Tuesday, March 10, 2009

" Attitude Virus " - A Threat to Organizations!

Last Sunday evening I was at this big Super Market chain next to my house well known for Customer Service where I buy groceries regularly. For once, there was no one in line and I walked right up to the first position in the queue. There is a new gal in this Super Market that I try to avoid. I really wonder if she was ever trained before she got placed in the billing counter. Last time when I asked the reason for delay in billing she said she hates working on the computer and wished she didn't have to use it! Welcome to the real world, sister! I found she is extremely slow and the queue in her counter recently have been horrible due to this.

Well, I have no problem with new employees. Sometimes a fresh new face can make the experience tolerable. But not hers!

As I walked up to the counter I glanced over to see one of the "regular" employees who has known me for some time. He had a big smile on his face and said, "How was your week end sir ?" I immediately answered, "It was great, thank you for asking!"

With that I looked at the gal who was handing over the bill to me and after making the payment I said to her, " Thank you and have a nice evening!" To which she replied with a long face, "If I can get out of here early, it will be a better evening" !

Two employees, same shop, two totally different attitudes, and which employee will the customer prefer to go back to? I think it shouldn't be hard to guess. Entrepreneurs may be familiar with this employee symptom which is popularly known as "Attitude Virus"!

The Attitude Virus is everywhere. It's contagious and it can spread in minutes. It infects the employees and kills motivation. Symptoms include rudeness, poor service, lack of motivation, and increased stress. The non-performing and under-performing employees carry this virus and soon it infects the healthy employees which eventually threatens the bottom line and the very existence of the organization itself. Long term effects result in employee turnover, low productivity, customer complaints, poor sales and a drain on profits. One bad attitude, like one bad apple, can infect the entire organization.

Let me give you a check list of the symptoms exhibited by the Attitude Virus infected Employees. Check out whether they, (1) Miss too much work (2) Come in late too often (3) Make too many mistakes (4) Gripe and argues all of the time (5) Upset others to the point of disrupting their work (6) Complain now and then (7) Are a nuisance (8) Violate company policies more than most (9) Talk too much or too little (10) Seem to be in their shell all of the time.

I am sure all the above mentioned symptoms are very common among our employees but we don't act on it most of the time. This is easy to clear up only if we understand about it and if we ask about it. Don´t lose employees because we are sticking our head in the sand. Let's take a deep breath and get to the bottom of it. We will feel better and both we and our employees will benefit. That's a promise!

If your employee exhibits the behavior in Items 1-5, the solution may be termination; if the employee is more like Items 6-10, the solution may be to counsel and change his/her attitude. Attitude is everything when it comes to business. You can be taught all of the skills and procedures to correctly do any job, but I believe you can't be taught to be nice. I think it is a never-ending battle to try to teach people to be nice, that in the long run, will leave you exhausted and in the meantime, will drive away your customers!

Business for every one today is going through a critical phase due to recession and high competition. Creating a positive culture that can attract, motivate and retain customers and employees is the biggest challenge entrepreneurs face today.

The Prevention and the Cure

Many Managers throw their hands in the air and believe that they cannot do anything about these virus infected employees. Not so. The above behaviors are not acceptable and can and should be managed just like any other expectation. I believe teaching Managers to manage and motivate effectively is the prevention and the cure for improving employee retention. Most Managers have the skills to handle day-to-day activities but only the top performers have the talent needed to avoid the things that derail most people. The missing skills that derail Managers are the weak links in an organization that leaves the organization vulnerable to more attacks and employee turnover.

What can an organization do to immunize the workplace and end Attitude Viruses?

1. Diagnosis. Recognize that there is an attitude problem. This requires an honest assessment of the organization at all levels and collaterally to your vendors, suppliers and customers. Acknowledge any underlying causes of the Attitude virus and take responsibility for removing them.

2. Investigation. Select only Managers who have the skills or potential to manage and arm them with the tools and training they need to detect the infected employee before they leech out the morale and motivation from the healthy and positive employees. Effective Managers hold the keys to employee retention and profitability.

3. Treatment. Take responsibility for upgrading the skills of your first line of defense, the front-line employees and managers, who fight the "infection" and "exposures" on a daily basis. Develop and train managers to have the skills to "treat" or quarantine the infected employee and train them back to health. The attitude virus is spreading almost daily and continuous learning is crucial to prevent it.

4. Monitor, monitor, monitor. Taking a diet class and waiting for the pounds to shed off is ridiculous. Taking skills training without reinforcement and feedback and re-testing is equally bad. Identify the skills that differentiate your highly effective managers from the average performers, develop training that is specific and responsive to those specific skills, and provide on-going feedback and post-assessment to monitor progress.

Suppose this training & counseling doesn't work what do we do? To be specific with an example, assume you have an employee whom you probably rely on for crucial work. In other words, you have been forced to live with his bad behavior. Does he realize this? Is the toxic behavior a case of attitude virus syndrome? If so, you could train someone to cover his work. This could be an internal transfer or a new hire. Maybe he'll realize he's replaceable and change his ways. If he doesn't change his ways, at least you will have made progress; you'll no longer be obliged to him.

If you believe he is truly irreplaceable, you could isolate him. Put him in the corner, or in his own office. Schedule meetings without him. Suggest he works from home. Minimize his contact with the rest of the team, and you'll minimize the spread of his toxic attitude virus.

Learning new ways to manage and better ways to perform is no longer a choice but a necessity. A good attitude starts at the top. Work attitudes have changed. Increasing demands on performance and increasing workload have changed employee expectations. This often leads to tension in the workplace. Entrepreneurs must focus on how each employee thinks about doing his or her work and create policies and systems to get all the work done effectively with a minimum amount of stress. Creating a positive climate with a renewed focus on the needs of our employees and customers will differentiate our business in a competitive and demanding market.

Now is the time to attack the Attitude Virus and to immunize your organization. Attitude Virus-free organizations grow and prosper because they select positive workers, quarantine their infected employees and either nurture them back to health, or "delete" them before they infect other workers. A work culture clean and free of the Attitude Virus is rewarded with a healthy bottom line, good sales, high rates of employees & customer retention.

Is your organization contaminated with this deadly virus? Take a closer look. You might not always be able to "see" it but i guess you might be able to "smell" it! If so,don't wait pass the bug spray!



Anonymous said...

Yes...my organization is fully infected with this virus..thanks for pointing out the same...good one friend. J.P Dutta.Indore

maals. said...

Dear. Mr. Shameem, appreciate your comments on my blog. So just thought i would go through yours...real heavy management topics i guess...I do write for TOI-cochin plus and am looking to write more in the dailies as a freelancer. Currently working with Centre for Public Policy Research (www.cppr.in)as prgram associate handling their Program associate.

murali said...

great shamim....very valid point..how to idenitfy this BAd Attitude problem in the first interview itself....dont hire them just seeing the great resume ..so many people send resumes via E-mail that an actual live voice can idenify this attitude problem....?????
Murali Manohar.DATAHARD

Shamim Rafeek said...

Dear Murali,
Thanks for the feed back. Fully agree with you that a great resume might not reflect a great attitude. I am totally against the 'walk in interview' concept since we will not be able to assess a person in the 1st round of interview. We need to make sure our recruitment happens systematically. You may go through an early post made by me on this topic. Log on and kindly read the same.