How fast should you move when you sense you’ve made a hiring mistake?
—Rafael Rodriguez, Santiago, Chile
In a word, very.
So fast, in fact, that if you’re moving at the right speed in taking care of a hiring mistake, it will probably feel too fast. That’s OK. In every case, a rapid intervention is better for the organization, your own career and even the person you’re letting go.
Look, hiring great people is brutally hard. New managers are lucky to get it right half the time. And even executives with decades of experience will tell you that they make the right calls only 75% of the time—at best.
Winning: Jack and Suzy Welsh
The problem is, though, that the stakes are so high right now. Never has it been so important to field the team with the best players. Every smart idea matters. Every ounce of passion makes a difference. You cannot have a black hole in your organization where a star should be.
So that’s the first reason you need to face into hiring mistakes quickly. Sure, maybe one individual’s poor performance isn’t going to sink the company. But when your “mistake” isn’t doing his or her job, it invariably puts a strain on the whole team. It makes work harder for everyone else, not to mention the resentment an underperformer builds in those covering for him or her, or towards you for the miss.
And yet, as your question implies, too many managers twist in the wind for months before acting on hiring mistakes.
They’ll tell you they’re hoping the hiring mistake’s performance will improve with time and experience. They might also moan about the time sink required to find someone new and bring him up to speed. But the real, unspoken reason most managers don’t act is that they fear looking stupid and worry that admitting a hiring mistake is career suicide.
Ironically, in any good organization, that logic is exactly backward. There, managers are rewarded when they acknowledge they’ve hired someone who is wrong for the job and swiftly repair the damage. And they get even more positive buzz for the operational improvements that occur when the right person is finally in place.
Indeed, facing into mistakes—and fixing them boldly—builds a manager’s credibility. Hoping against hope that they will go away does the opposite. Now, it is important to note that “boldly” doesn’t mean harshly.
Remember: You made the error. Don’t blame the recipient for it. Break the news candidly, take responsibility for what went wrong, make a fair financial arrangement, and then give the departing employee time to look for a soft landing somewhere else.
Both you and he need to feel as if you handled everything right—especially if you should ever meet again when your former “hiring mistake” happens to become a potential customer.
That said, of course, the best way to handle hiring mistakes is to not make them in the first place. Yes, brutally hard, as noted above. But you can improve your chances if you fight against the three main hiring impulses that most often get managers into trouble.
The first is using your gut. Don’t! When you have a big, burning job opening to fill, it’s just too easy to fall in love with a shiny new candidate who is on his or her best behaviour, telling you exactly what you want to hear and looking like the answer to all your prayers. That’s why you can never hire alone. Make sure a team coolly analyses the candidate’s credentials and conducts interviews. And, by all means, make sure that team includes at least one real hard-nose—the kind of naysayer who is particularly good at sussing out whether someone really fits the opening and sniffing out phoneys.
The second instinct you have to fight is what we call the “recommendation reflex”—in which managers rationalize away negative references with excuses like, “Well, our job is different.” If only! Not only should you seek out your own references to call— not just the ones provided by the candidate—you should force yourself to listen to what they have to tell you, even if it ruins the pretty picture you are painting in your head.
Finally, fight the hiring impulse to do all the talking. Yes, you want to sell your job, but not at all costs. In interviews, ask candidates about their last job, and then shut up for a good, long while. As they describe what they liked and didn’t, you will likely hear much of what you really need to know about fit.
True, you may still make a mistake—but not because you rushed. Save that impulse for fixing things.
Jack and Suzy are eager to career dilemmas and challenges at workhear about your , and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Campaign readers can email them questions at email@example.com. Please include your name, occupation and city.
Only select questions will be answered.