“I’ve never made a hiring mistake,” proudly proclaimed a senior business executive that I cornered at a recent cocktail party. I guess the look on my face highlighted my skepticism and he asked, “What, don’t you believe me?”
It’s not that I didn’t believe him, rather I had the voice of former GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch in my head saying, “New managers are lucky to get hiring right half the time…and, even executives with decades of experience will tell you that they make the right calls 75% of the time at best.”
Still, I wondered had this executive figured out the secret to perfect hiring? Was there an approach I could glean from him that would give me access to this utopia? Or, was he making the mistake that is often repeated in the management ranks: neither admitting to nor dealing with hiring mistakes?
Look, making hiring decisions is difficult at best. Welch writes, “Hiring great people is brutally hard.” And, leaders often get it wrong. The Harvard Business review cites studies that peg the failure rate of executives coming into new companies at anywhere from 30% to 40% after 18 months.
So, chances are you will make a bad hire (or several) during your career. The key is to recognize the error and to move quickly to correct it. The Matiss Group writes, “Most hiring managers will make at least one hiring mistake sometime in their career. That’s fine, maybe even encouraged. What isn’t okay is not correcting the mistake.”
The costs of hiring mistakes are enormous — in time, wasted and duplicated recruiting fees, missed business objectives, unproductive employees, and distracted colleagues. It’s a significant but mostly invisible drain on corporate productivity.
Another significant cost is the loss of your credibility. When your “mistakes” aren’t doing their jobs, it invariably puts a strain on the whole team and makes work harder for everyone else. Resentment towards the under performers, and towards you for hiring them, builds up.
So given the costs, why don’t those who make a mistake own it and work to make it right? Most managers don’t because they fear looking stupid and worry that admitting they made a hiring mistake is career suicide. However, any company worth its salt will reward managers when they acknowledge they’ve made a wrong hire, and swiftly repair the damage. Indeed, recognizing mistakes, and fixing them boldly, builds a manager’s credibility. Hoping against hope that the mistake will go away does the opposite.
What often happens is that the hiring manager procrastinates for too many months before taking action. They argue that the employee needs time to understand the organization and figure things out. But as JetBlue Airways CEO, Joel Peterson writes, “You’ll usually know something’s wrong in the first 90 days.” The consulting group, Continental Inc., goes further and says, “If they didn’t perform well during the first 90 days, they will never get any better.” So hoping that the performance of a new employee will improve with time is often just throwing good money after bad.
So, you’ve made a hiring mistake, what should you do:
- First, recognize the mistake and put a plan together to quickly remedy the issue.
- Work with your HR and legal teams to insure the dismissal process to be used complies with all company and legal requirements.
- Don’t blame the person who persuaded you that he/she was right for the job. Break the news candidly; take responsibility for what went wrong.
- Make a fair financial arrangement; you never know where a hiring mistake will end up – maybe even as a potential customer.
- Review with the others involved in the hiring process what went wrong. If you used an outside recruitment agency, have an open discussion so they can better serve your needs in the future. Try to figure out if there were clues that were simply missed during the recruitment process. Let this be a learning moment for you and your organization.
I’m sure the executive I mentioned in the opening will run into his share of hiring mistakes. I hope that he’s smart enough to handle them and move on. The stakes will be high…this is no time to bury your head in the sand.
How about you? I’d love to hear one of your stories.