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How to hire & fire the right people

Employing someone is not always easy; it can be a time-consuming and nerve-shredding experience. Ideally, you will find the perfect person for the job, who will fit seamlessly into your organisation and hit the ground running, helping everything run more smoothly and efficiently immediately.

Unfortunately, it is equally likely that your new recruit will not fit in and you will have to deal with the fallout of a bad hiring for months to come, including finding a replacement for your previous choice. For a manager, hiring someone can feel like a judgement on his wisdom and capabilities.

Experts believe that if you construct and stick to a disciplined process, you can increase the chances of making the hiring a positive experience.

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, senior advisor at Egon Zehnder International and author of the book ‘The Definitive Guide to Recruiting in Good Times and Bad’, says hiring decisions are pressure-filled for a reason. “It is crucial to get hiring right, not only for the hiring entity, but also, and very importantly, for the person being hired. A new hire isn’t to blame for a bad hiring decision, but will shoulder much of the burden when a role doesn’t fit.”

Adele Lynn, owner of The Adele Lynn Leadership Group and author of the ‘EQ Interview’, says companies should see hiring as more of a science than an art, or even a leap of faith.

Lynn says you can reduce the chances of getting hiring decisions wrong by following a clear and consistent approach, which includes knowing the traits valued across an organisation (humility or creativity perhaps), conducting fair, structured interviews that include several people from the organisation and agreeing on a standard ranking system to evaluate candidates.

It takes time and discipline to get the right person for the job and Lynn warns to be wary of the time-trap. She says: “Often companies are desperate to fill a position, so the interview process includes some generic questions and some information about the position. Needing to fill the role yesterday is not an excuse for short-changing the process.”

Fernández-Aráoz says we instinctively hire people who are like us or make us comfortable, but this does not always yield the best candidate. He says you need to be aware of the “typical unconscious psychological traps” that lead to inferior people decisions, such as overrating capabilities or making snap judgements.

He suggests outlining the specific competencies the ideal candidate needs, the skills required, whether experience matters and what type of behaviour needs to be exhibited in the role. So, at least seven years programming experience may be needed for an IT role, but also the ability to work in collaboration with a team on high-pressure projects.

It is important to screen the candidate’s soft skills, as it is much harder to coach behavioural issues than to teach the technical aspects of a job. Fernández-Aráoz says: “People who fail in a new job, mostly do so because of their inability to develop proper relationships, not only with their boss, but also with their peers and subordinates.”

In order to assess relational skills and emotional talents, Lynn suggests using behaviour-based and reflection questions. For example: “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker and how you resolved it.” The aim is to find out whether the candidate blames others for his mistakes, whether he rationalises his behaviour, or accepts responsibility.

Lynn says this approach will give you a much clearer guide as to how someone will behave in the future.

It is important not to leave new staff to sink or swim, the correct introductory approach will help you get immediate value from your new recruit. The key element here is expectation-setting, says Lynn, “Especially with knowledge workers and younger workers, there is a strong need to communicate both expectations of performance and behaviour.”

Even if you follow all the correct rules, it is still possible to end up with the wrong person in the job, and if you suspect a poor fit, proceed carefully. Lynn says you should start by asking others to corroborate your opinion, discreetly asking if they see the situation in the same light. Once you have identified where the mismatch is, ask if the problem is coachable.

She says: “Unless it is a terrible breach of values, generally coaching and reiterating behaviour and performance expectations should be the first step. Provide feedback to the new hire early and lay out a plan for the problem areas. If the issues persist, consider finding a more appropriate role within the organisation.”

In the worst cases, firing may be the only option, particularly if the problem is not coachable, if you are unwilling to invest in further coaching, or if the error or behaviour is intolerable. But it should be your last resort. Fernández-Aráoz says: “Most likely as the hiring manager you have a large share of responsibility for the mistake, and thus should never fire a person without thoughtful consideration. If you have to let someone go, take a hard look at the hiring process you used and figure out how to change it next time round.”

Do:

• Identify the competencies the ideal candidate needs

• Ask interview questions that uncover the drivers behind the candidate’s past and future behaviour

• Give the new hire early performance feedback

Don’t:

• Prioritise technical skills over relational ones

• Assume you have made a bad hire without checking your perceptions with others

• Immediately move to termination, without first considering coaching or transferring

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