Are You Trying To Make Pigs Fly (or Expecting Employees to Do Things They’re Not Cut Out to Do)?

Twice this week in discussions with prospective clients I was asked what they could do about employees who repeatedly failed to follow through on specifically requested tasks.

The reason for the lack of follow through, in both instances was, “not enough time, couldn’t get to it.”

I cringed when both business leaders admitted to me they begrudgingly continued to “accept” this excuse (accept is in quotations because they didn’t truly accept it, they became frustrated with it and wanted it to change as the status quo was unacceptable and was negatively impacting business results.)

In both instances I presumed that the employee just wasn’t committed to the job and helping the company achieve its goals. I was told in both cases that was not an accurate assessment as these employees were “good employees that were always on time for work, rarely took days off and worked hard while on duty.”

I then said, “then its just procrastination as they are not comfortable doing what you are asking of them and they avoid it. They are “yessing” you and always defaulting to activities they are more comfortable performing, letting your priorities slip.”

The next day I received a call from one of these prospects saying, “you were right, she admitted to me she wasn’t comfortable making the calls I was asking her to make.” I said, “no kidding?”

You can’t make pigs fly! And, you can’t have a receptionist, hired because of a personality geared toward make people happy and liking your organization, make collection calls or missed appointment reschedules. You can’t have a vet technician who prefers to interact with animals over humans make outgoing phone calls for collections while also struggling with challenging conversations with patients over billing and appointments.

In small businesses I realize it is imperative for people to fill multiple roles. I get that. But, if that is the job expectation you better invest  more time in hiring the right person for that dual role.

Stop hiring the first person that has some of the skills you determine are your highest priority and then try to squeeze in the other responsibilities after they’re hired, or without full disclosure during the original hiring process. This is bait and switch.

I coach my clients to paint the most challenging job expectations as possible so that reality will never be as tough as articulated in the meeting and have the employee sell themselves they are a fit for contributing to that type of work environment.

Quite simply you must invest time on the front end of the hiring process to:

  1. Create a job description that includes specific performance expectations and job outcomes and make it as comprehensive as possible for the position you are looking to fill.
  2. Develop specific behavior based questions of your applicants in the interview process that are geared to generate answers that will let you know how they would react to real life situations they may encounter in your work environment.
  3. Invest at least as much time in evaluating an individual’s personality, attitude and beliefs around work ethic, personal and professional growth and development, and working in teams, etc as you do investigating their work experience and education.

Make sure you have people who are working in their areas of strength 80% of the time if you want happy, productive employees.

Baseball teams do not have catchers playing center field, or third baseman coming in as relief pitchers. In football, quarterbacks do not play defensive line, and wide receivers do not kick field goals.

And, pushing a pig out an airplane door at 15,000 feet to try and teach them to fly will just give you a dead pig when they hit the ground with a loud “splat!” Trying to get employees to perform tasks they are not suited for well cause them to fall just as flat!

Are you trying to make pigs fly in your hiring and employee performance expectations?

If you are tired of avoiding and tolerating limiting behaviors in team members, and aspire to inspire greater organizational and team performance, I encourage you to apply for a FREE Championship Caliber Company Strategy Session with me!

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10 thoughts on “Are You Trying To Make Pigs Fly (or Expecting Employees to Do Things They’re Not Cut Out to Do)?

  1. Resume Writer says:

    Indeed, that is why a resume is only the first triage step in the hiring process. Make sure the person has the right experience and skills to perform certain tasks. But once that triage has been done, the interviewing process has to focus on the “intangible”. Does the person work best as part of a team with many hands on the ball? Or does she work better on her own, managing a smaller ball. Does she handle best big projects with many small parts? Or is she best with one small part at a time? There is no best answer to such questions; you need the person that will fit best into the way you have structured your operations.

  2. Bill McClain says:


    Thanks for posting this. I agree about the hiring, and about the comments here. I certainly agree with the flying pigs analogy. In Belarus they say, “when the lobster whistles on a hilltop!”. Same thing: no chance.

    May I explore an additional angle. People, including workers, and children, and everyone, have a tendency to stay in their comfort zone. I’ll use the analogy of a salesperson, as I walked that beat for many years. If my quota was not a stretch, I would not have spent time wondering how to make it. Then I wouldn’t have tried to sell a different product to my customers, I wouldn’t have tried to present the same products differently. I would not have engaged my imagination.

    Part of what makes a good leader is the ability to motivate the teammates to take that more difficult (but higher payoff) road. Part of the what it takes to make a good leader is to help everyone see the payoff (to them) of the vision. And just as important, part of what makes a good leader is to be able to effect that balance between enticing and pushing. And that fulcrum point is different in each person and also varies over time in a single person. That’s what makes a good leader.

