Adopting a Can-Do attitude in your organisation


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Dear Ian, I have been greatly blessed by your thought provoking articles on "The Daily Drip" since I signed up for them many months ago. Could you write an article on how to instill a "Can Do" spirit amongst the employees in a company? We want our 1,000 employees (average 45 years old) to take on new secondary work.

Great Expectations

Dear Great,

Thank you for your kind words. I am glad you find my articles thought-provoking. That has been my intention when I first started this one year ago. I hope to continue doing this with support – and questions – like yours. I hope you can share this with your colleagues and friends.

Coming back to your question – a can-do attitude; asking for a can-do attitude among your employees presupposes that there isn’t one. And when there isn’t one, we first need to look at the system that supports such a can’t-do attitude.

The Can’t-Do System

Most people, when they first join an organisation, come with a can-do attitude. They are usually very enthusiastic when they join, ready to share new ideas and contribute to the growth of the organisation. That is where the can-do attitude lies. Indeed, if there isn’t one, then the buck stops at your recruitment process – you have recruited can’t-do people in the first place. In this case, you may have a very uphill task because it was you who hired them in the first place! But I don’t think that would be your story, so I shall move to the next reason why there are can’t-do’s.

So people come in with a can-do attitude and they are slowly turned into can’t-do’s. This usually comes about because there are don’t-do people in the hierarchy. If leaders don’t condone the can-do attitude by saying things like, “Don’t be a smart Alec,” or “Keep your nose out of where it doesn’t belong;” or if co-workers say the same to discourage “newbie enthusiasm” so as not to show them up, then you have a cultural problem on your hands. It is the Don’t-Do system that evolves into the Can’t-Do.

Sometimes, the issue is not so overt. What I have discovered in working with many different companies is the aspect of “passive aggressive” people. These are people who use their Can’t-Do attitude as a way of expressing hostility. What I have also found is that passive aggressive behaviours come from the top! However it might have evolved, people at the bottom feed on such passive aggression, and from there, also exhibit it themselves. This becomes a vicious cycle that develops yet more passive aggressives. I hope this is not your case, because if it was, you would have to arrest the issue all the way at the top.

It is important to first identify the Can’t-Do’s and how they come about, because, if employees don’t know what is wrong, they won’t know how to change.

Appeal to the heart

Now that they know what they have to do, you would have to appeal to the heart; tell them why they have to do it. Create a positive picture about why it will mean so much to them to adopt the Can-Do attitude. You might say that it would expand their lifelong employability, or their significance to the community, or their impact on the family, or even to give the company a new lease on life. Get them excited about what they will be able to achieve through their secondary work and use that constantly.

Identify bright spots

The next step is to identify bright spots. These are the people who already exhibit the Can-Do behaviours that you seek, and uncover how they do it. You can also enlist their help, and promote their behaviours, so that the other employees know what to do. You should also reward those who exhibit the right behaviours so that it reinforces the Can-Do message.

What if there are no bright spots? Then you have to be the first one. You have to stand up and champion the Can-Do effort. Your leadership will then trickle down to the rest of the people, and they can then emulate you. Again, rewarding the right behaviours is important.

Map the path

Now that the right attitudes and behaviours have been identified, you would have to map the path. Tell your employees exactly how to get it done. Saying that they have to take up secondary work without telling them how to manage their time, and how it might impact their performance bonus, would not work. Don’t assume that people know how to get there. Tell them how, and show them how. The clearer they are about how to exhibit these behaviours, the easier it is for them to do so.

Conducting a team-building session for these

Once you have identified all these, you might like to conduct a team-building exercise for your people. Get a professional company that will design a cross-functional program that will accentuate the behaviours you need, showcase the champions, and create the right mindset. Sometimes it is better to leave this in the hands of professionals so that you will not be accused of saying one thing or another. It is usually better to hear the message from an outsider.

So there you are, Great, a few practical steps you can take to get your people to adopting the Can-Do attitude. It is not difficult, but it does take a concerted effort. But I believe the outcomes far outweigh the time and effort putting this together. Let me know if you need a good company to pull all this together for you; I know of good people.

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