Set Others Up to Fail

DFN: The title caught my eye. Mr. Bradt wrote about "Onboarding" in the 10/25/2009 FENG Newsletter. Onboarding is how to get started in your new job. He suggests those of us in job search could accelerate our entry back into search (once we’ve ‘landed’) by pushing a project which is unpopular with our new employer. He also has some free information and some not so free information at the end of his article.

FENG Newsletter 10/25/2009, George Bradt

Sometimes setting others up to fail is the right thing to do.

One classic example of this is the battle of Thermopylae during which a very small force of Greeks held off an overwhelming mass of Persians for three days. The Greeks were set up to fail, with most of them getting killed by the end of the battle. But their stand gave the rest of Greece reason to believe they could defeat the Persians – which they did in the end.

Consider this approach when onboarding into a new role that requires significant organizational change.

The ACES model suggests three approaches to a new culture: Assimilate, Converge and Evolve, or Shock. Assimilate is the easiest – culturally. Converge and Evolve is the preferred approach most of the time. Sometimes you have no choice but to shock the organization to turn things around. The problem is that those leading the shock often get rejected by the organization in the end.

Let someone else be the bad guy.

If you join a group that needs to be shocked, consider having someone else do the shocking. This could be an outside consultant. It could be an interim manager. Or it could be a loyal supporter in a temporary role. The suggestion is to have someone else deliver the initial bad news and shake the organization out of its inertia so that you can pick up the pieces and rally others around a forward-looking optimistic outlook. People tend to reject the harbinger of doom and rally around the beacon of hope. Be the beacon.

One critical piece of this is that those getting set up to fail know what they are signing up for. The Greeks at Thermopylae knew what they were getting into. They were well-informed volunteers making a conscious choice. This may be the crux of the difference between setting others up to fail as an evil act and it being the right thing to do.

(Note I’m happy to share a 2-pager of PrimeGenesis’ Job Search Tips with anyone who asks. Just send me an email at gbradt and ask.)

Note FENG members moving into new jobs should check out BEFORE THEY START to help them prepare for success in their new job. This helps people prepare for day one and the rest of their first 100-days and reduce the risk of failure. There’s a FREE overview. Then, if you decide to enroll, use coupon code "FENG47" for $100 off to reduce the $495 price to $395 all-in for the online work stream and live one-on-one consulting session.


George Bradt

200 West Hill Road, Stamford, CT 06902 USA

1-203-323-8501 office

1-203-253-1569 cell


George is Managing Director of executive onboarding and transition acceleration group PrimeGenesis and author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 2006), Onboarding – How To Get Your New Employees Up To Speed In Half The Time (Wiley, 2009), and The Total Onboarding Program (Wiley/Pfeiffer, 2010).



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