Newsletter by Barbara Mintzer

Barbara Mintzer's Newsletter
The Power of a Vision... a Leader's Journey

>> back to list of newsletters

August 2004
Why People Fail

On July 11th I had the privilege of keynoting the Annual Convention of the National Association of School Nurses.  A large number of attendees asked to receive my monthly Newsletter, so I am delighted to welcome all the new subscribers this month.  In July's Newsletter we discussed the characteristics of an innovative organization.  If your staff is not as committed and engaged in their jobs as much as you'd like, review these characteristics to see where the "corporate culture" or organizational values may be holding people back.  You might have your management team participate in a roundtable to discuss these characteristics. Their input and feedback could give you valuable insights on the strengths and weaknesses of your organization.

However, even in the strongest and most employee-friendly organizations, you will have people who fail to do their jobs.  There are as many reasons for people failing at their jobs as there are jobs.  What follows is a discussion of 10 reasons for why people fail.  If you are dealing with employees who are not living up to their job descriptions, a review and analysis of these reasons would be a valuable investment of your time.

Why People Fail

  1. They don't know WHAT they are supposed to do;
  2. They don't know HOW to do it;
  3. They don't know WHY they should do it;
  4. There are obstacles beyond their control;
  5. They don't think it will work;
  6. Not motivated ... poor attitude;
  7. They are not capable of doing the job (personal limits);
  8. Not enough time for them to do it, and they are working on the wrong priority items;
  9. They think they ARE doing the job (no feedback);
  10. Personal problems.

-- When a company calls me in to motivate under-achieving employees, and I sit down to talk to the employees one-on-one, I am amazed at how many do not know WHAT they are supposed to do.  They have an overall idea of what they are supposed to accomplish, but do not have a roadmap on how to get there. When I ask them why they haven't asked management for help, they tell me they are afraid management will see this need for help as incompetency and they will be fired.  My questions to management:  Why is your employee afraid to come to you?  Why is an under-achieving employee allowed to continue under-achieving without any intervention on your part?

I hope I don't sound harsh when asking these questions, however, I must go back to management to find out where the gaps in communication and trust are.  I have said this before, and I'll say it again because it is so important "employees must be able to honestly communicate with management without fear of punishment or retribution."  In companies where employees work together as a cohesive and productive team, there is no element of fear and a lot of respect for management.  Here is a strategy you can implement immediately:  sit down with ALL your employees and ask them the following two questions:

"What am I currently doing that makes you feel valued?" (You want to know so you can continue doing it).

"What can I do to help you become more productive?"  (You want to know so you can start doing it).

These two thoughtful and caring questions will go a long way in bridging the gaps in communication and trust you may be experiencing in your organization.

-- Some employees know what they are supposed to do, but they don't know HOW to do it.  They don't know how to connect the dots or cognitively figure out how to take the steps necessary to accomplish the job.  If this is the case, it calls for the employee to sit down with his/her manager and completely review the job description.  The employee may need more training in the particulars of the job function and/or an explanation of how to use certain equipment, computers, etc.  Again, the employee should feel free to ask questions that may not have been asked during the initial training. Management should make sure the employee is given all verbal and written information necessary to do the job.  All questions asked by employee and responses given by management should be documented. This is for the benefit of the employee and management as well.  

-- Some employees know how to do their jobs, but they don't know   WHY they should do it.  They cannot see how their job function impacts the bottom line.  They see their job as an isolated set of duties without putting it into the context of the overall goal to be achieved.  Here is where visionary management comes in.  If management can say to these employees "Here is the vision for this organization, and this is how your job function helps us attain that vision" they can see the importance of what they do.  People take pride in what they do if they view what they do as important.  NOTE:  Schedule in time for the employees of one department to visit the employees of other departments.  These visits could be brief, but it will give ALL employees a sense of working towards a common goal.  When they see how the work of their department is integrated with the work of another, there is much more of a sense of working for the common good. 

-- We are living in uncertain and constantly-changing times in business and health care today.  We are trying to do the best with increasingly limited resources.  Sometimes when resources are taken away, employees are working against obstacles beyond their control.  Many health care workers are putting in longer shifts with back-to-back days to compensate for the shortage of workers in health care today.  As I learned last month, in some areas of the United States , you have one school nurse responsible for ALL the schools in that district. When this happens, the need to get things done comes before the need to do it to the best of one's ability.  That has to be factored into the equation when evaluating a job performance.

