How Some Hires Fail
"Effective hiring represents 95% of a manager's success," according to Brian Tracy, a leading American authority on the development of human potential. By contrast, Lou Adler, a recruiting specialist noted for realism, thinks that 70% to 80% is more accurate. But regardless of the actual percentage, successful hiring is without doubt a significant component of business success.
Accordingly our past articles have addressed many issues pertaining to successfully attracting, hiring, and retaining the human capital to propel your business forward. But this time, for a change, we turn our attention to hiring episodes that are unsuccessful or don’t turn out as expected either by the employer or the employee. We will also discuss how to forestall some of the myriad circumstances that can cause this failure to occur.
Tactical versus strategic approach
Most companies use a hiring system that is designed to fill specific jobs--amounting to a tactical outlook. In other words, the company needs to fill a particular position, so they do it, plain and simple. Using this model, hiring managers often want to hire based on skills and experience that relate directly to the specific job requirements. Not only is this tactical approach valid, but it is also very common. At PrintLink we see it all the time: employers come to us with a job description plus a shopping list of requirements they’re seeking in a candidate, usually a particular combination of skills, experience, and education. And because they are paying us to fill the position, they expect us to procure them a candidate who possesses all the ingredients on their list. Again, a tactical outlook.
But here is the inherent dilemma: companies want to hire based on skills and experience, yet top job seekers will most readily accept a job based on challenges and opportunities. Certainly, more desirable candidates may also accept a less challenging position, even one that is essentially the same as what they are already doing--if, say, the new employer offers a better work environment than their present place of employment, or is situated nearer their home, or has more convenient work hours. But even if both parties’ intentions are honorable at the outset, unfortunately for the employer, once the honeymoon period is over, the excellent candidate’s tenure may be short-lived because the job only offers the candidate the same old same old. Thus it becomes evident that in some cases a purely tactical hiring approach can result in poor retention of an excellent candidate and therefore ultimately a failed hire. Additionally, it becomes clear that the tactical approach may prove to be merely reactive--as in merely filling empty job slots--instead of proactive--as in securing employees who will be of greatest long-term benefit to the company.
In contrast to the tactical approach, the strategic approach runs something like this:
- Make sure you really need to fill the position and know the job requirements.
- Take a comprehensive look at gaps in expertise that could benefit your business both short and long term.
- Review your company’s succession plan for key positions.
- When hiring, take numbers 1, 2, and 3 into account and think outside the box—or in this case, shopping list.
Also in keeping with the strategic versus tactical approach, try to incorporate into the job description other significant information beyond the nuts and bolts of the job’s day-to-day requirements. Provide a reflection of the company outlook, as well as the nuances that demonstrate to good candidates that a position with your company offers long-term potential and advancement. Then during the interview process make sure that you clearly outline the company’s expectations for both the position and the person who fills it again.
Sticking to the plan versus changing your mind
Behind every hire is an initial plan of some description. But the reality is that, no matter how carefully or strategically you hire, the hire may still fail simply because the plan needs revision or breaks down entirely. Sometimes, for example, your new hire forms part of a new direction for your company—and that is a progression that must be monitored. And sometimes, through no fault of the hiring decision or the candidate, the new direction just doesn’t prove to be viable. So the position is eliminated and there is no other place within your company for the employee to go, or, even if there is, the employee may decline the other role. Similarly, sometimes once new hires start performing their new job, they may discover that either the position or the company or both don’t offer the right fit or career path after all.
The above examples highlight the fact that hiring is, firstly, a two-way street and, secondly, it functions a lot like no-fault insurance: something adverse can happen even though everyone involved has the best of intentions and follows all the rules.
An audience member at PrintLink’s recent Graph Expo presentation asked us whether some hires failed over communication issues and whether the fault lay with the employer or employee. The answer is yes, and the problem can arise on either side. Certainly a hire sometimes fails because before hiring a company has not clearly defined the position, performance expectations, or the critical issues the new hire will have to face. On the other hand, sometimes overzealous job-seekers exaggerate their experience and skills during courtship, only to find themselves overwhelmed once they’re married to the job.
