Developing a Barometer for Workplace Attitude (WPA)
How can attitude in the workplace be measured to impact positive change?
The role of attitude and its importance in decision-making are becoming more apparent to the business leader/practitioner. He/she knows that the right attitude can provide tremendous financial gains, along with the catalyst for the development of a learning organization, and will result in the thinking, feelings, and actions of a positive business environment. However, the perceived power of measuring workplace attitude has not as yet been realized because it needs to be packaged in a measurable format that is acceptable to business practitioners.
The purpose of this article is to introduce an approach that measures workplace attitude without relying on the practitioner’s intuition or perception. In the case study presented, workplace attitude is measured using an index created by taking the experiences of workers (using a Likert scale) and dividing them by the expectations of the respective experiences.
Attitude has become a defining factor in the workplace because it may be at the root of most business decisions. In a study conducted at the beginning of this century, David Maister provided evidence that workplace attitudes affect a company’s financial success. But beyond financial gains, they provide the catalyst for the development of Senge’s learning organization and the formulation of Hofstede’s mental connections that affect the thinking, feelings, and actions in a business environment.
The complex process of attitude formation has been studied over the past century; “from its relatively simple beginning as a state of preparedness or a set to make a particular overt response, the concept has grown into its present-day formulation as a complex, multidimensional concept consisting of affective, cognitive, and conative components.” However, today’s business practitioner does not have the time, knowledge, or budget to determine the attitudes of the workers before undertaking a task or implementing change. They must be decisive and able to make decisions based on partial information, making use of available shortcuts in measuring his or her environment and/or situation. Historically, great leaders have had the intuitive ability to gage their group’s attitude, although questions still remain.
Questions Left Unsolved About Attitude in the Workplace
- Can we create a tool that requires minimal time, investment, and expense that measures workplace attitude?
- Can the intuitive nature of attitude be measured?
- What leads to these attitudes?
- How can we use tools for measuring attitudes to foster change?
- Can less intuitive leaders use a tool to be as effective as those with innate intuition?
Although the focus of this article is on the first question, the article will also touch upon the rest of these questions. A study was conducted with 125 business students who had an average of 10.5 years of work experience in their industry and were pursuing their business degrees at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University. Three business processes were measured using a proposed theoretical workplace attitude (WPA) index formula whereby: WPA index = f (experiences/expectations).
The three business processes were systems, operations, and people. A series of statements were presented to the business students in each of these business processes for their respective workplace environments. The respondents chose among seven alternatives from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree.”
Using this approach, the data sets resulted in an overall WPA index of 0.85, which may be interpreted as 85 percent of this sample population’s expectations in their workplace were met with matching experiences. Further studies are being conducted to refine the index and statistically prove that an index above 0.50 denotes a positive workplace attitude. Figure 1 represents the empirical results from our study and is formatted according to the proposed approach.
Figure 1: The Overall WPA Index
Creating an area value from the cumulative Likert scores for the experiences and expectation components and forming a ratio between the areas, the WPA index is developed resulting in a ratio value of 0.85. The ratio of 1.0 could be achieved when expectations are met by the experiences.
The ability for a leader to know what a group’s attitude can be is viewed as the greatest limiting factor in business success. In order to accomplish this, leaders must have an attitude barometer that signals the readiness of the workers to undertake a new task or accept a change in the organization. Some leaders have the ability to do this intuitively, while others require assistance in order to assess the group’s readiness.
With or without assistance, it is clear that expectations need to be aligned with experiences, and this is the basis for developing a workplace attitude index (WPA Index).
The development of the WPA Index requires us to explore three critical areas:
- What is Attitude?
- What is Workplace Attitude (WPA)?
- How to Develop a Workplace Attitude Index?
Ultimately, the research indicates that when expectations are matched by experiences, the results lead to positive attitude formation and the creation of values in the organization. When expectations are not matched by experiences, the results may lead to negative attitudes that will adversely affect the work environment.
1. It Starts with Attitude
Before we can begin to measure workplace attitude we must agree on how we define attitude. In general, attitude has been referred to as, “A state of readiness, a tendency to respond in a certain manner when confronted with certain stimuli[,] are usually dormant[, and] … are expressed … only when the object of the attitude is perceived.”
