Pygmalion in Management
John Brown University
The self-fulfilling prophecy or Pygmalion effect has been studied by sociologists and psychologists for years. Research on this psychological phenomenon has been conducted in a variety of arenas, such as: educational, psychological, medical, political, military, and the workplace. The notion of the self-fulfilling prophecy was conceptualized by Robert Merton, a professor of sociology at Columbia University. In his 1957 work, “Social Theory and Social Structure”, Merton said the phenomenon occurs when “a false definition of the situation evokes a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true” (Accel-Team, 2001). Once an expectation is set, high or low, a person will behave in ways that are consistent with that expectation. Compared to studies of the Pygmalion effect conducted in classroom settings, the number of studies in the management field is small. Although there are fewer studies, the Pygmalion effect in the workplace domain clearly show the immense influence expectations have on subordinates productivity and future success. In an article from The Academy of Management Review, Dov Eden poses this question: “If raising teacher expectations enhances pupil performance, wouldn’t raising manager expectations boost subordinate productivity?” (Eden,1984).
Pygmalion in management can be described in this way: high expectations will result in high productivity; low expectations will result in low productivity. J. Sterling Livingston’s studies on manager’s expectations of subordinates and what influence those expectations have on their productivity and success supports the significant role the Pygmalion effect plays in the workplace. Eden (1984) postulates that setting difficult, but attainable, goals may be one of many effective ways to raise expectations and trigger productive self-fulfilling prophecy in organ- izations. The higher the expectancy, the...