Confronting the Employee Attitude Problem | Help for Supervisors

I wrote this post in March 2010 and it has enjoyed the highest number of page views. I realized that during my blog site switchover that searchers were having difficulty locating it. So it seemed like a good time to re-post it with a revised title.

employee attitude472_-3A supervisor’s nightmare—the employee with a “problem” attitude. Makes you feel like you just drew the Old Maid card.

What to do? You have an employee with a personality, work style, or temperament that is driving you crazy or aggravating others, making it harder to get the work done. And you don’t want to fire.

Performance appraisal is how supervisors save us from ourselves. 

Good supervisors use appraisal to teach and guide. Most employees with attitude issues aren’t aware of any problem: it’s just their way.

You know you’ve got an “attitude” problem employee when these things start to happen:

  • Peers would rather do a job alone than work with him/her
  • Discussion at a meeting goes dead when he/she speaks
  • S/he insists that work be done his/her way or hoards work
  • Direction is always questioned
  • S/he consistently criticizes, competes with, or dismisses the work of others

Each of these situations points to an attitude that needs defining. Where to start?

Connect “attitude” to observable behaviors that impact productivity.  

The first step in dealing with “attitude” issues is to demonstrate how the employee’s behavior is affecting the work. Here’s how you prepare:

  • Observe and take notes of specific instances (about 6) where the attitude was obvious.
  • Make a list of the impacts you saw, like defensiveness from others, resistance, stalled decisions, or delay.
  • Determine specifically how these impacts will affect the output of your work group.

Next meet with the employee to talk about their performance to date and your intention to coach them to improve:

  • Raise the attitude issue by sharing your recent observations, naming the dates and situations.
  • Explain what you observed and ask them to offer their perspective.
  • Be specific about the current and future impacts of their “attitude” on the productivity of the group.
  • Ask what they are willing to do to improve and how you can help them.

Raise the stakes and engage the employee in orchestrating his/her own change. 

Most of us don’t change unless there are negative consequences that we can avoid by doing things differently. The more we want to make a positive change and reap the rewards, the more invested we are in the work we need to do.

At this point, explain the next steps to the employee:

  • Together agree on a performance goal(s) for the balance of the year focused on the “attitude” change that needs to be made
  • Require the employee to write and submit a plan of action to achieve it
  • Establish how this change will be evaluated

Gather direct feedback from peers and internal customers. 

Nothing gets our attention more than knowing what others are saying about us, especially in the workplace. So here’s what you can do:

  • Develop 5-8 questions with the employee to be asked of their internal customers, focused on their approach to getting work done.
  • Identify 8-10 peers and internal customers that the employee will ask to answer those questions.
  • Develop a process and timing for collecting the feedback and submitting it confidentially to you.
  • Explain that, as the supervisor, you will also ask 8-10 people to respond.
  • Compile the feedback. Discuss summarized findings with the employee.
  • Reset his/her goals and strategies to improve.

If you are cringing about the effort this takes, I understand. But if you’ve ever fired anyone for poor performance, you know that the documentation, meetings, and general agony of that process make this look like a vacation.

The first pass at this requires the most work. The next time is much easier. How you handle your first “attitude” problem will gain you enormous credibility with your employees. It’s an approach that demonstrates your commitment to helping employees succeed. Being business fit means taking the lead when the chips are down. This is one of those times.

What kinds of “bad attitudes” have you witnessed in the workplace? How were they handled? Any ideas to add? Thanks.

Photo from Freedigitalphotos.net

Are Internal Customers Frustrating You? Change Hats

Everyone at work wants something from us. Meeting their expectations takes our time and talent so they get what they want. 

That’s what we’re paid for, right? Maybe yes, and maybe no. 

It’s all in the name of service. 

Lots of us are in service jobs like human resources, IT, finance, legal, marketing, communications, and admin. 

We’re expected to use our specialized expertise to remove clutter and obstacles for department managers and coworkers—our internal customers.

Managers, especially, want us to pull a rabbit out of a hat even though we aren’t magicians. They aren’t happy when the trick fails. 

We can sense when we’re out on a limb with our internal customers every time we find ourselves: 

  • Apologizing for something
  • Being second-guessed
  • Putting up with diva behavior
  • Being unacknowledged or overlooked 

It’s baffling to know that we’re providing requested information and deliverables but things aren’t progressing.  

Time to hit the reset button 

I led a management training group once where each employee was responsible for working with designated department managers on their annual training plans. 

It didn’t take long to figure out that certain internal clients were “playing” them by resisting the planning process or trying to off-load it. The remedy was for each of us to take off our “I’m here to serve” mantle and put on an internal consultant hat. 

The fix was in the pages of Peter Block’s classic book, Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used.  

Block woke us up with his line, “You are consulting any time you are trying to improve or change a situation but have no direct control over the implementation.”  Wow, that was us! 

All service providers (consultants, advisors, guides, subject matter experts) need to build a collaborative relationship with internal customers, so each is equally invested in what needs to get done. 

