Go Ahead, Tell Them Who You Think They Are

Have you ever noticed that most people act exactly the way you thought they would?  The Rule of Expectations is the principle that when someone know how another expects him or her to behave, he or she will consciously and unconsciously try to satisfy the expectation.  How you think and talk about the managers and employees in your business will affect the way that they behave. 
 
Numerous studies show that the Rule of Expectations dramatically affects behavior.  For instance, in one study, one group of assembly line workers were told that their job was complex, while another group was told it was simple.  The group that was told the job was simple performed demonstrably more efficiently, despite having no additional training. 
 
People respond dramatically to what social scientists refer to as “social labeling.”  When we label a person or group of people, they tend to live up to the positive or negative label bestowed on them. 
 
How do we use the Rule of Expectations and Social Labeling in compliance?

We tell people that we believe they will behave in ethical and compliant ways. 
 
For instance, let’s say you’re working with Mike, a difficult manager who is pushing back on a due diligence initiative you’re trying to roll out.  Try saying to him, “Mike, you’re one of the most ethical people in this entire company.  I know this process may be time consuming, but someone like you can understand how important it is to make sure we’re using suppliers with a clean record for bribery.” 
 
In this conversation you gave Mike the label of “one of the most ethical people in this entire company,” an expectation he will likely live up to.  In addition, the praise, “someone like you” associated with ethical excellence reinforces the message that you expect greatness and leadership in this area, which Mike will then internalize to in order to feel good about himself. 
 
What happens when the Rule of Expectations is applied negatively?  In the book, “Becoming a Person of Influence,” authors Maxwell and Dornan quote a researcher who found that over 90% of prison inmates were told by parents while growing up: “They’re going to put you in jail.”
 
Setting positive expectation for the business and believing in the ethics of those in the company makes it likely that the individuals and the business as a whole will live up to your expectations.

This content first appeared in the August edition of Compliance and Ethics Magazine in my How to Be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer Column.