Sooner or later, even the most seasoned HR professionals will admit it: they've made a bad hire. For some reason, a person will fizzle out on the job, even though his or her stellar credentials promised a perfect fit with your company. Whether this is an entry-level person or a senior executive, the impact of a bad hire on a department or company can be devastating. So what do you do?
Bad hiring: more common than you think
It's fairly common that a new hire's performance is problematically underwhelming. A CareerBuilder survey found nearly 74% of HR professionals said they'd made a mistake in hiring. Bad hires often are made out of desperation, employers have said. An employer is in dire need of someone, and an employee is hired who isn't fully vetted.
What makes someone a bad hire? According to CareerBuilder, managers spot bad hires when they notice at least one of three red flags:
- The new employee could not produce the quality of work needed or did not have the skills he or she claimed to have;
- The hire couldn't get along with the team or had a negative attitude; or
- They wouldn't show up for work consistently.
A new employee whose hiring proves a mistake will damage an organization, regardless of the solutions company leadership may choose. According to the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), a bad hire can result in additional recruitment fees, relocation and training for a replacement, a negative effect on team performance, disruption of work and of projects, lost customers, weakened employer brand and litigation fees. Estimates for a dollar amount of replacing a bad fit vary, but a common rule of thumb is that it costs 30% of that person's first year of potential earnings, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
Why is your hire a bad one?
Replacing a bad hire involves a lot of expenses, but allowing a bad hire to remain in place can be just as costly, as such a situation wears on team morale and could even drive away veteran employees. Neither option is ideal.
There are a few reasons someone can be a bad hire, according to Kathleen Downs, vice president for Robert Half Finance & Accounting. For example, they may make too many mistakes, may display consistent tardiness or may not fit with the organization's culture. But to determine the cause, she said, managers must to take a step back to the beginning of the hiring process.
"What did we want this person to do? What did we communicate? Is the job what we said? What is the onboarding? Did we bring the person on in the right way to succeed?" Downs told HR Dive in an interview. "You never want to hire someone with the thought of letting them go," she added.
Mike McGowan, managing director and practice leader, leadership and talent for BPI group, also finds it critical to pinpoint why an employee doesn't jive with the new gig.
"The two questions that I always suggest asking is 1) knowing what I know now, would I hire this person again, and 2) is this the best person for the job?" he told HR Dive. These questions aren't just asked when facing an underperforming employee, but should be revisited throughout the employee's lifecycle, McGowan noted.
If managers have to say no to the questions they pose themselves about a bad hire, they have to know why that is, he added. Company leaders have one more question to ask themselves at that point, McGowan said: What can I do to answer those questions in the affirmative? The solution may lie in development, mentoring, coaching or whatever can fill the gaps. Simple patience could be the answer: "I've seen so many people rush to fire a person, when in reality, the employee needed more time to become a good fit," he said.
Reforming a bad hire
If the problem is cultural, the appropriate response may be more conversational, such as discussing attitude, appearance, cell phone use or punctuality, or another expectation unique to an organization, Downs suggested. If the new employee's problem concerns job performance, a manager may need to think about what tools and resources the hire could benefit from, she said.
With performance-based problems, managers should also examine their initial expectations, McGowan said. "Ask yourself as you're putting the job spec together — are you hiring on potential or right away on performance? A lot of times a person is hired expecting a different role — the employee is expecting more time to groom and get up to speed and the company or boss is expecting the employee to perform right away," he said,
Some managers enter a new department and inherit a bad employee. Although the manager was not the initial decision-maker, they can still evaluate the employee according to the criteria described by Downs and McGowan. Get to know the employee and don't be afraid to outline expectations and address performance issues as they arise, they said.
When to say good-bye
"A lot of managers delay firing decisions," McGowan said. Some avoid it for legal reasons, while others think a firing reflects poorly on their leadership abilities.
If you have worked with an employee on specific performance issues that need to be addressed and have given the support, education and resources needed, yet the employee is unwilling or unable to improve, it’s time to let them go. But this process should be not be rushed. Downs suggests giving an employee several months to get on track, while McGowan says that depending on the job, a year of learning isn't unreasonable.
But if the employee's problem has more to do with a poor attitude than a learning curve, McGowan and Downs agree: managers need to remove the person swiftly. "If a person’s toxic and it's permeating the culture, causing other people to leave, then yes, act immediately,” McGowan said. "Don't wait a year. Don't try to have all of these interventions. It's on you as a manager to take immediate action right away."
Avoiding future bad hires
Even better than turning a bad hire into a good one is avoiding hiring that bad fit in the first place. Experts suggest employers or managers should:
- Have a robust interview process with multiple people, diving deep into experience that is critical to the role;
- Use assessments related to the job;
- Thoroughly go through the reference process;
- Articulate the company culture;
- Have a structured onboarding process, setting up the new employee with a mentor or coach;
- Have frequent, regular performance conversations to communicate what’s going well and areas to work on, particularly early in the process;
- Spend time with the employee, investing in the relationship and determining what the employee needs and is interested in.