By managing attitude, a leader directs attention or awareness, guides the judgment, and triggers the desired behavioral responses. Further, proofs show that affect, one of the components of attitude, has become a major variable factor in decision-making. Positive affect has a significant effect on decision-making, problem-solving, and behavior. “Affect directs attention, guides decision-making, stimulates learning, and triggers behavior.”
Emotions are the strongest factors in decision-making because they have the capacity to arouse feelings to a point of awareness to take action. We form beliefs, make judgments based on those beliefs, and take action on our judgments.
The emotional process of attitude formation is based on several components but the common thread appears to be a reliance on the person’s past experience and expectations of the results from any action or environmental condition when making the evaluations and judgments. Additionally, studies show that affect has the most influence among the three components in attitude formation and subsequent behavior. Consequently, we say our behavior is driven by our attitude.
2. Getting a Finger on the Pulse
Attitude has been traditionally defined in the past 20 years as a feeling or emotion, but workplace attitude is defined in different ways. Workplace attitude is the sum total of workplace attitudes of employees that reveal themselves in everyday judgments or decisions.
Attitudes are revealed through statements or opinions about the challenges, comfort, self-perception, and financial considerations surrounding the three business processes. Workplace attitude is defined and viewed in three different forms: by traditional statements, by job satisfaction, and as a state of readiness. The state of readiness is the least understood of these but holds the potential for the greatest gain.
Often, successful business leaders apply a basic but obscure principle: the principle of feeling the pulse of a situation and sensing their followers’ state of readiness to act in that situation. Observation of the behavior and actions of these successful leaders or negotiators indicate that they clarified what had happened and what was expected.
The beauty and mystery of the mind is its learning and decision-making processes. At the root of these processes are the filters of past experiences and the cognitive ability to overcome these experiences in setting the expectation that forms workplace attitude.
3. Managers Need Their Own Barometer
Research is proving that the ability to measure workplace attitude is possible. It has been subsequently called the Workplace Attitude (WPA) Index and it signals the readiness of the workers to undertake a new task or accept a change in the organization. The WPA Index uses experiences and expectations in the workplace to form a mathematical ratio in the areas of systems, operations, and people processes. When expectations and experiences form a one-to-one ratio, this may indicate a readiness for a new task or change.
The state of readiness is attitude-measuring and knowing the workers’ attitude or predispositions to act which may have economic consequences in a business setting.
The WPA Index gives the business practitioner another tool and opportunity to improve workplace environments by checking the level and degree of change in the index, reframing the expectations, and delivering on the expected experiences. These expectations and experiences may be unique for the individual business or industry. However, the workplace attitude survey developed for this study provides the business practitioner with a generic tool from which to start.
The need for a tool to help business practitioners is apparent as they are caught up in a dynamic business environment with more competition, stakeholder demands, and time constraints than ever. The WPA Index will serve business practitioners by swiftly capturing the workers’ state of readiness or disposition to act in a business environment created by three processes: information systems, operations, and people. This encapsulation of job satisfaction or workplace attitude gives the business practitioner an index, the WPA Index, to judge the disposition of the workers in directing change or simply accomplishing the tasks assigned.
The goal in our study was to find a relationship between workplace attitude, as measured by the four components of challenge, comfort, self-perception, and financial, with the WPA Index created by the experiences and expectations of employees in the three business processes.
Research indicates that most successful businesses demonstrate effectiveness in and alignment of systems, operations, and people processes, but they are not all-inclusive. The focus in our study then became not only on the relationship between experiences and expectations but with the measurement of the ratio of expectations to experiences by these three businss processes to arrive at an index that may serve as a way to guide a successful business.
You may design your own WPA Index with the help of a professional using a series of questions and statements that will measure the important attitude drivers or processes in your business or organization using a ratio between their respective experiences and expectations.
