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James daSilva


Is the Problem Incompetence or Lack of Training?

Make sure your workers have the best possible chance to succeed

Published: Monday, March 12, 2018 - 12:01

One of the common complaints you’ll hear today is executives saying how there isn’t enough talent out there, not enough people with the right skills or even the willingness to learn. They say that people—almost always “young people”—are too eager to jump ship.

What are companies to do when there’s not enough talent and what talent there is will just leave?

I can sympathize with this, to an extent. It’s a tight labor market (though maybe not as tight as claimed), and certain jobs are harder to hire for than others. Less glamorous jobs that require computer or technical skills can be especially vexing to manufacturers and other employers. Trucking companies can struggle to find candidates who can pass federal drug-testing guidelines. Rural areas can face obstacles that cities don’t in attracting people.

But another side of this is that employers often expect fully trained, expert employees to show up at their doors. It’s one thing to have an uneducated workforce; it’s another to look at job candidates with potential who need on-the-job training and say, “They aren’t skilled in what we need.”

(Let’s put it another way: If your company’s work requires only skills that people should already have, then those skills aren’t unique and differentiated, and it’s unlikely your company is, either. If those people have the right skills, they probably have a job already, so why leave that job for yours?)

Similar to this is the twin problem many organizations have: They churn through employees in certain positions, as no one seems to be able to do the job. Yet, it’s an open secret that some people, possibly executives, are untouchable even though they seem to lack in talent, results, and improvement.

At the risk of oversimplifying, these problems have the same root cause: The organization is not taking responsibility for training people, placing them in a position to succeed, and following up by holding everyone to account.

Training is personal

How your organization goes about training is a personal (and personnel) decision. Every company, every industry has its own methods. Onboarding, ongoing development, or career pathing can also differ depending on whether we’re talking full-time employees, part-timers, freelancers, or contractors.

So, I can't solve the specifics for you. What I do want to talk about is the mindset you’re starting with. Let’s assume we all want a few basic things out of the people we hire:
• They are able to learn and retain.
• They are productive and efficient.
• They understand how to do their jobs (maybe even innovate).
• They understand what is expected of them and what their incentives are.

That’s just one way that workers’ obligations could be phrased. Now, let’s look at some of the employer’s obligations:
• Be clear about the job.
• Be clear about how the job is done and what is required to do the job well.
• Be clear about what the worker must do to meet expectations.
• Provide the support, tools, and resources necessary.

I’m leaving out things about safety, culture, and making sure incentives line up with desired behaviors. Those are not unimportant! But let’s pretend, for now, that those can be folded into the above bullet points.

There’s one bullet point missing:
• Be clear the worker understands all of the above and is actually properly trained and informed.

If you have a worker who is not doing the job, that’s bad for that person. It’s also bad for the boss, the leader, and the employer. If you find yourself with an employee who’s not performing, ask yourself:
• Have you trained this person?
• Have you explained what needs to be done, and why?
• Do you have confirmation that he understands?
• Does she have the resources she needs?
• Maybe reskilling is what's needed?

Being thorough from the hiring process through this reflection and remediation is a lot of work. But there are benefits: You gain a skilled employee who might be more loyal because of the investment of attention, time, and resources. And, if there is no progress, you know that for sure, rather than through a hunch or from bias.

Moving on

Let’s say you’ve gone through this process, maybe more than once, and there remains a disconnect, an unwillingness or inability of the worker to do the job, and no further accommodations can be made. Well, then you know (barring legal hurdles, of course) that you can and should move on.

Indeed, you must move on, or you’ll create a two-tiered culture: people who do their jobs yet are side-by-side with people who don’t, but aren’t held to account.

Don’t blame people for doing bad work when you haven’t done your part to prepare them. But also, don’t keep people who just won’t do what is needed. Either way, assume that it’s on you, the employer or the manager, to make sure the worker has the best possible chance to succeed.

First published on the SmartBrief blog.


About The Author

James daSilva’s picture

James daSilva

James daSilva is a senior editor in charge of SmartBrief's leadership and management content, as well as newsletters for entrepreneurs, HR executives, wholesale-distributors and manufacturers. Before joining SmartBrief, daSilva was copy desk chief at a daily newspaper in New York. You can find him on Twitter sharing leadership and management insights @SBLeaders.



Well said! All problems are a management issue. Wrong tool - who mandated it.   Wrong machine - who chose it. Wrong material - who specified it. ... and, as so well stated, while there are ambitious people who will undertake training on their own, the onus is on management.

As for retaining nonperformers, there is likely no greater morale deflater to a performer than working side by side with a nonperformer. Performance will devolve to the least common denominator.