Can You Turn Around Your Bad Hire?

A new hire that isn't working out can be devastating. We ask the vital questions, and offer up tips, on how you can turn things around.
Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed
August 21, 2012

Imagine this situation: your first few employees are fitting in perfectly but then one day you realize that your newest hire may have been a mistake. Cue feelings of dread and sleep loss.

Sound familiar? If so, you are not alone.

“This is a typical scenario in small businesses,” says Patricia Hunt Sinacole, founder and CEO of First Beacon Group, an HR consulting firm in Hopkinton, Mass. “There is usually such a great need to hire the ideal candidate that entrepreneurs almost see them through rose-colored glasses and make a decision without fully vetting the person.”

Put down the pink slip. Not all bad hires are hopeless. Many can be turned into valuable members of your company with a few small tweaks.

Here are some questions to help evaluate the situation, and for tips on how you can turn them around.

How often do you communicate with them? Feedback is vital, both positive and negative. Make it your daily routine to quickly check in with your newbie and comment on things they did right and wrong, suggests Sinacole. Don’t wait for the 30-day performance review.

“Employees aren’t mind readers; they don’t know what you are thinking,” she says. “Feedback is a gift.”

Also, ask how they’d like you to communicate with them, recommends Sinacole. Some like face-to-face conversations while others prefer e-mail correspondence.

What type of support do they need? If a new hire is lagging in a certain area, say filling out a report in Excel, it might just be that they need an Excel refresher course. You won’t know unless you ask.

What training have you given them? Training doesn't always end that first day, or first week, on the job. Here's an example of how continued training turned a lackluster new employee into a star team member.

About 10 months ago, Chris Anderson, founder of Breezi, a virtual Website building platform in Berkeley, Calif., was excited to welcome Dan* as his new customer-service manager. Dan had excellent credentials and seemed to be a perfect cultural fit.

A few weeks into his employment, though, Dan started showing signs of lagging performance. He wasn’t responding to customer calls in a timely fashion and when he did respond, he wasn’t relaying correct information. Having already taken him through some training, Anderson was worried.

“I didn’t want to fire him right away, so we tried being more hands on in our approach, having daily meetings with him and going through—step-by-step—examples of exactly how things were to be done,” he says.

Within two months, Dan was showing signs of improvement. Today he is a valued member of the team, says Anderson, noting that customers frequently comment on the company’s Facebook page to applaud Dan’s exemplary customer service abilities.

Have you spoken to other employees about them? Peers often see things that small-business owners are not privy to, says Sinacole. Tell your new hire (preferably in the interview process) that you will be asking for feedback from his or her co-workers, customers, vendors and anyone else who they will come in contact with on the job. The feedback you receive may be encouraging and point out areas where the new worker is excelling without your knowledge.

What is their personal communication style? “Most people judge others by their own communication style; someone who is quiet may be judged to be complacent or not excited about the job when that may be completely untrue,” says Denise Altman, founder of Altman Initiative Group, a business consultancy in Denver, N.C.

Respect the way others communicate, and get things out in the open. It can solve future miscommunications. 

Do you know the difference between a "bad hire with potential" and a "bad hire that needs to be fired"? Sinacole poses a single question to small-business owners faced with this situation. “I ask my clients, ‘If you had the opportunity, knowing what you know now, would you re-hire this person? If the answer is no, you need to re-think this,’” she says.

Attitude is another indication. If your employee is receptive to feedback, is a good cultural fit and willing to learn, he or she may be worth the extra effort. But if they exhibit a lackluster attitude, don’t jive with other employees and aren’t turning assignments in on time, you may have a real ‘bad hire’ on your hands, says Anderson.

He adds, “It’s better to cut your losses and move on. It can negatively impact team morale and productivity if you keep bad apples around for too long.”

*Name has been changed

Photo credit: Thinkstock