Top 10 Hiring Mistakes, #10: Letting it Fester

July 20, 2013 /LinkedIn/ – Like it or not, you’re eventually going to make a bad hire. Even if you do everything right in the hiring process, you’ll find that it still doesn’t work out about a third of the time. So instead of beating yourself up about it, find a way to gracefully undo the mistake.

You’ll usually know something’s wrong in the first 90 days. The new person will be late completing projects, won’t have the skills you might’ve thought, or won’t seem to be putting in a lot of effort. But most of the time you’ll find that the person just isn’t the right fit. He doesn’t really get along with – or “get” – the team. It’s less what he does than how he does it.

The longer you keep the wrong person on, the worse the mistake becomes. Problems compound as the recruit’s performance puts more demands on the people around him, and they start getting dragged down too.

So here are a few guidelines for extracting yourself – and your new recruit – from a mistaken hire:

1) It’s not them, it’s you: The most important thing to remember when you’re preparing to let a new hire go is that you made the mistake, not them. You or your team probably should’ve caught the issue during the interview and reference checking process – or perhaps you blew the onboarding. In any case, don’t take your mistake out on the new hire. You made the call – now you have to unmake it.

2) Do it fast: It’s no fun realizing you made a hiring error and that it’s up to you to deal with it. But once you know, you have to take action. If you let the error sit untouched long enough, it can grow into a full-blown personnel disaster. Bad mojo from the hire can spread like a disease – if things get bad enough, other team members can threaten to quit or projects can get derailed.

This isn’t a regular firing situation, where you’ve tried to help a longer-term employee get back on track with feedback and coaching – or even deciding that the person can no longer keep up with a job they were once well-suited for.

This is a new hire. Because the person is not yet a functional part of your organization, you’re doing him and yourself a favor if you take care of the problem before it goes too far.

3) Be human about it: Remember that the new hire is about to lose a job he just got, and may well be upset and embarrassed. Be gracious and gentle. Remind the person that, sometimes, good people are simply not the right fit for certain jobs, even if they’re talented and hard-working. Your recruit will be better able to thrive in a job and environment that’s more suited to him.

4) Help with the transition: Because this was your mistake, you should make sure the person has a soft landing when he leaves the position. If you can’t find a job inside your organization, help find one outside, whether it’s by offering to be a reference, arranging for introductions, or brainstorming ideas. Try to give enough severance to buy the person time to find a new job. And when it comes time to make the announcement, help craft a true but kind public reason for why he’s moving on so quickly.

5) Offer parting feedback: If you simply show people the door without giving them any insight into the reasoning, they may not be better off at their next job. There are certain liability issues you need to be careful of when discussing performance, but if the person is open to it, you ought to be able to find a way to offer constructive feedback on how he can improve. Many people will want to hear how they can grow and do better, and opportunities for that kind of information are relatively rare. By the same token, you might also ask the person if they noticed any ways you or your organization can improve: it takes two to make a poor fit, and perhaps there’s something you can do better in the future.

You’ll never have a perfect batting average with hiring, but if you ignore your own mistakes and hope they go away, you’ll be doing a major disservice both to your organization and to the person you’ve hired. Put yourself in his shoes: if your new boss was certain you weren’t the right person for the job, would you want her to tell you, or to pretend everything was okay? It’s always best to face our mistakes squarely, do our best to address them, and move forward.

By Joel Peterson