Why employees who have potential for success often fail

We once had an employee who was a nice guy but was never as productive as others in his department. Supervisors discussed this with him on several occasions but his output didn’t improve. Then, in a staff meeting one day, he spotted something on the wall and remarked, “Sometimes I’m sitting at my computer and stare at a speck on the wall, and the next thing I know, 45 minutes have gone by! This happens all the time!”

He didn’t last long.

Sometimes you have to fire people. If an employee is lazy, dishonest, abusive to customers or co-workers, or has a rotten attitude, it’s a no-brainer and they’ve got to go. Sometimes employees aren’t a good fit for the job or company and if they can’t be reassigned, you have to say goodbye. The company doesn’t have much control in these situations and can’t be blamed for the outcome.

But there are other instances where employees having potential for success still end up failing, and it has much to do with the company itself and how it deals with staff. Let’s look at some common — avoidable — reasons why employees fail.

Poor direction. In this scenario, someone is hired and basically given a desk, a pile of work and a title, but very little direction. They’re expected to start working without having been told much about the company, job expectations or standards for success.

Later, the person may be clueless that they’re doing an unsatisfactory job. We know of cases where employees were shocked when terminated because they had honestly thought their bosses liked their work. They had never been told what was expected of them or given feedback. This is why we recommend doing 30-, 60- and 90-day performance evaluations for all new hires to ensure everyone understands expectations.

Inadequate training. People are sometimes brought into a company based on the qualifications on their resumes, or existing employees are promoted to positions of greater authority, on the assumption that they’ll already know how to do the job. But no one trains them. Just because a person has experience or education in a certain area doesn’t mean they’ll automatically understand the position and what it will entail.

In other cases, employees might be expected to operate machines or software without having been adequately taught to use them. If the company doesn’t take the time or spend the money to be sure its employees are trained, they will be unproductive and probably fail. Consider this — you wouldn’t want a doctor who hasn’t been fully trained so why would you want an untrained employee?

Poor communication. We once knew a business owner who was so kind and afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings that he was extremely ineffective as a manager. He found it very hard to criticize anyone’s work or give clear directions, which made it difficult for his employees to know what he wanted from them. Once, he went into a meeting to reprimand an employee and ended up giving him a raise instead!

You can be kind to a fault. If employees don’t realize they’ve made mistakes, or understand directions and requirements for a task or project, they will most likely fail. They need to know their jobs’ requirements and objectives, and how success will be measured.

Micromanagement. Classic micromanagers are so certain no one else can do things correctly that they “hover” and have to be involved in virtually everything in a company or department. They don’t allow their employees to learn through making mistakes because they don’t leave them alone long enough to give them the opportunity. Employees find these conditions frustrating and oppressive, and often end up leaving.

Inadequate resources. A good example of this is a salesman who isn’t provided with tools necessary to do his job, such as a cell phone or laptop. The business owner may want him to be out in the field and generating sales 90 percent of the time. But without the tools he needs, the salesman is forced to spend more time in the office making phone calls and dealing with administrative tasks. It’s sort of like hiring a pianist but failing to provide a piano — the employee has no hope of succeeding.

Employees need to know what your company does, how it’s done and why it’s done that way. They need to understand company culture, policies and procedures; should be thoroughly trained on equipment or software critical to doing their jobs; and need to know your expectations and receive feedback. Everyone loses when employees fail because they were never really given a chance to succeed, and your business is the biggest loser.

Laddie and Judy Blaskowski are partners in several businesses, including BusinessTruths Consulting. They are authors of The Step Dynamic: A Powerful Strategy for Successfully Growing Your Business. Judy@BusinessTruths.com.