If you ask 100 managers to explain why employees fail, you will likely get at least different 101 answers. But once you remove all the smoke, mirrors, theories, and old wives tales, there are really only seven reasons.
Lack of Technical Skills/Knowledge. Everywhere you turn these days it seems you read and hear about the shortage of skilled workers and the Baby Boomer brain drain. A lack of skills and experience may prevent a candidate from being hired but is far from the most common reason employers terminate poor performing workers. In fact, most employers seem overly tolerant of under- and unskilled employees they like.
Cognitive Skill Mismatch. Cognitive skills, or general mental abilities, are playing an ever-increasing role in employee performance. Unfortunately, few employers recognize or understand how important they are. But human nature tends to want to hire “really smart people” even when the job doesn’t need it or the culture support it. That just leads to early boredom and frustration. Just as common a mistake is underestimating the role cognitive skills play when an employee is up for a promotion. A very capable supervisor with average or even low abilities might fail as a manager because the new role requires them to manage a more complex environment and respond at a faster pace. Going forward, the more you ignore cognitive skills, the more employees will fail.
Poor Personality Fit. At the core of every human being are key personality traits that determine how people respond to competition, initiative, conflict, flexibility, traditions and organizational policy, large groups of people, mental toughness, curiosity and more. Research shows that these traits predispose many workers toward a “natural” competence in areas such as drive for results, follow-through, detail-orientation, planning and organizing, interpersonal skills and stress management. Mismatches between a proven “best-fit” profile for the job and the person in the job leads to much higher incidences of turnover, poor performance and stress.
Poor Behavioral Style Fit. Behavioral styles predict no more and no less than how an individual will behave in the workplace. It doesn’t predict success or competence but the way people will respond to (or ignore) problems, people, pace of the environment and procedures. Mismatches between job and personal styles and inter-personal styles don’t necessarily guarantee failure but do make sure that stress and conflict will eventually show its ugly and costly face. How an individual learns to adapt and a manager learns to respond ultimately determines if harnessing the energy of behavioral style will boom or doom employee performance.
Poor Values Fit (Motivation). While people can learn to adapt behavioral styles, adjusting personal values, or motivators, is not so easy. In fact, people generally don’t change what’s most important in their lives without some life-altering event like the death of a loved one, a personal tragedy, starting a family, divorce and so on. When values collide, some people will adjust their behaviors to cut conflict between other people or the job. But with time, the tension between different values wins out. Workers then decide to leave the job or fight for their cause. In either case, the cost to the employer (and many times the health of the employee) is enormous. Selecting individuals motivated by the job and/or company culture is just one way to make sure employees expend their energy on productivity not conflict.
Poor Team Fit. While team fit is a very common cause of employee failure, it is rarely cited as the reason. But it has been my experience and contention that fit on a team trumps job fit any day. A highly skilled employee who doesn’t mesh with the team for any number of reasons either will be driven out of an organization by conflicting co-workers or the co-workers themselves might leave. In either case, the effectiveness of a competent employee will never be realized if he or she doesn’t fit on the team.
Poor Cultural Fit. Team and cultural fit is synonymous for small business. But in larger organizations, a highly skilled individual can become a lost soul if his personal values clash with the culture. It could be as simple as the employee wanting the opportunity to climb the career ladder but the path to do this is reserved for a chosen few. Or it could be the Fortune 500 executive who accepts a position in a non-profit organization. Competence and experience don’t have a chance to shine if the culture suffocates it. More commonly, value differences over faith, politics, or management style can easily turn a high performing employee into a failure. So there you have it – the seven reasons employees fail. Now the question becomes” what can an employer do to prevent these failures.” One of the most efficacious things a company can do is match people to jobs, teams and cultures. Hire, promote, and build teams that play to employee skills, behavioral style, motivations and values respectively. Making these good employee job matches requires that managers have rich and detailed information about their employees and candidates. Pre-employment and professional development assessments are not only cost-effective, valid, and legal but also a prerequisite for recruiting, retaining, and engaging employees.