People in organizations are always judging each other. Managers must appraise their employees’ performances. We evaluate how much effort our coworkers are putting into their jobs. When a new person joins a work team, he or she is immediately “sized up” by the other team members. In many cases, these judgments have important consequences for the organization. Let’s briefly look at a few of the more obvious applications.
Employment Interview: A major input into who is hired and who is rejected in any organization is the employment interview. It’s fair to say that few people are hired without any interview. But the evidence indicates that interviewers make perceptual judgments that are often inaccurate. In addition, agreement among interviewers is often poor that is, different interviewers see different things in the same candidate and thus arrive at different conclusions about the applicant.
Interviewers generally draw early impressions that become very quickly entrenched. If negative information is exposed early in the interview, it tends to be more heavily weighted than if that same information comes out later. Studies indicate that most interviewers’ decisions change very little after the first 4 or 5 minutes of the interview. As a result, information elicited early in the interview carries greater weight than does information elicited later, and a ‘good applicant’ is probably characterized more by the absence of unfavorable characteristics than by the presence of favorable characteristics.
Importantly, who you think is a good candidate and who another thinks is one may differ markedly. Because interviews usually have so little consistent structure and interviewers vary in terms of what they are looking for in a candidate, judgments about the same candidate can vary widely. If the employment interview is an important input into the hiring decision and it usually is you should recognize that perceptual factors influence who is hired and eventually the quality of an organization’s labor force.
Performance Expectations: There is an impressive amount of evidence that demonstrates that people will attempt to validate their perceptions of reality, even when those perceptions are faulty. This characteristic is particularly relevant when we consider performance expectations on the job.
The terms self fulfilling prophecy, or Pygmalion effect, have evolved to characterize the fact that an individual’s behavior is determined by other people’s expectations. In other words, if a manager expects big things from his people, they’re not likely to let him down. Similarly, if a manager expects people to perform minimally, they’ll tend to behave so as to meet those expectations. The result then is that the expectations become reality.
An interesting illustration of the self fulfilling prophecy is a study undertaken with 105 soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces who were taking a 15 week combat command course. The four course instructors were told that one third of the specific incoming trainees had high potential, one third had normal potential, and the potential of the rest was unknown. In reality, the trainees were randomly placed into these categories by the researchers. The results confirmed the existence of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The trainees whom instructors were told had high potential scored significantly higher on objective achievement tests, exhibited more positive attitudes, and held their leaders in higher regard than did the other two groups. The instructors of the supposedly high-potential trainees got better results from them because the instructors expected it.
Ethnic Profiling: Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 120,000 Americans of Japanese heritage – most living on the west coast – were required to relocate into detention camps. Many of them were forced to stay there throughout World War II. The reason for this action is that the US government feared that these Americans might hold Japanese attitudes and spy against the United States. Over time, most Americans came to see this as terrible mistake and dark footnote in American history.