Why Do Your People Fail You?

It isn’t terribly unusual to find advisers taking on staff and being disappointed reasonably quickly, as the staff fail to deliver quite what the adviser expected or was  hoping for….

So why do your people fail you?

I don’t believe they do usually….I think we fail them.

Let’s think about the 5 most cited reasons that I have heard over the years for why your staff fail.  They would be:

  1. Wrong selection. You just hired wrong…you got a dud.  You picked someone who is still trying to figure out how to tie their own laces…or whatever.
  2. Poor Preparation.  The training or induction process didn’t set them up properly and they don’t quite get “how things work around here”…
  3. Poor work ethic.  They spend too much time browsing the internet for garden ornaments, or chatting with their friends on social media, or have 12 coffee breaks per day…
  4. No Planning or wrong goals. They aren’t working on the right things, or aren’t heading in the right direction….
  5. Bad Attitude. Unmotivated, lackadaisical, devil-may-care and “details-don’t matter” approach to the job…

Every one of those is a management failing.  Most of them are actually a failing of leadership, which is way more important than management.

The responsibility for each of these outcomes is ours, not the staff members’.  Our people aren’t failing us; we failed.

A real conversation I had with a very good adviser who happens to be a very good business person went like this:

He moaned about how the staff were failing to deliver what he expected. (he had moaned about the majority of staff failing to deliver what he expected on multiple occasions previously as well).  I listened for a couple of minutes while the recital of their sins played out.  Then I said to the adviser “did you hire idiots?

His response: “no, I didn’t“.

Me: “are you giving them the time and attention they need to learn from you?

Him: “I don’t have a lot of time – we are flat out and I need them to help get on top of the work so that I can give them more attention

Me: “if they knew how to do everything the way you wanted without you spending the time explaining and teaching them, then the business doesn’t need you does it?  They can just do your job without you


I went on: “Your disappointment is your fault.  Their “failure” is yours. You cannot expect to be running a business and then opt out of being a leader.  Your people deserve better than you are giving them, and your people will be better than you deserve if you give them the time and attention they need

Conversation stopper right there.  That is not what coaches are supposed to say to clients apparently.

Here is the reality check though:  Unless you hired someone who is essentially a fraud – sold themselves well at the interview but the reality is a different creature arrived to start the job – all of the other reasons are the responsibility of the leader, not the staff member.  The first one (hiring a dud) is a management issue for sure – the process is flawed, or insufficient thought was put into the selection, or inadequate quality candidates were uncovered, or whatever….but those things are process and/or management issues too.

The responsibility of anyone building a professional practice and bringing in staff or other professionals is to lead them.  That means that we must:

  • establish the culture and the acceptable boundaries of behaviour
  • invest the time, energy, money and attention on ensuring they have the skills, tools and resources that they need to excel at their work
  • drive appropriate work ethic and work activities
  • set the direction for them, and ensure they know what stuff matters most.
  • continually reinforce the messages and positions on culture, direction, behaviours and expectations.

We must also be fair.

Fair in the sense that the standards we expect of our people are shown by us.  Fair in the sense that if we have performance expectations of them then we give them what they need to be able to perform.  Fair in the sense that we consistently do not tolerate underperformance and that we address it positively – and that means with a view to getting the performance we desire, not a change of personnel.

Mostly though we have to be fair in allocating time and attention to our people. It is the toughest thing to do as there are way too many demands on every practice leader for their time. Staff are the easiest thing to push to one side in the demands for attention and time in any given day.  Yet, the time we spend on or with our staff is generally one of the best investments we can make in our practice: every hour we spend up-skilling them and reinforcing their ability is weeks of freedom in the future for ourselves.

Your people will fail you if you fail to lead them.  Nothing is more sure.  The best people will leave and find a good leader.  The worst ones will stay until the inevitable confrontation occurs.

If you want more from your people the first action to take is to have a good look in the mirror.

Are they failing you really; or are you failing them?

Related: Answer The 3 Questions That Help Them Choose You