Block explains that there are two role traps we fall into that must be avoided: 

1. The Expert Role 

Our egos love it when a manager says, “I need to find better software for this process. You’re a software expert, so I’d like you to find me a better product.” 

This request gets us all pumped up until we find the software, show it to him/her, and then hear, “No, that’s not what I told you I needed.” 

2. The Pair of Hands Role 

We love to feel we’re the best one to complete a task when an internal customer says, “I don’t have time to analyze the data for the annual report, so please complete it for me by Friday.” 

We sideline our other work, dig into this assignment, and submit the analysis on time only to hear, “This isn’t the way I wanted the data presented.” 

In both cases, we’ve been had. The internal customer set us up for a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” vote on our work. In the old days, we would’ve ended up as lunch for lions. 

Get on equal footing

Everything turned around as soon as my group adopted Block’s winning approach

The Collaborative Role 

No matter what his/her rank, everyone we support with a service needs to commit to shared involvement. It’s about partnering. 

Whether it’s finding new software or analyzing data, there are mutual obligations that need to be established up front between us and the internal customer. 

We need to start the conversation this way: 

“Let’s clarify how we’ll work together on the software exploration. Who will do what? What’s our process? How will we arrive at a collaborative decision and measure our success?” 

Block writes that when we adopt a collaborative role, we “don’t solve problems for the manager.” We apply our “special skills to help managers solve problems.” It’s key that “the manager must be actively involved…and, finally, sharing responsibility for success or failure.” (After all, the internal customer owns the situation, right?)

Hold your ground 

Service jobs position us to partner with internal customers throughout our companies. The more collaborations we form, the richer our relationships and the more likely they will lead to other opportunities. Learning to be an effective internal consultant has an enormous upside. How about giving it a try?

The Employee Attitude Problem | What’s a Supervisor to Do?

A supervisor’s nightmare—the employee with a “problem” attitude. Makes you feel like you just drew the Old Maid card.

What to do? You have an employee with a personality, work style, or temperament that is driving you crazy or aggravating others, making it harder to get the work done. And you don’t want to fire.

Performance appraisal is how supervisors save us from ourselves. 

Good supervisors use appraisal to teach and guide. Most employees with attitude issues aren’t aware of any problem: it’s just their way.

You know you’ve got an “attitude” problem employee when these things start to happen:

  • Peers would rather do a job alone than work with him/her
  • Discussion at a meeting goes dead when he/she speaks
  • S/he insists that work be done his/her way or hoards work
  • Direction is always questioned
  • S/he consistently criticizes, competes with, or dismisses the work of others

Each of these situations points to an attitude that needs defining. Where to start?

Connect “attitude” to observable behaviors that impact productivity.  

The first step in dealing with “attitude” issues is to demonstrate how the employee’s behavior is affecting the work. Here’s how you prepare:

  • Observe and take notes of specific instances (about 6) where the attitude was obvious.
  • Make a list of the impacts you saw, like defensiveness from others, resistance, stalled decisions, or delay.
  • Determine specifically how these impacts will affect the output of your work group.

Next meet with the employee to talk about their performance to date and your intention to coach them to improve:

  • Raise the attitude issue by sharing your recent observations, naming the dates and situations.
  • Explain what you observed and ask them to offer their perspective.
  • Be specific about the current and future impacts of their “attitude” on the productivity of the group.
  • Ask what they are willing to do to improve and how you can help them.

Raise the stakes and engage the employee in orchestrating his/her own change. 

Most of us don’t change unless there are negative consequences that we can avoid by doing things differently. The more we want to make a positive change and reap the rewards, the more invested we are in the work we need to do.

At this point, explain the next steps to the employee:

  • Together agree on a performance goal(s) for the balance of the year focused on the “attitude” change that needs to be made
  • Require the employee to write and submit a plan of action to achieve it
  • Establish how this change will be evaluated

Gather direct feedback from peers and internal customers. 

Nothing gets our attention more than knowing what others are saying about us, especially in the workplace. So here’s what you can do:

  • Develop 5-8 questions with the employee to be asked of their internal customers, focused on their approach to getting work done.
  • Identify 8-10 peers and internal customers that the employee will ask to answer those questions.
  • Develop a process and timing for collecting the feedback and submitting it confidentially to you.
  • Explain that, as the supervisor, you will also ask 8-10 people to respond.
  • Compile the feedback. Discuss summarized findings with the employee.
  • Reset his/her goals and strategies to improve.

If you are cringing about the effort this takes, I understand. But if you’ve ever fired anyone for poor performance, you know that the documentation, meetings, and general agony of that process make this look like a vacation.

The first pass at this requires the most work. The next time is much easier. How you handle your first “attitude” problem will gain you enormous credibility with your employees. It’s an approach that demonstrates your commitment to helping employees succeed. Being business fit means taking the lead when the chips are down. This is one of those times.

What kinds of “bad attitudes” have you witnessed in the workplace? How were they handled? Any ideas to add? Thanks.