Get To Work: With Suzy Welch

Suzy Welch: How to know if you're being set up to fail at work

Suzy Welch: How to know if you have been set up to fail at work
Suzy Welch: How to know if you have been set up to fail at work

Regardless of the task, your manager is always looking over your shoulder. And no matter what you do, it's never good enough.

Some days you even wonder if your boss wants you to quit.

Do you recognize this scenario? If so, bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch says you're likely caught up in "set-up-to-fail syndrome." This organizational dynamic was first identified by French academics Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux in 1998 as part of research that explored "why seemingly good employees sometimes imploded."

CNBC Contributor Suzy Welch

"It starts with a good employee not performing up to par, even just one time," Welch tells CNBC Make It. "As a result, the boss starts to doubt the employee, and often starts to micromanage them."

The employee, in turn, senses this shift and starts to lose confidence in their work. "That behavior causes the boss to doubt the employee even more," she says, "and lower expectations, causing even more self-doubt and under-performance by the employee — and around and around and down and down it goes."

Manzoni and Barsoux's research made clear that these situations are not always born of malicious intent. Rather, the boss is simply micromanaging the employee in what they see as an effort to help them. "They're usually mystified when their oversight causes performance to worsen," she says. "For the employee's part, they're mystified too, because they're being so careful and obedient."

And ultimately, she says, they're wondering, "Why isn't the boss happier?" The situation "almost invariably ends with the employee departing, on their own volition or not."

If all of this sounds familiar to you, then Welch says your best bet is to take action — now. Go above and beyond to show your boss you're an asset they can be sure of.

"Enlarge a small assignment, and nail it. Volunteer for a task no one else wants. Embrace every challenge with sunny enthusiasm.

Ultimately, if you want to keep your job and repair your relationship with your manager, you're going to need to stop overthinking the dilemma and "muster your confidence and determination" to prove yourself anew. 

"The time for paranoia has passed," Welch says. "The cycle is yours to break."

Suzy Welch is the co-founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute and a noted business journalist, TV commentator and public speaker. Think you need Suzy to fix your career? Email her at

Video by Beatriz Bajuelos Castillo

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

More from Suzy Welch:

2 strategies for surviving a micromanager—and 1 that will get you fired

The single best question to ask in a job interview

The simple trick for motivating yourself when you don't want to go to work

Here's how to survive a micromanager
Here's how to survive a micromanager