CAMBRIDGE, Mass.–Sometimes it happens that a candidate who had the right credentials, seemed to fly through the interview process, and had lovely references turns out to be an unexpected problem after hiring. What can you do?
According to Liz Kislik, writing on Harvard Business Review’s HBR.com, just 19% of new hires are considered to be fully successful, and by the 18-month point 46% are deemed failures, according to one study.
The dilemma for managers is choosing between whether it’s worse to be stuck with an employee who can’t handle the work and is damaging to the team, or to go public with the admission that you’ve made a significant mistake, wrote Kislik.
To help cope, Kislik offered these steps will help leaders recover and move on with the least possible damage to all parties.
Steps to Take
Prepare for a direct, and probably uncomfortable, conversation with the new hire. “Rather than hoping for the best, or trying to deter a confrontation, leveling with the new hire about your dissatisfaction and their performance issues can open the way to joint problem solving,” wrote Kislik. “By sharing your concerns and asking for their input, you may be able to discover workable alternatives, or at least understand how bad the situation truly is…Keep in mind that the new employee may recognize the same problems that you do and be grateful for the opportunity to clear the air and work on a solution together.”
Try to repair the situation with focused feedback or reassignment. “One of my clients hired a relatively junior staffer for his moxie, energy, and drive,” said Kislik. “Within just a few weeks, though, the new employee started broadcasting his concerns that the job was not as exciting or rewarding as he had expected, and he started making careless mistakes and goofing around with other employees. His manager gave him careful feedback on his behavior and asked lots of questions about why the job felt unsatisfying. Luckily, thanks to projected business growth and flexible organizational parameters, the manager was able to shift the new hire to another department and a more challenging job that suited his ambitions better.”
Understand that a job shift doesn’t always work.“At one client company, a new vice president who came from a different industry made numerous commitments to apply the feedback she was receiving, but she didn’t understand the business model and seemed either unable or unwilling to adapt her technical skills, so she was incapable of implementing the feedback accurately. Watch out for the escalation of commitment — many of us resist ‘giving up’ on a tough situation. But if you’re giving the person lots of feedback, and you don’t see both significant personal effort almost immediately and actual improvements over the next three to six months, at some point you need to prepare to cut your losses.”
Identify both the current and the future expense of keeping the bad hire. “In some situations, the negative impact on other team members or the business makes it impractical to look for other internal opportunities or to invest in ongoing development,” said Kislik. “In one case, a senior executive who had previously worked for a very large public company joined my client, a midsize family-owned company, with such unrealistic expectations about resources and autonomous decision making that he cost the business dearly. Giving him feedback didn’t work, and moving him to another role wouldn’t have solved the problem.”
Make the case for an exception to the typical exit plan. “If the relationship can’t be salvaged, look for every opportunity to make the transition and departure as smooth and graceful as possible. Start by considering whether you can negotiate a mutually beneficial plan. An honest conversation can give the unsuccessful hire more sense of personal control and also give you the leeway to work publicly to support the team’s activities and find a replacement. Particularly if the employee has previously expressed discomfort, you could open with something along the lines of, “I appreciate your telling me how concerned you are, and the current situation is having a negative impact on the team, too, so I wonder if we can work this out in a way that benefits everyone.” Check with your HR department before you do this. Otherwise, if it has to be a surprise to the employee, be direct and to the point,” advised Kislik.