The Number One Reason Hires Fail

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Albert Einstein

Its about that time when the HR conference season gets into full swing, so I’m beginning to prepare myself for the hundreds of conversations I’ll have with great HR Pros all over the world.  One thing that I will hear over and over, and more than anything else is: “HR just doesn’t get…”  To be honest,  I think HR gets a whole bunch, but I think many of us lack the courage it takes, at the right time, to show how much we actually get.  So we sit there with our mouths closed, and others then have this perception we don’t get it.  But we do. We just weren’t able, or ready, to put our necks on the line, at that moment.

I do agree, though, that there are still certain things we struggle with in HR.  For me, the above quote from Albert, sums up what we still struggle to appreciate in HR. We hire people for one set of skills then upon arrival, or at another point in their tenure, expect them to perform a different set of skills.  This behavior happens everyday in our organizations. It’s a classic reason at why most people fail in your organization.

I bet if you went back and measured your last 100 terminations in your organizations, 60% of your terms would fall into this category:  person wasn’t performing, but the job they were asked to do was different from what they were hired to do originally.

So, what is it that we still don’t get in HR?

We don’t get the fact that we hire for a certain set of skills and the job changes, so we now need a new set of skills.  Training and Development are still living in this dream that they can drastically change adult learners by having a 4 hour training session and having each participant sign a sheet saying they received the training. Then, we all sit around a conference table analyzing our turnover and wondering what happened, and why all these people magically turned into bad performers.  It’s not them, it’s us!

So, what can we do about it?

The first step is realizing HR, and the organization, are part of the problem.  You can’t hire a bunch of fish because you need great swimming skills, then change the skill need to climbing and expect your fish to turn into monkeys.  It has never worked, and it will never work, even if you change your department’s title from Training to Organizational Development.

So, do you just fire everyone and start over?

Maybe, if the skill needed to change is that drastically different. More realistically, we need to have better expectations on the amount of time and effort it is going to take to get people back to “average” performance, not “great” performance.

Setting realistic expectations with your operations partners will give you a better insight to what route your organization is willing to suffer through.  Either way, there will be some suffering, so plan on it and prepare for it. Then go buy a bunch of bananas, because if want those fish learn how to climb, they’re going to need a lot of incentives!

6 thoughts on “The Number One Reason Hires Fail

  1. Tim, thanks the insightful article.

    “We hire people for one set of skills then upon arrival, or at another point in their tenure, expect them to perform a different set of skills.”

    If that were true, employers would just need to train employees to improve their needed skills.

    Employers do a very good job of hiring for competence, i.e., skills match.

    Employers do a good job of hiring for cultural fit, i.e., group cohesion.

    Employers do a very poor job of hiring for job talent, i.e., job success.

    Poor job performance is routinely attributed to poor cultural fit because new hires were competent when hired and competence doesn’t disappear quickly. However, the primary cause of poor job performance is neither competence nor poor cultural fit but rather inadequate job talent.

  2. I love the “swimming and climbing” analogy. As an external recruiter we have a responsibility at source to make sure the job description delivered to the candidate is of the highest possible clarity.

    This can be said of internal recruiters as well. Their client is the hiring manager and it is their job to obtain a clear job description with clear targetted goals that can be measured by agreed KPI’s with HR, the hiring manager and the candidate/employee.

    Just my thoughts


  3. Yep, almost everyone hired could do the job if their life depended on it. Per the classic Mager/Pipe Performance Improvement Model, the dissonance is usually caused by the organization’s task interference, misdirection, feedback issues, and poor balance of consequences, etc. But those influences are not controlled by either HR or the individual hired.

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