A common question that comes up in my work with leaders, especially new leaders, is related to employees with “bad attitudes.” People ask the question in many ways, and they often phrase it something like this:
“How do I get a negative employee to put a positive spin on things and get rid of the negative attitude?”
It is a well-intentioned question. It shows that the leader is concerned with creating a positive team environment and with employee engagement. It indicates that the leader cares enough about the people on their team to actually take note of an employee’s attitude and happiness.
Unfortunately, it’s the wrong question.
It’s the wrong question because it is phrased in a way that implies the leader can “get” someone to have a positive (or negative) attitude. In other words, it implies that you can, by yourself, control the attitude of another person. And, you can’t.
A leader definitely plays a part in influencing the attitudes of people on their team. They do not control the attitudes of people on their team.
A better question to ask would be directed at understanding and removing or addressing, if possible, the issues causing frustration for the employee. The better question would sound something like this:
“How do I create an environment that encourages, promotes, and recognizes positive engagement with team objectives?”
The answer to that question is actually quite long and involved. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll reduce the answer to four key points.
Clearly define the difference between minimum acceptable results and goals above the minimum.
While the word “goal” might be used to define a performance expectation (meaning minimum requirement) in many organizations, I’m defining goals to be performance and results metrics that exceed the minimum. As a leader, you can certainly define the minimum performance you expect for a person in a given role. And, I assume, your desire is to have people perform above the minimum rather than at or below it.
To create positive energy and engagement, you need to clearly know the difference between the minimum you will accept and the goal you would like to achieve. Once you know the difference, you can then…
Involve your team members in the goal setting process.
Since you are now focusing on setting performance targets above the minimum, you can work with your team to define how far above the minimum you would like to perform. Many leaders attempt to set goals on their own and then tell them to their team. That approach invites criticism and negative attitudes. I suggest that you actively involve your team in the goal setting process in a collaborative fashion so that you create energy and enthusiasm for meeting them rather than anger and frustration.
When you involve your team in the goal setting process, you can…
Help your team members see both the personal and organization “why” behind the goals.
A number of studies on human performance indicate that people are more likely to willingly cooperate when they understand the reason behind a task or request for action. As you involve your team in the goal setting process, make sure you help them see the reasons for the goals you’re setting.
In your effort to reveal the “why” of the performance goals, look for and highlight personal connections people might have for the goals. It might be a feeling of personal satisfaction for achieving a goal, the positive feeling of helping another person, or the ability to take a vacation at the end of the year. The personal “why” will likely be different for each person on your team. As the leader, get to know your team so that you can help them see their personal “why” for achieving organizational goals.
After the goal setting process ends and you get into the actual work of achieving the goals, you’ll want to…
Recognize and reward positive progress towards achieving your goals.
One way to help people remain engaged and enthusiastic about achieving goals is to recognize and reward progress towards goals. It’s easy to focus on what goes wrong or where you fall short of your goals, and you’ll want to do the opposite if you want to encourage and promote positive attitudes and enthusiasm at work.
Recognition, encouragement, and the feeling of accomplishment go a long way towards discouraging negative attitudes and encouraging positive ones.
As with every leadership situation, there are many factors to consider. This issue is no different. As a rule though, negative attitudes can generally be traced to a feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or that the work doesn’t matter. If these issues are present in your team, it might take a while to turn it around. It will not likely happen with one, simple conversation. However, if you’ll take these goal setting and recognition actions with your team, you will significantly improve the odds of creating an environment that influences your team members towards positive attitudes.
And now we want to hear from you! What do you do in your organization to encourage and influence positive attitudes? Share your tips in the comments below.
Negative attitudes, toxic employees and difficult conversations are just a few of the topics we cover in the Bud to Boss workshop. To see the complete agenda, go here to learn more!
About the Author:
As a consultant, trainer, and coach, Guy has worked with large and small clients, businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and individuals from Boston to Brisbane and from Ottawa to Orlando. His past clients include: Sun Chemical Co., Ivy Tech Community College, The Good Samaritan Society, Redbox, Purdue University, Delta Career Education, The American Farm Bureau Association, Butler University, Alpha Chi Omega Sorority, Panda Express, and many others.
Guy is the co-author of From Bud to Boss: Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership, Sell Naked on the Phone, and The Behavior Bucks System. He has been a contributing author, content developer and editor on other books and training materials including: Presenting With Style; Leadership @ Work, Leadership Brief and To The Point, and Leadership: It’s an Inside Job.