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The Pygmalion Effect and How It Affects Your Employees

The Pygmalion Effect and How It Affects Your Employees

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Author:  Mannika Solanki

Have you ever noticed that there is always this one hopeless member in your team? The one person you have really low expectation from because you know they just won’t deliver? You have it clear in your mind that that person is not your star performer, hence you don’t really put a lot of your business in their hands. Let’s understand why this doesn’t really work in the long-run, and how you can make it work for you instead.

What is the Pygmalion Effect?


The Pygmalion Effect is a phenomenon in Psychology that states that what you expect is what you get. A person’s performance changes according to the observer’s expectation from them. In a simple experiment conducted with elementary school kids, the teacher told some students at random that they are expected to be better at IQ tests than the rest. There was no reason behind this claim, it was just a passing statement to see if that really affects the performance of these students. It did. Students who were told that they could do better actually did, without any marked differences in their capability or preparation as compared to the others.

How is it relevant at the workplace?


Imagine working with someone you have really low expectations from, whatever the reason may be – they’re not from a relevant professional background, they lack a specific degree, they’ve not worked in a large team before, etc. Further, you constantly remind them how they might not be able to do it, that it is not something they’re up for, that perhaps they should look for opportunities elsewhere. It’s not going to help. Firstly, you will get frustrated if you have to have ‘the talk’ with someone from your team every few quarters. Because let’s be honest, there will always be the next weakest performer in your team, you can’t keep letting people go.  Secondly, it will destroy the morale of your team, and your chances of going up the ladder and leading a larger one.

How to make it work for you?


Use the Pygmalion Effect to your advantage. It might take a little bit of an effort to start with but will have a great impact, morally and economically, on your team. Encourage every member to give their best; respect and honestly appreciate the effort put in by the weakest member as well. Tell them their work is noticed and valued, and that they contribute immensely to the team. Remember that over time your perception of them becomes their perception of themselves. If you make them believe that they’re only capable of so much, they will restrict their deliverables to only that much. On the other hand, if you encourage them and equip them with the resources to do more, they will. Your perception of them as an achiever, will become their own and they will put in their best effort to keep it that way.