Bruce Tulgan is the new Tom Peters.
Howard Jenkins, Chairman and CEO (fmr.), Publix Super Markets, Inc.

Teaching Positive Attitude

There is no doubt, employee attitudes affect productivity, quality, morale; collegiality, cooperation, and cohesion; employee development; and retention as well as turnover. Good employee attitudes drive positive results. Bad employee attitudes put a drag on results. That’s a fact proven by study after study, including our own research.

Do not make the three most common mistakes that most managers make when dealing with “bad attitudes”:

  • treating attitude as a personal issue, an “internal” state of mind that is off limits
  • treating attitude as unchangeable (“that’s just who I am”) matter of personality
  • talking about attitude in vague terms or indirectly

As long as you think of attitude as a personal, internal matter, it is going to remain intangible and you will remain out of your depth. Feelings are on the inside. Observable behavior is on the outside. That observable behavior can be seen, heard, and felt. No matter how intrinsic the source may be, it is only the external behavior that can be and must be managed. As a leader, dealing with attitude becomes a whole lot easier if you treat it head-on, directly, as just another matter of performance management. Here’s my best advice:

  • Make great attitude an explicit and regularly discussed performance requirement for everyone.
  • Make it about external behaviors, which employees can modify as necessary.
  • Define the behaviors of great attitude: expressions, words, tone, and gestures. Describe the behaviors. Require them. Teach them. Reward people for displaying them proudly. Hold people accountable when they don’t.

Everybody has bad days or bad moments. In our career seminars, we do an exercise — NOT to help a person find out whether or not he/she has a bad attitude. The purpose is to help each person figure out for him/herself: When you do have bad days or bad moments— what kind of bad attitude behavior are you most likely to display? Armed with that information, the person should be better prepared to avoid that behavior and take corrective action more swiftly when it does happen.

So we take them through a series of questions to help them determine the bad attitude behaviors to which they are most susceptible:

  • Do you sometimes behave like a “Porcupine”? ; Porcupines send the message: “Get away from me!”
  • Do you sometimes behave like an “Entangler”? ; Entanglers want everybody else to be involved in their issues — they want to be noticed, observed, listened to, and engaged – even if those issues are not the concern of the person in question.
  • Do you sometimes behave like a “Debater”? ; Debaters always have an argument to make, regardless of whether it is a good argument or not.
  • Do you sometimes behave like a “Complainer”? ; Complainers point out the negative symptoms of a situation without offering a solution based on the root cause.
  • Do you sometimes behave like a “Blamer”? ; Blamers are like complainers, pointing out negative symptoms, but blamers point the finger at a specific individual.
  • Do you sometimes behave like a “Stink bomb thrower”? ; Stink bomb throwers make sarcastic (or worse) remarks, curse under their breath (or aloud), or even make loud gestures such as slamming or yelling.

When you can make “attitude” —good and bad— less vague and more about specific observable behaviors, it helps people become more aware and more purposeful about mitigating their negative behaviors and accentuating their positive behaviors.  Make it explicit, talk about it, focus on it, and watch the attitudes get better.

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