| 
Updated Oct 28, 2014

Pygmalion Effect in Management

Managers are typically interested in maximizing the performance of workers. There are a variety of means of achieving this goal, but all of these means are subject to the influence of the relationship between management expectations and employee performance. This influence is known as the Pygmalion Effect, which indicates a self-fulfilling prophecy based on managers’ expectations. In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a ruler who fell in love with a female statue. Aphrodite gave life to the statue on the basis of Pygmalion’s deep love for it. In a way, Pygmalion’s expectations, hopes and corresponding behavior caused the statue to come to life. In the business context, managers’ expectations and behaviors toward employees impact employees’ behaviors and performance (Livingston, 1988). The Pygmalion Effect is an important consideration in management decisions, styles and approaches. It influences management effectiveness and success.

Pygmalion Effect in Management

In the Pygmalion Effect, the manager’s expectations affect his behavior, which in turn affects employees’ behavior and performance.

Effect of Managers’ Perception on Managers

When a manager assumes that an employee is capable of high performance, he expects actual high performance from the employee. This expectation influences the way the manager behaves toward the employee. For instance, the manager would demand that the employee perform better. In expecting that the employee could do more, the manager would also delegate more tasks and responsibilities to the employee. In a way, the manager’s expectations influence how he treats the employee (Inamori & Analoui, 2010).

Effect of Employee Perception on Performance

The manager’s treatment of the employee has a corresponding influence on the employee. For example, when the employee is given more tasks and responsibilities, he tends to try to accomplish and fulfill them. As a result, the employee behaves in a way that potentially increases his performance (Karakowsky, DeGama & McBey, 2012). Furthermore, when the employee is given more tasks and responsibilities, he gains an increased sense of ownership of the task. A higher sense of ownership leads to greater involvement and enthusiasm to perform better. The employee also develops a more positive perception of the manager because of the trust factor associated with higher responsibility (Brower, Lester, Korsgaard & Dineen, 2009). All of these factors based on the manager’s positive expectations improve employee performance, thereby establishing the self-fulfilling prophecy of positive influence.

How the Pygmalion Effect can Reduce Performance

The Pygmalion Effect can reduce performance if the manager’s expectation is negative. As noted, the manager’s expectations have significant influence on employee performance. When the manager expects that the employee is incapable or a poor performer, the manager tends to act in ways that discriminate, distrust, disapprove or negatively criticize the employee. When this happens, the employee could retreat back into low-performance instead of exploring possibilities of higher performance he could possibly achieve. When the manager maintains negative perceptions and expectations of employees, employees could perform poorly, thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of negative influence.

How Managers Can Use the Pygmalion Effect

Manager can take advantage of the Pygmalion Effect by maintaining a positive state of mind. This positive state of mind should include trust and confidence in employees, support for employee advancement, commitment to excellence, and so on. This positive state of mind will ultimately influence managerial treatment of employees in a way that motivates and promotes higher performance. As such, improvement in employee and organizational performance could all start with the manager’s positive assumptions and expectations.

References

  • Brower, H. H., Lester, S. W., Korsgaard, M. A., & Dineen, B. R. (2009). A closer look at trust between managers and subordinates: Understanding the effects of both trusting and being trusted on subordinate outcomes. Journal of Management35(2), 327-347.
  • Inamori, T., & Analoui, F. (2010). Beyond Pygmalion effect: the role of managerial perception. Journal of Management Development29(4), 306-321.
  • Karakowsky, L., DeGama, N., & McBey, K. (2012). Facilitating the Pygmalion effect: The overlooked role of subordinate perceptions of the leader. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology85(4), 579-599.
  • Livingston, S. (1988). Pygmalion in Management. Harvard Business Review, September-October, 3-12.
First published Aug 27, 2013. Updated Oct 28, 2014.