Hiring, Firing, Employees, Core Values and More

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By Jim D'Amico

It has been said, “When it comes to hiring employees, spend twice as much time hiring and you’ll spend half as much time firing.”

More advice on hiring, “Hire slow, fire fast.”

Also, “The best person to hire is the candidate that’s not looking for a job.”

Next to keeping sales and profits rolling in, hiring and firing employees may be the most difficult task facing all businesses. And, when it comes to searching for employees with technical skills, the challenge may be even greater.

Some of what I am about to share comes from my years of experience in business, knowledge gained from my years as a member of two trade associations, and as a member of Vistage International.

My Vistage business coach, Tom, recently retired from his business, selling his stock to his partners. At the time of his retirement, his company employed about one hundred people.

Vetting Prospective Hires

Human Resources fell under Tom’s purview at his company and he told me his hiring philosophy. Tom said, “When I interview a candidate, I’m looking for reasons to disqualify that candidate.” I found it interesting that he’s looking for a reason(s) not to hire that person. That’s very different from the approach that many business owners take. Sometimes because of their personality, personal interviewing style, or simply out of desperation, owners and managers fall into the trap of hyperfocusing on ways that a candidate can fit into their company. They do so to solve their problem, namely, being short on help. If you think about it, Tom’s method makes a lot of sense.

A prospective hire will or should always bring their “A game” to the interview. In the interest of landing the job, you will likely see all the candidates at their best. But hiring is about making a good, or better yet, a great selection for your company. Therefore, one needs to select the one person among the group of candidates that will bring their “A game” everyday. Consequently, your interviewing questions should challenge each candidate for the purpose of bringing out both their best qualities and less desirable attributes.

Aligning Core Values

There is a risk at looking only at what can be gained by your company and not at what can be lost with a prospective new hire.  Seeing the gain can cloud your vision as to who that person really is. And, who that candidate is as a person may be as important or more important as the skills that person brings to your company. Moreover, the wrong selection can allow a better candidate to walk out the door...forever! That is an expensive price to pay. Therefore you owe it to your company to work hard at uncovering the true person that may be there beneath a facade.

Hiring Those with Technical Skills

That brings me to a discussion about hiring people with technical skills. When there is a shortage of qualified candidates, and there always seems to be a shortage, the tendency is to grab the first candidate that comes along who possesses all, or maybe just some of the needed technical skills. That may carry with it a host of negative issues and can come at a high price for the employer because sacrificing character for skills generally backfires.

As we know, grinding it out day-in and day-out requires self-discipline, a trait that is difficult to measure even when putting a candidate through multiple job interviews. Interviewing doesn’t always tell you what that person will be like on the job next week, next month, or next year. Certainly, over time an employee’s true self is exposed; however, it may be too late to reverse the negative financial impact from time wasted in training a bad hire, the negative impact on co-workers, and covering their mistakes.

In addition, lack of all needed skills or lack of work ethic generally means do-overs. And do-overs cost money not only in re-doing what wasn’t done right the first time, but in the lost opportunity of taking care of another paying customer.

Most Importantly

This is perhaps the most important point. It has been said, “You hire for skills and fire for values.” 

Regardless of whether the issue is lack of honesty, laziness, an uncaring attitude about customers or coworkers, lack of respect, sloppiness, or any other negative, you have a problem.

Lack of personal integrity assures a misalignment of core values and brings a host of issues, most of which cannot be resolved.  

If an employee doesn’t share your corporate core values that person simply has to go, regardless of the skillset.

If you don’t remove that employee, your good employees will leave and you’ll find yourself in a worse situation.

Seek Advice from a Human Resources Consultant or a Human Resources Attorney

When it comes to HR matters it is best to seek professional advice. I am not an HR professional. I can speak from experience and in practical terms, but you should always seek advice from the experts that carry certification in Human Resources or from lawyers that practice Human Resources (Employment) Law.

Document the Details and Don’t Delay

Removing a bad employee from your company is never easy, but is very necessary and, depending on the reasons, requires a process. If the reason is non-performance, you need to be able to show that you established job duties and communicated the duties and expectations in writing. If you didn’t do it upon hiring the employee, you should circle back and do it as soon as possible.

