Skip to content

What is the most common reason new hires fail?

A three-year study, by USA-based, Leadership IQ, of 5,247 hiring managers from 312 public, private, business and healthcare organisations, who collectively hired more than 20,000 employees during the study period, has provided the answer as to why 46% of newly-hired employees will fail within 18 months.

Coachability came out on top, with 26 per cent of respondents nominating the competency of accepting and implementing feedback from bosses, colleagues, customers and others, as the key missing factor as to why a new employee didn’t work out.

I have my doubts as to the objectivity of this study and its subsequent conclusions, but I’ll come to that shortly.

On face value the result is unsurprising, at least to me.

There are two primary reasons why I believe that coachability came out on top.

Firstly, coachability is not a competency that recruiters or hiring managers are typically skilled at accurately assessing during the hiring process.

It’s also not a competency of which relevant questions are frequently asked (or not asked in a way designed to generate a useful response) during reference checks.

It’s not difficult to ask interview questions about a candidate’s coachability; what can be difficult is handling the varying ways a candidate may respond to such questions.

Here are examples of potential questions you could use to assess a candidate’s coachability:

How are you held accountable in your current job? What feedback and coaching do you receive each day/week/month/ and from whom? How has this accountability, feedback and coaching helped your performance? Do you enjoy it? Why or why not?

Tell me about a specific piece of challenging or negative feedback you received about your attitude or your performance at work. How did you respond to that feedback? What did you do to remain positive? How did you continue to stay focused on work commitments?

How did you acquire your current skill set of X? How long did it take before you were effective at applying this skill? Give me an example of a particular challenging piece of feedback or coaching you received while learning that skill. In what way was this feedback/coaching challenging for you?

When an interviewer is probing into an area of a candidate’s struggle, failure, weakness or underperformance, there’s always going to be a proportion of candidates that will be resistant, defensive, uncooperative or even aggressive.

This resistance, defensiveness, lack of cooperation or aggression is a good thing to discover in an interview. If a candidate reacts this way to a line of questioning in an interview it gives the interviewer an important insight into how the candidate is likely to respond when faced with feedback-to-improve on the job.

It’s not so much what answer you receive from the candidate when you pursue this line of questioning in an interview, it’s the way they respond. An effective interviewer calibrates the spoken words with the body language and vocal variety (ie tone, pitch, pace, timbre and volume) to make an overall assessment as to the candidate’s coachability.

The second reason I suspect that coachability came out on top in the Leadership IQ study is that many line managers are not skilled at delivering coaching or feedback, despite their best intentions. This lack of skill is likely to be a significant contributing cause of a new hire’s failure. Authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson plainly state the problem.

“Good coaches make people want to stay. Bad coaches, on the other hand, create a fundamentally demoralising environment and drive people from the organisation.”

The Challenger Sale: How to Take Control of the Customer Conversation (Penguin, 2011, page 153)

The Leadership IQ survey only asked the hiring manager why the new hire failed. This is a subjective assessment. With such subjective assessments there is the rather obvious problem of no objective validation.

Was the ‘failed’ new hire asked their view as to reason for their ‘failure’?

What was the real cause of the new hire’s ‘failure’?

How many hiring manager, when asked about the reasons for a new hire’s failure, will identify their own failings as a leader in not (or rarely) providing coaching and feedback or when it was provided, delivering that feedback and coaching poorly?

I think we all know the answer.

My conclusion from the Leadership IQ survey is that any organisation could substantially improve the success rate of its new hires by undertaking the following:

1) Ensuring hiring managers ask ‘coachability’ behavioural interview questions and then carefully calibrate both the verbal and non-verbal responses from a candidate

2) Ensuring ‘coachability’ reference check questions are asked

3) Improving the coaching and feedback delivery skills of line managers

Sadly, you can be sure that the likelihood of any one of these things happening on any large scale is nil while hiring managers remain the judge and jury as to why a new hire failed.

Given the speed with which the world is changing and the subsequent demands this puts on organisations and their employees to respond effectively, the competencies of coachability and coaching/feedback will become even more important with each passing year.


Related blogs 

The benefits of failure: Easy in theory but hard to admit and talk about

Arrogant employers inflict more self-harm

Discriminatory, hypocritical and narcissistic employers their own worst enemy

1 Comment

  1. James Purtell on 20/09/2019 at 9:32 am

    Interesting article Ross. Coaching/Coachability is key.
    That study sounds like the counterweight to the often reported figure that “c.75% of people leave their roles because of their direct manager” which is an equally one sided ‘study’.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll To Top