Management Skills – How to Deal With Attitude Problems

Some managers think attitude problems in their employees cannot be measured and therefore there is nothing that can be done. Wrong! Once you have renamed those problems as professional behaviors, you can define them, measure them, include them in job descriptions and even fire people with them! You know the employees I mean. Some may be technically capable and may be performing the specific skills that are measured on the job.

They do the required amount of work; they make the required number of sales; they take the required number of calls.They may even be good with customers. But around the office or workplace they have attitude plus! They are the office nay-sayers, cynics and negativists. Or they complain about everything. They criticize every management initiative; they go to the union with every little issue. They are right out of Dilbert and they are driving you crazy. You are getting complaints from other employees who are affected and infected by their lousy attitude. Here are the steps to take to get a better handle on this issue and give yourself some solid definitions to work with.

Step One: Redefine the words attitude problem to professional behavior. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect and receive professional behavior from your employees. That includes their behavior with customers, vendors, other departments and within your own department with other employees. These are the internal customers.

Step Two: If at all possible get your HR Department to include the words professional behavior in every job description in your organization. It might read something like this: “Employees are required to demonstrate professional behavior in performing their job.” More later on that work demonstrate. A simple statement like this one in every job description gives managers and supervisors what they need to work with their employees.

Step Three: If at all possible get a section in every performance appraisal form that uses the term professional behavior. It can be a simple statement like, “Employee demonstrates professional behavior when dealing with internal staff and external customers and vendors.” I say do steps two and three if at all possible because if you work in government, non-profits, or very large organizations you may have difficulty getting this accomplished unless the HR department is open to it or it doesn’t clash with one of the myriad of rules, regulations, or laws that lawyers deal with. In that case you may want to skip these two steps and go right to number four.

Step Four: Call a meeting with your staff and allow the group to define what professional behavior is in your specific department or team, doing your specific work. One way to begin is to ask first how professional behavior looks with customers; then ask if those same things apply to the internal customers. Almost all of them do. But they may come up with additional things such as cooperating with other team members. (I prefer the term collaboration.There is an important difference!) Or coming back from breaks and lunch on time, or accepting responsibility for certain jobs or for errors when made. The real point is to let your people define what professional behavior looks and sounds like in your area. In measurement terminology these are the outputs or outcomes you want. Ensure that your team’s grumps are in on and active in this discussion. Refine and publish these guideline for professional behavior and allow staff members to amend or add to them. When complete, give everyone a copy. Now you have codified what professional behavior is in your department.

Step Five: The next time you observe staff members not following the guidelines, you have something concrete to use when having a discussion with the employee. The conversation can be simple and short. “Gerry, today I heard you telling Joan you were too busy to help her with the year end results. You sounded curt and annoyed to me. As you know we have agreed to pitch in and help Joan each year at this time. In addition we have a professional behavior guideline that says we are collaborative with our team and take responsibility for the team’s work. What can you do to make time to act professionally in this matter?” Or you may say, “John at the last three meetings you have said negative things about our progress on the Leads Project. Your continual negativity about this and other things puts a pall over the group. Other people clam up and we don’t get the enthusiasm we need to do a good job on the project. I would like you to act professionally on this matter as is stated in our professional behaviors guidelines. If you have concerns about the project please come directly to me in the future.”

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