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Is attitude more important than aptitude?

In an ideal world, the workplace would be full of employees with the right attitude and aptitude. In reality, the likelihood of creating and maintaining this office Eden is fairly slim. So, if we have to lean towards a preference for one, what’s more important – Attitude or Aptitude?

Just to be clear, aptitude is a person's ability to do something. In business terms this can mean having a natural capacity to learn or be proficient in a specific discipline or skill set. This could include being competent in skills such as communicating in a professional manner, effective time management and organisation. Attitude however, is associated with a person's character and values; the way they think or feel about something. An employee with the ‘right’ attitude could exhibit behaviours such as being enthusiastic, taking ownership, being flexible to change and passionate about their role. A negative attitude may include self-defeating talk, pessimistic assumptions, being passive aggressive, intimidating or manipulating.

A bad attitude in the workplace can be toxic and result in a miserable environment for everyone. We’re only human, we all need to vent or have a little moan now and then, however, we have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but to our colleagues, not to indulge in negative attitudes and behaviours in the workplace.

Incompetence can also be hugely disruptive to a team. Particularly in a fast-paced environment where you have collective goals; sometimes there just isn’t time to be carrying a colleague. A team member who is not up to speed can result in the rest of the group having to take on extra work or rectify their mistakes – both of which can be incredibly demotivating. That said, working alongside a very capable and experienced colleague may seem great while everything is running smoothly. They can help support and amplify your own accomplishments, although when faced with an issue or challenge, should that person not have the right attitude, the situation may become much harder to manage. A person with a positive mental attitude is more likely to treat a challenge with determination and enthusiasm and treat it as an opportunity.  A good attitude can be contagious, smiling being a great example; when someone smiles, it’s as though we are instantly programmed to smile back.

Personally, I've worked for a company in the past who have openly admitted to hiring employees for certain level roles based on attitude and culture fit. I remember one of my first days in the new job, sitting in a Data Centre surrounded by extremely experienced and skilled professionals thinking "how on earth did I get here?!". As part of my induction, speaking to a member of the Senior Leadership Team, I was told he would always choose to hire an employee with the right attitude and capacity to learn over someone more experienced but lacking drive. Providing the right tools and skills for a role is one thing, but it can be near on impossible to teach a positive attitude.

That said, let's not devalue the importance of experience. It very much depends on the role in question; hiring solely based on attitude may not be enough. I'm sure no one would want heart surgery completed by an inexperienced surgeon just because they were keen with a great outlook on life! Endorsing an employee with a skills gap will result in a requirement for some form of training therefore it’s critical the business has a sufficient training programme and budget in place to cater for this. Training can be an extremely time consuming and costly process. This is quite an investment to make on an individual who may thrive when learning the entry level requirements for a role, but struggle further down the line when faced with attaining a more in-depth skillset. Unfortunately, a try hard, positive attitude will not always mean you succeed. The recruitment process is expensive; you don’t want to get it wrong.

So to conclude, it’s clear both attitude and aptitude are important factors to a successful workforce. Given the choice, I’m sure we would all want to be surrounded by a team of capable, positive professionals however if I had to choose between attitude and aptitude, it would be attitude hands down.

By Amy Murphy, 360 Workplace Change Manager 

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