Summary: Pygmalion in Management

Summary of “Pygmalion in Management” by J. Sterling Livinson published on 1969 Harvard Business Review, pages 81-89

Employee performance is directly linked to the manager’s expectations, high expectations lead to high performance.

Impact on productivity

Metropolitan Life Insurance company example:

  • Group of best manager + best agents = by far the best performance
  • Group of worst manager + worst agent = low performance, increased attrition
  • Average manager + average staff = Surprisingly high performance due to manager’s refusal to believe she cannot match the best group`s performance

Power of Expectation
If a manger believes a subordinate will fail, if is impossible for him to mask his expectations. Manages typically communicate most when the believe the communicate least.

  • Common Illusions – Managers are more effective in communicating low expectations to their subordinates than in communicating high expectations to them
  • Impossible Dreams – Managers` high expectations must pass the test of reliability before they can be translated into performance
  • Secret of Superiority – Superior managers have greater confidence than other managers in their own ability to develop the talents of their subordinates.

The Critical Early Years
Managerial expectations have their most magical influence on young people.

  • Key to Future Performance – he early years in a business organization, when young people can be strongly influenced by managerial expectations, are critical in determining future performance and career progress.
  • Most Influential Boss – A young person’s first manager is likely to be the most influential in that person’s career.
  • Astute Selection – More than luck is involved when a young person is selected by a superior manager. Successful managers re careful to select only those who they “know” will succeed.

Developing Young People
Initial bosses of new college hires must be the best in the organization. Unfortunately, however, most companies practice exactly the opposite.

  • Disillusion and Turnover – The problem posed to corporate management is underscored by the sharply rising rates of attrition among young managerial and professional personnel.
  • A serious “generation gap” between bosses and subordinates is another significant cause of breakdown. Many managers resent the abstract, academic language and narrow rationalization characteristically used by recent graduates.

3 thoughts on “Summary: Pygmalion in Management

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