Getting to Results
Parents, the first managers, have been applying the concept of an attitude index for quite some time. Parents have helped to sort out the trials and tribulations of life with their children by asking if their outcomes (experiences) were in line with their expectations, and if not were these expectations realistic. Misalignment in these two fields leads to improper attitude formation; the same can be said of any business person in the world today.
Great managers, like great parents, have the ability to discover whether those they manage have realistic expectations and correlated experiences. The proper line of questioning can reveal this to the manager, but the WPA Index creates a more accurate assessment of this situation.
The main crux of the WPA Index comes from eight survey questions, each with five sub-statements grouped according to the attitudinal dimension being measured. Responses to the sub-statements within each question reflect agreement or disagreement with statements related to workplace attitude, job satisfaction, and the WPA index. By agreement with the sub-statements, the response denotes a positive disposition or positive attitude.
The first set of five statements consists of an employee’s expectations while the last set of five statements is in relation to an employee’s experiences. Each set of five statements consists of systems, operations and people processes which involve both co-workers and supervisors. The proposed WPA Index ratio is done by taking the total Likert values for the experiences and dividing this value by the total Likert values for the expectations.
In most organizations, systems (information and its distribution) are critical to its success. Therefore, forming attitudes about systems becomes important to the organization.
Attitude survey questions can become so complex, contextual, and are highly multi-faceted. Thus, they have to be approached from a number of different directions using several statements/questions. Generally, the experts in attitude survey formation have agreed on at least five statements/questions to capture the item attitude. The workplace attitude index uses five statements for each of the important three business processes.
An example of five statements that capture the expectations within systems are:
“Ideally, in my job I would expect to receive…”
With the modification below, repeat these five statements that capture the experiences within systems. “
In my job I receive…”
Then we create a WPA index ratio using the Likert values (total or average values from the experience component as the numerator of the ratio and the total or average values from the expectations component as the denominator of the ratio).
The table represents one possible way to interpret the WPA index. If a project based on important management criteria is being considered, the WPA index may be used to guide management’s actions. The manager would take the WPA index for a group of workers (unit, department, subsidiary, or company) and determine the readiness of the workers in undertaking a new task or accepting a change.
The task may not be just a project; it may be a major organizational structural change. It would be rare that the WPA index would exceed a value of 1 in a group situation. However, it may be possible. If the WPA Index exceeds “1,” the group will still be deemed to be ready for the task or change.
Further, it means that the experiences have exceeded the expectations, and therefore, the group has a positive disposition towards the workplace environment composed of systems, operation, and people. One could say that the expectations were too low and management may need to reframe the expectations by setting higher goals or objectives. The index’s scaling will have to be refined after further study and field testing.
The question, “How does one arrive at the WPA index ratio from the data gathered?” needs to be attended to in more detail. The answer may lie in taking the average values for the experiences and dividing this value by the average values for the expectations. Another method that can provide the same results is calculating the ratio for each of the three business processes using and adding their respective values to arrive at the overall WPA Index ratio.
In order to calculate the WPA Index, the experiences and expectations from systems, operations, and people processes need to be calculated individually to form the ratio between experiences and expectations that creates the index. Measuring and knowing the workers’ attitude or predispositions will give a business practitioner the added information to increase his/her emotional intelligence when dealing with people’s behavior.
With the WPA Index, a business practitioner will be able to manage the expectations and deliver the experiences in the workplace. Managing the expectations means management is making sure that expectations are realistic, worthwhile, and attainable. Delivering the experiences means management is making sure that both the working environment and management improve upon or deliver the expected experiences once the expectations have proven to be realistic.
The WPA Index aims to improve workplace environments by checking the level and degree of change in the index, reframing the expectations, and delivering on the expected experiences. These expectations and experiences may be unique for the individual business or industry, but the workplace attitude index provides the business practitioner with a generic tool from which to start.
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About the Author(s)
Ray Valadez, EdD, has both academic and practical business experience not only domestically but internationally. He currently teaches at both the undergraduate and graduate level at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and has taught at the University of California at Irvine. He has held staff, line, and policy making positions at both public and private companies. Besides having a Doctorate and an MBA, he has numerous credentials in the financial services field. He has held various board member positions and was a founder and officer of a law school in Orange, California.