Leaders across the world would say, “that a person having a positive attitude is very important”, in fact when asked many would say the most important, so why do so many leaders accept less than great positive attitudes from their employees? Some reasons include; too hard; it is because of HR or legal and a “positive attitude” is just too subjective and would require a lot of documentation on the leaders part, OR too afraid; leader’s are ‘nice’ and really doesn’t like conflict, OR too risky; it seems the employee knows their job very well and has a lot of experience or they are producing decent results regardless of their attitude, so why chance it?
The facts are that all three ‘reasons’ are excuses leaders use to tolerate unacceptable behaviors because at the real heart of the matter we are selfish. When it comes to making the decision to no longer accept this negative attitude the leader starts to think about; ‘who is going to do their work’, or ‘how am I going to make my numbers without their numbers?’, or ‘I don’t want to have to do their work and my work’, or ‘it will take too long to find a replacement’ and finally, ‘how long will it take to train a replacement?’ and so the decision is made that it is just easier to accept the person. The key word is “easier”. However, as all leaders know deep down, easier usually does not equate to better.
The proof is simple, let’s do an experiment; if a leader had a person as good as their number one employee, waiting to be hired by them, would they be more willing to embrace conflict, discuss possible actions with HR or sacrifice the said “result” for the possibilities of more results and a more positive person? You better believe it.
Think about the popular advice a parent gives, “The right way is not always the easy way.” We have to be willing to take on the short term inconveniences for the long term gains. This is the same advice leaders today need to listen to and implement. Having a team of all positive employees is far from easy, or the norm, but it should be. In society we have the 1 percent’ers (my very own made up word) who are mostly happy and striving for more, and then there are those that instead rely on assistance (and no, I am not referring to those who truly need it) and are bitter and complain about what they are ‘dealt’. In companies, you have the same; there are the top performers who happily strive for more and more, and bottom performers who blame outside factors on their performance. This is not because of science or the laws of numbers or any other uncontrolled phenomenon, rather it is that many leaders today are unwilling to make the tough decisions and take on the additional sacrifice to do what needs to be done and commit to the team. If a person has a bad attitude that is their problem, if a leader is paying them, then that is the leader’s problem.
HR won’t let me deal with bad attitudes:
This is truly an excuse. What the leader is really saying, is that as a company we have to document and follow up and inspect what we expect and it is a whole process that is not worth the trouble. Most companies, big or small, have discipline procedures and they are similar in the sense that they start with a verbal warning, then written warning, then a final written warning then the final-final written warning and finally termination (all dependent on the action, the policy, etc.- but always outlined in the company information). There are many reasons for this, some of which are; to limit legal responsibilities and to ensure the leader does their job in giving the struggling employee a chance to succeed, to limit the risk of unemployment filings costing the business a significant increase in the overall business expenses. Regardless of the size or location of the company, all leaders can ‘blame’ the process. Here is the solution; commit to the process and the goal of the process. Once the activities or expectations of an employee are not being met, hold them accountable, be consistent and up front-immediately. Don’t wait and allow an adult to give you excuses you would not accept from a child. The process can be as fast as weeks to move the employee up or out of the team. Just like the laws of our land, some try to manipulate them to be bad and others use them to make this a better place to live. It is up to the leaders to help guide which direction it will go.
Can’t afford to lose the revenue or work
In most situations this reason is the most relevant. A sales manager’s quota does not go down when they remove a bad attitude employee, therefore they may suffer financially, so they keep the employee in order to protect their own income. Or as a small business owner, one may lose that revenue or some loyal customers, while still having to pay the high cost of doing business, possibly putting the company at a short-term financial risk, so the business owner feels trapped and accepts the person for what they are and are not. These are real fears, with real risks, but they are just that- fears and perceived risks that make leaders not do what they know they need to do. A leader must ask themselves two questions-
Question 1: If that person quit tomorrow would they close their business down without them? Most likely the answer is NO. If the answer is yes, the leader has bigger problems than a bad attitude.
Question 2: Is the person that has a bad attitude having success despite themselves? Regardless of the answer- if a leader were to replace that person with a person with a positive attitude the results would most likely improve dramatically. Like Jim Collins says over and over in his book “Good to Great” , in business we allow the good to keep us from achieving the great. A bad attitude can never be good enough.
Bad attitudes does not mean bad people. Usually a person has a bad attitude because they are doing something they don’t want to do for one reason or another. Just like a parent’s job is to keep their children focused and try to help them become the best person they can, the same is said for leaders and coaches. Great leaders that desire to coach must be willing to have those tough conversations, not to instill fear, but to unleash the personal power of a person loving what they do and doing what they love! Everybody wants to be positive and love their jobs, but many need help finding the way. Be that person, that coach, and help them find their way.