Management has been treated as a discrete science for about 100 years. You could call the 20th Century “The Management Century”. Management has been analyzed, dissected, reviewed, revised, pulled apart and put together again time and time again. It’s interesting to reflect that all this management science is still at the mercy of two human characteristics that affect all of us.
The Intangible Twins
Perception and expectation are the intangible twins. We see the effects of them very easily. But they exist only in the mind. The first derives from how you “see” or perceive people and situations. Many of the worst elements of human behaviour such as racism and sexism are functions of perception. Expectation simply means how you expect people will react to situations and other people. And one is often fashioned by the other.
Perception, Expectation and Judgement
Perception and expectation affect our judgement. That’s normal. It becomes a problem when we allow our judgement to be dominated by the intangible twins. Sometimes we won’t even realize what’s happening. We can’t help that. But when we try to justify our lack of objectivity by ignoring them, we’re likely to get into trouble.
Perception And Expectation At Work
If you perceive an employee does only enough to avoid dismissal, you won’t expect more from that employee. You won’t give that employee more demanding work. You won’t expect them to “come through in a crisis”. Even if they do you’ll “see” their behaviour and performance as a “one off”. You may even look for ways to explain their outstanding effort to match the way you “see” them.
Perception, Expectation and Employee Performance
Those twins, perception and expectation, can easily lead to employee performance problems. To limit that possibility …
- Use job rotation so that employees learn “how the other half lives”
- Make a list naming your “best” performers and write down what they do that makes you think that they’re “best”
- Do the same for your “worst” performers
- Compare both lists against the actual results the employees achieve: not how pleasant or likeable they are
- Decide how you want your employees to perceive you. If necessary ask those you trust to tell you how you’re perceived. Pay them a bonus if they’re absolutely honest!
- Consider the link between perception and expectation. How much is your perception influencing your expectation?
- Try to put performance before personality, outcome before process, facts before feelings
- Accept that perception exists and that it influences how you relate to people and events. The “trick” is to make it positive or neutral.
An Intangible Twins True Story
The CEO was perplexed and upset. He asked me to visit him. His sales director was causing all sorts of problems after only six months in the job. “Leon,” said the CEO, “I can’t understand it. I knew the moment he walked in the door that he was the right man. His interview was fantastic. I’ve given him everything he’s asked for. But he’s a disaster.”
This story is a superb example of the power of perception – “the moment he walked in the door” – leading to an unfounded positive expectation – “everything he asked for” – and a completely unexpected outcome. Have perception and expectation ever combined to confuse and confound you? If it has, you’re not alone. Now you know that it exists and what to do about it.