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Hire Slow; Fire Fast

WestJet-employee-engagement

In the work I do with companies, I am frequently asked to help coach leaders who have a problem employee. I often hear from the leader that the problem employee has an important job – and one that is very difficult to replace with a qualified person. The second thing I often hear is that they have to put someone in the job even though they haven’t got the right candidate. 

What an interesting challenge. Do we keep someone in the job, even though they are very disruptive to everyone around them? 

My questions to the coachee are always the same:

  • What is it costing you to keep this person on the job?
  • Who is at risk of leaving because of their disruptive behavior?
  • What impact might this person be having on your customers?
  • What is the message to others in the company if this type of behavior is tolerated?

I am sure many of you can come up with other key questions to ask in this situation. However, the bottom line is the same for me. When confronted with this situation, take action quickly. 

Hire Slow Fire FastOn the first example of abhorrent behavior, sit down with the employee and be very specific in your feedback. Make it clear that this isn’t acceptable. Don’t dance around the details. Doing so will only expose you as being weak in your approach and in your resolve that the company culture is important.  

Many companies get caught up in the documentation and concern about firing without cause versus having a solid case for a with-cause dismissal. While this is important, I think there is another, more important, perspective to take. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Have I done everything I can to help this employee make the changes needed to be a valued employee?
  • If I asked the employee whether they have been treated fairly, what would they say?
  • When I need to make the final step and dismiss the employee, am I able to say that I hold no residual anger and that the employee knows why they were let go?
  • Will others view the dismissal as justified, fair, and as what is best for the team overall?

Severance costs are never easy to pay out but I bet most of you will conclude that the hidden costs of keeping the person around exceed the actual severance payout.

This brings us to the second scenario noted in my introductory remarks. Are you in a position where your ability to make effective hiring decisions is compromised by the urgency you see in filling the job? If so, think of the situation discussed above. 

If you hire too quickly, what are the chances that you will have to terminate later? What will the impact be on the team if you bring in someone who is not qualified? Not a fit with the team? Not a good person to have around? 

Guarding your culture and sending a message that it matters and that all employees deserve a great place to work is far more important than whether or not you fill a position immediately. I will bet you that other employees will offer to work overtime, to go above and beyond if that is what it takes to get a good person. 

Finally, hire for fit with the culture, with the boss, and with the team. If you have to go short on the skills, that’s okay; those can be learned. But as Tom Peters once told me: “Dwight if I can give you one piece of advice, hire nice. You can’t train nice.”


Workplace Engagement Insights will help your organization build a high performance culture of engaged employees and great leaders. Get a free consultation with me to discuss your business needs.

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Written by Dwight Lacey

Dwight Lacey

Dwight is the President at Workplace Engagement Insights. He leads Workplace Engagement Insights with a clear understanding of the latest employee engagement research, survey best practices, and leadership styles that create successful businesses.

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