9 Likely Failures in the People Space – Part Two

Identifying the common mistakes in the people space, what impact these mistakes can have, and how to avoid them – Part Two of Two.


We have been inspired by Skull Mountain’s article ‘Eight Ways Your Product Function can Fail’ to write our own version of events in the People Consulting space. We work with leadership teams across many different businesses and we witness the same consistent failures in the people space. Do not despair, however, there are resolutions to these!


Part one of this two part blog explored the likely and consistent failures that Rokker’s Jim Marshall has witnessed from his experience working with leadership teams. Part two looks further than the challenges around Talent and further into the wider team and company space.

6 – Hiding behind HR Processes

What’s the issue?: Process is just a tool. Blindly following process will not lead to new or better outcomes (it may offer consistency; it may help to de-risk and it may support homophily).

The problem with this is that the game changers, the innovators, and the entrepreneurial stars are often not the safe, low-risk option. Empowering a team leader or manager with the same freedom to take hiring risks as a business owner is a real challenge.



  • Abysmal speed-to-hire numbers.
  • Lack of ‘game changers’ entering the business.
  • High number of drop-out during the hiring process.
  • New hires tend to be taken from the same sector and often from competitors.
  • Salaries are inflated and do not reflect degree of talent
  • Hirers feel uncomfortable taking risks..


9 Likely Failures in the People Space – Part Two

What’s the impact: Danger of homophily. Hiring of moderate rather than truly impactful talent. Missing out on really talented individuals. (A company we worked with had an amazing mobile Apps designer. A vital cog in the business. He had been hired by the owner. A school leaver at the time, the interview process was simply here is £1000 if you can build this. When the App was duly built the individual was taken on. He freely admitted he would never get through the rigorous interview process that the larger organisation had now adopted; and yet the organisation was short of mobile apps designers and developers. Madness!) The processes are often barriers to the talent we are seeking.

How to avoid this:
 Create inventive and inspiring candidate journeys. Work with teams to develop candidate empathy-led solutions. Avoid one-size-fits-all processes.

Ensure HR teams play a supporting rather than a pivotal role. First stage ‘filter’ interviews are often hugely damaging to an organisations perception in the candidate market. First interactions should be a brand exercise leaving individuals inspired and advocates of the company even if they are not progressed to the next stage.

7 – Low levels of employee engagement 

What’s the issue?: Lack of the persistent hum of activity and the desk-to-desk hustle of purposeful employees. You’re not alone – ‘Google’ the statistics on employee engagement from multiple sources. They’re frightening!


  • High levels of churn, poor job retention.
  • Increase in sick days and are absolutely.
  • Sub-optimal performance in terms of output.
  • Low job satisfaction scores.
  • Poorer Glassdoor reviews.
  • Sub-optimal levels of output.
  • Lack of employee pride in the department / organisation.

What’s the impact?: A costly investment working at the fraction of its capability. Engagement is a key element of employee happiness. Engaging work is an intrinsic reward.

How to avoid this: 
We have found methods for increasing engagement are often severely flawed; frequently inadequately tested or measured for success. They range from complex reward matrices to demotivating performance management systems. Read Dan Pink’s ‘Drive’ or interview an employee that has been ‘performance managed’ to appreciate how ‘miles off track’ we can get!


Adopt or create a framework that looks at incrementally increasing engagement (and team performance). Focus attention on leadership (individuals don’t leave a company they leave a manager) and apply an employee-centred-approach. We use the highly impactful THRIVE. Again, strive towards a clear Talent Vision.

8 – Using 20th Century Models for 21st Century Problems 

What’s the issue?: Many of the problems listed above are persistent because we are applying outdated approaches to trying to solve them.


  • Generational disconnects.
  • Inability to attract the best graduates and school leavers.
  • Low retention amongst specific cohorts.
  • Distrust in appraisal and performance management processes.
  • Uninspiring hiring journeys.
  • Uninspiring first day, first week (first year!) for joiners to the organisation.


What’s the impact?: The impact is limited impact; low level of solutioning.

How to avoid this:
 Design contemporary solutions using robust Business Design logic. For example attempting to retain gen ‘y’ candidates using 1980’s built reward structures is going to be a largely fruitless task. A ‘design thinking’ led activity to canvass the customer and establish the levers and motivations is going to result in some very different thinking. Perhaps how to make induction shorter, make route to producing impactful work shorter, increase Corporate Social Responsibilities etc., but also consider manging the Talent Vision to maximise success with a more transient workforce. Certainly, mindlessly applying failing methods is the road to ruin.

9 – No Psychological Safety net 

What’s the issue?: The single common factor across high performing teams is the psychological safety net. Lower performance is rife where individuals fear job loss, are victims of ‘blame culture’ and where ‘measured risk taking’ is discouraged.


  • Lower levels of engagement
  • High proportion of the workforce are keeping an active eye on the job market.
  • Lower than expected levels of innovation.
  • Lack of willingness to take on accountability or responsibility.
  • Higher employee churn rates.

What’s the impact?: Lower performing teams.

How to avoid this:
 THRIVE is a useful tool, but put simply organisations need to design and implement People Strategies that put a heavy emphasis on creation of trust (inter-management, management to team and inter-team) and effective leadership.

Clearly this people strategy needs touch points throughout the employee lifecycle. A measure of success is the consistent advocacy of the organisation from interview & onboarding all the way through to alumni.

I hope you have found the nine ‘fails’ above both insightful and useful. Of course we have not addressed the fundamental problem yet. … we should not be focussing entirely on problems in the People Space – we should be looking at an equal balance of ‘opportunity statements’ and very much designing people strategy with this in mind …

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