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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


If you’re a betting person, then here’s a good bet with great odds: bet that people stay the same more than they change. Most people have developed enduring behavior patterns (“personality”) based on a lifetime of experiences—especially those early experiences that often profoundly shape who we ultimately become.

Why, then, would someone jettison those patterns without a compelling reason to do so? The short answer is that they won't.

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, and that’s why investigating employment history is such a valuable tool in evaluating potential new employees. Do people change? Of course they do, but when?

Most people change for one of two main reasons. The most common reason: the pain of changing becomes less than the pain of staying the same. Example: A generally successful salesperson discovers that his habit of trying to “win” disagreements with potential clients is hurting his sales performance and personal income (the financial pain of staying the same), so he pays a sales coach to help him learn a better approach (the financial pain of changing).

The second reason is less common: People who have enjoyed success through innovation in the past continue to innovate because they expect more success in the future. These people can be very valuable additions to your team—especially if your leadership style and organizational culture support innovation.

Leaders often throw coaching and training at all their subordinates anytime performance isn’t what it should be. But when do you get a good Return On Investment for this coaching and training, and when are you wasting your time and money?

Jack Welch, the former leader of General Electric, has his supporters and his critics. Regardless of which camp you fall into, Jack used a tool that was very useful in answering this question. He was fond of using a values/results grid when evaluating both current and prospective employees.

The “values” dimension is how well the employees’ values match those of the company (e.g., integrity, ability to work well with others, etc.), and the “results” dimension is how well employees are able to meet or exceed production standards in their jobs (e.g., sales goals).

Employees/associates fall into one of four categories:

  • High values match, high results in the job. These are your All Stars/A Players; let them know you appreciate them, and keep them happy; i.e. "feed your eagles."

  • High values match, low results in the job. These are your Cheerleaders, who likely will benefit from coaching because they have the right values and need only skills training to perform better. Spend money on coaching and training these folks; they will help take you to the next level. Example: A moderately successful salesperson who needs help with “closing techniques” to improve her performance.

  • Low values match, high results in the job. These are your Terrorists, the most dangerous people in your organization. Get your checkbook ready for the coming lawsuit. They are not likely to respond to coaching because they are already “successful” financially in the short term (or by manipulating their supervisor). You would need to change their personality and values—good luck with that! Save your money and begin your preparations to show these folks the door. Example: A salesperson who uses dishonest tactics to make sales.

  • Low values match, low results in the job. These are your Dead Wood, bad hires that you shouldn’t have been brought into your organization in the first place. Where did you go wrong in your selection process?

High-Performance Habits

  1. In your selection process, screen for people who: a) have similar values to those of your organization, and b) are likely to embrace change and innovation.

  2. In your performance management process, hold people accountable for living the company values as well as their other performance metrics; this is how you preserve your culture as you grow.

  3. For a good Return On Investment, spend your coaching and training dollars on those Cheerleaders who need skills training, and not on those Terrorists who need personality and values transplants.

  4. Show Terrorists the door ASAP; they are a ticking time bomb in your organization. Not only will you inevitably lose money, you will seriously damage your brand in the marketplace.

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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