Important Notice:
This site has moved to AskAManager.org, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option, archives, or categories at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

why new hires fail

46% of newly-hired employees will fail within 18 months, according to a new study by Leadership IQ. (Failure is being defined as: being terminated, leaving under pressure, receiving disciplinary action, or having significantly negative performance reviews.)

But it's not because they don't have the right skills to do the job. Instead, the study found that 26% of new hires fail because they can’t accept feedback, 23% because they’re unable to understand and manage emotions, 17% because they lack the necessary motivation to excel, 15% because they have the wrong temperament for the job, and only 11% because they lack the necessary technical skills.


More telling? 82% of managers reported that in hindsight, there were red flags during the interview that they ignored.

This isn't surprising at all. By the time a candidate gets to the interview, he or she should have been sufficiently screened that the technical skills are known to be there. At that point interviewers should be looking at other important qualities -- temperament, emotional intelligence, work ethic, attention to detail, judgment, openness to feedback, and other things that are difficult to teach. But instead, many hiring managers overvalue specific skills or content knowledge and don’t put enough weight on underlying skills or qualities that are harder to develop, which in the long run are much more likely to differentiate high performers from others.

"Technical competence remains the most popular subject of interviews because it’s easy to assess," say the researchers. "But while technical competence is easy to assess, it’s a lousy predictor of whether a newly-hired employee will succeed or fail."

So who does hire well? The study found that a small portion of managers had significantly more hiring success than their peers did. These managers (a) put much more emphasis on interpersonal and motivational issues, (b) were highly perceptive and psychologically savvy, and (c) were confident in their assessments and willing to act on them.

This, of course, sometimes gets translated into "gut feeling," which gets a bad rap. But when your gut has been educated by experience, and it has a good track record, and it doesn't engage in racial or other forms of illegal discrimination ... well, it's not crazy to respect that gut.

The three-year study focused on 5,247 hiring managers from 312 public, private, business, and health care organizations; collectively, they hired more than 20,000 employees during the study period. It found no significant difference in failure rates across different interviewing approaches (behavioral, chronological, etc.).

16 comments:

Henning Makholm said...

"But while technical competence is easy to assess, it’s a lousy predictor of whether a newly-hired employee will succeed or fail."

Really? How is it even possible to conclude that without data from employers who ignored technical incompetence when they decided who to hire?

Common sense suggests that technically incompetent hires are sure to fail. Therefore a hiring process that considers only technical competence will have a much better chance of avoiding failures (at least 54% success), compared to a hiring process that ignores technical qualifications (the oft-quoted statistic that "only 0.5% percent of applicants to programming jobs can actually program" appears to be apocryphal, but surely in this economy, more than 46% applicants for any given job will be so incompetent that they will fail because of that).

I cannot see how the data collected in this study could possibly falsify this common-sense assumption.

Also: "lack the necessary motivation to excel" sounds like a code word for "wants to have a life and therefore is unwilling to work 70 hours a week when the job posting promised 37 hours".

Ask a Manager said...

I assume it meant what I was writing myself -- that by the time candidates get to the interview stage, they've gone through enough initial screening that the ones being interviewed should already be known to have sufficient technical competence. Obviously at earlier stages of the process, that's not the case -- but by the interview stage, it should be.

And I didn't take "lack the necessary motivation to excel" to mean "won't work 70 hours/week." I took it to mean what I've seen it mean in some of the employees who I've had to let go -- people who just don't care enough to buckle down and learn to correct the problems in their work or work habits that their managers identify for them.

Henning Makholm said...

Wow, quick response!

Of course, if you restrict your universe to applicants that are, in fact, technically competent, then "technical competence" is a "lousy predictor" of anything, because it fails to discriminate at all within that universe. But then the statement becomes a mere tautology.

About "necessary motivation to excel": I wouldn't describe "buckle down and learn to correct the problems in their work" as "excelling", it is simply doing the job properly. Doesn't "excel" connote something about do better than what is expected of one? If it counts as "failure" not to excel, there must be a double standard involved somewhere.

