Do you have an employee with a bad attitude? If so, my heart goes out to you. Managing clear performance behaviors is one thing. Managing “attitude” is something entirely different. Attitude is fuzzy and tough to put words around. This is partly due to what falls under the category of “attitude.” Attitude is not about “what” is getting done. At its core, attitude is all about “how” something gets done. Responsiveness, flexibility, “service with a smile,” no complaints, etc… These are all traits we associate with a “good attitude.” The challenge with trying to change an employee’s bad attitude is that it can be difficult to put one’s finger on… and the corresponding words around it. As a result, managers default to something generic like “Just work on your attitude.” Here’s the problem, without a lack of specificity and clarity, the test for good / bad attitude becomes just like the test for pornography – “I know it when I see it.” And naturally, if we were the employee that found him or herself in that position, we would go to one of two places:

  • My boss doesn’t like me (for more on that dysfunction, go here)


  • What does that mean? I don’t have any idea what he / she is talking about, so I’m just going to ignore it and go back to doing the job the way I have been

As a manager, dealing with an employee with a bad attitude is tricky no doubt. So, here are some ways to tackle this precarious predicament. I’m going to start this series of “employee bad attitudes” with a common attitude challenge – your direct report is slow as molasses to get anything done.

The Slowpoke

“Slowpokes.”  These are those folks that seem to operate with no urgency whatsoever. In their mind, they can get to any demands when they feel like it. Think of a stereotypical government employee and you’ve nailed “The Slowpoke.” Good people, but no sense of urgency, importance, or responsiveness. Service is a foreign word to them.

What it costs them – At a minimum, these folks aren’t getting promoted. In the extreme cases, when downsizing occurs and “efficiency” comes into play in those decisions, these folks are the first to go. A friend of mine shared a recent experience along those lines. She said that every time she asked this one particular “Slowpoke” to help her prepare for an event (multimedia support was his job), he would usually miss the deadline by nearly a full week and then when he did finally respond, he would say ot her, “I just got your note.  How can I help?” After explaining the event had come and gone, he just shrugged his shoulders. The department was reorganized and he was the first to go.

How to manage them – The trick to the “Slowpokes” is you need to be clear. Give them a goal and explain the “why.” For example, “It is important that everyone sees our department as the most responsive in the entire organization. That will not only allow us all to stand out as stars, but it will help protect all of our jobs. To that end, I have a goal for each of us. I want everyone to be able to respond to service requests within X hours. Can you commit to that?”

If you have a “Slowpoke” in your midst.  Remember these three critical points in managing him / her:

  1. The “what’s in it for them” – the “why.” Get them to see where you are coming from so they don’t think it’s personal
  2. Clarity on what you expect. Make it measurable. If you can’t make it measurable, be careful! Without a lack of clarity, a “Slowpoke” may interpret it as you don’t like him/her and if a “Slowpoke” thinks you don’t like him/her, they will actually go slower! If that is at all possible…
  3. Don’t forget to get them to commit! You need to hear them say it. If you are talking and they are saying nothing, assume they left their body and are on an amazing adventure, flying through lands of chocolate waterfalls and gumdrop houses. You need to hear them say it so you know they are listening.

Now that you’ve mastered “The Slowpoke,” get ready for some of our other more common employee attitude challenges. Coming up in this series of “bad attitude” employees:

“The Grump”
“Not in My Job Description”

I know, I know… You can’t wait!