What to do when you've hired the wrong person

Don't be too hasty to sack them, says CEO and author Chris Dyer.

by Chris Dyer
Last Updated: 14 Nov 2019

Good corporate culture is like a well-balanced ecosystem. It gives individuals with shared goals a safe space in which to thrive. But we’ve all seen office predators who go on the attack and whom others try to avoid. Or, the lazy types who don’t share the load and drag everybody down. Beyond imperilling your business operations, bad hires threaten the unique culture you have built over time.

When you identify an employee whose behavior disturbs your company’s equilibrium, you have a few choices: accept them as flawed but still useful; attempt to reform them; or cut them from the ranks and start over. Here are a few guidelines for what to try and when ... and how to tell when the rogue’s got to go.

Try a New Approach

One broad tactic applies to any type of HR snarl, from personal to performance issues: positivity. Being singled out as a ‘problem’ employee makes most people defensive. Rather than demand behavioural change, note the issue and create the conditions that make change appealing.

I recently had the privilege of working with rescue elephants on a South African preserve. The handlers there could not force wild bull elephants to accept human interaction and leadership. But they could reinforce positive behaviour with attention and yummy treats. Elephants that once charged and threatened their handlers accepted rewards for desired behavior and eventually learned more than sixty commands - or should we call them ‘suggestions’?

Bring positive leadership and appreciative inquiry into difficult employee relationships. Set the tone by focusing on what is working and how you can get more of that. Instead of attempting to break unwanted habits by telling employees what’s wrong, ask what motivates them. Think of ways to encourage what they are doing right. If the largest animal in Africa can be guided in a positive manner, so can those difficult people on your staff.

Pinpoint the Behaviour

When friction arises, it’s tempting to focus on the reaction that troublesome employees trigger. Instead of an emotional approach, consider the root cause. Is it bad or sluggish behaviour? Is it an unprofessional personal style? Is that person ill-suited to the job? Or has your team fallen short in onboarding, training, or communication?

Let’s say you’ve done your job well, post-hiring. Use metrics to assess the questionable employee’s performance. If colleagues allege interpersonal problems, use group interviews to confront those claims. If you sense that you’ve put the right person in the wrong chair - or the wrong person in a critical role - proceed with trying to improve the working relationship before making a hasty un-hiring decision.

Cut Your Losses

Armed with a clear view of what your team member’s problem is, you can make a good-faith effort to repair it and give the employee a fresh start. After your best efforts in managing, training, and measuring any progress, though, you’ve done your part. Now, decide whether that "elephant" is tame enough to get along with your staff or is a danger to the group dynamic.

For those answers, look to the effect of any change on your company culture. Ask whether keeping or releasing the employee: forwards your company mission or vision; preserves stated or implied company values; helps or hinders others from doing their jobs well; and increases or decreases legal liability.

Before you make a final decision, return to your positive mindset and make a mathematical calculation. What’s going right? Is that sum now greater than what was going wrong when you started? If so, you might bet on a rising trajectory. If not, take the steps to remove the rogue from the herd and preserve your healthy working culture.

Chris Dyer is founder and CEO of PeopleG2 and author of The Power of Company Culture (Kogan Page, 2018)

Image credit: Henry Nicholls WPA Pool/Getty Images

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