Hire Slowly, Fire Fast, Part 2

Ten More Ways to Make Sure You Bring on the Right Talent in 2008

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Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
I obviously hit a nerve with my last posting on why you should take your time in the interviewing process. And be swift and decisive if you make a hiring mistake.

Two things stood out. Some of you thought asking for 15 references was excessive. "Absurd" is how one reader responded. The second thing I want to address is more tips on firing fast. How to realize you've made a hiring mistake. How long you should give it before making up your mind. What steps to take to end the employment.

But before that, back to the 15 references for a moment. I want to clarify what I meant when I recommended the following: "Don't ask for the usual three references. You know who they're gonna give you: colleagues that have become friends. Instead, ask for 15 names you can call -- former supervisors, peers, and those that have worked under them. How many people can produce 15 people (yes, 15) that will say something good about them? Simple: the truly talented ones."

I'm not suggesting that you actually call all 15 references. Frankly, no one has extra time to do that. Plus, speaking to all 15 references is not necessary; you'll quickly get a sense of who the candidate is once you've spoken to a handful. The real strategy of asking for 15 is to avoid having the candidate simply produce the usual three people who know and love the candidate. Often, those references have a social as well as a business relationship with the candidate. Or, they empathize if the candidate is out of work, so they want to help by saying good things. Or the candidate called the three references and personally asked them for permission to use their names. Flattered, and suddenly feeling responsible, most of these references don't want to disappoint the candidate. Challenged to go 15 deep, you have to offer up those who you reported to, worked with, and supervised -- some of whom will be more objective. I prefer to have a list and then pick my own five or six to speak with.

Make sense?

On to "Firing Fast:"
  1. Listen. Is the new hire on the same page as you and your company? Have a sit down early in the honeymoon and listen for how he/she is syncing up with your internal and external teams.

  2. Measure. You need to establish criteria for success, just as you would with a client. Determine the five or six criteria that allows you to determine, quantitatively, if he/she is succeeding. Review it after 30 days of joining the agency.

  3. Seek anecdotal feedback. Walk the halls. Talk to his/her staff. Peers. You'll know quickly if it's working. This may be your best source for early warning signs.

  4. Ask your clients how the new hire's doing. This may be your second-best source. I say 'second' because clients are often more forgiving of a new hire than his/her internal peers.

  5. Monitor behavior. Is he/she living your values? A strong culture weeds out bad hires.

  6. Remember the interview. Is the candidate exceeding/meeting/below expectations? Is he/she delivering on the promises made? When the performance under-delivers compared to the award-winning interview, then you should be wary.

  7. Two strikes. In this ballgame, two big whiffs and you're out. We're all guilty of wanting to give someone the benefit of the doubt. But it's been my experience that if you are doing all of the things listed above, and the new hire disappoints twice (assuming he/she was spoken to after the first screw-up), then chances are, the pattern will continue. I've waited for the third and fourth times -- and regretted it every time.

  8. Give him/her a chance to improve. This goes back to number 7: be clear about why you were disappointed regarding the performance, and what kind of results you expect going forward.

  9. 30-day probation. When there's smoke, there's often fire right behind. Give the new hire 30 days to correct course, and you'll know if it's possible to save the new employee. Sixty- and 90-day probations merely prolong the situation. Worse, it can demoralize the rest of the staff because it appears as though management tolerates sub-standard performance.

  10. Outta here! Trust your research and your gut, and be decisive. Be like The Donald and fire the individual quickly. It's tough to do. But you, your agency, and your clients will be better for it. Just don't do it during the holidays!
Hope this is helpful. And may all of your staffing issues be easier in 2008!
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