Hire Slow – Fire Fast

Business is growing and you are ready to bring on more help. Congratulations! I’d like to share how some of my greatest mistakes in this area turned out to be my greatest lessons and even shifted the culture of my company.

As a business owner for more than 20+ years, I have received a great deal of sound advice from colleagues, clients and other supporters. Among the most valuable bits of wisdom shared with me is this: “hire slow, fire fast.”

This simple concept certainly falls into the easier-said-than-done category – or at least it did for me. For too many years, I hired employees guided by principles like:

  • They sought me out – great initiative!
  • So what they don’t have a lot of experience? I can train, and I’ll save by paying a lower wage.
  • We really got along well during the interview.
  • We went to the same school, knew the same people.

The expense of my bad hiring practices was staggering. I wasted time and money on recruiting and training. It took my staff away from revenue-producing work. It took me away from new business development and growth initiatives. The high turnover on my staff had a negative impact on the team and strained client satisfaction. What made things worse was that I often was sure that I could fix a bad-hire with additional training or re-training.

Stop the insanity!

Yet one very good thing came from my mistakes. I was forced to create written procedure and protocol – for everything. What at the time was a forced, survival move has turned out to be one of my company’s most effective organizational, delegation and training tools. Today, I am happy to share that process with clients and colleagues.

Investing in a competent consultant is a good first step. That person can help you interview staff and perform position assessments. Ask yourself: “if the position could talk, what would it say?” You may find that your opinion holds far less weight than that of your employees – after all, they are the ones on the front lines. Together, you should work to create one-page job descriptions for each role, including:

  • Position
  • Title
  • Direct supervisor
  • Vision and mission statement (what the position and the company is working toward)
  • Essential duties (a list of the categories of work performed in the position)
  • Technical skills required (be specific)
  • Education requirements or preference
  • Competencies required (these are the “soft skills” needed to be successful in the position)

These job descriptions will serve as both a foundation for hiring and an outline for performance planning. The last bullet is particularly important. Competencies are things like self-management, organizational skills, customer service, etc. The screening process and interview questions ultimately center on these soft skills because they are more difficult to identify in a potential candidate – they take some digging.

The information in the job description easily converts to an ad or a job posting.

As you screen the resumes you receive, look for candidates who have demonstrated experience that matches what is called for in the job description. Candidates should not be reaching too far (up or down) to successfully fill the role.

Next, conduct standard video interviews comprised of a series of the same questions with increasing “difficulty.” Here are my warm-up questions:

  • What are you looking for in your next position? Describe your “ideal” position.
  • What would you consider your major strengths?
  • Describe a time when there was an extraordinary amount of activity at work (look for quantification). How long did it last – how did you handle it?
  • Since this position is so diverse, the learning curve tends to be much longer. It is very helpful if you are a quick learner. Can you give me an example of your ability to grasp something new in a short period of time?

Look for substance in their answers. If they qualify for face-to-face interviews, administer technical skills testing before you see them. There are many Internet-based testing services available.

You also should have a standard format for in-person interviews, which is an expanded version of the phone interview. This enables you to document objective, comparative data on which to base our decision. Of course, never ignore your instincts and the basics, like whether they arrive on time, answer questions directly and generally seem at ease.

Personality assessments (DiSC or Strength Finders) of potential hires also can be valuable. These tools help to identify an individual’s natural behavioral tendencies, displayed in various environments. They can help differentiate candidates and, upon hiring, can facilitate better communication and management.

Regarding reference checks – by law, past employers cannot give a negative reference. However, those that say nothing or do not return a phone call speak volumes. I do advise reference checks as well as the verification of all past employers. Your employment application should include a release that allows this.

While my system for “hiring slow” has been carefully developed, it is not infallible. It does, however, reduce the risk of making a bad hire. If you do take someone on board and the match does not seem right, try to remedy it. But do not be afraid to end the relationship early on if your new employee does not respond to training.

Hiring well is not easy. But with practice – and by taking your time – you will find employees who come on board and sail through their probationary process. Then you can shift focus from assembling the right team to building its strength for the benefit and prosperity of your company.