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Slow to Hire! Quick to Fire?

by Boris Joaquin

The corporate mantra "hire slow, fire fast" doesn't necessarily mean you have to take months to bring someone on board, or that you fire a team member for petty reasons or unfounded causes. Author Jim Collins writes, “Those who build great organizations make sure they have the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the key seats before they figure out where to drive the bus” (Good to Great, 2001).

It is a challenge to find the right people for the job. So when you find them, keep them. Perhaps you don’t need to fire them.

In most companies I have done consultancy with, the main issue among executives was whether or not they had the ability to acquire and retain outstanding performers. Majority of these organizations have said that they had an insufficient pipeline of talent for leadership and key strategic roles. And half of the time, stop-gap measures such as resorting to quick hires failed within the first 12 months.

Making a hasty decision that results in hiring the wrong person can be costly to the organization. The resulting cost of a bad hire can be huge, especially when it turns out they contribute little value to the organization. They give a lackluster performance and do not grow, remaining in “tombstone” positions until they “retire in place” (R.I.P.) Like deadwood, they add little to the company’s success. The financial impact of a poor hire on the organization is felt in terms of lost productivity in current job responsibilities and lifetime retirement benefits invested. The numbers can quickly escalate into millions if a bad hire’s poor performance gets out of hand and results in gross negligence, lost customers or even lawsuits.

In this light, there is wisdom in firing fast. The moment you think that person is not a good fit anymore, you are probably six weeks too late. Don't procrastinate; fire them NOW (within the bounds of labor laws, of course), because a bad fruit can poison the rest of the team -- the longer they stay around, the more their negativity affects others.

Best practices suggest that you hire the right person to fit the culture of the organization and the job. It is hiring individuals who not only have the technical skills, but also the discipline, attitude, values and people skills that fit with the organization’s values and culture.

Personally, I think that when you feel the need to micromanage someone, then you've made a hiring mistake. The right people don’t need to be micromanaged. The right people do what they say they will do. It’s not a chore for them. They know they have responsibilities to fulfill.

So what can be done?

First and foremost, when hiring people, consider these DO’s and DON’T in the hiring process:

1. DO ask questions that will draw out useful information about how the candidate will likely perform on the job. It is key to have managers and recruiters who are skilled at interviewing and who have the ability to utilize open-ended questions that target a candidate’s work ethic, personality, work style, attitudes, workplace values, passion, and cultural fit.

2. DO use a process to systematically evaluate the responses of candidates. Aside from the qualitative way to assess a person’s responses, there are data-driven assessment tools that your prospective recruits can answer. These can give you valid data to now evaluate the person’s fit to do the work in the organization.

3. DON’T rely on gut instinct to make the final decision, ignoring critical information about the candidate’s fit to the job. Organizations should more thoroughly identify job-relevant factors that predict success and utilize a variety of appropriate diagnostic tools to assess candidates on those specific factors. This can serve to eliminate some of the subjective reliance on gut instinct.

Second, consider placing a greater emphasis on hiring for attitude, values and cultural fit. Then train for skills. Companies such as Apple, Google and Ritz-Carlton are great examples of this. The back of a Ritz-Carlton business card reads, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Since they are in the hospitality business, they made sure that every person that they hired are courteous, accommodating and respectful. If you embrace these values, you have better chances for the company to invest in you.

According to Mark Murphy, author of Hiring for Attitude, “Eighty-nine per cent of the time, if a new hire fails, they fail for attitude, not for skills.” He further states that, “We can find the skills anywhere we need them. The real issue right now is finding the people who are going to actually fit in our organizations and in our cultures.”

In my experience, managers spend nearly 30% of their time dealing with poor or problem performers. This is because they hastily screen applicants and then hire primarily for skill and experience to get the job filled, rather than consider the character of the individual and its fit with organizational culture and values. This is why we often say, “Organizations hire for skill, but fire for character.”

Lastly, leader-managers, upon recruiting employees with promising attitudes and skill sets should deliberately shape their team’s values and culture. The Human Capital Institute claims this is one of the most important manager competencies for the future -- the ability to “hire, develop, engage, and retain the right people for the job.” (See my last article on “People Join Companies but Leave Managers” March 9)

No one can know for sure who the “right” person is for a job until they go on board. You are hiring people for their potential. The probationary period or actual employment allows you to discover if it is a perfect fit. At the same time, it is an opportunity for any manager to coach and develop your new employee. At this point then, it is contingent upon the manager to add value to their new hire. And if you mentor your new employee and help them grow into the role, then maybe, just maybe, you wouldn’t need to do any firing at all.

Boris Joaquin is the President and Chief Equipping Officer of Breakthrough Leadership Management Consultancy, Inc., the exclusive carrier of the Maximizing Workforce Contribution™ and Merit Profile Assessment Tool.

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