    In this case, I would wonder if, when the leader is accepting the procrastination and substitution of goals by the teammates, this is good for the organization and the Plan. I wonder if the leader has taught those around him that if they push back, he wont make them perform. It’s like little kids putting their elbows on the table. You tell them once, you tell them twice, but if you don’t continue to enforce the rule and help them see the importance of good table manners, you have just taught them that you accept non-conformance.

    The putty that holds all this together is communication. That employee needs to know, before there are hard feelings, what is expected, and the leader needs to listen hard and make accommodations that don’t compromise the organization’s goals.

    Nothing I’ve said here disagrees with your basic pig theory, but then, if we want a flier, get an eagle, not a pig.

    Bill McClain

  3. Sue says:

    I think your point about making sure that new hires accurately understand and embrace ALL the requirements of the job at hand and applaud you for encouraging managers to hire for the complete skill set required.

    That said, I’ve been in organizations where the managers’ expectations truly were unrealistic, and the reward for doing the core job well was simply more work piled on. It’s great for job descriptions to allow some room for growth, obviously… but they can also stretch beyond what is reasonable, and in those cases frankly the response, “there just isn’t time,” may be absolutely accurate.

  4. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I absolutely agree with you. In situations such as you describe the employee has to be able and willing to push back a little bit to discuss the scope of the job and what is realistically achievable. When they do that, though, they need to be certain they are being as productive an employee as possible and truly do not have time with a reasonable work day effort. Many employees waste a lot of time in interacting with co-workers or doing personal things on the job and could be more productive. On the other hand, the highly productive employee will always be given more responsibility because they are good, committed people and sometimes too much gets piled on.

    There needs to be an environment where team members can feel comfortable expressing their concerns and feelings and work with organizational leaders to create the most effective solution. There is no greater way to motivate an individual than to give them some autonomy over their job and often the business is better for it when front line employees create their own solutions.

  5. Gordon McAleer says:

    Skip, this is a good article, on point about the essential function of doing a thorough job screening the person before hiring. Having a sensitive discussion about why the employee is not getting there will reveal the underlining issues. If the person doesn’t get it or just can’t get to the next level, then it’s time to cut your losses. There is a tendancy to tolerate the marginal employee too long. The star performers quickly catch on and lose respect for the leader who fails to take corrective action. You don’t want them to jump ship for a better opportunity. Gordon McAleer, McAleer & Associates

  6. Marlene A. Sassaman says:

    Trying to make pigs fly is the very reason there was a mutiny of my original women’s sailing team. I understand that quarterbacks on a football team don’t play defense. However, my argument on a boat is that sometimes in the middle of the race someone could get hurt. On the boat, there are no replacements swimming alongsid nor is there time to sail back to shore to swap out players.

    On a boat you are in a sense married to each other and one member must be able to automatically fill in for the other. It is a safety rule that far too many of my colleagues ignore. So, how do we give the pigs a means to fly, should the need arise…? I guess that is the question I need to answer.

    I did enjoy this commentary! You made valid points…..interviewing my crew before they step on board is crucial for building upon their strengths….Plus, I no longer take beginners. I suggest they train with others, then if interest prevails they can join our team.

  7. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Your story regarding a sailing crew is an interesting situation in that each member of the sailing team must have the skills to perform all components of successfully sailing the vessel, in addition to having the desire to fill the necessary roles, no matter what and want to be able to step up to contribute as needed. Unless those components are part of the individuals work agreement they should not be on the team. Your strategy to no longer take beginners and have others train them and get them up to speed is a good adjustment.

  8. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Great questions to ask on the front end of the hiring process and best not left to after the hire is made. Thanks for adding that value to my blog post and reminding my readers. Please come back again.

  9. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    You make some great points and I’m really pleased you were motivated to leave a comment. What I took away from your extensive comment is that leaders need to pay attention and not just assume what motivates a person today will motivate them tomorrow, and what motivates one person probably will not motivate another. Leaders need to invest time in getting to know their people, and stay connected with them over time, showing an interest in them as people, not just employees. You also make a great point on the need for consistent follow-through and reinforcement of performance expectations, as well, so that everyone knows what the standards are and the uncertainty of many workplaces is eradicated. Thanks, again for commenting, please come back again.

  10. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Yes, Yes, Yes! Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Gordon, I’m pleased you were motivated to offer your insights and added value. FYI, I’ve never had a client tell me, after they finally decided to remove an employee of their duties long after it was obvious it was time, that “you know, Skip, I think we let that person go too soon!”
    It’s always the other way, “Boy, what took us so long, we should have made that move so much sooner!” Thanks, again, please come back!

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