How managers cause employees to fail

Jean-François Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux describe what they call The Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome:

The syndrome is set in motion when the boss begins to worry that the employee’s performance is not up to par. The boss then takes what seems like the obvious action in light of the subordinate’s perceived shortcomings: he increases the time and attention he focuses on the employee. He requires the employee to get approval before making decisions, asks to see more paperwork documenting those decisions, or watches the employee at meetings more closely and critiques his comments more intensely.

These actions are intended to boost performance and prevent the subordinate from making errors. Unfortunately, however, subordinates often interpret the heightened supervision as a lack of trust and confidence. In time, because of low expectations, they come to doubt their own thinking and ability, and they lose the motivation to make autonomous decisions or to take any action at all.

Ironically, the boss sees the subordinate’s withdrawal as proof that the subordinate is indeed a poor performer. The subordinate, after all, isn’t contributing his ideas or energy to the organization. So what does the boss do? He increases his pressure and supervision again—watching, questioning, and double-checking everything the subordinate does. Eventually, the subordinate gives up on his dreams of making a meaningful contribution.

Perhaps the most daunting aspect of the set-up-to-fail syndrome is that it is self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing—it is the quintessential vicious circle.

2 thoughts on “How managers cause employees to fail

  1. Pingback: When micromanagement works | David Jackson

  2. Pingback: How to manage someone who is missing their goals | A Founder's Notebook

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