Making the wrong hire is a big enough problem, but not moving quickly to rectify it can create far more organizational disruption. Others recognize the person isn’t the right one; employees try to make it work because they want to be good team players; and leaders are distracted by the feedback bubbling up from different parts of the organization. The good news is there are a handful of steps you can take to course correct.
Learn from Experience
As often as not, the delay in taking action comes from an unwillingness or inability to admit we have made the mistake in the first place. The sooner a leader recognizes and corrects the error, the better for the team and the company. Not only should leaders accept responsibilities, they should own up to them. Errors in judgment happen. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We learn from these experiences. That’s step one.
“Bad hires or bad employees are part and parcel of doing business for any company in any industry,” writes investment banker James Cassel. “We all make mistakes.”
But the next step means you thoughtfully consider the issue, and then act quickly.
Before firing someone, consider if there is some other place in the organization where the employee is a better fit or where skills and experience can be leveraged. For example, not everyone is cut out to manage people, but they can be extremely valuable as individual contributors if placed in the right roles. Everyone has an example of a talented individual contributor who is promoted to lead others and fails. Your business already has invested a significant amount of time, energy, and money to integrate someone into the company. You spotted something in him or her that you considered valuable.
If after thoughtful consideration you conclude someone just doesn’t fit, it is in everyone’s best interest to make a clean and decisive break. Once you recognize the problem, act quickly. The danger of a drawn-out separation far outweighs any perceived benefit. For starters, bad hires or underperformers tend to get worse, not better, over time. Other leaders in the organization will become frustrated if action isn’t taken. The financial risk of waiting can be burdensome as well, ultimately costing a company up to five times as much as the employee’s annual salary, calculates Sheeroy Desai, CEO of Gild.
Time is not a CEO’s friend in terms of getting the wrong person out and the right person in. There are incalculable opportunity costs involved.
Terminating someone is difficult. Any good leader has sleepless nights when he or she realizes that there is no alternative. And, that’s a good thing. One would hope no leader would ever find firing someone easy. We should never get used to it, and we must do whatever we can on the front end to avoid such an outcome.
Recognizing the problem is the first step. Exiting a bad hire is the second. It probably will take another three months to replace the former employee, estimates Desai, which impacts operating results. But in the end, that decision is better for everyone—including the former employee. Then the company and the leader can move forward with confidence.
Gail Meneley is principal and co-founder of C-suite career transition and coaching firm Shields Meneley Partners.