How to Manage the Employee with Attitude

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Mary had “attitude". Her manner was rude and uncooperative and her colleagues complained, but she was efficient. Her supervisor believed he was stuck with a problem that couldn't be solved. He reasoned that in any office there was always someone that didn't get on with the rest of the staff, and as long as Mary was doing her job, he couldn't do much about it. Wrong.

Behavioral problems in the workplace can and should be addressed quickly and effectively for the sake of clients, colleagues, customers and suppliers. Here is how.

There are two key dimensions to performing successfully: what is done and how it is done. Yes, the clerk did her job, but her behavior was such that the team was not functioning well.

Managers are often surprised to learn they can take effective action to address the behavior of employees - how they go about their jobs rather than the end result.

It helps to look at the inputs and outputs of the job. While we normally prefer to measure the outputs, we also need to manage inputs and employee behavior is one of these. The sales assistant in a department store may not have much control over total sales from his area; they could well be dependent on the stock held, pricing, advertising or some other element of the mix. However, the sales assistant does have control over his own behavior.

How he presents himself, greets customers, solves their problems and handles queries are all inputs to the sales process. These inputs can be measured against established standards and the employee managed accordingly.

To look at this issue from a positive perspective, one in which we can shape the culture of the organization and consequently the behavior of our people, we need to define the type of organization we want in terms of what we call core competencies. (One of our clients prefers to call them attributes. ) These can be such aspects of business as innovation, results-orientation, flexibility or customer focus.

There are in fact countless terms we can use to describe what we want to be. With every client that we have taken through this exercise, a different picture emerges. Looking at what successful people have demonstrated, and what the business requires, is a useful technique to identify the specific core competencies for your organization.

These competencies can then be expanded by describing them in a little more detail: it's amazing how many different descriptions there can be for the word “flexibility" for example. Then comes the really useful part.

What does someone with these competencies or attributes actually do? To find out, we need to describe the behaviors we witness so that we can encourage others to behave in a similar fashion.

For example, a behavior associated with teamwork may be that the team member willingly shares information with others, or compliments others on their successes. Someone who is results-oriented will usually set clear and measurable goals - both at work and outside.

Once these behaviors are defined and communicated to the workforce, the company can then confirm that individual employees are more likely to succeed by demonstrating these traits. Employees welcome such guidance as most organizations rarely make it clear what it takes to succeed. Similarly, the company can reasonably expect employees to meet some minimal standards.

Building these behaviors into the performance management system, along with the results required from each job, provides clear measures of not only what has to be done - but how.

It is often said that we hire people for what they can do and fire them for how they do it. But, in practice, often we do not directly address the issue of how they are doing it. The usual solution is to restructure and make problem employees “redundant" or find some other reason to let them go. With a properly identified and well-executed set of competencies and behaviors we can manage the workforce much more effectively and fairly and focus on specifics. At the same time we can reinforce the positive message to other staff and customers that core competencies represent “the way we do things around here. "

There is a sample competency available as a free download at the website shown below with the author’s details.

Paul Phillips is a Director of Horizon Management Group; a specialist human resource management consulting firm. He has over 30 years experience in HR and, while based in Australia, has worked in a number of overseas locations.


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