When I was a kid, I remember seeing other children misbehaving in the grocery store. My mom would shake her head and say “that child needs an attitude adjustment.” I was a perfect daughter, never misbehaved and always ate my spinach (note the sarcasm), but I always assumed that meant some sort of corporal punishment — like the 6-year-old screaming how much she wanted that Barbie doll would soon be subjected to the rack to have her attitude properly adjusted.
But if you ask Cindi Cooper, co-chief operations officer of global organization consulting firm Gap International, it’s a way to bring out the best performance in employees, from the bottom of the ladder to the corner office.
In a survey released in March by Gap, 305 interviewed executives said they felt only 37 percent of their workforce had the potential to be top performers. Although that sounds like the respondents didn’t have confidence in their staffs’ abilities, Cooper said it reflects more on the organization as a whole.
She suggested that instead of focusing learning and development programs on retraining actions or behaviors, executives should look at modifying their employees’ mindset and aligning it to what makes them the most productive. Think of it as a professional attitude adjustment.
“Everybody has unique thinking behind their best performances,” Cooper said. “When people can tap into their genius or a leader can tap into the genius of their teams, they can really produce amazing results.”
That was true for Food Lion’s former CEO Rick Anicetti, who recounted a story of how employees in the 1,100-supermarket company’s IT department created a restocking method that streamlined store operations during the busiest shopping seasons of the year.
“Two or three IT leaders took it upon themselves to change the way they thought — ‘I don’t have an influence on sales’ — and make a significant change,” Anicetti said. Their new system, called “Project Christmas Tree,” resulted in the top 200 items sold at Food Lion stores during the holiday season seeing a sales growth of 10 percent, which echoed in other products’ sales.
But getting the individuals in a team to contribute isn’t enough. For leaders to find the right attitude adjustment for the team, they must start with assessing their own “unique genius,” Cooper said. Where the leadership goes, the team will follow, be it a large corporation or small family business. “Exceptional growth and extraordinary performance is all embedded in the mindset and the ownership of that by leadership teams, because that’s actually at the heart of what it takes to have a high-performing organization.”
Anicetti’s development was his first priority when he started working with Gap in 2001 to get Food Lion back on track. He spent a year and a half focusing on his own mindset changes before extending it to the rest of the company, and in his tenure continued to work with a coach once a month to continue developing.
All of it takes time, however, and Anicetti isn’t shy recounting the amount of time he put into it. Food Lion spent nine years re-establishing its employees’ attitudes toward how they could impact the business.
“You don’t suddenly wake up in an organization of 70,000 people and say ‘It shall be so,’” Anicetti said. “You have to constantly work at this. You have to be with people on a regular basis. That takes time and effort and energy. It has to become a significant priority of the organization.”