People will rise or fall to your level of expectation.
How well your employees perform has as much to do with your expectations of them as it has to do with their own abilities. If you think they will do well, they probably will do better than if you think they won’t do well.
In a famous experiment, teachers were given their new class rosters at the beginning of the school term. On these rosters, some students, chosen at random by the experimenters) were identified as having signs of better-than-average intellectual growth than others.
The teachers were not given any instruction to treat these students any differently with special assignments, more attention, and the like. They simply appeared on the roster with an asterisk by their name and a footnote at the bottom explaining that these students might have more potential than others.
At the end of the school year, the experimental group of students all showed gains growth in intellectual growth than the control group of students. For example, students in the control group of first graders showed a gain of 12 IQ points, while students in the experimental group showed a gain of over 27 points.
After the term ended, teachers steadfastly maintained that they did not favor the experimental students in any particular way. However, anecdotal evidence painted a different picture. Teachers routinely gave the experimental group of students more attention, calling on the more often, praising their work more often, giving them special privileges, and so on.
The conclusion is unmistakable: these kids did better because their teachers expected them to do better.
The lesson for managers is simple – if you want the best from your people, you have to expect the best. That doesn’t mean simply raising the bar and hoping for the best – it means truly believing in your people and their incredible capacity for outstanding performance.
Early in my career, I worked for a woman who absolutely refused to even hear any negative self-talk from her staff. She focused entirely on what we could do, not what we couldn’t do. If I went to Sally and said “I have a problem,” she would literally not even respond. I had to learn to rephrase it, saying, “I have an opportunity.” She taught me the meaning behind the adage “There are no problems, there are only opportunities.”
She knew that reframing problems into opportunities was a way of demonstrating her high expectation of me. By having these expectations, my performance improved dramatically. And, by having (authentic) high expectations of me, she helped me have high expectations for myself.
Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can do a thing or you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” The Law of Expectations means that whatever you think of your employees, you’re right – and their performance will rise or fall to your level of expectation to prove the point.