Attitudes Can Be Influenced

by Jimmy L. Smith, Jim Smith Quality

Management has a lot to do with influencing attitudes.

Have you heard the saying, “Attitude is everything”? While attitude might not really be “everything,” in many situations it is the single most significant determining factor of success. Although some attitudes are influenced by core values, it is an element in producing—at all levels in an organization—a quality product or service, and it is greatly influenced by management. Employee attitude about the product, about the work, about the manager and about the company will pretty well determine the quality of the work.

Most attitudes are formed as we grow up. Teachers, ministers, parents, etc. all influence our attitude. Once an attitude is formed, it’s pretty much the way a person will think about any subject. We vote, select a spouse, pick an automobile and raise our children based on that attitude. Our attitude about our job, the product or service we produce, and about our leaders influence the quality of our work.

If we work in a dirty factory or office, with rejected material sitting around on a dirty floor, with a supervisor who will ship anything, what kind of attitude is likely to develop? An attitude of “That’s good enough” will result in “that’s good enough” work. Often, managers can’t understand why their products and services suffer a high defect rate when the answer is in front of them. They practice bad habits every day, but expect a different result.

If we work in a clean, well-organized, well-equipped and safe factory or office, our attitudes will be influenced by a positive atmosphere, and our outlook will produce positive habits. There are many ways for management to influence a positive attitude. Management may think their people have a good attitude, but then again, maybe they don’t. Employees know all about management’s attitude; they know what management will tolerate. If management hasn’t made performance standards clear, employees have pretty well figured out what they are on their own. Peoples’ attitudes about the company, the product and their management are already formed.

Since an attitude is a habit, something is needed to break an old habit and establish a new one. Of course, nothing is better than treating people with respect at all times and involving them in decisions that affect them. However, that may be a topic of another column.

A special event, like kicking off a new quality improvement program, announcing a new product, a new manager or a new customer can help establish a new habit. If done well, it can be a fresh start for everyone. People must feel good about their work and their company.

Attitudes are affected by repetitive messages—advertising, examples, training and communications. Some quality experts say advertising doesn’t work. I’ve worked in the quality field for more than 45 years and have seen evidence to the contrary. Advertising is one of the most effective attitude adjustment tools known to man. If it wasn’t, why would it occupy so much expensive TV time? Why would magazines be jam-packed full of ads? The concept of advertising is to get into a person's head. In advertising terms, the idea is to position your company and the product correctly in the employee’s mind.

I have a friend who thinks the Lexus is the quality standard of the auto industry. That was his attitude. Yet, he never owned one and never even drove one. Who convinced him it was the best? Could it have been the publicity campaigns for the Lexus product?

We should think about ways to keep the quality message in front of people all the time: posters, special events, award presentations for outstanding employees, and such. Do it with good taste, with sincerity and consistency, to be effective.

Housekeeping should be a big issue. Are the yellow lines on the floors getting a little pale? Are overhead lights dim because of dust? Are desks, file cabinets and machines piled high with paper that should be put away or tossed out? Are the restrooms and break rooms clean? Is it a nice place to work? These things send a powerful message.

If you are the manager, you must be the role model of the “Quality Attitude and Performance Standard” you want your organization to have! Your workers will emulate their version of your attitude and your performance standard. You should also examine the attitude of not only your workers, but your managers and supervisors. It’s their attitude that has the biggest, most direct effect on the employee’s attitude, and thus, on product quality. A supervisor who is willing to bend the specification to get something out the door at the end of the month to meet shipping orders has demonstrated the negative “that’s good enough” attitude in the people he or she leads.

Attitudes can be influenced so that they will improve the quality of the work. Of course, it depends on how strong the attitude is. It’s not difficult to persuade most workers that their work is important and they must be careful not to make a mistake. After all, Dr. Joseph M. Juran, arguably the most influential quality guru of the 20th century, said that only a very small percentage of errors were made recklessly. I have personally known people who have quit their job rather than cheat or take shortcuts to do “just good enough” work. Their attitude just wouldn’t let them do it.

Should we measure attitudes to determine their impact? There are many scientific tests to evaluate a person’s attitude. Forget them! We don’t need them. If you’ve been around a while, you already know how to measure attitude. We do it every day. After failing to get service from a clerk at a return counter, we might leave thinking, “That guy has a lousy attitude.” You don’t need to put a number on it!

The important thing is that we recognize the importance of attitude and do something about it. First, hire people with good attitudes. Second, make sure you are doing everything possible to influence positive attitudes in the workplace. Third, take a close look at the attitude of the people who lead others doing work. Get rid of people who fail to transfer their bad attitudes into positive behaviors and start with those who influence others. Fourth, keep attitude in mind when making decisions. Develop a “we” attitude and not a “they” attitude. iBi

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