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Shefali Salwan August 20 2020 7 min read

Why Brilliant People Fail in New Jobs

Throughout my three decades in human resources and executive coaching, I have worked closely with high caliber talent to unlock their potential for optimal performance and engagement at work. My goal for each client is to coach value into existence by Connecting Talent to Value™. This value refers to the value agenda set by leaders to drive a company’s bottom line, or the organization’s intended impact.

I have seen many scenarios where it’s clear that someone has exceptional skill and ability and an excellent performance track record to go with it. Then a role change takes place, and the candidate struggles to realize the performance they achieved in the past.

There are several reasons people fail in new jobs, and one of them is the result of talent that is not aligned with the role.

Have you ever been in a situation where the challenge is high, and your skill level does not meet the challenge? Overwhelmed and frustrated, you stare at the bleak prospect of not being up to the task or worse yet, you feel like you are failing at your job. Or have you ever been in a situation where you found yourself at a high skill level, but the challenge is shallow? Bored and uninspired, the job at hand becomes an energy drain. You feel out of flow. 

The Flow Sweet Spot

The concept of flow was brought to prominence by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. He describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one... Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” 1

Based on this definition, flow is a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity and happiness. We are in flow when our challenge level and skill level are matched.

When the Click Goes Missing

Brilliant people can also fail for reasons that have little to do with talent. It could be the role and the ecosystem in which a role sits, or the context into which you place a talent. The talent is set up to succeed when their superpowers (or signature strengths), readiness, and fit align with the requirements of the role. In our Connecting Talent to Value framework we call this The Click—the sound of precisely matching talent to a role. 

In my work coaching executives and CEOs across 45 countries, I have seen significant value leak out of the system when the role to talent match is off—when there is no click. 

At CEO.works, our research indicates an astounding 70% of the risk to value rests with the role and the context in which you place a talent. Only 30% of this risk to value delivery rests with the talent themselves. 

When a role isn’t adequately structured, the talent sitting in that role may blame themselves for failing to meet the value agenda. In these scenarios, everyone in the ecosystem suffers, and there is performance dilution all around. Faced with this mismatch, the individual may seek new opportunities to find fulfillment, thereby taking their valuable assets with them.

Fixing these leaks is not as easy as adding or subtracting work from the role. A lot is resting on the role design and how and where it sits within the organization. A role must be designed with specific authority and decision rights. It must also provide the optimal opportunity to capture value for the organization while also realizing the personal and professional needs of the talent. Otherwise, you end up with a talent to value disconnect.  

Business leaders have to engage in critical conversations around this disconnect, and it can be uncomfortable. We often avoid challenging problems and hope things will get better. But hope without action does not generate results. Interventions like role reconfiguration and complementing the role can create more value for everyone. 

The Value Bonus (Or Click to Flow)

Flow is a state of being that allows us to achieve the results we want because we’re working in the sweet spot. In flow, we feel challenged yet capable. When Talent and Value are purposefully connected, the perfect fit of talent to a well-designed role activates The Click. The by-product of this connection is flow, both for talent and the organization. 

To maintain this virtuous feedback loop, business leaders need to keep an eye on the challenge level of critical roles. They need to ensure the person in the role has the skill to remain in the sweet spot. 

At CEO.works we imagine a world where everyone has A Click. 

We imagine a world where human potential is unlocked, and people can rise to personal and professional fulfillment. In the quadrant where Talent meets Value, individual growth intersects with organizational growth. This is where the magic happens.


1. John Geirland, "Go With The Flow," Wired Magazine, September 1, 1996. Accessed August 18, 2020. https://www.wired.com/1996/09/czik/

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Shefali Salwan

As a coach and advisor to C-suite leaders, Shefali has decades of experience in HR and is the head of the CEO.works Value Coaching program.