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The Two Major Reasons Your Employees Fail and Quit

Written by: Jeff Altman, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


I spent a long time in recruiting before transitioning into coaching. I spoke to several million people during that time who looked for work or who were trying to hire. Rarely did anyone consider they were at fault for their circumstances.

Having spent time considering my conversations and speaking with others, I’ve come to understand that with few exceptions, the reason people fail rests with the manager and the institution and not the person.

That’s because people fail for two primary reasons:

  1. The hiring manager did not know how to evaluate and assess the people s/he was hiring.

  2. The hiring manager misrepresented the position and/or the work environment in the interview.

For example, after joining, you decided that someone is a poor job fit because they lack particular skills needed, whose fault is that? Yours. You read a resume. It was screened by someone in your talent acquisition organization before it was referred to you. You have them meet with a person or people from your department before meeting them and then someone in a more senior position approved their hire. How is it their fault that they lacked the requisite skills? After all, they met with at least 4 people in this scenario who all approved the person being hired. Now, you’re dissatisfied... and you blame them. No, you and the others made a mistake, not the other way around.

Someone I consulted with questioned whether a lack of motivation was really the fault of a hiring manager or an organization.

“Of course, it’s the manager’s fault.”

“Why is that?”

“It should have been detected during the reference check.”

“But what if it was explored during the reference check?”

“Then it’s definitely the manager’s fault because they have taken a motivated person and failed to disclose what the working environment was like, what the institutional friction was to be effective, what their co-workers were like (negative attitudes), lack the tools and resources to be successful, overworked them because they were very capable until the point they broke... Do you see how lack of motivation is a problem created by the individual?”

Few people join organizations wanting to be “the problem person” or “the incompetent person.” Usually, they join with the excitement of starting a new position and the hope that they will be successful. After all, they did pretty well at their previous employer. Even if they were laid off, usually that’s an issue of “the numbers,” rather than a performance issue. Yet something changed after you hired them.

In a 1998 article in Harvard Business Review entitled, Set Up to Fail,” co-authored by Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux, the authors point out that “an employee’s poor performance can be blamed on their boss.” Often, there is a dynamic in which employees perceived to be mediocre or weak performers live down to the low expectations their managers have for them. The result is that they often end up leaving the organization.”

The set-up-to-fail scenario they describe is both typical and human. Usually, it starts with good feelings and an effective working relationship that breaks when one side or the other disappoints. For example, the employee misses a deadline or doesn’t deliver a sale and their boss starts to increase supervision. The employee senses a lack of confidence and picks up their pace, withdraws emotionally from their boss and often takes on too much which often results in failure, “problem hoarding” and other perceived issues. As a result, the manager will add additional controls on behavior, pressure their subordinate and create the conditions for them to leave.

Sometimes, a manager will point to a communication issue as being a problem that is not their fault, although sometimes it is. The issue may arise not because of a failure to understand what is expected but because a manager has created a culture where staff is afraid to ask for clarity. “I don’t want to see their scorn anymore,” one co-worker once told me after leaving a meeting with their manager after receiving incoherent instructions from them. You may think they should have said something however they responded logically to their history of being criticized by their manager. Whose fault is that? The employee or the manager? I think it lies with the manager.

The converse can also be true. On the reality television show, “Hell’s Kitchen,” Chef Gordon Ramsay works with a number of cooks and average chefs, demanding excellence from them and, generally, getting it. Yes, one by one, individuals are weeded out from the competition after making mistakes. After all, it wouldn’t be good tv if there wasn’t some sort of competition with a champion crowned at the end. However, each contestant generally competes at a higher level than they did at their restaurant of origin. Just like low expectations yield matched results, high expectations can yield superior results.

To be clear, I am not suggesting you throw things or insult people on your staff as Chef Ramsay has been known to do. I am unequivocally saying that the ability of your staff to succeed also depends on you and your ability to inspire people to excellence or greatness.

Dr. Lance Secretan is a leading executive coach globally. For 12 consecutive years, he has been ranked among both The Top 30 Most Influential Executive Coaches and The Top 30 Most Influential Leadership Experts globally.

He describes the difference between motivation as the difference between a push mechanism (motivation) and a pull mechanism (inspiration). “Motivation is lighting a fire underneath someone,” Secretan says. “Inspiration is lighting a fire within someone.”

Perhaps the fire within you has been tempered with time and your experience of institutional friction. Maybe as BB King sang, “The thrill is gone.” You don’t have to lower your team and recreate the conditions that have demotivated you. Find support to rekindle the fire within and carry a torch of leadership into the world.

If you are interested in speaking with me about how I can help you, schedule a free discovery call here.

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Jeff Altman, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine People hire Jeff Altman to give them no bs job search advice and coaching globally because he makes getting a job much easier for people. He has written 11 books and guides to job search and hiring including "The Ultimate Job Interview Framework" and "The Right Answers to Tough Interview Questions” and is the host of No BS Job Search Advice Radio, the #1 podcast in Apple Podcasts for job search with more than 2600 episodes, as well as on YouTube.


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