How to Help
Your Employees Avoid Failure
several reasons why employees fail in the work environment.
Here’s how to avoid them and keep your workplace thriving.
By Patrick B. Ropella
President & CEO
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
Why People Fail
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.
Conflict with the Boss
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
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.
Conflict with Peers
compatible teams, fostering a culture of candor, implementing
360° reviews, and providing conflict and diversity training will
go a long way to ensure that conflicts with the boss are
avoided. They can also help eliminate conflicts between
No one can deliver their best results in an environment where
they don’t get along with their peers. Peer conflict increases
attitude problems, office tension, and absenteeism. It typically
will impact not only individual performance, but also customer
service and corporate morale.
In today’s world, where cross-functional teams thrive, the
opportunity for peer conflict is greater than ever. We routinely
force individuals with inherently different styles to work
together. We mix engineering, sales, marketing, and R&D
providing little more than a common goal. While such diversity
can greatly aid the creative process, it also increases the
likelihood of conflict—and raises the risk of failure.
Proactive management can put a stop to a bad situation before it
snowballs. Just as in dealing with conflicts with the boss, the
objective is to avoid peer conflict or discover and fix it
before failure occurs. Once again, a combination of personality
assessment, candor, feedback, and training for both managers and
employees will greatly aid in preventing peer conflict. And of
course if all else fails, mixing up the teams is an option.
Conflict in Values, Ethics and Style
You can teach
skills. You can help people gain experience. But you can’t
change an individual’s personality. Forcing a square peg into a
round hole does nothing more than frustrate the peg and damage
To prevent conflicts in values, ethics and behavioral style,
there is only one solution—hire right! Placing a clock-watcher
in a dedicated and highly focused team will probably create a
great deal of dissension. Turning an engineer into a salesman
might just drive him and the other sales people crazy. And both
situations may culminate in turnover. Hiring the wrong people is
a sentence to failure.
fail because they truly can’t do the job. This may be the result
of poor hiring procedures, inadequate training, or people being
promoted beyond their level of competency. The best way to
prevent failure due to skill deficiency is to verify hat you
have the right person for the task—whether you’re hiring,
re-organizing or promoting.
In hiring, don’t rely on resumes to determine skills. Test those
skills in a manner closely related to how they will be applied
in the work place. Consider computer-based testing and in-box
simulations. Test problem-solving capabilities. A very bright
candidate might not have exactly the right experience, but he or
she stands a better chance of quickly mastering previously
Proper training is also critical. No one can succeed without the
right tools, and training is one of the most essential. In
today’s hectic work environment, training can often be
overlooked. New hires are brought in to help out, but nobody has
the time to teach them all they need to know to be truly
effective. Whether through formal training, apprenticeships, or
on-the-job training, make sure that your employees are taught
the skills they need to succeed.
Failure, Hire Better
Many people who
fail at their jobs probably shouldn’t have been given those jobs
in the first place. The best way to reduce failure is to make
better hiring decisions. Hire more than skills and experience:
hire people who will be a good fit with their manager, their
co-workers, and your corporate culture. Assess behavioral traits
to determine a better fit. A structured interview process
designed with the guidance of HR professionals, supervisors, and
employees who are already top performers in the relevant
positions can offer a much clearer forecast of future
performance. Such a process will ensure consistency and
fairness, improve the quality of information gathering, and will
greatly reduce the chances of error. Hiring right gives people
the best chance to succeed in the workplace.
For more information on Human Capital Management call Ropella &
Associates at (850) 983-4777.
Ropella is President & CEO of
& Associates. With 20 years of experience Ropella &
Associates is an international executive search consultancy
specializing in the chemical and allied industries. Ropella &
Associates focuses on mid-level management to executive level
retained search in sales, marketing, manufacturing and R & D.
For more information on its services, visit
www.ropella.com or call Patrick Ropella at (850) 983-4777.