The Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome - How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail

No matter how hard some managers try, some of their performers never measure up. Despite hours of coaching and intensive follow up, the performance of these employees fails to improve. Are they just poor hires? Not according to Jean-François Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux.

by Jean-François Manzoni, Jean-Louis Barsoux
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

In their book, The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail the authors explain how the blame often sits with the managers themselves who unwittingly sink an employee’s chances for success by prematurely labeling him or her.

The set up to fail syndrome is neither about bad bosses, nor is it about pathological subordinates. It involves competent and well-intentioned people who get sucked into a dynamic that often goes from bad to worse. The book highlights the pervasiveness of such relationships and analyses how bosses can inadvertently trigger and remain blind to a dynamic that is hurting them, their people and their companies. In particular the authors discuss the role of bosses’ cognitive biases.

They also examine the role of subordinates’ cognitive biases and highlight how subordinates, the chief victims, end up colluding in the process and thus complete the construction of a powerful self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing system.

The book offers insights into what bosses can do to interrupt the syndrome and explains why bosses’ past attempts at performance interventions may have been unsuccessful. The book further examines how bosses can prevent the development of the syndrome in the first place – and considers the personal evolution of bosses who manage to develop positive spirals with all their subordinates, including the perceived weaker performers.

Winner of the 2002 HR.com Book of the Year Award.

Harvard Business Press, 2002

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