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Skip the Pep Talk

August 13, 2009
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Attitude: a mental position or feeling with regard to a fact or state.

Attitudes seem to slump with the sales figures. As business owners, we love to discuss ways to improve our employees’ attitudes. Throw a party! Tell inspiring stories at the company meeting! Put Successories posters on the wall! Give ‘em a pep talk.

These things aren’t bad. But, none of those things will improve an employee’s attitude. Attitude is a purely mental and personal condition. You can’t get into someone else’s head. So, quit trying. Skip the pep talk.

We have it all backwards! We think that if we pump people up with happy words and lots of “Go get ‘em’s,” then they will start to produce. In fact, the opposite is true. Once they start to produce, their attitudes will improve.

Now, understand that I think the right attitude makes a huge difference in life. Just work on your own attitude, and quit talking to your employees about their attitudes.

Instead, help people improve. Help people reach their goals and dreams. Help them win. Because when they produce, when they reach their goals and make dreams come true, then their attitudes will be just fine. Help them win by focusing your attention on behaviors and performance. Winning works wonders on attitude.

Just the facts, Ma’am.

You notice Billy, one of your long-time employees, shuffling into work…late. He sits down at his desk and starts making calls. He doesn’t smile as he talks to customers. He punches the hold button without bothering to ask permission from the caller. He grunts his responses into the phone. The other employees complain to you about Billy:
  • “He’s so negative.”
  • “He never says anything nice.”
  • “He doesn’t ever join us for lunch.”
You might be tempted to talk to Billy about his attitude. Right? Wrong. His attitude is out of your control. Instead, I suggest you address behaviors and performance.

There are two main considerations:
  1. Are his behaviors in violation of company policy? Do you have a policy about what time Billy needs to arrive for work? Do you have a procedure for putting callers on hold?
  2. Is he hitting the pre-establshed goal for his position? For instance, a sales person has sales goals. A factory worker has production minimums. Look at Billy’s performance statistics and discover how he is doing. Just the facts, Ma’am.
Meet with Billy to discuss these points. If Billy is not delivering on both of these points, I suggest having two separate meetings to address his behaviors.

Pull Billy aside and point out the policy violations. “Billy, it’s our policy to always ask a caller to be placed on hold. Consider this a verbal warning. Also, you have been late once before without calling. This second time warrants a written notice. Billy, if there are some personal issues that are affecting your performance, I will help you if I can. But, I won’t tolerate policy violations.”

Discuss Billy’s work performance at your standing weekly meeting. (By the way, you should meet with each employee once a week to go over their performance.) “Billy, you are $500 below your sales goals for this week. What can you do to get there?” As a long time employee, all Billy might need to know is that you are noticing. If Billy doesn’t have any ideas for hitting his goal, vow to help him, “Billy, it’s my job to help you be successful here. I vow to do everything in my power to help you win. If you are willing, I can help you do better.” Then, give Billy some behaviors that will improve his performance. Offer to sit in on some of Billy’s calls and coach him. Have him discuss recent sales that have fallen through, and role play different ways to handle problems and objections. Help him win…and just watch what happens to his attitude.

So what if he’s grumpy?

Also, refuse to get caught up in attitude discussions with one employee about another employee. This is pointless and gossipy! If an employee maintains that another employee’s attitude is affecting his job, tell him to ignore that employee. If there is a behavioral issue, then you will address it. Otherwise, accept the fact that some folks have sunny dispositions and others do not. If an employee is hitting minimum standards and not violating any policies or procedures, what the heck, let him be grumpy.

Ultimately, your goal as a leader is to help make your employees better. Keep your efforts focused on the behaviors, on performance and leave the inside of their heads alone. Skip the pep talk. Help them win.

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