Bad Hires


Have you ever made a new hire or been a part of the team that made a new hire and after a few weeks, you begin to get that sinking, Oh no—we’ve made a mistake feeling? If so, you are not alone. Bringing on new talent is one of the most challenging tasks that anyone has to deal with. There are so many variables. We wonder:

Will they fit with the team? Are they representing their skills accurately? Are their excellent references being honest? Are we really taking the time to understand what is needed right now versus just filling a vacancy?

There are the basic reasons we make bad hires:

  • A great connection

  • Training or skills

  • Communication or work style

  • Hidden expectations

  • Ambiguous goals

  • Capacity challenges

  • Lack of desire

So let’s break these reasons down and then discuss how and why to remedy each of them.

You’ve hired Donnie. Or perhaps you gotten stuck with Donnie who was hired by someone else, but he is now on your team. It is a few weeks after Donnie’s been hired and you are beginning to realize that he isn’t performing well. Here are some places to look to see where you went wrong:

We had a great connection! It seems hard to believe, but I can’t tell you how many times someone tells me they decided to forgo the reference check because they felt such a great connection in the interview process. Would you forgo the reference check if you were renting your house out? Does AMEX forgo a credit history when they extend you credit? No. Donnie may be able to present well for an hour or two, but you want to know how he will sustain himself over time.

Training or skills The first thing to look at is how someone gets hired who lacks the skills necessary for the position. There could be several reasons, and reflecting upon those reasons will help you and your team to improve the screening, interviewing, and hiring process to decrease the chances of it happening again.

Was a thorough and realistic assessment of what it takes to do the job effectively completed prior to hiring? This is where exit interviews can be very helpful. So many people dread exit interviews, because if people are leaving on bad terms, exit interviews can feel like a big sour-grapes dump. But it is important to consider the questions on the exit interview and to sort through the emotion to get to the meat.

If the Donnie is missing some key skills, did he misrepresent his abilities? Misrepresentation is always a risk. I could say that I’m proficient in Excel, but what proficient means to me and what is required for the job could be dramatically different.

Did you have him participate in a writing exercise? Did you give assessments for technical skills? Did you listen and observe carefully as he interacted with a variety of people in the organization? Did you verify all references?

More and more companies are cutting the role of Human Resources. And the places where I see the most consistent misses on skill assessments and the diligent checking of references are in the organizations where skilled Human Resource professionals are not vetting candidates.

Communication and Work Styles Has effort been put into understanding Donnie’s work style and communication style? Many people bring great skills and talents, but we often fail to take the time to understand how they are best supervised, mentored, empowered, held accountable, and supported. We also sometimes miss how their true work and communication style align with the team and with the work itself.

There are a variety of reasonably priced tools that I use to provide in-depth information on work and communication styles. I also emphasize interpretation and action planning to use the data for decision making and ongoing performance development.

Differing skills and strengths are really important for your team, but even more important is the understanding of how to support, provide feedback, empower, and hold those who are different than you accountable.

I not only recommend which instruments to use, I also facilitate interpreting them so before you hire Donnie, you know the best ways to integrate and support him to be successful.

Hidden Expectations Hidden expectations are best categorized as the things that are taken for granted because they are part of the culture and norms of an organization. They are part of what make each company special, but when they aren’t proactively communicated with prospective employees, they can cause confusion, resentment, and be judged as poor performance. So let’s get those hidden expectations on the table! And be sure you communicate them clearly to Donnie.

One organization I consulted with called me because their people were greatly upset with the hiring of a new employee. The norm that had grown organically over time was that every person on the team attended weddings, birthday parties, and other celebrations. The newest person on the team, who didn’t last very long, had their own large family and wasn’t looking to build those kinds of connections. She was looking to do her best work and enjoy her own life outside of work. That gap in communication of the culture caused a big divide, anger, and resentment, and the new, highly skilled employee soon found other employment where the culture was better suited to her expectations.

Spend some time thinking about what you may be expecting that isn’t shared or written down. And determine: a) Is it realistic ? b) Is it legal and ethical? c) How can the culture best be communicated or shared up front?

Ambiguous Goals Recently I did workshop for twenty people from one company. When I asked the group (many of whom were department heads) what were the top three goals for their organization in 2017, not one person could answer me.

This is not an anomaly. The perception is that company-wide goals are developed by out-of-touch leaders and have no impact on day-to-day work. And so if my experience with this group is typical, I guess that perception is trending toward accurate!

The company’s top goals should be shared with candidates with the accompanying statement: “These are the top three goals for this company for 2017. Everything you do and how you do it will be in service of the achievement of these goals.” Likewise, departmental goals should be shared. And once Donnie is on board, the goals for how the position supports the achievement of departmental and company goals must be in place and shared very quickly.

In the first ninety days, milestone check-ins to determine progress against goals are critical to keep the employee moving forward and focused as well as to have clear data and feedback on how training is going and how the employee is performing in the role.

Don’t blame Donnie if you aren’t clear on goals.

Capacity  If Donnie is only 4 feet tall and you hired him to do a job that requires a 5’5” person to do it, it isn’t really Donnie’s fault. But his height also isn’t likely to change. This is an unlikely example, but you get the point. Ask yourself, does the person actually have the capacity to do the job?

This is a tricky and delicate area. If you believe that you hired someone who for some reason beyond their control cannot perform the job, contact a Human Resource specialist to outline the best course of action.

Lack of Desire The last, and most infrequent, reason that employees struggle is that they just don’t care enough about the job to do it well.

During the interview, do more than just listen to words. Also pay attention to the candidate’s energy level and interest when you talk about the goals, the work of the department, and the culture of the company. Notice the questions they ask. Are their questions focused on the work you are presenting or are they primarily focused on salary, advancement opportunities, or benefits?

I once interviewed a young woman who was an internal candidate for a newly created job. She had been struggling with getting to work on time and completing projects. Because she was internal, I wanted to give her the chance to interview. She started the interview by sharing all the reasons why she wasn’t doing her job well (boredom, below her skill set, not using her creativity) and why she would show up differently in the new job. I had to stop her and share some feedback which was that if you don’t show up 100% in the job you have, I’m not confident that you will show up in a new position. Demonstrate to me that you are willing to show up and give 100% where you are, and we will then talk about a promotion.

A solid candidate is willing and excited about the work that is in front of them today.

Donnie’s lack of desire to do the work will not be fixed by human resources, the team, or leadership. Often, instead of giving really clear feedback, we spend precious time creating complex workarounds and systems to pick up the slack. Why do we do this? Because we genuinely like and care about Donnie. Maybe we don’t want to hurt Donnie’s feelings, but most often, I find that we don’t want to start the search process, so instead we struggle with what we have.

The primary questions for the leader are “What is your line in the sand?” and “How do you communicate that line in such a way that if termination is necessary, it is not a surprise to the employee?” With that clarity, a low-drama transition can be initiated that is compassionate and legal.

If you or your company is risking morale or wasting time, money, and energy on bad hires, let’s chat. There is a better way.