BY BOB MIODONSKI OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF
MINNEAPOLIS — Contractors should not put up with a worker with a bad attitude, even if they face a tight local labor market, consultant Hunter Lott told Nexstar members Oct. 1 during their Super Meeting here.
"You can hire and fire on attitude. Hire for attitude; train for performance," he told contractors in his workshop entitled, "Hire the Best, Fire the Rest and Stay Out of Court."
Rejecting an applicant for having a bad attitude during an interview is acceptable, Lott noted. If the applicant badmouths former bosses during the interview, for example, chances are that you could be included in that group in the future.
Judging someone's attitude can be a problem because it is so subjective, he said. A worker's attitude frequently is reflected in his behavior, which can be judged more objectively.
"The word 'attitude' should be nowhere in our workplace vocabulary," Lott said. "Give up on the word and keep the idea. Get a new word — behavior.
"It is much easier to deal with, and even fix, a performance issue vs. a behavior issue. Given a choice, go with performance first."
Workers who respond, "But I do my job ..." should be informed that 50% of their job is to get along with their coworkers and boss, Lott said. He suggested that contractors include a behavior standard in their employee handbook that states, "Maintain a positive work atmosphere by acting and communicating in a manner so that you get along with customers, clients, co-workers and management."
Contractors are obligated to communicate consistent performance and behavior standards to their employees, he said. While consistency is a goal in dealing with all employees, Lott added, exceptions can be made for exceptional performance and behavior. Employers tend to ignore their good people.
"As consistent as you like to be, you have to use judgment," he said. "You can make exceptions for the good people if you use judgment. Where's the line? If it's reasonable. What's reasonable? Think '60 Minutes.'
"Would you be willing to go on '60 Minutes' and defend your actions?"
What motivates people to perform well can differ. To understand the motivation of employees, a contractor must answer two questions:
- What's being rewarded?
- What's their motivation for change?
"Realize what you control and what you don't," Lott said. "You can't make employees do anything they don't want to do, but you can control your own reaction to any situation. If you ignore poor performance or bad behavior, there is no motivation for the employee to change."
Demoting an employee will not motivate him to perform or behave better. And, it will have other repercussions.
"It sends a horrible message to other employees that you don't have the guts to fire the employee," Lott said. "One of the rewards for good people is to fire the bad ones."
Even if inclined to fire a bad worker, an employer may think it's impossible given the legal protections given to certain groups. That's not necessarily the case, Lott said. Firing bad employees regardless of race, sex, religion, national origin or disability is safe, as long as the employer follows certain practices.
"The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dropped 49% of its cases last year because companies had documentation," he said. "The burden of proof is heavily on the employer. In order for documentation to stand up on its own, it has to be signed or initialed or witnessed."
Another option would be to put "agree" and "disagree" boxes at the bottom of the document. This will prove that a company communicated with an employee if he checks a box.
"Proper documentation lets you take credit for the good-faith efforts being made," Lott said. "Common-sense management, and now the law, is saying to find problem people and deal with them quickly."