The Influence of Expectations on Leasing Performance

In 1965, Harvard psychologist Robert Rosenthal administered an IQ test to a group of elementary school students. Through this test, Rosenthal identified 20% of the students who were going to advance academically in the following year. To everyone’s surprise, they indeed excelled that following year and again almost a year later.  But interestingly, he had chosen the students at random. As Rosenthal suspected, the teacher’s expectations were what made the difference. The results demonstrated a powerful self-fulfilling prophecy. Students believed to be on the verge of great academic success performed in accordance with these expectations; students not labeled this way did not. Rosenthal’s discovery has become one of the most cited and discussed psychological studies ever conducted, identifying what is commonly referred to as the Pygmalion effect. The influence of expectations on leasing performance exists clearly today’s leasing office.

When a property manager has high expectations for a leasing professional, that employee tends to perform substantially better than their peers. While the manager may try their best to hide what could be perceived as favoritism, their high hopes and expectations still offer a lot of subconscious clues that often play out through their body language, tone, and actions. A study on the reverse phenomenon, the Golem effect, proves that when a manager sets low expectations for an employee, this can have a negative impact on the employee’s performance even if that employee is highly skilled and shows great potential.

The Pygmalion and Golem effects represent two of the most important concepts in property management – the impact of expectations, and the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy. From these we learn that when a property manager sets high expectations and goals for a leasing professional, they will take responsibility for developing their capabilities and increasing their performance. Conversely, when dealing with an employee for whom they have set low expectations, managers are often quick to blame poor performance on the leasing professional’s lack of ability.  Regardless of the case, the leasing professional tends to live up to expectations. And those expectations tend to influence the judgment of behavior and work performance not only by the property manager but those in the hierarchy with whom the manager engages.

In the end, both expectations and the self-fulfilling prophecy that follows leave their mark of influence, leading to the fact that we most often get the outcomes we expect. As Charles Kettering once remarked, “High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.”

The Pygmalion effect is most powerfully displayed in the 1964 musical drama My Fair Lady (based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion). In the story, phonetics professor Henry Higgins bets a colleague that he can transform Eliza Doolittle, who is a street vendor, into a duchess simply by teaching her to speak proper English. His colleague accepts the wager and Eliza accepts the challenge because she hopes to improve her life status.  Higgins invests his time and energy in Eliza’s transformation with the final goal of passing her off as an aristocrat at the season’s biggest social event. He was completely invested in her success.

As property management leaders, we can we learn a lot from this story about the powerful impact of our expectations and our role in the success of our leasing professionals. In fact, many proven leadership training programs have been developed around the Pygmalion Effect. Here are three ways we can use the influence of expectations on leasing performance to make a positive impact.

1.  Start Fresh and Set Stretch Goals

When a new leasing professional joins your team, it is important to sweep the plate clean, start new, and set them up for success, regardless of what you know of their previous performance, behavior, etc. Every day is a new opportunity to set expectations high (albeit realistic). Goals that are too low are not motivating, nor are goals that are unrealistically high. Instead, aim to create “stretch” goals – ones that are slightly out of an employee’s comfort zone but that have a high probability of success. Stretch goals focus on challenges that require innovative approaches. Under the right conditions, these ambitions goals will often inspire a new level of commitment, effort, and performance.

2.  Provide Encouragement Along the Way

After setting ambitious goals, it is important to provide support to help leasing professionals achieve them. What skills are they lacking? What kind of support will they need? How will you mentor them towards success? Encouragement comes in many different packages. At the end of a difficult day, sometimes all that is needed are a few kind words and another reminder of the goal. Inspire your employees to their potential.

3.  Speak Positive Messages

Messaging is powerful! When you speak to and about your team members, focus on the positive by pointing out their strengths, potential, and goals achieved, etc.  The way you speak about them can shape opinions and expectations in a very potent way. Praise can have a real impact on performance, and it doesn’t cost us a thing. Yet it is an often forgotten gift. If a leasing professional does a good job, we should make sure they are aware of it so they know what to repeat, in addition to what they need to improve upon in the future. If they fail a task, we must seek to understand what they are struggling with and give them what they need to succeed. Some of the best lessons learned come out of failure. In fact, the way a manager reacts to failure is one of the most powerful ways they can communicate their expectations to the employee.

The impact of expectations can be harnessed with direction. Direction fosters purpose, and it is the property manager’s responsibility to know what that purpose is for their leasing professionals. Professor Higgins understood where he was taking Eliza and he conveyed that to her repeatedly along the way. She knew where she was heading, and he gave her the tools to achieve great results. By signaling our belief in the leasing professional’s abilities to succeed, we can deliver positive expectations and encourage them to start believing in themselves. Leaders who encourage others to believe in themselves are leaders whom others want to follow. As Eliza noted in her gratitude to her mentor, “I could have spread my wings and done a thousand things I’ve never done before.”

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

Edge2Learn is an eLearning company whose focus is the Property Management Industry and specializes in property management training and multifamily education. With over 30 years of experience and a commitment to increase industry excellence, we are passionate about engaging learners to maximize benefits for both companies and employees. Aligned with a well-respected industry leader, Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions, the Edge2Learn platform provides a turnkey solution for clearly identified needs and opportunities. We prepare learners to deliver a superior customer experience and also reduce corporate liability risks and overall employee turnover.