Great Expectations: Catalyst for Employee Learning and Development

Topic: Job PerformanceLeadership, Training
Publication: Journal of Management (OCT 2009)
Article: Pygmalion and employee learning: The role of leader behaviors
Authors: X.M. Bezuijen, P.T. van den Berg, K. van Dam, and H. Thierry
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Isn’t it fascinating how our expectations of others so frequently come to fruition?  The finding that supervisors’ expectations of their employees’ capabilities accurately reflect their actual performance is well-established. This phenomenon is called the self-fulfilling prophesy (AKA the Pygmalion effect). But, how and why do supervisors’ expectations of employees’ capabilities reflect their performance? Is it magic? Is it a sixth sense? Is it prescience?

No, no and no….

A recent study by Bezuijen and colleagues (2009) suggests that supervisors’ expectations of their employees’ capabilities to learn job-related skills is primarily due to goal-setting (bummer, I had guessed magic). They demonstrated that high expectations lead supervisors to assign more difficult and specific goals to employees and also provide these employees with more learning opportunities.  Increased opportunities, in addition to more difficult and specific goals, make it more likely that employees will engage in learning and development activities.

Although we may think of expectations as passive judgments or subjective thoughts, Bezuijen et al. found that they lead directly to supervisory behaviors that impact employee learning and development activities.

Warning to Managers:
Your expectations of employees can have a significant impact on your behaviors toward them and consequently their behaviors at work. So set your expectations high and your employees will return the favor.

Bezuijen,, X.M., van den Berg, P.T., van Dam, K. & Thierry, H. (2009). Pygmalion and employee learning: The role of leader behaviors. Journal of Management, 35, 1248-1267.