Who’s To Blame When Employees Fail?

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Not all engagements with employees are meant to be. But why? Can you say who's responsible for the fail? Find out below!

Let’s say you get fired from your job. Who’s fault is it? Is it your fault for not doing your job well or is it management and the corporation that failed you, the employee?

All relationships are complex; in fact, any interaction between two human beings is complex. Add deadlines, skill acquisition, budget restraints and other related human interactions into the mix and what you have is a recipe for a far-from-perfect relationship. To be honest, if business and professional relationships were marriages, divorce lawyers would probably rule the world.

Just as with marriages, there is a tendency for one party to, fairly or unfairly, attract the lion’s share of the blame. Within the business environment, this is often the employee, which is then ‘divorced’ from the company. Is this a fair picture, or is it management’s fault for not providing the right environment for the employee to succeed in or for not realizing that the person is not the right fit for the company during the interviewing process.

The way I look at it is that there are always 3 sides to every story. In this case, there are the following 3 sides:

1. The Side Of The Employee

When I was fired from my first job working part-time as a student paying my way through university, I blamed everyone but myself. Similarly in adult like, when someone is fired, they usually blame the management, blame the company, and blame things outside of their own control.

I’ve learned from my experience and realized that as employees, we should look within ourselves and without bias try to see what steps, and there usually are quite a few unless it is a downsizing situation or unjust due to some kind of prejudice, we could have taken to ensure our success and prevent being fired or feeling the need to quit. This is explored in more details in a previous article, 3 Common Reasons for Getting Fired and What You Could Learn From Them.

2. The Side Of Management Or The Corporation

Whenever I had to make a decision to let go of an employee, in the past, when I was a younger manager, I let my ego get the best of me and as so many managers do I blamed the employee entirely. I blamed them for being lazy, disinterested, or simply not capable of doing the job right.

When I started to develop and mature as an individual and in my career, I realized that there was more to the equation than simply blaming someone else for them not succeeding. I began to look within myself and started analyzing my own actions and those of the corporation that I represented.

My journey of self-discovery unveiled that it wasn’t the fault of the employee, but it was my fault. I was not providing all of the necessary tools and support that my reps needed to succeed. I was also at times choosing to hire people who either the job was not the right fit, or the corporation given it’s culture and other factors was not the right environment for them to succeed in.

Once I came to those revelations, I was able to take the necessary steps to increase the chances that future hires would have to succeed in their roles. I revisited everything from training and on-boarding of new employees, management style and support, the hiring and screening process, and the overall company culture in order to ensure that I did whatever I could to help my current and future teams succeed. I share some of the things that I learned from my self-reflection in the article, What Employees Need From New Managers.

3. The Invisible Side – The Side Of The Truth

The last side is the one that’s hardest to find. It’s the side that very few people are able to truly see. It’s the side of the truth. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. All parties involved should take a step back and look objectively at their own actions that may have contributed to someone “not working out”.

The reality is that when someone is either fired or they quit on their own the failure, and learning experience, is as a result of a multitude of factors. As a result the responsibility should be more equally shared between employee and management/corporation, and that one of the biggest problems is a lack of communication and broken processes.

Here are some of the most common and key reasons why people fail at their jobs:

Lack of clear understanding of roles and responsibilities

When someone chooses to join a company, they do so to take on distinct roles and carry out certain responsibilities. These are generally set out in their contract, but it is the company’s responsibility to ensure that employees understand why they are carrying out those tasks and why they are important.

However, often times the reality of what their role is and how they are expected to achieve the desired results can seem very different to what is written in the employment contract. How can someone succeed at something when they are unsure of what is expected of them?

Employees who have unclear expectations set out for them are bound to make mistakes. The keys here are communication and clarity. If the tasks and the expectations are not clear and channels of communication are not open and encouraged, employees will not ask for help or clarification and ultimately try to guess what it is that management and the company wants them to do.

Employees are not mind readers, so before hiring someone, be sure that you clearly outline in your mind and on paper exactly what their role is and how management will measure their success and the value they add to the company.

Having a hammer to do a wrench’s job

One of the reasons individuals join companies or teams is that they don’t have to go at it alone. They expect to have the support of experienced managers and colleagues to guide them, along with the right tools to do the tasks that are required. Providing these elements is the responsibility of the management and company.

If the necessary tools are not provided, the employee cannot carry out their role effectively. However, the employee should also feel empowered enough to speak up when the environment or tools provided are not sufficient for the job at hand. In the startup world, employees are usually required to be resourceful and find their own tools while helping management build the right system and process needed to grow and succeed moving forward.

Lack of proper processes

Like the saying goes, “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing properly.” Those who find themselves in the businesses world should follow the same principles. Find a way of doing something properly and keep doing it that way. Once there is a proven, effective process, new employees can learn the process and completing the task becomes second nature. If the process is always changing, especially when there is no apparent reason, then the task becomes much harder to perform successfully. This is often seen with startups, but also in larger more established organizations.

If you are operating a startup, be wary of hiring people who are looking to work at a company with existing processes and organized systems in place. Chances are that your environment is not the right fit for them and either they will get frustrated and leave, or you will be frustrated with them and have to let them go.

Pointless, repetitive tasks

No one likes doing an unnecessary task, but we still find ourselves doing them simply because that’s what we are told to do. The problem with this is that it leads to employees recognizing the task for what it is, pointless, and results in them either not doing it at all or finding ways of doing better and giving it meaning. What then tends to happen in a closed-minded organization is that management considers initiative as a refusal to work or inability to do the initial task properly.

This brings us back to the need for open and honest communication, which involves listening as well as talking. The employee is actually saving you time and money by finding a better way and probably deserves a raise rather than a warning, but because the culture does not stimulate and encourage openness, misunderstandings occur and the company continues to make the same mistake over and over again.

Square pegs in round holes

One of the biggest problems with employee relationships is when they have been hired for the wrong job. Just because one role is not working out for them does not mean they are bad employees; they could just be a poor fit for that particular job. If you can find the right role for them, they could make an enormous (positive) impact on your business. As with so many things, solving the issue comes back to open and honest communication, on both sides.

Now, who’s fault is this? The hiring manager who hired the wrong person for the wrong job, or the employee who should have known themselves and their abilities well enough to realize that this is not the right role or company for them? I think it is a combination of both really.

It’s never going to work

Of course, even with the best support, open communication, bullet-proof hiring and screening process, and all the right tools, some employees just don’t work out. It could be because they just don’t have the skills and are unable to gain them, even with support. It may even be that they just don’t care enough or that they go out of their way to make life hard for other employees. The trick here is to be vigilant and to ensure that the problem is removed quickly before their attitude infects the rest of your staff. One thing that I have learned from interviewing over 1,000 people in my career is that you should never hire the unlucky guy or girl. They almost never work out.

Most relationships break down because of a lack of clear, open and honest communication; professional relationships, as we have seen, are no different in this respect. However, as the power and resources lay with the company, so too must the responsibility for providing an environment where communication is encouraged.

Who do you think bares the most responsibility when someone fails at their job and is this a fair question? How would you assess the cause of someone’s failure at their job?



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