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Hiring & Firing for High Achievers

Hiring Mistakes

♦  Developing a bias and attachment toward a prospective employee based on the resume

♦  Giving too much grace for nerves, timeliness, or other slip-ups

♦  Putting too much weight into “who you’d want to have a beer with.”

♦  Screening for cognitive processing skill

Minimizing the impact of personality or character concerns. 

  Assuming that in times of desperation, a body is better than nobody

Considerations to Minimize Hiring Mistakes

1. Resumes – Try to hold resumes lightly. First, the job of professional resume writers is to make people sound amazing (I’ve done it), so the person behind the resume may or may not be the caliber you want.

2. Grace..or not. – It’s still a first date, where people are putting their best face forward. The higher the position level, the less room there is for grace. In higher-level positions, you will likely need people to have their ducks in a row and show up to play regardless of nerves or circumstances. Even in lower-level positions, a candidate’s timeliness and reliability matter. Everyone knows these facts, but when desperate or trying to be “nice,” many seasoned owners or hiring managers try to give the benefit of the doubt.

Potential employers usually know when grace is needed. They don’t have to think about it. A clear and present life situation generates empathy (a crisis). This information can even be used to assess a candidate’s communication during times of stress.

3. “I’d want to have a beer with him.”….then we learned that he’s a great guy, but he just doesn’t have what it takes. Some people are likable, easy-going, and absolutely the ones a person wants to work with. The other part of the equation that matters is “Can this person move the needle?” Many employers have struggled to fire likable underperformers because they are so well-liked by the rest of the team.

One can also be aware of the discrepancy between team member evaluations of a candidate and the boss or employer. Team members will more likely focus on “Who do we like?” and “Who do we want to work with?” Most bosses or owners focus on who can add value and growth to the organization. This discrepancy in perspective is normal, but it is helpful to elucidate and ensure that the hiring decision is not delegated to popular vote.



Firing Mistakes

♦  Not clarifying for both you and the employee what needs to change

Trying to coach a characteristic that cannot be coached

♦  Giving the benefit of the doubt without a specific end point

♦  Viewing any employee as indispensable

♦  Trying to get it exactly right

Doing it alone if you don’t have to

Considerations to Decrease Firing Mistakes

1. How often have you heard someone say, “I fired them too fast?”  One of the consequences of being a person of compassion and integrity is a tendency to ensure that all opportunities for improvement have been exhausted before firing someone. Most people who fire without angst will not be reading this web page. If you try to be fair and give second chances, you can safely assume you won’t be making a mistake in firing. If that feels too bold of a conclusion, list the number of chances, conversations, or problems that have occurred to date.

2. Determine what would change the game –  what would this employee do differently to make you want to rehire them tomorrow? After you answer the question, if you try to retain the employee, share your conclusions to clarify what needs to change. These conversations allow the employee to change, to opt out of the organization, or at the very least, to be less blindsided if termination occurs.

3. Repositioning or trying to coach people without the critical skillset you need is unfair to everyone. While people can change and improve, some personality and cognitive dimensions will be too slow to change for the pace of doing business.

a. Personality—Those who thrive on drama, division, and self-centeredness are unlikely to change in time for your business.

b. Cognition – critical thinking, abstract -“big picture” thinking, processing speed, and concept formation (the ability to take individual pieces of information and draw appropriate conclusions) are unlikely to change for your business.

4. Keeping people because they are indispensable. If someone is indispensable, there is a talent pipeline/internal succession problem. In the unfortunate event that someone is hospitalized, what steps would you take to fill the gap? When dealing with a toxic employee or someone whose judgment creates risk for the organization, it’s better to focus on stop-gap measures while finding a replacement.

5. Do not be transparent with Difficult People. Some categories of Difficult People will use well-intentioned information against the employer or boss. For this reason, firing difficult people should a) have another person present and b) stay with general reasons that may or may not be the critical reason for the termination. Speak with HR about whether their positions can be omitted in a reorg, RIF (reduction in force), or other larger-scale strategy.

6. It’s hard to get firing precisely right, and that’s okay. Maybe you didn’t document problems early enough. Perhaps the firing conversation was uglier than you anticipated. Maybe you don’t have a straightforward way to explain the decision because it’s a fit problem. Sometimes, people wait too long to fire, or they beat themselves up about it. Often, there isn’t a perfect solution. The employee, circumstances, and company needs all change, so you might bring the same process to each termination and have different results. Do your best, execute, happen, and move on.

7. **Sometimes, a large severance or taking on litigation risk is less expensive than retaining the employee. Human Resources and their associated attorneys typically focus on avoiding employee litigation. While this is obviously important, sometimes they miss the fact that an employee can be a significant threat to a company. In cases where the presence of a person creates an exodus of valued employees or legal risk to a company due to judgment errors, it may be worth assessing what type of legal fees are most palatable.