Monday, 14 June 2010

50 years of research into expectations

I have had the pleasure of being a cohort member of the National Child Development Study which is a longitudinal study extending back over 50 years. Throughout my life I have completed various questionnaires and being medically examined in order to trace the ingredients of what goes to produce people of my age. The Study's data have been used by researchers countless times and from around the globe.

Most recently, Radio 4 did a series of short programmes featuring cohort members where they compared their predictions aged 10 with how their lives have actually turned out. (You can listen to the programmes here.) I have listened to these broadcasts and not only are they a delightful example of social history, one particular conclusion appeared to emerge.

There seems to be a strong link between how successful a person is and how successful they expected (or were expected) to be. Put simply, if a person's parents expected them to do well in life, people often rose up to meet that expectation and did pretty well. The converse was also true, to a limited extent. Clearly life 'success', however that is measured, is down to a myriad of factors to do with social class, educational achievement, race, gender etc etc. But the importance of expectation, self belief and the confidence in oneself which go hand in hand is there, it seems to me.

This got me wondering about what leaders can do to support and nurture expectation, and conversely what they can (and do) do that erodes confidence and an expectation of success.

The other week, I was running a leadership development programme and we got to talking about how leaders can help build cultures of continuous improvement through praising and expecting the best of people. One manager said that he had not thanked any of his staff of late since none of them had done anything extraordinary that, in his view, deserved a thank you. Another manager suggested that he might not be looking hard enough whilst another wondered why none of his staff were doing anything extraordinary... It was a good debate.

So my questions in this blog post are: 
  • How much success do you expect from your staff?
  • How do you let them know what you expect of them?
  • When do you thank your staff: what do they have to do to get your thanks?
  • What are you doing that shows you expect high performance from your team? 

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