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Life Health > Running Your Business > Marketing and Lead Generation

The ‘can’t-do’ employee

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According to author and speaker Ken Blanchard, when it comes to effective management, there are two types of problems: a “can’t do” problem and a “won’t do” problem. The first is the responsibility of the supervisor, while the second is for the employee to tackle. The challenge is to tell the difference, as each type requires a different approach.

Can’t-do problems arise when an employee has not been provided with the tools necessary for success. Here are five causes of this type of problem:

Skills and experience:

If an employee is hired without the prerequisite skills, he or she stands little chance of succeeding. Of course, many employees receive training on the job, but without some degree of experience, this process can be slow and discouraging. It is especially difficult for supervisors to wield much power if their underlings feel the need to train them.


A lack of clarity regarding responsibilities or deadlines can set up an employee for failure. This lack of clarity can result from an employee having too many supervisors or be asked to share duties with other employees. Inconsistent messages from a supervisor can also lead to failure. The employee is left to flounder not knowing what really expected of him.


If an employee does not know the supervisor’s definition of a good job, he or she will struggle to produce it. Even if the employee has the experience and skills necessary to do a good job, they may fail due to this lack of understanding.

Rules and procedures:

Each organization has a culture and a set of norms which dictate behavior. A new employee can clash with these norms if they are unaware of these (often unwritten) expectations. Some organizations tackle this problem by requiring new employees to attend a weeklong course on the way the company does things. This is the perfect cure for this particular can’t-do problem.


When an employee does what they are supposed to do for the first time, they need feedback to reinforce that success. If none is offered, the employee may alter what they have done out of uncertainty regarding their performance. Without feedback, the employee will perform inconsistently and therefore less effectively.

While can’t-do problems are more common in new-hires, they can also occur in veteran employees. Blanchard notes that every time you assign a new task to an employee, you must offer more in-depth guidance. If you want to get the best from your employees, you must offer the best supervision you can.

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