Ultimately, your goal as a leader is to make your employees better. Keep your efforts focused on behavior and performance and leave the inside of their heads alone.

As business owners, we love to discuss ways to improve our employees’ attitudes. Throw a party. Tell inspiring stories at the company meeting. Put team-building posters on the wall. Give ‘em a pep talk.

These things aren’t bad. But none of these solutions 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 backward. 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.

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Rather than simply talking to — or at — your employees about their attitudes, you need to help them improve themselves. Help people reach their goals and dreams. Help them win. Because when they produce — when they reach their goals  — 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
Here’s a great example. You notice Billy, a longtime employee, 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. Other employees complain to you about Billy:

“He’s so negative.”

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“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.

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There are two main considerations:

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?

Is he hitting the pre-established goal for his position? For instance, a sales person has sales goals. An installer has job cost/production minimums. Look at Billy’s performance statistics and discover how he is doing.

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 and your written progressive discipline policy. “Billy, it’s part of your job to wear the company-approved uniform. Wearing a hat with our competitor’s logo on it is not part of our uniform. Consider this a verbal warning. Next time you show up out of uniform, you will be written up. If you want this job, follow the rules — even the ones you don’t like — or you will lose this job.”

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 his or her performance.) “Billy, you are $500 below your sales goals for this week. What can you do to get there?”

As a longtime employee, all Billy might need to know is that you are noticing. If he 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 sales 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.

What if he’s grumpy?

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, let him be grumpy. He might just be letting off a little steam. As long as he isn’t abusive, let him be.

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.

About the author
Ellen Rohr is the president of Zoom Drain and Sewer LLC, and is a columnist for Huffington Post, PHC News and a contributor to many business journals and trade magazines.

Contact her at www.ellenrohr.com.

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