It?s Not All About Cheese: The Missing Component in Employee Development (Part 2)

In part one of this article I told you about how perceptions are changing in the workplace. In part two, I want to tell you more about the "Merge Point Method" and how it helps you create training programs that lead to stronger collaboration between individuals and teams.

The Wrong Focus

It is fascinating that the first thing we do when identifying human resources needs is list the job skills for the position (cognitive and technical). But when given the choice between two equally qualified applicants we tend to choose based on their level of "personal maturity". Traits like self-confidence and other characteristics (like guiding awareness of values, goal orientation, awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, evidence of self-development, decisiveness, etc.). We say that we choose the best fit for the team or the company culture.

What we really mean is that we found traits in that person that really appealed to us. Traits that sometimes aren't clear or tangible. We just like them based on their personality and character. You just know that you want people like that in your department and your company. We choose our friends, softball teammates, and our mate similarly; perceiving a connection and an attitude that supports collaboration.

Incidentally, as we base our decisions to hire people solely on skill or technical competence, we also resort to the same thinking to correct unexpected behavior (diversity training, disciplinary action, and sometimes termination). Yet, fewer employees are fired for not knowing their job than for problems like: lack of trust and motivation, failure to adapt, lack of initiative in work performance, and apathy towards customers. The same can be said about thousands of failed marriages in the United States. The number of divorces filed under dissolution of marriage increases at an astonishing rate every year. And it isn't because they lack marriage skills. The shortcomings are in their lack of personal skills; skills necessary for resolving problems.

So if the problem is so obvious; if our inability to collaborate is the result of a lack in personal and social skills, then why aren't we addressing the problem at the source? Perhaps it is because of our insistence in applying quick intellectual fixes to our collaboration problems. One of my favorite quotes by Fyodor Dostoyevsky reads, "It is not the brains that matter most, but that which guides them-the character, the heart, generous qualities, progressive ideas." I find myself talking with clients about things like generosity, courtesy, and respect, which I know our culture promotes, but seldom ever talks about in the workplace. I emphasize that customers won't care about web design, slogans, or product features (and employees won't care about your tactics and business initiatives) until they are clear about your values and until they trust your character.

Teaching People to "Fake It"

We have been teaching employees for the last 20 years to fake their way through collaborating with others. We have forced them into an irrational pattern of isolating who they truly are and behaving by the law of the "corporate land". But the idea of separating personal values from corporate behavior is hypocritical at best; irrational for sure. We do it most often by teaching "teamwork" but not the character that drives sincere collaboration; by asking employees to embrace innovation, but quenching the emotional qualities behind "being" innovative. We tell employees to "care" for customers, but do not teach them empathy. Our marketing and advertisement tells people that our company is "world-class", while employees walk out the back door to work for the competition. We talk big, but the heart of your customer service and retention strategies is missing the same component that has been missing from the heart of your employee development strategies for a long time: heart-felt service.

Tactics, technical skills, and expertise are only a part of what will make your company succeed. Interpersonal ineptitude is killing companies (even with the best products and services in the market). It is degrading performance, it is corroding motivation and commitment, building hostility and apathy, and subsequently it is preventing us from growing as human beings.

We have created a culture where people act with the same disregard for each other as they do on the road. It is a pattern of pushing mission statements based on goals instead of on values; explaining integrity instead of exemplifying it; assigning responsibilities without promoting accountability; expecting good service instead of heart-felt, giving service; demanding trust instead of earning it.

Building a MERGE Training Program

So, if you are serious about building a training program that has a strong values framework, let me suggest that you use the Merge Point Method to create it. At a minimum, include training that addresses:

1. Mission based on Values: Individuals can build a common mission based on shared values. Even in cultures driven by conflict, values can serve as the foundation for every interaction. Working from a platform of common values is not enough, though. People should also learn to become aware of their behavior (their "driving strategies"), understanding the impact of their agreements with others, and dealing with conflict when there is a lack of alignment between values and behavior.

2. Exemplifying Integrity: Explaining integrity is different from exemplifying it. Teach people what integrity looks like and they will know the right behaviors to emulate. Integrity is living by your values and managing risk. It is demonstrating consistency of values-driven behavior and building a safe environment to practice those values. Integrity is about the agreements you make with yourself and about clearly defining the right attitudes and actions to pursue, even if you have to make personal sacrifices to behave appropriately. People who behave with integrity not only act in accordance with their values, but also communicate that they are acting according to them.

3. Responsibility with Accountability: There are two aspects of daily behavior and collaboration that need definition: responsibility and accountability. Start by ensuring that people understand their roles; your expectations for what they do and how they do it. Then teach them to develop a sense of ownership that leads to accountability. This includes understanding ownership, rewarding accountability, and describing liability for blind-spots.

4. Giving Service: Beyond our practices for providing great customer service to internal and external customers is another criterion for service: developing a servant's heart. Quality service is a great goal that improves our relationship with customers and helps them feel rewarded for doing business with you. But when you go beyond the practice and tap into the "heart" of service you develop genuine service orientation. Incorporate the ideas of reliability, credibility, responsiveness, and empathy into your training program.

5. Earned Trust: Build a program where trust is earned rather than automatically expected based on title, position, or experience. Edward Marshall, in his book "Building Trust At The Speed of Change", identifies something called "The Transaction-Based Organization". Within the Transaction-Based Organization, the emphasis is on fear and blame with no willingness to take risk. People are nice, but not honest. Groups of people form conflicting turfs based on their mutual struggles. Competing cultural norms are based on negative drivers like control, power, and self-promotion rather than positive drivers like openness, honesty, trust, and service. As a result, individuals create false or unclear expectations and behavior which they feel powerlessness to address. The first four components of MERGE will help you defeat the "transaction-based" mentality. But you should incorporate the definition of trust and methods for gaining / regaining it into your training program.

If you strive for excellence in every aspect of your life, you are probably already practicing many of the principles taught by MERGE. The principles are nothing new. They are simply organized to give you a fresh perspective in achieving collaboration in work and personal life. You have the unique opportunity to make a difference where you live and work by practicing these principles and by training every member of your company to practice MERGE. Amidst the frustrations you experience every day, you can now make an educated decision to change the patterns that keep you from enjoying a successful life and career.

Julio Quintana is a writer and speaker based in Weston, Florida. Learn more about his practice and The Merge Point Method at http://www.merge-point.com

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