What to Do When You Realize You Made a Bad Hiring Decision

What should you do when you come to the stark realization you have hired someone who, once they are on your team, is not the right person for the job? First of all, remind yourself that nobody intentionally makes a bad hiring decision but for various reasons, they do happen (always have and always will).

In my years as a security industry search consultant when discussing the solution to making a bad hire with HR professionals, security and business executives, a large majority agree on the solution. Within three to six months, and sometimes sooner, you will know if you have made a bad choice. An even larger majority agreed that you should cut your losses as soon as you realize the hiring error. In rare instances organizations have been able to turn a hiring mistake around, usually at the cost of many man-hours and other resources. The overall consensus is to face the reality and move on. Holding on tight and hoping it will get better means more frustration and angst. Understand fault generally lies on both sides and just move on.

Cut The Cord

A senior HR executive once told me: “Ideally, you move-on as soon as possible, cut the cord. Trust what your gut is telling you and if it says this isn’t going to work your instinct is probably correct.”

However, correcting a hiring mistake swiftly can be difficult in today’s environment because of organizational complexities, egos and laws. Sometimes it takes the skill of a lifelong diplomat to convince the rest of the executive team a mistake was made in hiring (especially if they were part of the hiring process and signed off on bringing the person in question on board). One company executive told a fairly common story where he got stuck with a particularly bad hire: “A situation I faced involved a security management professional who was hired with the involvement of other departmental heads. I knew a mistake had been made within the first few weeks of this hire. This security manager was satisfying the needs and agendas of those other constituencies in the hiring process but couldn’t fully do the job as we needed – and I was the only one who saw it on a daily basis. In this situation half the executive team had supported a new hire, but couldn’t see his lack of performance like my team could. It took two years to manage his exit. By then, the damage was done.”

Use Outside Resources

As mentioned earlier, sometimes with the proper support and resources salvaging of a bad hire can be accomplished. Various assessment tools are extremely effective to obtain concrete feedback from others and address performance issues. One executive I spoke with said, “clearly communicate expectations and needed areas of improvement, define key performance indicators to achieve performance objectives, document all activity and ongoing progress, and genuinely work with the individual to help them embrace the role and deliver desired results.” However, if the issues are style or cultural match exclusively, it is harder to coach someone to fit into the organization. At times, circumstances change that are beyond the individual’s control. Examples that come to mind are when the person is assigned a new manager, a new leader has a different strategic vision, the company is sold or makes an acquisition and suddenly the newly hired security management executive is not a fit. One executive recalled hiring a Director of Security who was a superb fit both culturally and technically. However, six months after he joined, the company acquired another with extensive international operations. The new Director of Security had no international experience and would not have been qualified for his role in the now global company. The company and the individual used coaching, added support, and training to allow the individual to keep and excel in his expanded role.

Transition Roles

Others suggested moving the employee into another function or position that might provide a better fit. The consensus is that this works occasionally. For example, if there is a personality conflict with the hiring manager but there is a comparable security role in another region or business unit, it is possible to successfully transition the person. However, “most companies don’t offer second chances” one executive emphasized. It’s possible that another position in the organization might be a better fit for the personality and skills of the employee, so consider making a good faith effort to identify one. But watch out that you don’t just move your problems to someone else – that is unethical and will destroy your credibility in the long run.

Learn From Your Past

What was your mistake? Was it hiring too fast? Did you ignore red flags along the way because you personally liked the individual? Wowed by a record of past success so you ignored cultural fit? Was there inadequate due diligence performed? Most of the hiring authorities I work with agree that many of their hiring mistakes proved to be an opportunity to re-examine their hiring process. And yes, you do need a structured hiring process that defines what you are seeking, aligns the interview team, includes behavioral based interviewing and ensures due diligence.

Acknowledge that a perfect score of 100% on new hires is unrealistic and won’t be accomplished over the long-term.

On those occasions where you do make those mistakes, don’t be afraid to admit them. Just try to avoid repeating them.

David Lammert

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