[How to Fire Someone] 5 Ways You Can “Hire Wrong”

Like the obese man who can’t understand how he’s gaining weight as he grabs a diet Coke to go with his triple Big Mac and large fries, one of the easiest ways to fire someone – like dieting incorrectly – is to hire wrong: right person hired into the wrong culture, wrong role, wrong supervisor, wrong time, or wrong skill set.

And who bears the biggest brunt of this wrong selection? Usually the candidate looking for a job, not the person who hired them.

An earlier Part 1 post – [How to Fire Someone] The Termination – explored what to say to someone when it’s time to end the employment relationship. The short story of that Part 1 post – be brief, specific and authentic when doing so: the goal should be to provide as much dignity to the fired employee as possible.

Here are five ways – and things you can do to avoid them – to “hiring wrong” and starting new hires down the path to get fired even before they start at job:

Wrong supervisor : Are you the type of boss who keeps things close to the vest and you just hired someone who works best with as much information as possible? If so, you’ve started down a road to help hobble the person’s chances to be highly successful working for you.

Are you also, as a supervisor, someone who constantly changes things up and you’ve just hired a “sure and steady” – give them a direction and let them go do it? Same answer: you’ve matched yourself incorrectly and will negatively impact your new hire as you change thoughts and directions on the hour with someone whose strength is in more constant direction.

Solution: Make sure the people you hire have styles that are compatible with yours. They may not be a perfect match, but “able to work with the boss” is a big deal of you want to hire people who work out well.

Wrong role: While it’s true that a number of folks can fill a number of roles well, it’s also true that the first role for someone with a firm is a key to later success. Perform poorly in that first role and later opportunities with most firms likely never happen. Do well and you’ve generally bought yourself time and tenure with the new shop: new hires seldom get a second chance – longer tenured times have that option any number of times.

That’s why the first role with a new organization is so critical. So when making that external hire, while it’s tempting to think about future optionality, make sure that the candidates will get traction and be successful in that first role.

Solution: Hire people into roles where they have a fighting chance of doing well. Hiring people into “iffy” roles – things that are a stretch for the core competencies – is dicey: along with needing to hit the mark in the role, the new hires have to learn the new supervisor’s style, learn the new culture, and fit in with all the other aspects on a new hire’s plate.

Right culture: Distinct organizations have a distinct feel; values, myths and ways of doing things, and the differences are not only across sectors, but also within the same businesses. And one key to making sure a new hire gets started on the right foot is that they are someone who can effectively navigate the culture into which they are being hired.

Have an energy / oil industry candidate who works well in command-and-control but not well in consensus and consent? Send them to ExxonMobil, where the former style prevails. Have someone like the latter? Point them to Chevron, where the organization tends to build direction and consensus and where effective leaders use position and leadership skills, rather than simply organizational hierarchy power to get things done.

Solution: Hire people who have evidenced the ability to work in a variety of cultures or in cultures similar to the new shops. Avoid thinking that people can be highly successful in all cultures: it’s a myth, and seldom true.

Wrong time: Candidates, particularly those in leadership roles, can have best and worst times in terms of tenure. One example is the need for organizations undergoing change and transition to have hire in people who have a higher tolerance for ambiguity and the ability to adapt to rather than people who struggle with more dynamic settings. It may be a total cheap shot, but my hunch is that the DMV AP clerk who works well in that setting may not be the person to hire into an organization about to embark on a move to SAP accounting systems.

At the leadership level the need to hire candidates who can work well in the new organization’s current or about-to-be state is even more pronounced. While most effective leaders today have some ability to work in different conditions (steady state, change and transition, mergers and acquisitions, business process reengineering, etc.). The Winston Churchill hired during placid times may look a lot like Dwight Eisenhower: good governor but mostly forgettable. Hire him during times of stress and transition and he looks like Winston Churchill. Easy more relevant examples are people who work well in start-ups (“build and launch” environments) and people who work well in more developed and mature organizations (“maintain and refine” conditions) – many times there are not the same types of people.

Solution: Be mindful of where the organization is, and where the organization is going when making the new hire decision. There are people who work well in steady state, and there are people who work well during start-up and build: they are often different types of people.

Wrong Skill Set: Skills span a broad set of abilities, ranging from domain expertise (technical smarts specific to the function), interpersonal, organizational, and cultural abilities. The key to knowing what to look for in candidates is to understand what the organization values today or is the process of valuing tomorrow?

Years ago I was hired into a senior role with McKesson because of my track record of success being innovative, leading change and transition efforts, and business focused. What resulted was a bad mismatch as the organization I was hired into was stubbornly fixated on maintaining the status quo, and preserving a culture that was insulated and internally focused as a corporate headquarters operation. The skill sets I brought were not valued and not wanted.

Solution: Be clear about what you need, what you want, and what you can tolerate as an organizations. Like the adage about the chicken and the pig and the eggs and bacon breakfast – the chicken is interested but the pig is committed – clarity about what a candidate brings in terms of skills and abilities and whether you can actually use those attributes is a key to getting the most out of and for your. Hiring a candidate with great skills but not ones you can use is a waste for the organization and likely a misuse of a candidates abilities.