Distribute an Company Policy Handbook

Communication of your company policies about employment and your expectations about conduct must be clearly defined and communicated. However, verbal communication won’t go far to protect your company against misunderstandings or legal actions brought by a disgruntled employee.

However, if a former employee brings a wrongful termination action against your company, you need to be able to show that you have communicated to the employee in writing the expectations as an employee of the company and the duties of their job. You will also need to prove the former employees lack of performance was communicated in writing, and that you gave the employee a chance to take corrective action over a reasonable period of time. Be sure to have the employee sign a statement indicating that expectations were not met and that there is now a clear understanding of what is expected moving forward.

A timeline needs to be established for future expectations about job performance and what the consequences will be if performance does not improve.

Provided that you have extensive documentation, once you have made the decision that an employee is still not working out, don’t delay.  Let the employee go as soon as possible. The true cost to your company is not just in what you paid the person in wages and benefits, but in the lost opportunity for future business.

Remember, it can take two to six months, maybe more, to get a new hire up to speed and driving revenue for your company. If a current employee is performing below expectations, it is reasonable to give nearly the same amount of time to reverse their bad habits and start contributing.

If your employee breaks the law in any way, the person should be dismissed immediately, but only after you seek legal counsel and as long as you have proof that the law has been broken. Remember, employment law is subjective and there are many gray areas.

Be Prepared

I strongly urge every employer to purchase Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI).

EPLI is “a type of liability insurance covering wrongful acts arising from the employment process. The most frequent types of claims covered under such policies include: wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. In addition, the policies cover claims from a variety of other types of inappropriate workplace conduct, including (but not limited to) employment-related: defamation, invasion of privacy, failure to promote, deprivation of a career opportunity, and negligent evaluation. The policies cover directors and officers, management personnel, and employees as insureds.”  Source: International Risk Management Institute, Inc.


Err on the Side of Caution

Employees that are terminated today bring legal action against employers in staggering numbers. At times their allegations can be preposterous and hard to believe. Considering that fact, it is better to be safe than sorry. In other words, “Cover your butt!”


You Can Be Innocent and Still Be Sued

You may not be aware of any wrongdoing in your company, but that does not prevent you from becoming the target of an employment lawsuit.

Pay attention to what is going on, have conversations with employees, listen to conversations, comments and remarks among employees, read employees’ body language, and don’t tolerate bad behavior.

In the event that you become aware of inappropriate behavior, document everything and be sure to have two managers, preferably the direct report’s Manager and the President or Human Resources Manager, present in every disciplinary discussion with an employee.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

The old adage above really sums up what is being discussed here regarding hiring, firing and core values.

My recommendations are:

  • Determine your core values.
  • Communicate your core values to your employees.
  • Remind employees from time to time about your core values.
  • Set the example for others by living your core values.
  • Consult with an HR professional to bring your company into compliance with Federal and State employment laws.
  • Develop and/or update and distribute your company policy handbook.
  • Develop a strong process to vet job candidates and use it consistently.
  • Seek legal counsel when employment issues arise.
  • Maintain confidentiality. Do not discuss job performance or employment matters with anyone in your company that does not need to know.
  • Don’t settle. Avoid the impulse to hire a candidate because you need to fill an open position. Make sure the candidate is the right fit.
  • Don’t become enamored with a candidate. Look for reasons to disqualify each person so that you ultimately hire the best.
  • Slow down. Hire slow.
  • Hurry up. Fire fast. But only for good reason, only within the law and never when your emotions are running high.
  • Good employees are already working, therefore networking will likely allow you to meet people that may be a good fit for your company.
  • Look outside your industry. “Know-it-alls” from the industry bring a lot of baggage to your company and want things done their way, not your way.
  • Good employees bring their “A game” everyday. Those employees can learn and will likely be loyal to you, and your company for many years. 

Gerry Layo, a sales trainer, sums it up in one short sentence, “Fire the duds and hire the studs!”


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