-- If an employee has not bought into what you are trying to achieve, and if he/she does not share your vision, that employee will not believe it will work.  That is why it is so important to get buy-in and make your staff accountable for the vision right from the beginning.  Buy-in is essential for people to be committed to the job they are doing.  For those of you who have not received the earlier Newsletters, please log on to my website and click on Articles.  You will find the first three articles the basis for these Newsletters and they form the context of visionary management.  Please read them, as they talk about the importance of buy-in and accountability and how to achieve that with your staff.

-- Some employees come into the workplace with hidden agendas that you are not aware of. They needed the job, they interviewed well, but deep down they never really were committed to being a team player.  They are not motivated by what you are trying to achieve, and they have a very "I'm out of here" attitude the first time any conflict or confrontation evolves.  Frankly, there is very little you can do with these employees.  You can try to motivate them with your vision, however, if that doesn't work, they must be called to task for their job performance. So, nip this in the bud.  Give them a chance to improve. If that doesn't happen, use your best judgment and do what is right for the organization.

-- Some people are just not capable physically or mentally of doing the jobs they were hired for.  They have the best of intentions, want to do well, are loyal and committed, but they have personal limits that prevent them from doing their jobs.  You didn't know this at the time they were hired, and they probably didn't know this either.  These are people you would want to keep in the organization, and it would be a win-win if they could be re-trained for positions they were capable of handling.  There is nothing more frustrating than being the right peg in the wrong hole.  People who are failing in one job function can shine in another if given the chance.

-- Some people fail because their plates are filled to capacity and they don't have time to do it all.  Again, they may not want to tell management they can't do it all for fear of being seen as incompetent, so they arbitrarily decide what is a priority.  Many times the priority job function is the one they enjoy doing the most, not necessarily the most important one.  There is a big distinction between being efficient and being effective.  Many people do the least important things very efficiently; it takes time to think and properly prioritize the workload to be effective.

-- Some employees think they ARE doing the job because they have not gotten any feedback to the contrary.  I can attest to this personally.  When I was selling drugs and pharmaceuticals for a major drug wholesaler, all the sales reps had quotas on the products we were promoting that month.  I was making most of my quotas, but not all, and I thought I was doing very well.  I had not received any feedback to the contrary.  Then one day my Sales Manager sat me down and told me that making ALL of my quotas was acceptable, nothing less.  Well, I had to revamp and re-strategize my selling approach to make all the quotas.  I had to be more assertive in my approach, and I had to internalize the company's goals as my own.  That talk we had changed the way I viewed my job and the role my job function played in the overall success of the company.

-- Some employees have personal problems that come to work with them.  Perhaps they are going through a divorce, or there is an issue with drug and/or alcohol abuse.  Perhaps there is domestic violence, or a myriad of other issues that your employees may be dealing with that are keeping them from doing the jobs they should be doing.  It is difficult to leave personal problems at home, as much as you may want to.  When your mind is distracted with worry or fear about other issues, it is hard to do your job.  The personal relationship between an employee and his/her manager is important here. If an employee feels comfortable and safe with his/her manager, he/she may share what is going on.  Or if the manager notices that an employee's job performance is starting to go down, he/she can approach the employee and ask what the problem is and offer help.  Perhaps your Human Resources department can direct that employee to a place for assistance.  If the employee has been with you for some time and has been a loyal and productive employee, this may be a temporary crisis. Your intervention may be just what is needed to steer the employee in the right direction.  You want to give this employee all the help you can and, once again, document for your protection and the employee's, all the steps that were taken to help the employee.

We've had a lot to think about in this Newsletter.  If you have any insights, feedback or experiences you would like to share, please e-mail me at   I would love to hear from you, whether you are the employee or the manager. I learn as much from you as you learn from me!  If you wish to pass this Newsletter along to a colleague who may find it of value, feel free to do so.  If that person would like to receive the Newsletter, e-mail me with the address, and I will put it on my database. Have a wonderful month.  If you are going on vacation, have a great one.

About the Author

Barbara Mintzer is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant with over 30 years in business and health care. She speaks from experience! Her how-to programs provide participants with immediately applicable skills and strategies for getting buy-in and commitment from staff and staying on top of their professions in today's competitive and constantly changing workplace. Barbara presents keynote talks and breakout sessions for international, national, regional and state Conferences. She also conducts management retreats and in-house seminars. She facilitates panel discussions and roundtables at the same meeting...a good investment for your meeting budget. To explore the possibility of having Barbara speak at your next event, or work with your staff/leadership team, please contact her office.

Phone: (805) 964-7546
FAX: (805) 964-9636

>> back to list of newsletters