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Hire Right, Fire Fast: Facing Up to Hiring Mistakes

Hire Right, Fire Fast~ Facing Up to Hiring Mistakes ~ December, 2010
By Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Of course you want the best talent available for your business, with the characteristics and personality that fit your culture. Hiring the “right” people is critical to every organization. In a recession the stakes are even higher: every smart idea to innovate or save costs matters more; and every bit of passion enhances productivity.

There are strong reasons to hire the talent you want quickly, and there are circumstances where it’s okay to take more time. But careful as you might be, you will sometimes make hiring mistakes. And in those cases you have no choice—you have to fire fast.

The case for fast hiring

Increasingly over the past decade, companies have been moving toward “fast hiring,” primarily because it enlarges their pool of quality candidates. Fast hiring gives you the ability to attract high-demand candidates currently in the job market—the bad economy creating a lucky opportunity to get talent you may not otherwise be able to afford. It also enables you to move quickly on someone you know is right for your team when they decide to leave their current employer and suddenly become available to you. For critical positions or game-changing candidates, you may even hire the same day the candidate becomes available. The best companies are continually recruiting, proactively seeking out the right people.

Fast hiring also helps you avoid some of the negatives of having long-term open positions. For example, vacant positions in revenue-generating jobs can mean lost sales opportunities every day those jobs are open.  And there are morale considerations. When headcount is down and current employees are expected to absorb additional responsibilities over the long term, it chips away at overall morale—and you may begin losing your best people (and customers) as a result.

Certainly these are strong arguments to fast-hire for key jobs and talent. But is it worth the typically higher costs in compensation and management time involved in the decision making? Not always. There are times when it makes better sense to take your time.

When to slow-hire

Whether you’re Google or the best company in your small pond, a great brand automatically allows you to hire more slowly. People are willing to wait for the opportunity to work for you.

Even without the brand advantage, it often pays to slow down the hiring process when you have a large candidate pool for lower-impact positions. Every position has its own array of required skill sets and desired character traits that take time to assess. Developing a pool of applicants before you need them allows you to take the necessary time to evaluate individuals more accurately, without the downsides of leaving jobs open longer than you’d like.

Facing up to hiring mistakes

So, you’ve quickly snapped up the star you’ve been targeting for a long time. Or, you’ve taken your time to carefully evaluate a large field of candidates to find the perfect addition to your team. . . . Fast or slow, you may still find yourself in the unhappy circumstance of having to fire someone you thought was right. One mistake may not destroy the company, but not firing that mistake right away can put a major strain on your entire team.

Don’t delay what you know you have to do by rationalizing that it’s too time-consuming and costly to find a replacement; that the person isn’t really that bad and will improve over time; or that you’ll look stupid or inept in admitting that you were wrong. (Actually, you’ll show your strength by being honest and transparent.)

Procrastinating only gives the soon-to-depart employee time to plan a defense; make you the problem; or take actions to hurt your business, like slacking off or no longer bothering to work at all, or saying negative things about your company to customers. In addition to revenue losses, you risk losing your team’s respect for what they will see as your indecisiveness and lack of courage.

Fight your instincts

There are three main hiring impulses that get people into trouble, according to Jack and Suzy Welch. Whether you’re on a fast hiring track, or a slow one, avoid these pitfalls:

  • Don’t use your gut and fall for the candidate who tells you exactly what you want to hear. Be sure that several on your team interview candidates and objectively analyze their credentials.
  • Don’t rationalize away negative references with thoughts like, “That was a different kind of company or situation than ours.”
  • Ask good questions and then shut up and listen hard and long.

Successful companies strive to hire “tens” at every level. You may not always make the right hiring decision, but never lose the courage to immediately correct those mistakes by firing the people who don’t meet expectations.

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) firm that helps companies accelerate their growth by hiring exceptional talent. TalenTrust LLC is located in Golden, CO. Kathleen is president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at or 303-838-3334 x5.

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