What has the greatest impact on your company’s performance, profitability, and ability to adapt and survive? Is it your people’s technical skills or their attitude towards their work? Is the key what they do? Or, how they do it?
Attitude does make a very real difference
A recent study by Leadership IQ, a global leadership training and research company, found that nearly 50% of newly-hired employees failed within 18 months (i.e. they were terminated, left under pressure, received disciplinary action, or had negative performance reviews) while less than one in five new employees exceeded their performance expectations.
The reasons for this, in eight out of nine instances, were interpersonal reasons stemming from attitudes that resulted in low-performance behaviour; only one in nine failed for technical reasons.
These findings were compiled from studying 5,247 hiring managers from 312 public, private, business and healthcare organisations. Collectively, these managers hired more than 20,000 employees over the three-year study period.
While the failure rate for new hires is distressing, it should not be surprising: 82% of managers reported that in hindsight, their interviews with these employees revealed subtle clues that they might be headed for trouble. However, during the interviews, managers were either too focused on other issues, too pressed for time, or lacked the confidence in their interviewing abilities to heed the warning signs. In the same sample group 812 managers experienced significantly greater hiring success than their peers. What differentiated their interviewing approach was their emphasis on interpersonal and motivational issues.
That being said, when companies recruit people and determine whom to retain, it is rarely done using the key attitudes and behaviours required to drive and sustain high performance. When recruiting, managers often lack the skills to hire based on attitude and are more subjective in their approach, often heavily influenced by how well they ‘like’ a particular candidate when making their decision, rather than on who will be a high performer in the future.
When considering the retention of employees, managers often find it difficult to fire people, even if they have been consistently poor performers. This is due to a lack of any clear guidelines or standards that clearly outline what constitutes low-performing behaviours and high-performing behaviours. As such, they act conservatively and often tolerate poor performance. However, when they do attempt to remedy the situation, it is often addressed as a matter
of aptitude, not attitude. In other words, you cannot train your way out of an attitude problem.
Why is attitude so important for performance?
Most companies focus on what people do – how they perform against given measures or KPIs. However, very few companies focus on how people perform, which is reflected in their attitude. Think of a situation in your current organisation, or a previous one, where you have someone who is a high performer, but is difficult to manage, often alienates others, or adversely impacts them because of their behaviour. We all have experiences with people like this.
Often, companies try to change the behaviour of their people by focusing on the behaviour itself. However, this approach simply doesn’t work. As can be seen in the diagram opposite, if you want to change someone’s behaviour, you have to change their beliefs and, in turn, change their attitudes. An individual’s behaviour is the outward expression of their internal attitudes, but the manner in which an individual behaves will have external consequences both for the individual and for others around them.
What do managers and leaders need to do?
To ensure that your people have the ‘right’ attitudes – those that lead to high-performing individuals, teams, and an overall excellent organisation – you need to do three things:
- Determine what the key attitudes are that you need to have in order to support and enable individuals, teams, and the organisation to perform at a high level.
- Determine what those attitudes mean in terms of actual behaviours. These need to be clear, specific, and applicable across a wide range of situations. This way, you can observe if people are demonstrating the right attitude in what they do. These behaviours need to be developed to affect each existing attitude:
- High-performance – those behaviours demonstrated by someone performing above expectations.
- On-target – those behaviours demonstrated by someone performing as expected.
- Low-performance – those behaviours by someone performing below expectations.
- Share and communicate these attitudes and behaviours with all staff members, assess people against these expectations, and provide continual feedback so progress can be monitored by both the individual and the company. This should also be integrated with the formal review process