According to a study by Leadership IQ, about half of new hires fail within 18 months.

By Nancy Koury King

The USA television network had a motto, “Characters Welcome.” It referred to its intent to showcase unusual and fascinating characters in its television shows. I love it and I aspire to it. For Christmas, my son Eric got me a sign that hangs over my door. It also says Characters Welcome.

To me, it means welcoming the things about people that make them unique; it means learning about them, who they are and what they can contribute. Maybe their appearance is less than conservative; maybe they have trouble with public speaking, or maybe their passion bubbles overboard loudly and freely. My mentor, Glen Gronlund, said to me, “Nancy, people with great strengths have great weaknesses.” I love it when those great strengths can shine through.

Emotional Intelligence

In leadership development, we are taught about Emotional Intelligence (EQ). EQ emphasizes self-awareness and self-control as well as trust and relationship building. But I wonder, and even worry, that maybe we are trying to homogenize people too much or too soon. Has it become more important to be liked than to do a good job? Are we trying to make them fit the mold we have constructed?

Here is the root of my concern. According to a study by Leadership IQ, about half of new hires fail within 18 months. That’s right, half. And according to the study, this “failure” isn’t related to skills, technical ability or performance. Managers’ reasons for dismissals had more to do with the employee’s personality, coachability, and emotional intelligence. In fact, only 11% of the failures were due to job competence. Yikes! Can we afford to lose half of our new hires because they aren’t “a fit”?

New Jobs = Risk

My own research bears this out. For my book, “Fired: How to Manage Your Career in the Age of Job Uncertainty,” I interviewed 65 people who experienced job loss. The second most common predictor for losing a job was starting a new job. (The most common predictor of losing a job was getting a new boss.)

It’s tough to be new. Seven years ago, after 28 years with one organization, I became a new employee in a new company. It was both exciting and challenging. I was greeted and introduced with great warmth and fanfare. I was asked my opinion on everything. I felt needed. Yet, the comfort of working in familiar surroundings with people I had known for years was gone. I was confident in my abilities, but not with my understanding of how things really worked. I did my best to understand the culture, the politics, the sacred cows, and the networks within the organization, while at the same time hitting the ground running with big assignments. No one provided me a  book of do’s and don’ts. I worried that I would inadvertently “step in it.” Oh, and if you’re wondering,  I did.

Who is Responsible for Success

I wonder if this happens to our new employees. We know we need to have compassionate, mission-centered people. And we should not compromise on that. True, we need to replace the disengaged and destructive. But, I can’t help but think that the responsibility for the employee’s success or failure should be shared. Maybe it’s our own managers who lack the skills and personality to be good coaches or mentors. Or perhaps we are underestimating the time it takes to assimilate someone into our culture. It could be that our managers are so focused on daily tasks, they don’t have the time or wherewithal to properly onboard an employee and stress the organization’s values. And maybe the unwritten rules and norms of our organizations are not obvious to new employees.

Whatever the case, I know this: We can’t afford to have half of our new employees not work out. With the labor crisis projected to get worse, in addition to better hiring, maybe we need to spend more time with our new employees, not just teaching them the particulars of their job, but helping them become a part of our organization. And as leaders, maybe we need to promote a culture of acceptance and inclusion so that new employees feel welcomed and valued.