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Lessons Learned About Hiring + Firing

FILED IN: Behind-the-Scenes, M&G Happenings, Unboxing the Business

Posted By: Jamie Kutchman

While having employees is one of the absolute best parts of business ownership, it can also be one of the most challenging. The pressure to not hire too quickly but also not lose growth momentum by waiting too long to hire and scale. The pressure to recruit amazing candidates when larger businesses have deeper pockets and inherent perks that you may not be able to offer just yet as a small business. The pressure to have employees work out once you’ve hired them even if they’re not really working out as you’d hoped.

This last challenge is what I want to talk about today:

1) how to increase the likelihood that new team members work out once they’re hired and

2) how to handle things when employees sadly don’t work out.

I’ve learned a thing or two about this over the years and hope that sharing can be helpful to those of you struggling with the same thing.

Hire Cautiously

There is nothing more dangerous than making a spontaneous hire before the business is ready. The cash flow needs to be there. The job description needs to be crystal clear and well thought out. And the need for this new person should be apparent per an ongoing period of time, not just once in a while.

In other words, make sure the role is a must have rather than a nice to have. You’ve taken the time to map out what success looks like for this new person.

Ask Hard Questions

Do not skip the hard questions in interviews. And by hard questions, I mean the scenario-based, behavioral type of questions. It may sound cliché but in a small business, problem solving is absolutely essential with every single person you hire since you likely don’t have redundancy at every position.

One of my favorite questions that helps me predict if someone will be a good fit is this one: “Tell me about the biggest workplace disaster you’ve ever experienced. What went wrong and how did you contribute to the solution?”

For this question, if someone describes the type of disaster that is similar is scope and severity to something your own team has had to deal with, then you immediately know that they’re used to working under the same level of pressure and can relate to the level of expectations of problem solving. Similarly, you can also assess the lengths they went to in order to solve a problem and whether or not it meets your expectations.

On the flip side, if they answer this by saying “The copy machine got jammed and I unplugged it and plugged it back in and it worked,” then you know they’re either not prepared for the interview or that the depth of experience may not align with what you’re looking for.

Downplay the Positive

Ordinarily you never want to downplay the positives, but hear me out. When interviewing, sure, you need to sell yourself, your brand, and your team. But do that only to an extent. Focus instead on outlining the possible things that they may not like about the job.

Having someone end up as a good fit should be the number one goal and if you outline the things that aren’t quite perfect or not necessarily ideal and they still want to join the team, then you have a far greater likelihood of them staying on for the long run.

Examples I’ve given in the past are the following: “We have SOPs here for everything but as a small business, things are in flux. So if you don’t like change, then this might not be for you.” or “This is a creative business but the bulk of the work we do in a day isn’t necessarily creative. It’s a lot of number crunching, logistical things to figure out, being responsive to client requests, managing inventory, etc. Beautiful gift boxes just happen to be the result of a lot of non-pretty work, but if you don’t like the back-end work, this might not be for you.”

Pay close attention to their reactions to these types of statements. Some faces will drop while others will raise and light up even further and you’ll immediately know “good fit” or “not a good fit.”  No one wants to come onboard at a new job and find that it’s not a good fit.

Candidates will appreciate your candor and unwillingness to waste their time and your own.

Don’t Sugarcoat Feedback

Once on the job, feedback is essential. Despite the most thorough of interviews and training programs, people will still need feedback and coaching to completely “get it.”

Offer feedback often. Stress that feedback in a normal part of your process and let them know to expect it and that it does not mean they’re doing anything wrong.

I prefer to set new candidates free to work as independently as possible as early as possible and offer feedback along the way rather than looking over their shoulder and hand-holding for a long period of time.

Trust me, the set them free and offer feedback helps them learn and develop confidence a whole lot faster. You may worry that the feedback will hurt confidence but I’ve found it has the opposite effect as long as you let them know what to expect from you ahead of time.

If You Must Cut Ties, Do It Quickly

There are times when you’ve conducted multiple rounds of in-depth interviews and you’re certain you have the right candidate. Yet, when they come on board it doesn’t click. And I don’t mean personalities don’t click. I mean that they’re not able to actually do the job they were hired to do.

After thoughtful and ample feedback, they still are not working out, then it’s best to cut ties quickly. This is not only good for the business, but also for the new team member. Chances are they know it isn’t right and may be too embarrassed or shy to come to you and admit it.

By creating an environment where they haven’t failed, but instead it isn’t a good fit, allows both parties to move on. It’s always tough when these things happen but they do happen and you learn from them each time and get better as you go.

Don’t Trade Good For Bad

Saving the best for last. This one is the toughest lessons I’ve had to learn in nine years of owning a business. If you have a team member who does good things or has an amazing work ethic, you may be inclined to overlook some of the negative traits they have. And this normal because no one is perfect. And maybe their positive traits are ones that you view as really important – work ethic, intelligence, willingness to go the extra mile, etc.

But if their negative traits are ones that endanger your company culture, then you must take it seriously. Do not wait. Do not ignore it. Do not bargain with yourself that the good work they do makes up for the ways in which they harm your work environment. You have to part ways and part ways quickly.

Maintaining your company culture that you’ve worked so hard to build is far more valuable than one employee who is a hard worker. It’s difficult to interview for some of these more dangerous traits and so don’t beat yourself up if it happens. Part ways on as positive terms as possible and begin to witness the improvements in the work environment I bet you’ll begin seeing immediately.

Running a small business is hard. Having employees is hard. Give yourself some grace that you’re not going to be perfect from the beginning. In fact, you’re never going to reach perfection. But you can continue to learn and grow and minimize the challenges as much as possible when it comes to hiring, managing, and sometimes even parting ways with team members.

Image: Elis Llinares Photography
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