There's one topic that routinely generates considerable unease when I speak with owners, managers and supervisors in the printing and bindery industry, or any small business. It's the employee or co-worker with the dreaded 'bad attitude.'
Bad attitude was vividly demonstrated to me one day in the form of a huge wrench hurled disturbingly close to the head of a second pressman and bouncing harmlessly off the wall at the opposite end of the press. I was new and as adrenaline was prompting me to flee the shop, my co-workers looked around for a few seconds and instantly went back to work. Apparently this was routine and accepted behavior for this particular first pressman. He was talented but volatile and argumentative. "So this is printing..." I thought, as the adrenaline subsided.
But what exactly IS a bad attitude? Is it a defect in them or is it a result of something you did? Is there something wrong with your system or company procedures? Does it mean you simply disagree with that person? Or do you simply not understand what that person is doing, or why they are doing it? A 'bad attitude' should raise a lot of questions.
As a manager, labeling a colleague with a bad attitude is a cop-out if you do nothing else as a result. A basic law of managing people is that you can only manage behaviors and activities, things that are seen and done. In doing so you hope for improved performance and a better business or department. Bad attitude itself can not be managed directly.
The bad attitude label, while somewhat helpful in that it's a red flag for something unacceptable, is useful in practice only when you get down to specifics. Approaching an employee with the statement "You have a bad attitude and we need to do something about it" will only put that person on the defensive. Approaching them with "Throwing wrenches at your second pressman is unacceptable behavior and violates company policy as well as state law" is more likely to lead in a better direction.
So now that I've raised the issue, we'd like to learn what impact, if any, the 'bad attidude' employee has in your shop? Click Here to take a very brief survey which takes about 1 to 2 minutes. It's completely anonymous and we'll share survey results with all who participate. The results will undoubtedly be interesting.
A few months after the wrench incident, this pressman asked me if I'd like to carpool to work. I agreed...probably out of fear. Then I got to know a fellow who was smart, articulate, generous and funny and had many valid points to make. Yes, he needed some help in the interpersonal skills department. In the end, I never had a wrench or a bad word thrown my way and he'd actually go out of his way to help our department. I'm not defending his poor behavior; he probably should have been fired several times (and I vaguely recall that he may indeed have been fired on more than one occasion!) But it was a good lesson in not rushing to judgment. The line of communication that opened up as a result of our carpooling made all the difference in our professional relationship.
Stay tuned for future posts on this complex but important issue, and take two minutes to answer a few quick questions in our survey. As always we welcome your comments below.