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Hire Slowly, Fire Fast?

Employee Engagement

Q: To what extent do you agree with the old saying 'Hire Slowly, Fire Fast?'

On the hiring front, we often need positions filled quickly and there can be a tendency to rush this vital role, which often leads to disappointing results. And yet the most thorough techniques seem somewhat over the top—you run the risk of losing a good candidate if you mess around for too long and they have several other opportunities. 

With regards to firing, you have to act in a caring, compassionate way to employees who just aren't performing, and it's essential to give them regular feedback and opportunity to improve; but at the same time, prolonging their employment when they simply do not gel properly with the core values/culture is unfair to them and can be very expensive/damaging to the company.

A. I agree with pretty much all of what you’ve written here.  I think that hiring slowly makes sense because bringing the wrong person into an organization is so costly. Beyond the direct costs associated with orientation and training and eventual termination, there is the greater though harder-to-quantify cost of what it does to the other people in the organization.  The cost of a poor cultural fit can be devastating to top performers, both in terms of their morale and productivity, and in terms of risking them going elsewhere to avoid working with difficult people. 

As for frustrating candidates by taking too long, I think it’s better to err on the side of losing a good person who is impatient than on hiring the wrong person.  Besides, if candidates are more interested in taking a job than in finding the most suitable one, perhaps they aren’t the right fit for you.

Now, as for “firing fast,” I would change that to “confront fast and have the courage to do what is in the best interests of the struggling employee.”  That’s not very catchy or pithy, but I think it’s a good way to think about this.  Essentially, I’m saying that a manager should never hesitate to speak honestly and directly as soon as they see a potential performance or behavioral issue.  Even if you’re not sure, enter the danger and have the difficult conversation.  If you find out that your observation or intuition is incorrect, admit it and be glad you looked into it.  If you’re right, let the employee know that you want him or her to succeed, and you’ll do whatever you need to do to help. 

However, this is where courage comes into play.  If the employee continues to struggle and you’re wondering if they are going to make it, broach the subject with that employee.  Let them know that just about every successful person in the world finds themselves in a job that isn’t right for them, and if that’s the case, you’ll help them deal with it.  Basically, take the pressure off of them, and give them permission to say “I’m probably not a fit here,” or “I can do it, and I want to keep trying.”  When in doubt, err on the side of extending grace to that employee.

Now, when it gets to the point that you know, deep down inside, that the employee isn’t going to make it, care about them enough to force the issue.  Sometimes an employee will be so intent on not failing, that he or she will stay in a painful and destructive situation for too long.  Don’t let that happen.  Remember tough love is tough, even for the person administering it.  Letting someone linger in pain is not an act of charity or kindness, but a selfish act of cowardice.  Ouch.  I know this because I’ve done it myself, and it’s not good.

So, I guess my answer is just a long way of saying “I agree with you.”