A scorpion wishes to cross a stream but it is stuck on the dry land as it cannot swim. The scorpion meets a frog on the bank and asks the frog if it would carry it across the stream to the other bank. The frog naturally is concerned that the scorpion will sting it while transporting it on its back. The scorpion reassures the frog by saying that it will not sting the frog because if it did, it would lead to both of their demise.
Feeling reassured, the frog agrees to carry the scorpion across the stream. Midway thru the journey, the scorpion stings the frog after all. Before the poison kills the frog and both creatures sink and die, the frog turns to the scorpion and asks it to why it decided to sting the frog knowing full well that this act will result in its own death as well. The scorpion replied that it is in its nature to act in this fashion.
The take away from this fable is that both the scorpion and frog behaved exactly as expected. The scorpion is not able to change its core beliefs even if it may cause distress and difficulties leading to its own death. The frog accepts the scorpion’s promise to not sting it at face value, without attempting to challenge its validity. In cases of uncertainty, one piece of advice that would be valuable to follow is that of Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the USA who during the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with the Soviet Union used the phrase “Trust but Verify”.
In principle, most people cannot change, or as the saying goes “you cannot teach old dog new tricks”. In rare occasions, some individuals, under extreme circumstances, can change their core beliefs. It is typically easier for an individual to change external attributes and, to a limited degree, behavioural traits, but not well-ingrained habits. In most cases when the external conditions causing the superficial changes are removed, the individuals will revert back to their previous behaviours.
When building with your team or hiring new employees leverage the interview process to gain a better understanding of the individual’s habits and behaviours to determine cultural fit. It is, however, unlikely that you will have a full picture of how a person will behave and interact with your team and the culture fit until they start working in the company. Furthermore, you cannot afford to spend unlimited resources to find that out. Once you are sufficiently comfortable that there is a fit, you should hire the individual but don’t be surprised if a person is not acting “as advertised”.