Coaching Human Resources Leadership Performance Vision

How to set people up for success?

Success starts long before your new hire enters the door.

Over the past weeks, I’ve had three conversations where my conversation partner mentioned the phrase: 

“We’ve set this person up for failure.”

Hiring manager

Otherwise said, we’ve failed ourselves to set this person up for success.

But that sentence you won’t hear very often. Both sentences imply the same, but only one puts the blame directly on the people responsible for this person’s success.

Almost always, when someone fails in a position, the root causes lie somewhere else. 

Of course, it’s always possible that somebody does not perform well and is the cause of failure.

But even then, the question remains when those who put him in this position have done their homework.

More often than not, they haven’t done their homework.

If it’s a new position, how clear are you, as a decision maker, what the expectations are for the job? 

Not the person, the position. How does the position fit your strategy? Have you put the proper structure in place to justify the position?

Questions to answer before we even start discussing a person filling the position.

In case it’s a position that was filled by someone else, you have another set of questions to answer.

Why did the person leave the role?

Did he leave for a better opportunity or because he was not performing in the role?

Whatever the reason, it’s good to analyze why the position is vacant and whether changes are needed to make anybody in that position successful.

If possible, have a conversation with the person leaving, asking what he (or she) believes went well and what needs improvement in the position.

Then you design a description for the role going forward.

And what’s needed from the person filling the role in the future. Ideally, you still have not discussed a specific person or name.

And that’s precisely where things often go sideways.

Most companies think in names and not in positions.

Because of their succession planning or because they have someone within their network who could do the job.

Unfortunately, they often don’t make the time first to analyze what’s needed to set someone up for success.

Because there’s already urgency and stress given that the role is vacant. 

“We need somebody yesterday.”

“We don’t have the time to do all that lessons-learned stuff.”

“We don’t have the time to screen a few candidates thoroughly.”

That’s how somebody who may not be the best candidate for the role gets appointed. 

It may be the best candidate for the past role but not the future role. 

Consequently, more often than not, after a failure or two appointing people this way, companies risk spending far more time, money, and potentially weaker performance, than when they would have paused to do their homework in the first place. 

Setting somebody up for success means looking in the mirror yourself first.

What can you do better to set someone up for success? 

What mistakes were made in the past, that should be prevented and never happen again? 

How much time will you invest in helping and coaching the new candidate?

What changes do you need to make in your own behavior so failure becomes, indeed, success?

Somebody’s success almost always starts with you.

Your turn: Success or Failure?

Do more of what makes you happy!


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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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