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Pygmalion Effect in Human Resource Management Essay

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Updated: Apr 21st, 2021


The self-fulfilling prophecy cuts across the board from the classroom, lecture halls, and workplaces. Pygmalion seeks to address the issue of how people are treated, whether good or bad. Essentially, there exists a direct relationship between how people are treated and the results to be achieved. This implies that how people are treated tends to be transforming (Livingston, 2).


Pygmalion was an ancient Greek sculptor. He noted that individuals could transform others based on how they treat them. Sometimes, managers treat their employees or subordinates in a manner that enhances their performance. On the other hand, many supervisors underutilize the potential of their staff unintentionally. Managers’ behaviors towards their employees depict their expectations from the workers. Over the years, behavioral scientists have recognized the powerful and direct relationship between a person’s expectations and the actual results of a person’s activities (Livingston, 3).

The managers’ attitude and their expectations towards their juniors largely define the performance and progress of employees. Secondly, managers who can formulate high prospects for their juniors have exceptional features. Thirdly, the supervisors who are not competent do not hold high expectations leading to poor output among their subordinates. Lastly, in most instances, employees engage in activities believed to be their responsibility.

Impact on productivity

According to an observation made by Alfred Oberlander, the outstanding insurance agencies had remarkable growth as compared to the average or poor agencies. The success of the insurance firms was greatly attributed to their agents. The outstanding firms recognized the effort of their agents significantly as compared to the poor performing insurance firms (Livingston, 3).

Later, Oberlander divided the sales agent into three groups. The best agents were assigned to the best supervisor and the average and poor sales agents. Soon after the selection, the best agents were regarded as super staff. The motivated group yielded more than normal productivity, while the poor producer had to be eliminated from the operation. Thus, it is evident that the best employees’ performance increased because of motivation and high expectations.

However, the results of the poor performing employees declined even further due to the low expectations. However, self-fulfilling prophecies were evident from the average group. Though the group selected was from the average group, the average manager was resilient to believe that he could achieve just like the best manager. This led to the average group superseding its target (Livingston 8).

Comparable results have been attained from a different company confirming the above sentiments. Pygmalion is by no means a business discovery through clinical experiments. In this case, subjects behave as they are expected to behave.

Pattern failure

When employees are treated as super staff, they strive to live up to their expectations. Likewise, in case they feel that they are treated as if they have no chance to succeed, low productivity is inevitable. Low self-esteem and self-image characterize the poor performing employees. Such employees try to avoid greater failure as it would adversely affect their egos because of the low managerial expectations. Broken self-esteem coupled with low managerial prospects further escalate the likelihood of poor performance. For instance, bank managers were restricted to the sums of money they could lend out. They started lending out only safe amounts.

The low expectations of the bank supervisor led to havoc. There was a reduction not only in lending but also in the amounts deposited. As a result, the bank lost most of its clients to competitors. This was an effect of the low expectations of bank managers as restricted by their supervisors (Livingston, 6).

Power of expectations

In most instances, expectations are communicated unintentionally. A manager who is uncomfortable with his employees will reveal his low expectations. As from the earlier illustrations, low expectations lead to poor productivity. The common illusion is that managers are considerably effective in communicating negative or low expectations as compared to high expectations. The bank supervisors denied that they had communicated negative sentiments, yet the bank managers had clearly received the negative message. The way managers treat their employees is critical to high expectations, and by extension, enhanced performance.

However, the manager’s dream should be quite realistic prior to their implementation. For the self-fulfilling prophecy to be achieved, expectations should contain the power of positive thinking and confidence in the employees. However, if the subordinates view the manager’s expectations as unachievable, not much will be derived (Livingston, 4).

Great managers are capable of instigating enhanced performance among the employees who are expected to achieve the performance targets. The ability emanates from the manager’s own ability to train, motivate, and develop high performing employees. This implies that managers can only give what they have. A manager who believes in himself will be able to believe in others hence enhancing their performance.

The critical early years

Managers expect the performance of new employees to be better than that of the existing employees. In this case, as employees grow and develop their careers, their image hardens. Previous performances of employees play a critical role in their career development. Thus, the key to sustainable future performance in an organization can be enhanced when the managerial expectations are conveyed to the young people. This usually involves a company developing the young people of the organization. Nonetheless, the corporate management claim that turnover among the fresh graduates has greatly escalated over the past years.


Pygmalion is a notion that a person can transform others based on how he or she treats them. In management, this concept seeks to address the way a manager should relate to his or her subordinates. In this case, the manner in which people are treated affects their performance. Therefore, I conquer that with the tenets of Pygmalion that a manager’s expectations of his employees determine their success. From the examples provided, the fact is inevitable. As such, I agree that managers should have high expectations for their employees, and the results will be remarkable.

Works Cited

Livingston, Sterling. “Pygmalion in management.” Harvard Business Review, 1988, pp. 1-14. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Pygmalion Effect in Human Resource Management'. 21 April.

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