New Manager

What is your organisation’s Pygmalion Quotient?

C Mahalingam | Updated on September 10, 2014

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Great expectations lead to greater achievement, the Pygmalion Effect prophesies

Pygmalion is nothing new to those in management circles. Dr Sterling Livingston wrote a classic article titled Pygmalion in Management in the Harvard Business Review in 1998 and it was republished in January 2003. We actually measured the Pygmalion Quotient in an organisation where I managed the global HR function for eight years. As I took over, I was keen on assessing the maturity of the people management function in the company. People Management is how the line managers – from first-line all the way up to senior managers – manage their teams. The higher the maturity of people management in an organisation, the greater the chance of all key people-related indicators such as ability to attract talent, retain and engage them, and get them to deliver their best.

The Pygmalion Effect demonstrates the following:

What managers expect of their subordinates and the way they treat them largely determine their performance and career prospects.

A unique characteristic of superior managers is the ability to set high performance expectations that subordinates fulfil.

Less effective managers fail to develop similar expectations and as a consequence, the productivity of their subordinates suffers.

Subordinates, more often than not, appear to do what they believe they are expected to do.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

In other words, the Pygmalion Effect is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When managers expect superior performance and create necessary conditions, the direct reports measure up and deliver superior performance. Dr Rosenthal, who did early experiments and established the Pygmalion Effect, mentioned four supporting factors that leaders do to make it come alive. They are: (a) managers create a warmer climate for their subordinates; (b) provide useful inputs to them; (c) provide the opportunity to learn and perform and finally (d) provide differentiated feedback. Together, doing these four things defines the supporting environment for the juniors to deliver their best and fulfil the performance expectations from their managers.

Measuring the Pygmalion Quotient

Establishing a Pygmalion culture is a function of getting managers across levels and functions in the organisation to deliver superior performance by bringing the self-fulfilling prophecy alive. Measuring PQ is a first step to understand how managers as a community behave like Pygmalion in an organisation. This is done through intensive discussions and interviews with managers and the team members they supervise. With questions like “What is your approach to developing your people?”; “How do you set performance goals for your people?”“What do you focus on when you do performance reviews?”; you go about assessing your managers’ style and commitment to playing Pygmalion. But this is only half the story. The exercise is complete only when you speak to the direct reports of your managers and ask them similar questions. The responses of team members are even more important than the responses of the managers. However, gaining insight from discussions with both managers and the managed will help build a holistic perspective on the Pygmalion quotient of the company.

Being, knowing and doing

There are three dimensions to measuring the PQ. They may be described as the being, the knowing and the doing. From a manager’s viewpoint, being represents a sense of oneself as a potential Pygmalion; knowing represents the appreciation of what being a Pygmalion can do to elevate the juniors’ performance; and doing represents what actions does the manager really take for demonstrating the Pygmalion in him or her! Effectively, playing Pygmalion requires an integrated self with all three aspects coming fully alive.

Establishing a road map

This is the first step: knowing where your organisation stands. Once you had done the diagnosis in terms of what percentage of your managers play Pygmalion (knowingly or otherwise), you set out on establishing a robust people management maturity road map for your organisation. While establishing the roadmap and gaining the approval of the management team itself may not take more than a few weeks, making sure the roadmap is a complete one is critical to institutionalising the culture of people management in the organisation. The road map has to be prepared and owned by HR, but in effect, it is something that the CEO and senior management endorse and value. At the end of the day, remember the wisdom from Gallup that people join corporations, but leave managers! So, how on earth can an organisation get and keep great talent if they do not raise the bar for people management? When the bucket has huge holes in people management, pouring great people into it is of no avail.

(C Mahalingam is an Executive Coach and HR Advisor. He is also a visiting professor at several IIMs)

Published on September 09, 2014

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