Team Performance: Self-fulfilling Prophecy or an Adjustable Reality?

We all want to have the best team possible. One that is motivated, one that is productive, one we can trust with our important missions.

But what if we’re doing things wrong? What if how we are thinking about our team actually isn’t helping them be better? What if our expectations and perceptions were harming our team’s performance?

It might sound a little weird, but it’s true…

When you expect team members to behave a certain way, they will often fulfill your expectations and create the reality that you were expecting.

For example…

  • Leaders who expect their team members to be slow and lazy get team members who take forever to get tasks done.
  • Leaders who expect their team members to screw-up, get projects riddled with errors and mistakes

This isn’t science fiction. Many psychological experiments have drawn a clear link between a leader’s expectations and performance results. Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson proved that a teacher’s expectations powerfully influence their students results.

But here’s where things get interesting.

This journey from expectation (I bet this team member will be lazy) to result (a lazy team member) isn’t a one-way street. It’s a never ending performance cycle.

Expectations -> Reality -> Expectations

Now, I want you to be the best leader you can be, so I’m going to deepen your understanding of this (often-damaging) performance cycle so you can really understand what’s at stake, and use it for good!

The first thing you need to know is that the real performance cycle is more layered than the one above.

The real cycle looks like this…

I call this the R.E.E.P Performance Cycle, it works like this:

  • Reality informs…
  • Expectations, which shape our…
  • Experiences, which lead our…
  • Perceptions, which create our internal Reality (and the cycle goes on)

I realise this is a somewhat abstract concept, so I’ll flesh things theory out with an easy-to-grasp example….

Meet Nigel, he’s the CEO of a Marketing Analytics company.

Nigel’s sales team pay little attention to product development, they always seem busy with other things. (Nigel’s Reality).

Nigel expects that his new hire, Sales Executive Kate, will have zero interest in product development. (Nigel’s Expectation).

Nigel chooses not to ask Kate to product development meetings. (Nigel’s expectations shape his own Experience)

Kate would love to be involved with product development. She listens carefully to what customers would like to see in their products and feels sad that she’s never invited to the meetings. Over time, Kate starts to feel that Nigel doesn’t value her opinion. However, Kate is a positive person, so rather than get down about the situation, she uses her free time to go to the gym and stay healthy. When she’s able to, she still sneaks a look at what’s going on with product development. (Nigel’s expectations shape Kate’s Experience)

Nigel sees that Kate is only interested in two things. 1) Achieving her daily sales targets. 2) Getting out of the office as quickly as possible. (Nigel’s experiences lead his Perception – that Kate is not interested in product development or anything else outside her job description.)

Nigel’s sales team pay little attention to product development, they always seemed busy with other things. (Nigel’s perception is his Reality).

Nigel expects that his new hire Sales Executive, Tom, will have zero interest in product development. (Nigel’s Expectation).

And the performance cycle goes on…

I call this performance feedback cycle the R.E.E.P CYCLE — It can be a negative cycle or a positive cycle… the choice is in the leader’s hands. What’s important is that you understand the power of this performance cycle, and how it can drastically alter the performance of your employees, your team, and your business.

You REEP what you REEP

You need to understand that the R.E.E.P CYCLE is perpetual. It won’t stop or change without conscious effort by leaders like you. Leaders who expect the worse of their team members can expect to keep seeing poor performances. What you REEP today, you’ll REEP again tomorrow (it’s a smarter version of you reap what you sow).

So how can leaders break free from a negative R.E.E.P CYCLE?

How you can install a positive R.E.E.P CYCLE? (The kind of performance cycle that lifts the performance of your team and keeps positivity flowing through your business.)

First, you need to accept that your team’s performance is a self-fulfilling prophecy that’s authored by you. You can choose to craft a positive script for your team members or a negative one. Either way, you need to accept that your thoughts and expectations lead your team’s performance and the reality your experience.

Second, if your current script (self-fulfilling prophecy) is not delivering the results you need, it’s time for a rewrite, it’s time to adjust your performance prophecy and your team’s reality.

You can rewrite your performance prophecy with some simple (but not easy) steps:

  1. Look for the good in your team members (Consciously alter your Perception).
    • One practical way of actioning this, is sending each of your team members a weekly emails with one of the good things that you have notice with their performance this week. E.g., “Great job with handling that tricky phone call”, “thanks for assembling those assets so quickly, you nailed it”.
    • If you adopt this habit, I guarantee that over time, your leadership performance and the team’s performance will improve.
    • (Bonus: When you see team members in a better light, they’ll return the favour!)
  2. Listen to your team members.
    • What are they interested in? Where do they want to develop? What do they see as their strengths?
  3. Focus your expectations on people’s strengths and areas of interest.
    • Don’t waste energy (theirs or yours) trying to level-up their weaknesses or things they have no interest in.
    • If people are no longer interested in essential parts of their job, a different conversation is probably needed.
  4. Expect the best from your team members.
    • Be clear on the performance you would like to see from team members, but expect that your team members will reach a high level of performance.
    • Assume the best and you’ll work together to make it a reality.
  5. Create a winning Experience for team members
    • invite them to interesting meetings, canvas their opinion,
    • provide the resources, access, and training they need meet your expectations and win

In conclusion… Top performance starts in the Leader’s Mind

In this blog post, we’ve talked about how our expectations and perceptions of other people powerfully influence their performance. If you want to be a smart leader who positively influences team members so they can become top performers, don’t underestimate the power of these factors! Instead, work on managing them using the steps we’ve outlined above. We have a training system for teams and leaders that will help you take control over these influencing factors, as well as providing other amazing resources that will empower your team to break free from average performance and achieve success in all aspects of their lives. Learn more about our training system today!

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