Managing Expectations - 9 June 2009
Clever Hans was a horse that was incredibly famous in Germany over 100 years ago. Clever Hans became a big celebrity because he was able to read, spell, and solve mathematical problems. For example, when he’d be asked for the answer to 3 + 3, he would tap his leg six times. Clever Hans toured the country answering all the questions put to him correctly, and even the German Board of Education confirmed that his talents were real.
But then in 1907, a psychologist proved that Clever Hans wasn’t really solving maths problems at all. Rather, he was reacting to the questioner’s subtle and unintentional physical cues. In effect, Clever Hans was simply confirming the expectations of whoever was asking him a question.
This is replicated in classrooms. In a 1960s study, researchers gave an IQ test to school students at the beginning of the year. They then randomly selected 20% of these students and told the teachers that these students were extraordinarily gifted and were expected to excel. When the students were retested eight months later, those who were labelled as intelligent showed a dramatic increase in their performance compared to their peers - even though many of them they weren't very bright to begin with.
This shows the influence that expectations have on performance. Whenever you form an expectation of an employee, you begin to act differently without realising it. This altered behaviour signifies to your employee your expectation, and when repeated consistently, the employee’s behaviour eventually meets that expectation. There are five areas to focus on.
Intention: This is what's outlined above. Be careful that you don’t let your biases cloud your judgement. Have high expectations of everyone or, at the very least, do so initially.
Involvement: Include your employees in a consultative discussion prior to setting your expectations to get their buy-in early and to give you beneficial feedback before it’s too late.
Clarity: Once the expectations have been set, they need to be specifically articulated. The clearer they are in your employees’ minds, the higher then are the chances they’ll be met.
Language: The words you use when setting expectations have more power than you imagine. There’s a big difference between “I want you to” and “I believe you can”.
Linking: For your expectations to be embraced and owned by your employees, find some way to connect these expectations to your employees’ ambitions, key drivers, and values.
It all comes down to this: what you expect is really what you get.
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