Why engagement and training programs fail to deal with a no can do attitude

There are organizations and units where “no can do” is a frequent behaviour of employees and lower levels of management. No can do is undue pessimism, foot dragging and a passive attitude.

Upon encountering such behaviour, senior management gets all upset and may demand “engagement” programs from the ever so perky HR department, as well as pressure middle management to assume responsibility.

Consultants may diagnose no can do-ism as  lack of engagement and then prescribe engagement or managerial training or even coaching, reminding me of doctors looking at something they do not understand by labelling it a virus caused by stress and tell patients to live a less stressful life style.

Can’t do-ism, however, in many cases is a positive adaptive defence mechanism on the part of employees.Unless recognized as such, it cannot be properly addressed.

Here are examples where a no-can-do attitude actually pays off!

1-an organizational culture in which people are pushed to over commit, and then blamed for delays.  This is very prominent in software, sales and cut throat competitive domains.

2-a culture where constraints to aggressive timetables/goals are negotiated (in the sense of bargaining) ,not discussed. This can be prominent in software, in goal setting, and with certain societies which tend to negotiate instead of discuss.

3-a culture where there is a severe work life imbalance and employees perceive a need to “hide” (pad) from management, because where there is no such thing as priority management, and everything is urgent.

As such, no-can-do is a survival reflex of an abused employee to a dysfunctional organization.

In my experience, all engagement programs, talent management and training efforts that “throw skills” and wow wow (cheerleader) when dealing with no-can-do are doomed, because they see no-can-do attitude through the biased eyes of management.

In worst case scenarios, there is a ready made training/coaching product that is “applied”  to make a fast buck which also helps someone internally look good for rapid action to deal with this no can do  `virus`.

No can do is a severe and hard to diagnose dysfunction which cannot be picked up at a proper resolution via organizational surveys or cured via engagement programs. However when diagnosed qualitatively and without a management bias, there are many positive steps which can be taken to reverse the situation, none of which have anything to do with engagement.