Does Your Company Have an Attitude Problem? 4 Ways to Change It
BY Will Yakowicz
Turning around a bad attitude--especially one that has spread company-wide--is no easy feat. Here's how to usher in the change.
Turning around a business is tough--often it means rethinking your products, your business model, and your customers. But turning around the prevailing attitude at your company is at least as difficult. How do you introduce a change among your people and then scale it company-wide so it sticks?
The change must start with you, says Robert Sutton, professor of Management Science and Engineering in the Stanford Engineering School. "You need to live the mindset that you aim to instill in others," Sutton writes in the Harvard Business Review. "This is especially important for [the CEO]-- since the people they lead watch their every move so closely--if they say they believe in something, but act in ways that clash with such beliefs, people quickly conclude that it is just hot air."
So, if you want to successfully change your employees' behavior and attitude, follow Sutton's suggestions below:
Scaling fast requires slow thinking.
"To scale faster, it helps to take the time at the outset to really think through what you are doing and what you ought to do," Sutton writes. Before you commit to a new mindset, he suggests you take a tip from Paul Anderson, CEO of BHP Billiton. Anderson says to meet with your top managers and ask them to them to write a two-page document answering these questions: Who are you? What are you responsible for? What issues do you believe are the most important? What would you do if you were me? Once your managers hand them in, discuss point by point with them. To find the best attitude to spread excellence, Sutton says you need to use a "laborious, reasoned, deliberative, and conscious mode of thinking."
Realize employees are watching.
As the leader, all eyes are on you and your actions. Sutton says you need to accept the fact that your employees know more about your behavior than you do. "And they certainly know more about how it affects them," he writes. "They are watching you more closely than you are watching them. The best leaders […] find ways to get in tune with what it feels like to work for them."
Don't shoot the messenger.
A mindset change usually comes from a problem an employee or customer brings to your attention. If you have a habit of shooting the messenger, Sutton says to "give up now." Your employees have a lot of important things to say, especially about working conditions and what attitude is swirling around the office. "When one of your folks has the courage to speak out, to give you bad news and point to your mistakes, how you respond has ripple effects that extend far beyond that conversation," Sutton writes. "Even if you are usually the most reasonable and understanding leader on the planet, the news of any intemperate reaction will spread and it will color future interactions." When an employee gives you feedback like "it is your fault," you better listen and take action.
Reinforce the message through action.
"You need to be dogged, consistent, and even downright boring about sending and reinforcing the message," Sutton writes. He stresses that this is key to changing an organization's mindset, especially a large company. "It might be old news to you, but remember that some people you encounter are hearing your message for the first time--and many are watching to see whether you really meant it," Sutton writes. "People who hear you say something just once or twice, or act in ways to support it just a few times, tend to conclude that 'this too shall pass.'" Spreading and sustaining excellence requires playing the same message over and over until you staff knows "the boss really means it," Sutton says.
WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. @WillYakowicz