Sabrina said...

Maybe it's not the employees that failed the job but the job that failed the employees. :) In the 3 jobs I had less than 18 months, OK less than a year, there were HUGE HUGE HUGE red flags that I shouldn't take that job. And I did anyway. I've learned my lesson. Going with my gut next time.

Anonymous said...

Sabrina, I was thinking the same thing!!

Erin said...

This was great to share with my managers. LOVE your blog, but thought I would use this article to say thanks. :)

novice-hr said...

your post answered the question I have on my blog! So a successful interviewer really requires that "gut feeling" that can only acquired through time and experience.

Anonymous said...

I think that this study completely overlooked one major reason that people sometimes fail to bring up - the company's environment and/or culture.

If you're someone who's used to MegaCorp or large corporate environments, and decide to join a startup, you're going to have a major problem shifting your mindset. The same applies to the reverse as well.

As someone working in software engineering, technical competence can only go so far in interviews. I look at the personal and behavioral side of the equation, as I've been able to eliminate a lot of people who would otherwise not be a good match for our group.

Sabrina, I've also had jobs fail me as well. It's tough trying to find that out in the interview, but sometimes you have to step inside with both feet to really see what's going on.

It's frustrating when you're trying your best to make improvements, while your efforts are being undermined or otherwise not being acknowledged.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the last bit on "anonymous" I've been working in the same type of job for 3 years, and was successful at my first place of employment (26 months of employment). I made a switch and the situation described is what I am struggling with (for the last 10 months). "It's frustrating when you're trying your best to make improvements, while your efforts are being undermined or otherwise not being acknowledged." Says it perfectly.

TheLabRat said...

This could be a bit of a kneejerk interpretation on my part due to past experiences but that study seems biased against employees and for managers. I think it's silly that they should be pitted against each other in the way that they are traditionally in the U.S. But they are and that seems to perpetuate it.

TO be fair I just reread the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson (excellent sci-fi about terraforming and settling mars, politics, science, philosophy and more) so I've got employeed own co-ops where the management is hired by the employees to make executive decisions on the brain. This always happens when I read these again.

Truthdefendsme said...

“…it's not because they don't have the right skills to do the job. Instead, the study found that 26% of new hires fail because they can’t accept feedback, 23% because they’re unable to understand and manage emotions…”

“At that point interviewers should be looking at other important qualities...emotional intelligence...attention to detail, judgment, openness to feedback...”

"...when your gut has been educated by experience, and it has a good track record, and it doesn't engage in racial or other forms of illegal discrimination ..."

...it may be time for your gut to go back to school. Several of the employee traits that you mentioned are hallmark symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that affects about 1 person in 250 worldwide. They are protected from hiring and promotional discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ask a Manager said...

If the essential functions of the job require attention to detail, judgment, openness to feedback, there's nothing illegal about requiring those things.

Truthdefendsme said...

"If the essential functions of the job require attention to detail, judgment, openness to feedback, there's nothing illegal about requiring those things."

Fair enough. However, if the 'essential functions' of the job require those things, they are not 'social skills' but 'technical skills'. If a person is otherwise qualified to do a job (i.e., possesses the requisite technical skills), the fact that he has a disability cannot be held against him.

Ask a Manager said...

I think that might more semantics than anything else. The study was saying that managers tend to discount the importance of those sorts of things, which leads to trouble once the person is on the job and the lack of those skills causes poor performance.

Truthdefendsme said...

Granted. And my point is that, given the 'reasonable accommodation' required by ADA, many autistic people can function perfectly well in a number of technically demanding jobs. Your statistics ratify the tendency to fire people for failing to fit in rather than for failing to perform well in their assigned tasks.

Office Humorist said...

I'm with Sabrina as well, I wonder how many companies failed.

And it's interesting about feedback. The assumption for Gen Yers is that they desperately want feedback, but maybe 25% only want the positive kind.