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There Are Some You Cannot Save (A Note to the Leader)

There are some people you are going to struggle to save. Sometimes you will fail.

These people need to change. They are capable of producing much better results. They’re smart and they have great people skills. Many of them will tell you they want to change, need to change, and absolutely must change. They recognize the need to do better.

They’ll tell you that they want to improve more than you want them to. They’ll sell you on how committed they are, that they’ll bear any burden, that they only need your help and patience.

You will invest your time in helping them. You’ll invest your energy and your money in helping them. But there is nothing that you can do. There is nothing that you can do to help someone who won’t help themselves. If they aren’t willing to make the changes they need to to produce a better results, you can’t help them. Here’s how you’ll know:

  • Broken Promises: They’ll promise to change, and they’ll promise to take the new actions that they need to take. And as quickly as that promise is made that promise is broken. They had every intention of keeping their promise, but they lack the real commitment to change, the self-discipline, and the intestinal fortitude.
  • Excuses: Instead of change, you’ll hear excuses about why they weren’t able take the new actions they promised to take. They’ll plead with you for another chance, and they will promise to do better. They will mean every word, and you will be kind and forgive them. This is a pattern they have practiced for a good part of their life.
  • Blame Shifting: It won’t be their fault that they can’t change. They’ll insist that you haven’t given them enough of your time, that they need more training, that you haven’t done enough. They’ll suggest that it is wrong for you to give up on them when they are trying. And as soon as you give them “more,” they will go right back to their normal behavior.
  • Acceptance and Identity: As some point, your challenging employee will suggest that they simply can’t change. Instead, they’ll tell you “This is just who I am.” They’ll describe their poor behavior as their identity, absolving themselves of the responsibility to change. After all, if that is what you are, how can you be expected to change?

You cannot want something for someone who doesn’t want it for himself. It’s not that they are incapable of changing; they just aren’t yet willing to change. Until they reach threshold and absolutely must change, they will repeat this pattern over and over again. If you hired them, you are obligated to do everything in your power to help them–until you’ve exhausted your options. Then you need to choose something from this list.


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This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.


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