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Setting Up Employees to Fail: A Warning to Advisory Firm Owners

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One of my friends is a consultant, who recently got a call to do a “rush” job, fixing a project that a previous consultant had done poorly. Because time was short, her client gave her only cursory instructions about what was wrong with the original job, and what he wanted done differently. The result was predictable: my friend did a lot of work in a very short time, definitely making the project better. But much of it still wasn’t really what the client wanted, who ended up spending even more time “fixing” the now ostensibly fixed project.

This is a classic example of what I call setting people up to fail.  I see it all the time in advisory practices, particularly with employees. It comes in many variations, but the most common is when advisors don’t take the time to give an employee all the information they need to do a job right, although it can also result from unclear instructions as to what’s really expected, what the goal is, or how the work is eventually going to be used or applied.

The sad result is that no matter how hard they try—and they all most always do try hard—what the employee ends up doing isn’t what the advisor wanted and/or up to the standard they expected. Consequently, the advisor has to do or redo the project themselves, and is more often than not, unhappy with the employee.

I can’t tell you how de-motivating this scenario is.  Like my friend, most employees earnestly want to help their employer (or their client), and to do a good job. But when they make a serious effort, often in a rush and under pressure, only to have it come up short because they were given bad or incomplete instructions as to what was needed, is a major downer. Not only do they feel badly about not really helping, they feel that their time and effort was wasted, and worse, that their time and effort wasn’t valued enough to take the time to properly direct. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to see that after a few experiences like this one, an employee’s willingness to go above and beyond to help out will be significantly reduced.

The good news is that the solution is simple: When an employer asks for help on a project that’s outside of an employee’s normal job and/or area of expertise, they need to make absolutely sure the employee has everything they need to succeed: the background, the information, the goal, the time frame and the tools. If you want your employees to be serious about their jobs and their contribution to your firm, you have to be serious about helping them to make meaningful contributions to the team.  Simple, right?  


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