Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Can You Measure Employee Attitude?

A few weeks ago I co-presented a webinar for  HR.com entitled, "Performance Appraisals Your Managers Will Love."  I made a statement that went something like this:

Remove the word ATTITUDE from your performance appraisal.  
Well, I got a lot of feedback from those 8 words.  Most of the feedback was around, "We need employees that have a good attitude towards their jobs and customers."  I don't disagree.  However, you have to define attitude so that everyone understands it.  Also, it is a very subjective term, because what I think is a good attitude is totally different from what my co-workers define as a good attitude.

I googled attitude and I read many definitions, but here is a good representation of what I found:

Attitude: a complex mental state involving beliefs and feelings and values and dispositions to act in certain ways; "he had the attitude that work was fun"

So, I don't know about you but I don't want to get into feelings and beliefs at work.  What I want at work is behaviors that lead to desired outcomes.   What we need to do is think of ATTITUDE in terms of behaviors.  What are the desired behaviors that support a "good attitude?"

Think about these behaviors:
  • Is responsive to clients needs
  • Responds to requests in a timely manner
  • Serves customers in a friendly manner
  • Completes assignments and asks for extra assignments
  • Shares best practices with co-workers
  • Receives positive feedback from customers
  • Goes above and beyond to satisfy customers
All of the above are behaviors that are outcomes of positive attitude.  Aren't those examples a lot clearer and easier to rate, train to, and explain than "have a good attitude?"

I did have someone ask me if MOOD was a better word than attitude.  That question put me in a bad mood coming from an experienced HR professional.  It took all I had to say, "I don't think so." Mood has the same issue: what does a good mood or bad mood look like.  And, I can be in a bad mood and still be productive.  Perhaps we should just buy our employees some MOOD rings.  :)

What is your experience with rating attitude and how have you handled that on performance appraisals?


Patrick T Malone said...

If you don't want to get into beliefs and feelings at work, you had better work alone. People come with beliefs and feelings that impact the work behaviors you want.

Most of us have no problem dealing with feelings and beliefs at work as long as they are the same as our own. The challenge then is how to deal with beliefs and feelings that are different.

Unknown said...


Thanks for your feedback. Maybe I should have said I don't want to get into rating beliefs and feelings at work as that is subjective and personal.

I agree we do have issues with dealing with beliefs and feelings that are different from our own...so that s why we need common ground which is the work we do and the outcomes that our businesses need. So, the better that is defined the better our organizations will perform.


Patrick T Malone said...

The work behaviors described in the article are subjective when they involve words like responsive, timely, friendly, above & beyond, shares, positive. Once those behaviors are quantified and our feelings & beliefs are aligned on each outcome, then the result is a fully engaged employee.

Unknown said...

That's where inter rater reliability training comes in so that everyone knows what timely means if the scale does not define that for the user. (meets deadlines, sometimes meets deadlines, misses deadlines occasionally, etc.) I am a firm believer in quantifying as much of the measures as possible and behaviors have to be aligned. I think that maybe instead of aligning beliefs and feelings those may be taken into account when we align around company values in the front end of hiring an employee. I think you can get into a lot of trouble when you try to account for feelings in any process at work.

Anonymous said...

Hi Cathy-
I agree that attitude is difficult to measure. However, what if you have an employee who does these tasks (completes projects timely, friendly with customers, etc) but has a poor attitude towards their boss, spread negativity amongst the team and derails teamwork? How do you evaluate this person? Their "behavior" is clearly unacceptable, but falls under the umbrella of "attitude" in my mind.

Unknown said...

Thanks for reading and the feedback!

How would the poor attitude towards his boss be described in behaviors? ( Maybe abrupt and rude communications, raising of voice, etc.) As far as teamwork, that is usually an item that is rated on most appraisals, so the "derails teamwork" and "negativity" would need to be explained in terms of actions/behaviors.

Minal Shah said...

Your comment and your subsequent reasoning has got me thinking. Recently when i was having a discussion with one of my colleagues, we were looking at defining an appraisal process which is very objective and that there is no scope of any bias & subjectivity. Though on one side your argument is valid, but on the other side this criteria is very important. For e.g. what if a person is always in the habit of comparing his / her situation with others. That is a very bad attitude as it leads to dissatisfaction at the individual level and can lead to poor performance and negativity in the work enviroment.

Unknown said...

I believe we should not go into the semantics of the terms and their definitions. Clearly, "attitude" and "behavior" are two different concepts, but often they can be used interchangeably in organizations, particularly by people who are somewhat removed from the HR field. Still, we as practitioners need to understand what they want when they tell us help them "improve employees' attitudes".

Without going deep into the intricacies of cognitive psychology, there are three large chunks: EXPLAIN what type of attitudes/behaviors you expect, SHOW (that is lead by example) and REINFORCE by all means available. It's a simple formula that often escapes Organizational Effectiveness consultants, but it works like... like clockwork...

Unknown said...


Thanks for reading and commenting. Well said! I agree with your 3 steps: Explain, show and reinforce.


Unknown said...


Thanks for reading and providing feedback on the topic. I love these ongoing conversations so that we can learn from each other. Regarding your point of employees comparing themselves to each other....I think that is a good thing especially if you have a strong pay for performance system in place. A little competition is very healthy in the work place. Now, if they comparison is around salary or being treated unfairly those are separate issues, that need to be addressed outside the performance management process.


Unknown said...

Thanks guys for this discussion, l would like to ask how can we quantity all the criterion constituting ATTITUDE ?
Can it be numerically/ Mathematically quantified in the end, such that a uniform measure can be applied on reviews

Unknown said...


I believe by using some of the behaviors above, you can definitely assign rating scale to those and get a quantitative measure.