Learn to spot and encourage talent | Contributor

By Mike Cook
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal 

Is attitude talent? Of course it is.

We just have a hard time quantifying it, so we mainly hope we get the right attitude when we add people to our organizations.

What’s the biggest problem with all those resumes you are sifting through to find the next perfect employee? You know it when you hear it: No resume conveys attitude.

Back in 2007, when he wrote “The Future of Management”, Gary Hamel asserted that the elements of performance that now make the greatest difference for employers are passion, creativity and initiative.

These three characteristics now clearly trump the diligence, intelligence and obedience that were prized by managers for many decades. Add to that list attitude, and you are probably going to get a more complete picture of why some employees stand out despite not having not had the right pedigree on paper.

Before you start nodding your head, ask yourself this: What do I mean by attitude?

Unfortunately you will probably find yourself starting from a place defined by diligence and obedience as fundamental pillars. So, start again.

In large part, employees who have high attitude quotients very likely recognize that the social element of work is largely responsible for consistently getting things done.

Think about it for a moment. Who are you most likely to accept a last minute request from, someone you know and trust or someone you know but have no working relationship with? Someone you like or someone you have no experience with?

It starts to make sense pretty quickly if you look at it experientially (emotionally), rather than rationally. Attitude, which we often limited to expressions of “can do” or “yes,” is reflected in employee behavior that accepts the reality that being known and being liked is a part of performance and maybe even more important than intelligence in the long run.

“An organization filled with honest, motivated, connected, eager, learning, experimenting, ethical and driven people will always defeat the one that merely has talent. Every time.” — Seth Godin   

Now, some employees come to us with the attitude we are looking for.

I recall one employee I immediately wanted to have as part of our organization whose attitude was so compelling that I made her an immediate offer even though she clearly lacked the skills we were looking for at the time. She just “got it” about being part of a team. Eventually she went on to become one of our most valued associates and learned the skills she needed along the way.

Many times we need to offer the employee the opportunity to develop the attitude we are looking for.

In another instance, a new employee who had tremendous skills, but an attitude that reflected that she was there to do her job and that should be all we expected. In a small company, this often just isn’t enough.

As it turned out, with some coaching we learned that the employee had some previous bad experiences with saying yes too often, and it had cost her in her personal life as she spent far more time at work than was OK with her family.

In time and with partnership, we found ways to allow this employee to take advantage of her natural initiative and learn to say no in ways that still conveyed a willingness to collaborate.

So what is the most basic way to teach attitude?

Remind employees of the people they represented themselves to be in the interview that got them the job. Most likely they were positive, enthusiastic, well prepared and aiming to please.

It should be easy for them to recognize that they already know what will make the difference. They now need to see that every interaction with anyone in the company is also an interview. Not an interview for the job of course, but an interview to see whether they will progress.

“…when MIT researchers spent an entire year following 2,600 employees, observing their social ties, even using mathematical formulas to analyze the size and scope of their address books and buddy lists, they found that the more socially connected the IBM employees were, the better they performed. They could even quantify the difference: On average, every e-mail contact was worth an added $948 in revenue.” — The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

A conversation with an employee whose attitude is not what you’d like it to be can be a moment of truth for you as well.

As the employer or manager, you need to be prepared to hear from the employee what it is they see in your environment that has them holding back. The learning can be on both sides of the conversation.

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. He publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.

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