Growing Great Companies


How to Help Your Employees Avoid Failure

A common adage states that people don’t fail organizations, organizations fail people. The reality is that for most, failure is a direct consequence of the work environment, and has little to do with the capabilities of the individual.

Can you afford to let your people fail? Definitely not. With the uncertain global economic climate and its effect on the chemical industry, no organization can afford to lose talented employees. The cost of hiring and training are too great. You can, and must, do everything within your power to ensure that the people you hire are given every opportunity to be as successful as they can be.

Why People Fail

Typically, employee failure is evaluated by reviewing symptoms. “John’s just not meeting his goals.” “Mary isn’t delivering the results expected.” Far too many managers ignore the root causes of failure. Why didn’t John meet his goals? Why is Mary producing below expectations? Many falsely assume that failure is simply the result of a person’s bad attitude or inability to do the job. But according to recent research, the majority of people fail for other reasons.

“People issues” overwhelmingly engender employee failure. While Mary and John may seem incompetent, it’s much more likely that some organizational problem is to blame. Something in the environment is bringing out the worst in these employees. Maybe it’s a bad manager. Perhaps it’s intolerable co-workers. Or maybe you’re not hiring the right people—people whose personalities mesh with your culture. Senior management and HR personnel must take responsibility for creating a culture of success. They must identify and eradicate the causes of failure—before failure occurs.

Preventing Conflict with the Boss

The single greatest cause of employee failure is supervisor conflict. John loses respect for his manager. Mary feels she’s unappreciated. Typically, conflict with the boss results from one of several causes: lack of trust, lack of direction, perceived lack of fairness, loss of mutual respect, or unrealistic expectations. And once the relationship deteriorates, so will the results. So what can you do?

  1. Avoid it

    Supervisor/subordinate conflicts are best avoided at the outset. Strive to build compatible teams. For example, don’t assign an individual needing a lot of hand holding under a supervisor who’s overstressed and has too many responsibilities to manage. Personality testing may be the best tool to ensure compatibility. Start with your hiring process. Use behavioral assessment to spotlight incompatibilities before they occur. When necessary, reassign individuals by verifying that the style of the new supervisor will work well with the transferred individual.

  2. Discover It

    Unfortunately, only in an ideal world could all personality conflicts be prevented. In the real world, they will occur. The challenge is to identify and rectify conflicts before problems escalate (and results deteriorate). How can senior managers become aware of looming disasters? By getting candid feedback using tools like 360° reviews. Unlike a traditional review, where a manager provides feedback to a subordinate, a 360° review gathers input from the manager, the subordinate, and the subordinate’s co-workers. The aim is to develop a truer picture of the working relationship—vital feedback that can provide early warning to upper management.

  3. Fix It

    A pervasive culture enables supervisors to confront issues with employees rather than avoid them. But developing a culture of candor is not easy. Employees are distrustful of honesty—they know the messenger is often the one who gets the blame. And they may not believe anyone will listen to their ideas. Candor starts at the top. Senior executives must demonstrate the value of being honest. They must prove that candid feedback will be heard, that it will be acted upon, and most importantly that honest input is safe when given and appreciated.

One word of caution: Discovering conflict may create more problems than it solves—if the company does not provide appropriate training to its managers. Managing a team of diverse individuals does not come naturally for most. Supervisors must be taught to recognize the unique personality styles of others and be shown how to most effectively manage each style. Training in subjects such as conflict management and diversity have proven invaluable as people from widely different backgrounds continue to be drawn into the workforce.

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