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DC and Virginia HR Consulting and Executive Coaching Newsletter - Issue #8

It's Time for an Attitude Adjustment

Positive attitudes drive business results.

I had to go to the doctor's office for my annual cholesterol check the other day.  Getting blood drawn after fasting for 12 hours was not exactly a highlight of my week.  When I got there, there were 6 people ahead of me, so I had to wait almost an hour.  But when I finally was called, the nurse had a lot of energy, and took the time to chat and joke with me.  She laughed and smiled through the whole procedure, and  had cartoons taped to the wall to read while she worked.  Before I knew it I was done and on my way to work, with a Snoopy band-aid taped to my arm.  I had forgotten about the wait altogether.

On the way, I stopped to celebrate my health with a fast food breakfast.  (Yes, fast food was my first stop after a cholesterol test).  When I ordered, the cashier barely looked at me.  The people putting food on the tray looked tired and bored.  They handed my order to me without a word.  These people were not enjoying their morning.

I bet that you run into these situations every day.  What's the difference between these two situations?

The nurse was intentionally inflicting pain to a steady stream of people who really did not want to be there.  Most were probably in a hurry, and like me annoyed that they had to wait.  She could have very easily taken on a surly demeanor, but she chose to make an effort to engage and have fun.  By doing this, she made the whole experience more relaxing.  This not only helped her customers, but I'm sure that it helped reduce the stress level of her job, too.

The fast food clerk on the other hand was providing delicious (if not healthy) food to willing people, and chose to be unhappy about what she was doing.  I bet that she is counting the minutes until she gets off of work.

The key word here is CHOOSE.  There are a lot of things in life that are not within our control.  However, your attitude is one thing that is almost totally within your control.  Each of us chooses how we respond to what life throws at us every day.  Those choices have an impact on your own internal mindset, and an impacts those around you.  You can choose to have an attitude that helps your situation and has a positive impact on others,  or you can choose the opposite.  In any case, you have ultimate control over your attitude and resulting behavior.

Just to clarify, choosing attitude is not the same as choosing emotions.  Emotions come and go naturally.  Part of being human is experiencing and dealing with emotions.  Choosing attitude is about how you decide on an appropriate reaction to those emotions, and how you treat others as you experience them.  It's certainly not about always being happy, since displaying sadness and anger are sometimes totally appropriate.

Victor Frankl, the famous author, psychologist, and holocaust survivor said it best when he said that "Everything can be taken from a man but ... the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

So managers, you get away scot free on this one, right?  Attitude is all up to the individual, so all I have to do is sit back and watch, right?  Wrong!

Managers and leaders can't mandate positive attitudes.  However, managers create the environment that makes it either easy or difficult for employees to choose to have a positive attitude.  Managers control many factors, including but not limited to training and development, compensation, participation in decisions, risk-taking, communication, fostering teamwork and creativity.   Managers need to learn the art of driving for results, while at the same time fostering a positive working environment.

Just to clarify, I am not talking about adding extra fun activities to the workplace (like a cartwheel contest or day at an amusement park).  I had a manager a long time ago who was rigid and inflexible, a poor listener, totally my-way-or-the-highway.  Every year, he would give a day off and take the department to an amusement park or to dinner.  He was celebrating yearly accomplishments, but it rang hollow because of the daily work environment he created.   He could never understand why employees felt the work environment was so terrible.

This is not all about just everyone singing around a campfire.  Positive attitudes drive business results .  There are a number of studies that show that having a positive attitude at works correlate to job satisfaction, which of course improves employee retention.  However, studies have shown that job satisfaction also correlates with better business results, and better customer satisfaction.  If employees are engaged and enjoying what they are doing, employers will get the extra effort it takes to get great results and go the extra mile for customers.

In my example above, my nurse's manager could have made her stick to a script with each patient and take down her cartoons to look more professional.   Instead they chose to allow her the freedom and creativity to have fun while doing her job.  At least with me, this correlated to a better result (I didn't switch doctors) and customer satisfaction.  To be fair, the fast food cashier could have been surly in reaction to an overbearing manager who did not want her to talk to customers.  Whether her fault or her bosses, I won't be going back there.

So what should I do?  The first step is to take a hard look at your own attitude:

  1. Focus on Yourself
    • Are you coming to work/home with a positive attitude, or are you thinking about how bored or frustrated you are
    • What would others say about your attitude? 
    • How has your reaction to emotions impacted those around you?
  1. Focus on Your Team
    • How is the morale of your team?  Is the energy level high or low?
    • Are you getting the results you need?
    • Does your team go the extra mile for customers, or do the bare minimum?

If the answer to each one of these is less than you hoped, then you have some work to do!  Let me know if I can help...

Jim Bowles
James Bowles and Associate