Aberdeen Strategies

January 9, 2015

Attitude Adjustment

By David Webster, Aberdeen Strategies

We all know that attitude makes a big difference in a person’s view toward work, other people, the future and opportunity.  Given that companies and organizations are made up of individuals, is it possible for companies to exhibit a prevailing attitude?  Anyone who has served in more than a few organizations knows the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” 

While you have probably attributed the elements of a company’s prevailing attitude to corporate culture, I would encourage you to start seeing this feature distinctly.  Senior leaders would do well to ask the questions that lead them to better understand their company’s prevailing attitude, why it exists as it does and what can be done to have a prevailing attitude that supports the business strategy rather than impedes it.  

Attitude Basics

Psychologists know that for individuals, an attitude is a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person's behavior. Attitudes are made up of three basic components that essentially involve the head (beliefs and thoughts), the heart (feelings and emotions) and behaviors (previous actions).  At their core, attitudes are a function of experience.  Apply these principles to your company and you’ll start to see why corporate attitudes are so “sticky” and difficult to change.  The attitudes your employees hold are likely derived from experience, can be influenced by the perceived success or status of the organization, and they tend to reinforce themselves.

The Binary Stars of Culture and Attitude

Corporate culture and corporate attitude are mutually reinforcing.  You cannot change the culture of your organization without addressing its prevailing attitude, and vice versa.  Some leaders do a good job of managing attitude as a part of building a performance culture.  They don’t leave things to chance, but help the organization become self-aware and continually work at creating an environment to foster the attitude they think will best serve the needs of the business for the long-term.  I also have seen well-designed culture initiatives wither because the leadership neglected (or refused) to address the basic attitudes that were hindering the corporate transformation.  Uncovering the core drivers of attitude take time and can be a little scary if you are afraid of what you might find, especially if the source of the prevailing attitude is the leadership team itself. 

 Change is hard, but worth it

I remember a bumper sticker on trucks in my Texas town that said, “If you want my guns, you’ll have to pry them from my cold, dead fingers.”  I think some leaders regard changing the corporate attitude the same way.  But, you may be missing a key element of what will make your organization higher performing and more successful.  A less than desirable corporate attitude can affect your company’s business in many ways:

 

  • Impaired decision making

  • Slowed progress on initiatives

  • Inward vs external focus

  • Reduced customer loyalty

  • Lower discretionary work levels

  • Expensive turnover and failure to attract the best talent

  • Brand drag

  • Lower sales and customer retention

 

How to make the change

The first step to a better prevailing corporate attitude is to look in the mirror and gain a clear picture of where things stand.  Start by conducting structured discussions with groups of employees throughout your company, beginning with your senior team.  Have someone serve as scribe as you take down the words people use to describe the current attitude as well as what they would like to see in the future.  Some companies find it is necessary to utilize an independent third-party for candid responses; an outsider can usually see things that insiders take for granted or are unwilling to express to a colleague.  Also, consider interviews with former employees for another perspective.

In many ways, the process is as important as the outcome, because it begins to show your employees you are interested in their opinions and that you want them to help shape the future path forward.  Once you have a view of how things really are, then you can define what “good” looks like for your company.  There is no off the shelf “good” prevailing attitude, but rather one that fits the purpose and mission of the specific business.

When you’ve received all of the input and have drawn some conclusions, have it summarized, and report back to employees. Then, make sure actions start to reflect the new desired attitude, beginning at the top.  Stop doing things that reinforce the old attitudes and start doing things that encourage the desired attitude.  Apply the learnings to your talent management systems and hiring.  Look for and reward the attitude qualities your organization aspires to and hold managers accountable. 

Identifying and proactively changing attitudes is a positive and transformative journey that can have tremendous effect upon a company.  Those who make a small investment of time and effort will see positive change.  

Connect with David on LinkedIn