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Why Subordinates Fail


When I planned to write on this subject after my last blog More Questions to Get the Monkey Off Your Back I had thought this would be a simple blog on measures to assure that the people we manage don’t fail. In doing research for this blog I came upon a book, Set-up-to-fail Syndrome: Overcoming the Undertow of Expectations that provided much more information and conflicting data that makes this discussion far more expansive than I originally surmised.

The traditional approach to subordinate underperformance is to look for explanations on the subordinate’s side.  The book [The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail –yes it has two different subtitles on Amazon!] and I agree on this: start by looking on your side.
That was my intention for this blog originally. Let’s start by looking at why subordinates fail from the management or ownership side of the picture.
Starting at the very beginning it simply could be a poor hiring decision. The person’s competencies and talents didn’t match the job description. Expectations and metrics for the position were never established leaving the person occupying the position unclear of what outcome they are to produce. Likewise, systems and structure for the position may not be documented or reporting authority may not be clear so the person is left in limbo on what and who to please. The manager may fail to communicate frequently and not provide adequate praise and recognition for performance. 
Those are just a few of the reasons subordinates fail. Do you have more? Please provide a comment and let me know what these would be. All mentioned are easily correctable with the proper systems and a capable manager in place. From the management side of the equation, these issues are preventable. I believe it is my personal responsibility when a subordinate doesn’t work out that I’m accountable for that failure. If I do my job properly then the only reason a subordinate should ever leave is for a position of higher responsibility either in my company or with another opportunity. Frankly the only other reason for them to leave with cause is a decision to relocate. Even that can be predicted in many cases.  
From a management perspective the question The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail added to the complexity of this issue is “How do I get better performance from my subordinates, particularly those in whom I have limited confidence and whose abilities I do not trust as much?”

The book argues, and attempts to show, that most bosses approach to this issue is fundamentally flawed. We’ll explore some surprising data on this next blog.

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