Failure Analysis

Many years ago Motorola bought the computer company I worked for. In the course of the acquisition process, I had the opportunity to meet with Motorola’s then-CEO Robert Galvin.

He was the son of Motorola’s founder, Paul Galvin, who led the team that invented the first commercially successful, static-free automobile car radio in 1930. Bob Galvin was one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met.

During one conversation, he said something I’ve never forgotten: “I view every preventive loss of an employee as a failure on the part of management.”

Management, in his words, included everyone who was in touch with that employee directly or indirectly through policy development. The more I’ve thought about that over the 35 years since he said it, the more I believe it.

We all know that there are a multitude of reasons for someone leaving an organization. If we set aside the personal reasons that we can’t address, then we can conduct a failure analysis to prevent future losses.

Failure analysis comes out of the physical sciences. When companies perform a failure analysis on a product, structure or process, they go through a complicated examination of all possible causes. 

Because the life cycle of an employee is long, complex and often hidden, it would seem reasonable that to understand a failure we should carry out a thorough examination. Human capital is a valuable, highly variable asset.

Given the shortage of qualified, motivated and capable applicants and employees, it makes good sense to run a failure analysis if turnover is becoming a problem.

I suggest this process because in the more than 50 years I’ve spent in business, I’ve repeatedly seen conscious attempts to not solve problems.

Because of the fear of the findings, avoidance of fault, ignorance, greed or other not very admirable human traits, managers take wild shots at solutions with almost no hope and, unfortunately, sometimes a deliberate attempt to not hit the target. The most common claim is that “we don’t have time” to solve the problem. The corollary to that is “we do have time to repeat failure.”

Check me on this, but when we note that we’re losing good applicants or capable employees, don’t we typically look at just a few common causes? Compensation and supervision get the most attention, don’t they? It seems that if the problem is serious, it demands a thorough failure analysis. A failure analysis process for human capital might ask if the cause likely to be found in one or more of the following:

a. Job specification — is it clear and accurate?

b. Hiring supervisors — do they contribute to or inhibit the process?

c. Sourcing strategy — history of past sourcing quality?

d. Sourcing channels — ads, job boards, referrals, etc.?

e. Recruitment process

1. Working with source personnel to obtain optimum results?

2. Response to applicants — prompt reply, accurate job and company information?

3. Interview process — who, how, how long, efficient?

4. Salary and benefit competitiveness — current market analysis?

5. Offer and response process — prompt, positive, helpful?

f. Induction process — informative, motivating?

g. Ongoing supervision and support?

h. Performance history?

i. Promotion rate?

j. Compensation history?

k. Counseling and training?

In physical failure analysis, a flow chart is constructed with connections and checkpoints from the beginning of the product history to the point of failure. Each of the possible causes is laid out in the sequence with which they usually occur.

The value of the flow chart is that one can thoroughly address each question and answer how it contributes to the desired outcome. With a chart, each item has to be answered in a positive or negative manner by itself and in the context of how it affects subsequent steps in the process.

The outcome of a failure analysis, if honestly and thoroughly conducted, is guaranteed to provide answers to solving the problem, which saves money and builds the organization’s reputation as a good place to work.