What Matters to the Modern Candidate
SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition
SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 3,200 companies