People Problems


Published: 23/05/2017

by Bill Stack


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On April 14, 1912, the luxury ocean liner, The Titanic, while on its maiden voyage in the North Atlantic, struck an iceberg and sank within hours, taking with it some 1,500 passengers.  While the crew did their best to avoid the visible part of the iceberg, it was ultimately what they couldn’t see below the water line that sank the ship.  

The “iceberg” concept provides some great analogies for business.  It’s interesting to note that only about 10-20% percent of an iceberg is above water’s surface, while the remaining 80-90% lies beneath the water.  In our coaching practice, we teach a principle called “The Identity Iceberg.”  This is a powerful principle to apply when working with team members.  Above the water line, we see a person’s behavior exhibited through the actions they take, the decisions they make and ultimately in the results they achieve.  But below the water line (the unobvious) is an individual’s skills, beliefs, values and identity.  

So let’s apply a real life application of the Identity Iceberg concept.  Take, for example, a salesperson.  We see a salesperson’s results demonstrated by the actions and decisions they make (their behavior).  If a salesperson hasn’t developed the right skills to be successful in sales, then they’ll likely find it difficult to achieve their sales budget.  Digging a bit deeper, we look at beliefs.  Beliefs are those things we hold to be as true (although they may not necessarily be true).  The question should be asked, “What are the beliefs this individual has about salespeople?”  Does he or she believe that selling is an important role for the company and is willing to invest the time and energy to develop the skills necessary to become proficient in this profession?    

Peeling back another layer, we next look at values.  Values are the things we hold to be as important.  These are the principles that enable us to take a moral stand and do the right thing, regardless of the circumstances.  If acceptance is an important value to this salesperson, they may struggle in sales with perceived “rejection.”  If responsiveness, great customer service or time management are also not important to this salesperson, they won’t sell much.  Changing an individual’s values is difficult and usually requires a significant emotional event such as death, birth, or other life altering event. 

Next we look at identity.  The two most important words that define our identity is “I Am…” These words followed by the subsequent adjective define who we think are (our self-concept).  Someone with a positive self-concept has the ability to be comfortable in their own shoes.   Using our example…if this salesperson thinks they are terrible at sales, than they’ll be terrible at sales.   

The biggest factor that shapes our identity is our environment.  If we were to travel back in time and able to see the environment this individual has been surrounded by over the years, we would get a clear understanding of how their identity has been shaped.  We can also look at their present environment (both personal and work environments) and the people they associate with in these environments.  Looking at both the past and present would truly provide us an “X-Ray” view into how a person’s identity has been formed over the year.  As business owners or managers, we can even ask ourselves, “What’s the environment here in our business?”  Is it positive and productive or negative and destructive? 

The Identity Iceberg principle can really be effective in helping address some of the team challenges you may be facing in your business.  Taking a step back and asking better questions can lead to great discoveries.  Is the issue a skill issue and do they have the skills needed to be successful in the position?  If they have the skills, then is it a belief issue, a value issue, etc.  While these are tougher areas to examine, there are a myriad of assessment tools that can help you better understand your employee’s behavioral and psychological profiles.  Through effective questioning, active listening and insight gained from assessment tools, you can dig below the surface and solve some of the tough team challenges you may have been facing.