Achieve Employee Success Through High Expectations

man hard at work at desk
Topic(s): job performance, leadership, training
Publication: Journal of Management (2009)

Article: Pygmalion and employee learning: The role of leader behaviors
Authors: X.M. Bezuijen, P.T. van den Berg, K. van Dam, H. Thierry
Reviewed by: Benjamin Granger

There is a well-established research finding stating that supervisor expectations of employee capabilities influence actual employee performance. This phenomenon is called the self-fulfilling prophesy or the Pygmalion effect. But why or how does this happen?


This research study (Bezuijen et al., 2009) suggests that supervisor expectations may affect employee capabilities primarily through the mechanism of goal-setting. 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, the researchers found that they lead directly to supervisory behaviors that impact employee learning and development activities. When leaders have certain expectations of their employees, the leaders may act differently toward them, and consequently, it will affect their employees’ work behavior and performance. In this manner, leaders who set high expectations can usually expect to reap large rewards.

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(5), 1248-1267.