“The employees who come in with the most call center experience, we have the hardest time trying to get them to unlearn what they have learned to be able to grasp the latest initiation or embrace a new workplace culture.”  Roger Dana, Zappos.com

Your organization likely attracts, hires, and develops employees based (at least in part) on the experience they bring along with them.  Whether those areas are technical, managerial or administrative, each new team member also brings habits or ingrained corporate cultural beliefs that could prove to be a detriment for your organization. So, once you’ve Top-graded your hiring process and the team member is on board, how do you “untrain” them of bad habits or outdated ways of doing business?Rhythm Systems Blog People - The Untraining Challenge 

Begin the retraining with clearly defined goals. Continue to engage your entire workforce with information, examples, and the background behind your company’s core values. Essentially, knowing the “why” of the new habits will help pry employees loose from instilled beliefs about process and professionalism. Moreover, engaging all levels in learning about the company’s Core Values and how they are intertwined with not only its history, but also daily operations, is a natural catalyst for giving every team member a chance to engage on the current initiatives and goals.  This serves an additional dual purpose of instilling trust, which is another critical component of the unlearning process. Mastering the Rockefeller Habits includes opportunities for all team members to be architects of their own work environment.

Key Point: Untraining is just as important as training or career development. Lay the groundwork for success by including everyone on your team in learning about the organization’s Core Values - and include them when possible in the creation or rewriting of current initiatives.  The trust that you foster will help them release the grip on ingrained habits so you can begin the retraining process and take full advantage of the energy and talent you already have!

Two Immediate Actions in Talent Development

1. Consider how your culture fosters its talent. What does your organization currently do to keep and develop its emerging talent? Have any worthwhile practices fallen by the wayside? If yes, get the items on your meeting agenda. 

2. Use your senior team to brainstorm ways that you could integrate the core components of a successful development program into your workplace, regardless of budgetary constraints. For Rhythm users, this is best archived in “Other Meetings.” If you don’t currently use Rhythm, set this as a recurring event in your calendar (perhaps annually).

Change the Conversations in Untraining

Help your team self develop by learning the language of positives. The purpose is to get everyone practicing the art of re-framing negative statements into positive ones. 

Workplace conversations are crucial to business performance, and negative statements put others on the defensive while positive statements contribute to solving problems. Past Growth Summit speaker and author Ron Macmillan (Crucial Conversations, with co-authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny and Al Switzler) stated that a crucial conversation is a discussion between two or more people where stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong. A highlight of main points from the book are:

  • Start with the Heart – Work on me first and refocus my brain
  • Learn to Look – What’s your style under stress? (Are you reflecting core values?)
  • Make it Safe – Practice mutual purpose and respect, apologize when appropriate, contrast to fix misunderstanding 
  • Master Your Stories – Notice your behavior, get in touch with personal feelings, analyze your stories (the ones you’ve made up and live in your head), and get back to the facts
  • State Your Facts – Use facts, your story, ask for their path, talk tentatively, encourage safety to differ
  • Explore Others’ Paths – Begin with curiosity and patience.
  • Move to Action – You guessed it, good ideas aren’t good if you don’t take action!

Listed below are typical statements that could arise in your workplace. There are many ways to convert negative statements into positive ones, and this list is your idea starter to help create a culture that avoids putting people on the defensive.

Exercise Positive Options

  • "I’d appreciate your full attention while we sort this out," versus "You aren’t listening to me."
  • "Let’s look at it; you may be right," versus "You’re wrong!” or “I don’t think you’re open to change."
  • "I’m OK with different points of view; let’s explore both further. Tell me more about what you’re thinking," versus "I don’t see it that way."
  • "I’d rather try something else. What would you think of 'x'," versus "I’m not going to do that,” “That’s not acceptable to me,” or “I’m not going to discuss this further."

Untraining your team requires a conscious focus on what you want and the behaviors that you expect to get you there (Core Values). Couple that with the most appropriate positive option (in context), and you’ll discover the discipline and habit of focus that will help you attract the best hire, develop your team and grow your business. Now you've begun to solve the Untraining Challenge!


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Barry Pruitt


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images