When do you call time on a wrong hire?

Many founders are relatively new to hiring in the start-up phase. One of the trickiest challenges will be adding long-term top team members but even relatively straightforward hires can go horribly wrong.

When do you call time on a wrong hire

Many founders are relatively new to hiring in the start-up phase. One of the trickiest challenges will be adding long-term top team members but even relatively straightforward hires can go horribly wrong. That is why we have trial periods, usually around three months, to make things easy. But it isn’t always that simple.

We interview and come across the perfect answer, the candidate with the dazzling resume, the perfect experience and all the right answers. They are looking for a salary quite a bit higher than we had meant to pay for that role, but we know that our company needs the best and the investment will pay dividends. Everyone in the company is bowled over with excitement about this person joining.

Onboarding goes swimmingly to be done. You – and your colleagues – remain bedazzled by how you could be so lucky as to have this incredibly impressive person joining their ranks. A few weeks in, you are still in a state of awe. So, when two other senior members of your team come to see you to tell you all the things that are wrong with how you are doing things, you are shocked. You are also gutted as many of the weak areas appear to be surrounding your own novice management and targeted to your weakest areas. You take full responsibility and even, when you find out much of this has come from your new star, go and apologise to them for your inadequacies. However, with one tiny shred of sanity, you do ask them please to come directly to you with any concerns in the future.

You start to register how differently they do things than has been your company’s norm. Around the same time, and genuinely malice free, the results from the new hire’s brilliance start to come in and are less than impressive. While most of the rest of the company remains star-struck, you chat it through with your HR advisor and come to the mutual conclusion that with half the probation period gone, it is only right and fair to make clear your concerns in a meeting and offer help, guidance and support to reach the targets set for improvement. You sigh hugely with relief when things appear to go well, because most of all, you want this to work out. Easier all round. You try and ignore the us-and-them feeling you are suddenly noticing throughout the company.

A few weeks later, you are sitting at your desk, trying to ignore the niggling reminder that the situation hasn’t improved much when the aforesaid employee appears and the doorway. They announce their resignation with immediate effect. Stunned, you endeavour to muster up the appropriate words, saying how sorry you are, and that you wish them all the best. This lets loose the floodgates of vitriol. You hear how disgustingly they have been treated, in particular at the meeting where you dared to suggest that they could improve. You hear how unappreciated they are, and most of all, how you are taking the company to the wall and neither deserves a future. When they depart, you are left shocked, shaking and with half the team still in their thrall.

Most managers will go through something similar to this at some point in their careers. The lucky ones will be surrounded by a good support system, people who can quickly and calmly produce facts and figures to disprove the negativity that has been thrown. It is a good deal rougher to handle if you are an isolated solo founder. The key is to assess where it all went wrong, see what could have been done differently, learn and move on.

The first point is our vulnerability is being over-impressed by past resumes. It is a balance between hunting out the best people you can, aiming to learn from them, but also recognizing that one person may do well at one company and not be a fit for yours. Most importantly, a person’s fit to the team and willingness to work as a mutually supportive part of that team will always outweigh talent. You can onboard, you can train, and you can extend a probationary period, but if that isn’t there, it isn’t going to suddenly appear.

The next is to look hard and honestly at what was said, originally by the new hire, and brought by the primed and awed other managers. It will have been cleverly crafted. It will have picked at the scab of both your genuine weaknesses and your personal vulnerabilities. This is exactly why it was so effective, sending you to grovel apologies and question your judgment, leaving a hugely destructive individual a free hand with the team for a great deal longer than they might normally. What can you learn from this? What can you seek out coaching to improve? What can you have a healthy self-awareness of? It is crucial you do.

Should you have called it time at that assessment meeting? Legally and morally, it is the right thing to do to give people a chance to change and recalibrate before giving up on them. And for anyone new and struggling with the skill sets required for the job, done right, this meeting can prove wonderous, saving a disaster in the making and coming up with the support needed to help a new hire settle in. But while you might feel obliged legally, it is wasted breath on the disruptive personality. You were always doomed. People like this have no intention of changing. They are mostly incapable of looking at their own faults, but instead have to project them elsewhere. And in letting them remain, you continue to expose yourself to constant undermining and your team to splitting away from you. For it was the moment that other managers came to see you to tell you what this person had complained of, that you needed to part company. The longer you let them remain, the more opportunity they had to damage your team.

They had every right to their opinions. Some may even have been right. However, it takes an unshakeable degree of ego to criticize others while not reaching goals set to the job. Above all, no team player takes concerns about their boss to other managers before raising the issue directly. Anyone who does so does it for one reason only; to discredit the boss. Why they want to do that, is their issue. But a fit for your team, they are 100% not and the sooner someone who does this is shown the door, the less damage they can do.

You cannot dismiss what happened nor fail to take your own responsibility for your part in enabling it. And the longer you let it go on, the longer they managed to get under your skin and the more damage they will have done. Learn and ensure it doesn’t repeat. Sometimes, parting sooner is the best thing by far.

Jan Cavelle
Jan Cavelle

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