The only thing worse than making a bad hire is dragging your feet about getting
rid of them. Yes, it’s upsetting to realize you hired badly and then start questioning your judgment and the judgment of others who gave this person the thumbs up. You try to think about ways you can make the person work out so you don’t have to go through the uncomfortable firing process because you really don’t want to do the whole recruiting and hiring thing again. So, you turn a blind eye to the fact that you’ve made a bad hire and start building your Jenga pile of rationalizations to avoid the situation.
I have found there are two main reasons why managers and leaders hesitate in getting rid of bad hires.
1. The negative juju the person brings to the company hasn’t seeped up to your office yet.
2. The conflict, the conversation, the paperwork…it’s all so unpleasant.
With respect to the first argument I can only say: If the person’s problems haven’t affected you yet, just wait. Or better yet, don’t. Frequently leaders are insulated from what’s going on at the lower levels until it gets really bad. All you see is the glowing resume and your dreams of the Good Hire you made. Meanwhile, Bad Hire’s co-workers and possibly your customers are getting the stuff you haven’t seen yet, like the negative attitude, the divisive competition, the lame excuses, the absenteeism, the slackery. By the time the water level rises to your office, this person could do a lot of damage. They could run off good employees, alienate customers, even create legal liabilities or make off with money from the company till. And at the very least, your ignoring their negative impact on other employees can undermine the trust those employees place in you that you’re in charge and looking out for their best interests.
The other reason leaders and managers let things slide is to avoid the drama. Maybe talking to Bad Hire will stir the pot and there will be retribution and counter-retribution among employees. Maybe Bad Hire will cry or yell. You don’t want to deal with it. So you ignore the drama until it reaches a crescendo you can’t ignore and then holler “That’s it! I’ve had it! You’re out!” Technically, in a non-union situation, you can get away with that. Employment at will means that, as long as your reason for firing someone isn’t illegal, you don’t need to give them a reason. On the other hand, you open yourself up to expensive investigations and lawsuits if you do that.
These days, with the trend of “ghosting,” people seem to increasingly embrace the idea of just hiding from potential conflict. This conversation might make you uncomfortable so you find a way not to have it. If that’s your tendency, you probably don’t want to be in a leadership position. Responsible leaders are on alert as soon as they hear about a problem, ready to step in if needed and begin a dialogue with Bad Hire. That doesn’t mean they’re excited about it. But if you’ve taken on the task of stewarding an organization or department, you really may as well get comfortable with those kinds of conversations. When problems arise, you try to find out what’s going on. When Bad Hire behaves in a way that counters their job description or the company handbook (you have one right?), you write up the employee. You’re not doing this because you think yourself above reproach and you’re in the seat of judgment, you’re doing this because it’s part of your job as the leader or manager. You are protecting the Good Hires and your company.
A Bad Hire is like a single termite in your floorboard, a patch of mold on your fruit or a stray Barry Manilow song on your playlist. Dealt with early, it can be a lesson for everyone and create cohesion. Just don’t wait too long.
And if you need help, just call.
We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267