Subordinate Attitudes; the Wellspring of Organizational Performance

Subordinates relentlessly seek to optimize their circumstances. This is not in any way a criticism; rather, it is simply human nature. It's an incessant quest to:

  • Optimize their own circumstances;
  • Monitor and tend self-interests;
  • Acutely tune to desired outcomes; and
  • Focus on the best paths to those achievements.

Leaders must thoroughly understand this elemental aspect of employee motivation and how subordinates acquire, assimilate, and analyze organizational interactions.

Organizational interactions create the perceptions and attitudes of employees that define individual and team behaviors and ultimately organizational performance. 

Where do employee perceptions and attitudes come from? They are created from every personal and observed interaction with and between leaders and the organizational processes.  Subordinates, sometimes subconsciously and other times deliberately, are focused like a laser on what their leaders do, how they do it, what it means, what they might do next, and more.  Every time employees interact with leaders or institutional processes, a very personal analysis is conducted of what it means to them: “Is it good for me?  Bad for me?  What happens to me next?  Why?  How?  When?  What’s the benefit for me? What are the downsides for me?”

Subordinates do this not only for those interactions that affect or involve them directly, but for every observed interaction involving everyone else between leaders and/or the organization and its processes.  Even if it doesn’t directly relate to them, they instinctively project themselves into those interactions and apply the same judgments, analyses, and conclusions as I described above.  “Would that be good for me?  Bad for me?  What would happen to me next?  Why?  How?  When?  What would be the benefit for me? What would be the downsides for me?”

Observed interactions, like personal interactions, become part of employee perceptions, attitudes and behaviors.  Human nature very strongly tells employees; “If they (the leaders and/or organization an its processes) will do that to/for/with a third party, they will do likewise to/for/with me”.  Every interaction, those that directly affect followers, or by observation of the circumstances of those around them, is assimilated and analyzed to reach a conclusion about its personal effect.

Leader and organizational interactions with employees/subordinates can be positive, neutral, or negative, and will have an identical corresponding effect on employee attitudes and perceptions about everything in the organization.  Those attitudes and perceptions in turn affect every aspect of subordinate behavior and individual performance.   Attitudes and perceptions formed through interactions drive what employees think and do, how it is done, how well it is performed, and all the things that produce the output of organizations.  It directly shapes individual and collective performance.

That’s why it’s critical to understand how employee thinking works; it is the well-spring of individual and team actions and performance, a key determinate of output and organizational performance, a vital part of organizational culture.  It’s the “attitudes” part of my definition of organizational culture that helps to form habits and practices, and ultimately organizational performance.

The lenses of self-interest powerfully shape all that employees think, say, and do; they inextricably connect subordinates to leader and enterprise actions and are the very DNA of organizational performance.

In my next post I’ll tell you about another equally powerful lens that is at always at work; how followers process shortfalls in leader and organizational information and feedback.

I ask my readers to share their thoughts, concerns and observations.

Many thanks, Keith Stalder, #10

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