So You Made a Wrong Hire: Here’s How to Keep Moving

October 11, 2021
Silvan Krähenbühl

Imagine this: you’re a startup founder looking for your next great hire. A candidate shows up with a skillset that could take the industry by storm. They ace their interviews, and you think no further before hiring. A sense of accomplishment makes you smile, because you know you’ve just scored yet another fantastic talent.

Now that you’ve signed all the paperwork and made all the necessary introductions, it seems like everything has fallen into its right place. But once you get your show on the road... your hire turns out to be the opposite of a good fit! Whether they’re just inexperienced or actively rowing against the tide, you’re at a loss on what to do next.

Warning is Caring

Dealing with divergence is always draining. So, to calm your spirits with difficult newcomers, I suggest a three-warning system. If your hire doesn’t follow one of the core practices, give them detailed examples of how they can improve, and reevaluate in 4-8 weeks. If it works on the first try, no harm done! But if it doesn’t, you repeat the warnings up to 3 times — the final one being the firing strike. 

All your warnings should be fully transparent on how the hire’s work is lacking or why their behavior is inappropriate. Don’t shy away from getting specific or touching upon unpleasant topics. Open communication sets the right expectations from the get-go, and all parties will be aware of what fails to make the cut.

Leveling with new hires will bring uncomfortable conversations, but avoiding confrontation will only cultivate more resentment. Always leave room for improvement, but never allow ego trips or political intrigues undermine your team’s stability. In some cases, the person recognizes things are not sailing smoothly and ends up leaving on their own. This is the best-case-scenario as damage is kept to a minimum on both sides, but never bet all your chips on this possibility. So, it’s vital that you communicate all your discomforts and firings across the board in advance. This way, there won’t be any unpleasant surprises or lingering unrest. 

Turning Over a New Leaf

Now it’s time to explore some solutions on how to avoid making a bad hiring decision: 

Know your core values by heart. As a rule of thumb, picking 3 to 5 core values such as accountability or honesty is a wonderful start, but don’t forget that this list shouldn’t be obscure. Better safe than sorry should be your new motto concerning team communication. As for making your values stick, remember to lead by example. If you and your co-founders are always crossing swords, how could your team ever move in unison? 

During the hiring process, references are key to understanding. Check the connections your candidate is presenting you thoroughly. Do your research and reach out to former employers — always within what’s possible for your specific legal boundaries.

Later on, give experimental workdays a chance. They not only give newcomers an opportunity to make a great impression, but your team will also have a chance to directly meet them in a practical setting.

Another helpful tip is to include casual situations into the recruiting process. Socializing obviously boosts networking, but it’s also a great cultural barometer. Plan a lunch date or after-work drinks and see how your potentially new hire behaves in a more relaxed context. Spontaneous reactions can say a lot about someone’s ethical framework — professional and otherwise. Are they respectful to staff? How do they react to touchy subjects? Never overlook the importance of small interactions.

Key takeaways

A wrong hire is more common than you’d imagine, and even the leading players in your industry have had their share of bad calls. All in all, hiring struggles can be reduced in the future if you:

  • Reinforce a shared philosophy through constant feedback.
  • Remember that a strong company can only grow through meaningful values that resonate throughout your whole team.
  • Follow the three-strikes rule if someone does not follow your core values.
  • Stay tolerant in the face of inexperience, but know when to part ways if a bad attitude crosses important red lines.

If you feel like reading more on why ideals matter and how you can define your own, check my blog post on company values

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