Either type of miscommunication between employer and employee almost always results in a parting of the ways. And while we hesitate to go so far as calling it misrepresentation, it is often perceived as such by the injured party (either the employer or the employee)--so should be avoided at all costs.
As an antidote, hiring managers need to present job candidates with a complete picture and, whenever possible, make sure potential employees get a full tour of the facility. In a recent, nearly ideal situation where we were helping a company hire a shift supervisor, both the employer and the front-running candidate desired a preview of how they might work together--meaning prior, mutual, on-the-job experience before the typical 3-month trial period for most new hires. In this case, the top candidate happened not to be employed at the time, so was available to job-shadow for a week to experience the work environment firsthand and interact with the staff.
It turned out that both parties were happy with the experience, and it culminated in a successful hire. This one example doesn’t mean that prior on-the-job exposure guarantees a successful hire—but it certainly helps. Of course, it cannot happen in many situations for a variety of reasons; for example, a confidential hire. The main point is that in every scenario both parties should do everything possible to ensure they aren’t wearing rose-colored glasses when assessing their potential fit.
Relocation & travel factors
When candidates need to relocate in order to take a position, a major consideration before hiring is how relocation will affect their family. Do family members want to move – or can they? Has the family fully researched the new location? Are they genuinely interested in moving, or just verbally supporting the person who has just been offered a great job? And regardless of how much research or psychological preparation they may have done, they still must face the actual logistics and aftermath of the move. A hire can fail if the family just isn’t happy in the new place. So again, while everyone involved may be well intentioned, sometimes the reality of moving can fall short of anything anticipated.
Job travel is also a complicating issue. Just as with relocation, if a job requires considerable travel, the new hire’s family needs to be okay with it. And after employees who are new to travel get a taste of life on the road, it may not turn out to be a lifestyle they’re willing to adopt permanently.
Employee performance failure
Sometimes there are reasons why an employee’s performance during the 3-month trial period didn’t meet expectations, so it’s important to discuss the discrepancy with the employee openly. You may think you made the initial hiring decision for all the right reasons and set expectations appropriately—but what if you didn’t? If not, there’s a chance to extend the trial period or make other minor adjustments that may spell the difference between a failed hire and a successful one. Another example involves a candidate who was hired by a company to perform a specific job. However, it soon became apparent that the candidate wasn’t able to fulfill all the requirements of that specific position—yet did have other wonderful attributes and abilities that could be channeled differently to the company’s benefit. So the company decided to keep the candidate on—but in a slightly different capacity than originally planned—and the candidate agreed to the switch. Of course, there are times when you simply must dismiss employees for inadequate performance during their trial period. But the moral of the story is to look before you leap to avoid discarding a potentially valuable staff member in whom you’ve already made a considerable investment.
The cost of hiring and, more importantly, mishiring can be astronomical. So it’s critical to follow basic protocol wisely and methodically both before and after hiring. Specifically, hiring managers must fully understand the vacant position and company requirements; prioritize a wish list; and communicate openly with all concerned to ensure everyone understands performance expectations for the new hire. Then once a new hire is confirmed, they must ensure the newcomer is appropriately oriented, that his or her performance is monitored, and that regular evaluations, appropriate communication, and opportunities for the new hire to improve occur.
We have seen the alternative too often, where a new hire comes on board, and everything seems to be going well—or at least no one has said that it isn’t. Then pending the conclusion of the trial period, either the employer or employee terminates the relationship abruptly. This jolt catches not only the unfortunate recipient of the news off guard but also co-workers, suppliers, and customers and creates a negative reputation for whoever dropped the bombshell. Then not only does the hire fail; it also creates a negative stigma that’s hard to dispel but could readily have been prevented.