From Great to Crap is Mostly a Management Failure

Can we all agree that we hire someone our thoughts are that this new hire can only get better. We think this person will be great when we hire them, and we expect them to only get better. Is this true? Or do you feel when you make an offer to a new hire this person will be a piece of crap you’ll one day fire?

If this is the case, when an employee turns into garbage we must accept the fact this it is mostly our doing as leaders. Somewhere along the line, we failed this person. We hired potential to be great and we did not help this person reach their greatness.

Where do we fail as leaders when someone goes from Great to Crap? 

– We failed to truly assess this person before we hired them. We thought we were hiring great, but we didn’t do enough due diligence to truly understand this person’s skills and motivations.

– We failed to onboard this employee thoroughly to set them on a path for success. To prepare them for our culture and norms.

– We failed to train and develop this person in a way that would assist them on their path of success within our organization. To give them the skills needed to succeed in their role.

– We failed to define, accurately and clearly, what a ‘great’ performance looked like in our organization and in this role.

– We failed to lead them to a performance that would guarantee their success. We allowed their performance to slip into negative territory and not help pull them out of it.

As a leader, we fail our people constantly. Should we talk about how employees fail us? We could, that’s what we usually do. We find every excuse in the world to tell ourselves how a great person turned into a piece of crap when the common denominator was our leadership. It’s not us, it has to them.

They fooled us in the interview.

They lied about their past performance.

They embellished their skill sets and motivations.

They didn’t do the work necessary.

It’s them, it’s not us. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. Well, anyway, I gave them the exact same thing I’ve given every hire before them.

Maybe they needed a bit more than all the hires. Maybe they needed something less, but different than the other hires. Maybe a one-size-fits-all training, development, performance doesn’t fit every size.

Okay, Yes, there is dual ownership over failed hires

That means, if someone has failed, under your leadership you must first look inward to what part you truly owned. What you didn’t do to help this person succeed. I’m depressed after every single termination I’ve done in my career because I know somewhere along the line, I failed as a leader. There was a point where I could have made a difference, and instead, I made an excuse.

I become a better selector of people and a better leader if I internalize each failed hire and try to better understand the part I played in this failure. Did I hire someone who had fewer weaknesses, but no real strengths? Did I believe that giving this person the “same” was good enough? Did I see this person start to fail and not address it immediately believing that a “great” leader would not micromanage and give this person freedom?

Great to crap isn’t a one-person journey. It takes a lot of failures and people to make a great person into a crappy hire. What role did you play in your last bad hire?

6 thoughts on “From Great to Crap is Mostly a Management Failure

  1. I’m 3-months into a new job, as an HR Professional with 10 years of progressive experience, and I cry at my desk daily.

    Explaining to my (first-time) manager that I’ve had no boarding and outsized expectations led me to being placed on a PIP. The fact that I’ve supported:
    Implementation of a new HRIS
    Implementation of new benefits vendors for all benefits
    Onboarding 50 employees via two acquisitions
    Offboarding 20 employees via RIF
    Recruitment activities for 18 new hires
    Full compensation market assessment and adjustments (140 EEs)
    New policies and updated handbook
    Full review and updates to job descriptions (140 EEs)
    While being the day-to-day contact for HR and benefits questions hasn’t mattered.

    She says I’m not performing well. It’s completely crushed my spirit. But this is the 2nd or 3rd thing I’ve read to help push me toward understanding it isn’t just me.

  2. Insightful post Tim. Thank you!
    It took me years and quite a few failed hires to finally learn to question myself and my own leadership. In the end, I came to a simple truth, that self-leadership is the most important leadership vector.
    Questioning one’s self is the path to personal growth. There is so much power and exigency in a proactive “what can I be doing to improve this situation?” mindset. And when we get there, our influence on our teams is unleashed.

    • Krishna,

      Very good question! As a leader, I always do a new leader transition with my team. Part of that is this level set of from this point forward, I will develop you and hold you accountable to our agreed performance, just like I made the decision to hire you onto this team from the beginning. Because our current reality is I am making the decision, as the leader, to have you on this team right now, and as of right now, I’m responsible for your success. Now, let’s discuss what that looks like! (obviously, a little more goes into that, but you get the picture!)


  3. It’s like you’ve been watching me – I just got into a management a few years ago by being given responsibility to manage interns.

    The first intern I managed was so self-driven and self-motivated that she probably could have been managed by an empty chair and succeeded, so I thought my hands-off, open door, ‘here when you need me” approach was all that I needed.

    The second intern was the opposite, but I never changed my approach. It’s embarrassing to say, but a full year went by of the intern only being given basic tasks and executing them at just acceptable levels. By the time I gave more challenging projects, there was so much rampant complacency that it blew up in a massive supernova and ended up in termination.

    The third intern is more the like the first one, but I also adjusted my approach – tried to develop quicker, take more of the lead, and then started to back off when I knew the situation could handle it.

    It would be easy to blame the second intern or to just say it was a poor hiring decision, but I take a lot of the blame for that one. I never wanted to be the “throw the intern into the fire” guy, so I ended up being the “I’ll let you decide how you want your internship to go” guy.

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