Valuing the Whole Person – Part 2

Audra Perkins was very proud of the company she had founded, especially its purpose-based culture. She believed strongly in corporate social responsibility and had selected five social causes to be sponsored by the company. She asked each employee to devote time to serving one of these social causes with a part of their work time.

Social responsibility was a part of an employee’s performance evaluation. The values that Audra brought to the company were generally embraced by its employees. The hiring criteria used by the company supported- its focus on social responsibility. Audra emphasized the need to value the whole person, not just what could be documented on a paper called a resume. She was looking for genuineness.

Audra was perplexed by a conversation she had with one of her vice presidents. The conversation was about an employee, Jordan Hanna. By all accounts, Jordan was a star employee, not just his skills but also his support for others. The one negative about Jordan was that he didn’t participate in any of the five social causes selected by the company. He had been warned but still hadn’t participated. Jordan’s case was going to be a moment of truth for Audra. Did she really believe enough in corporate social responsibility to terminate Jordan’s employment? She decided yes.

As fate would have it, Audra received a personal note from a middle school teacher before following through on the termination.

“I’m writing you today to tell you about the gift that one of your employees has given to our school. Jordan Hanna has worked tirelessly over the past several years in rescuing students who would have been lost to society. He has an amazing ability to connect with young people and turn them around. He is a life saver in the truest sense.” 

“I’ve been reluctant to write to you because Jordan very much objects to being praised for his good deeds. He grew up in a family which believed in serving others without expecting any recognition. He is a quiet humanitarian. I know I’m violating Jordan’s wishes, but I just felt compelled to share with you how much he has meant to the young people he has saved.”

Audra had tears in her eyes when she finished reading the letter. What a mistake it would have been to terminate Jordan’s employment.

Later, as she thought about Jordan’s case, she realized that she had set in motion a violation of one of her core beliefs: Valuing the distinctiveness of each person’s contributions. She had accepted that everyone is different, but she hadn’t operationalized that belief. Then she thought of the iceberg metaphor she liked to use. What you see above the water surface is known. What is hidden is what supports that part of the iceberg that is known.

To truly value persons we need to look below the water’s surface. That’s hard to do because it’s not easily measured or put in words. Values, beliefs, and character are hard to describe and can only be revealed by truly understanding each individual. Valuing the whole person is hard to do.

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“Firms that fully embrace the needs and interests of the whole person will win today’s competition for the best talent.” – Stewart Friedman (management professor)

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Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.