A study of the managers in telecommunications company AT&T over a five-year period concluded that their career progress — indicated by salary increases and performance ratings — depended largely on the expectations of the company.

The influence of the bosses’ expectations on the performance of the staff was a key factor. The study demonstrated the Pygmalion effect, which was discussed yesterday

The Pygmalion effect — a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, where people perform according to other people’s expectations of them — was observed more than 50 years ago by researchers of human behaviour.

Dr Albert Moll concluded that patients behaved as they were expected to. He observed that “prophecy causes its own fulfilment”.

How can the Pygmalion effect have a positive impact in your workplace?

* Communicate well

If a manager believes that his subordinates will perform badly, it is difficult for him to mask his feelings because his communication is transmitted unconsciously through his tonal and body language.

Professor Albert Mehrabian concluded that in communication, the meaning of a message is conveyed through body language (55 per cent), tonality (38 per cent) and words (7 per cent). In other words, non-verbal communication comprises a massive 97 per cent.

So if a manager wants his team to perform better, he has to strive to communicate positively with them. He has to start believing that they are capable of achieving their goals and selling them that idea.

* Listen

Listen to what your subordinates have to say. Incorporating their suggestions will go a long way to help them claim ownership of the targets you set them. Control your emotions, and do not make hasty judgments. Get detailed feedback by asking them open-ended questions, using the 1H and 5W approach: How, why, what, when, where and who.

* Levelling

Make your discussion with your subordinates informal and friendly. One approach is levelling, that is, communicating with them at their level and putting them at ease in giving feedback. Use the level of English they communicate in. If they do not have a good command of the language, use simple and specific sentences to put your ideas across.

* Confidence

In selecting, training and inspiring your subordinates, you must exude confidence. Your confidence will strongly influence their beliefs about their own capabilities. Your confidence is a keystone of credibility.

* Constructive feedback

Design a programme to provide regular feedback on each individual’s performance. Show appreciation for their contributions. Check their goals, aspirations and expectations.

Giving constructive feedback will improve your subordinates’ self-esteem and self-image. They will feel empowered and more energetic when they experience positive feelings from you. As they get more compliments, they will find it easier to compliment others.

* Achievable goals

Be realistic in your expectations. Goals set must be achievable. A goal that is too ambitious will leave your subordinates quitting and settling for a lower target.

Get your subordinates’ “buy-in” for the targets you have set. They must be given the opportunity to understand, negotiate and agree on these targets. In this way, they are more likely to take ownership of these targets and take responsibility for accomplishing them. The practice of dangling a carrot just beyond the donkey’s reach is not workable.

Your goals must be simple and specific, meaningful and measurable so that you can determine if they are being met and what you can do to correct any gaps. Simplicity and specificity will assist in the measurement of each subordinate’s performance.

In addition, always incorporate a time-frame into these goals so that your team members know when they have to be achieved.

If you banish the belief that your team is less capable than others and start communicating that they can outperform the competition, then their performance will improve.

Treat your team like losers and they will be; treat them like winners and they will rise to the challenge.