The Hidden Cost of Retaining a Bad Hire

Avoid This Huge Mistake with a Bad Hire

As a human-centered leader, you might just be tempted to hold onto an obviously bad hire too long.

And, holding onto a bad hire (after you’ve done all you can) is one of the biggest leadership mistakes you can make.

We see so many managers hold on to false hope, increasing the agony for everyone.

The Bad Hire Question I’ve Asked Hundreds of Times

“When did you know he was a bad hire?”

“Pretty much from day 1.”

“And when did you first have a frank conversation about your concerns?”

“Err… yesterday.”

“And now you want to terminate them?

“Yeah, I mean it’s been a performance issue for a really long time. He’s got to go!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this scene play out–both in my HR exec days and now in the frustrations of our clients looking to add more rigor to their performance management processes.

The worst mistake you can make with a bad hire is being overly patient and withholding important conversations.

Why are so many people overly patient with a bad new hire?

Well first off, we hired them, and it’s just freaking awkward that they’re this bad.

So we convince ourselves they’ll be okay, and hold our breath and wait.

Or, we know how hard it can be in a new job … so we just give them time and space to get better and assume it will all work out. All the time sending the message that their performance is just fine.

Of course, most people don’t hit the ground running overnight.

But if you’re REALLY worried after the first few customer interactions or they just don’t seem to pick up anything you’re putting down, don’t wait too long.

Better to lose the diaper drama as early in the game as possible– and tell your bad hire the truth (see more about diaper drama in our video interview). 

Or, even better watch our kid explain it 😉 (worth the watch and yup he’s heard it that many times).

5 Reasons to Be Real With Your Bad Hire

If you’re looking for a bit of courage and inspiration to be real with your bad hire here you go.

1. They’re As Frustrated As You Are

No one starts a new job with the intention of really screwing it up. If it’s not working out, it’s likely they’re more frustrated than you are.

It’s a good idea to be having “How’s it going?” conversations with all your new hires--and particularly those who are struggling.

A few conversation starters:

  • Why did you choose to work here? What most attracted you to this company/job?
  • Is the job what you expected it to be? Why or why not?
  • What do you find most satisfying with this role? What is most frustrating?
  • Where do you need some extra support?

2. You’ve Got a Limited Window to Clarify Expectations

Don’t assume you’ve been perfectly clear with your expectations.

If you wait too long to articulate and reinforce your standards, your new hire is likely to assume you just aren’t that serious, or that what he or she is doing is acceptable.

It’s fine to give some time to ramp up to be at full performance–but you always want to be reinforcing the end-goal and what success looks like.

I can’t you how many times I’ve had crying employees in my HR office saying,

“But my supervisor never told me …” And the truth is, often there was some truth to that. Be sure expectations are clear.

3. Bad Habits Are Hard To Break

Enough said. Be clear about the most important behaviors for achieving success, and reinforce those until they become a habit.

What you tolerate, your bad new hire will assume it’s fine to replicate.

You get more of what you celebrate and less of what you ignore.

4. Your “A Players” Are Taking Notes

If the new guy comes in and gets away with less than productive behaviors, you will instantly lose credibility with your strong performers. Even if they’re strong in other ways (see also our perspective on arrogant high performers).

5. HR Can Help

Your HR team can help you get extra resources to support your new hire’s success.

AND, they can also help you deliver (and document) the conversations you are having. I’ve never met an HR professional who complained about being notified too early about a problem.

The best way to give a bad new hire (and your team) the best chance of success is to be real with them as early in the game as possible and work together to a brighter bolder future for everyone involved.

Related: How to Lead Highly Productive Teams