BRKeenan & Associates, LLC

How to Hire, When to Fire

Hire #10


In an earlier blog, I mentioned that it’s critical to right people on the bus and in the right seat.  But actually doing so can be difficult if not impossible.  This blog shares tips and suggestions about how to hire and, when necessary, how to fire.

  1. Hard Workers

In a classroom experiment, randomly selected elementary students were told different things: (a) you guys are really smart, (b) you guys are really hard working, and (c) nothing (the control group).  In stress and puzzle simulations, group B significantly out-performed A or C.  Why?  “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” Dweck explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”  We are all just big kids, thinking it is the smart ones who will succeed.  But, it is not the smart ones who success, rather it is the ones who work.  When hiring, ask leading questions to hear stories about going the extra mile, overcoming set-backs and working hard.

  1. Willingness Over Experience

Experience and education is required.  You would be a fool to hire a pilot who had never flown a plane.  But experience and education are over-rated and lack thereof over-penalized.  It is the less experienced employee who is fresher, less jaded and usually more willing to experiment, to challenge the status quo or “how things are done around here”.  It is not just youthful energy, but the willingness to be wrong, to learn, to grow.  Thus, with any new employee, from an entry level newbie to a 20+ year seasoned veteran, the key is to see if they are open to learning and challenges.  When hiring, ask leading questions to hear stories about the “a-ha moment” or an epiphany of insight, whether developed in a few seconds or after years of research and effort.

  1. Cultural Fit

Every company, like every family, has an overarching personality or culture.  It is important for incoming employees to have or quickly adopt to this culture, especially when it is a positive, economically successful one.  Disruptive non-conformist employees can destroy a company; in contrast, culturally fit employees create magic.  For example, “Disney has created a culture where going the extra mile for [theme park] customers comes naturally.”  And SW Airlines in known for their employees’ sense of humor.  In their hiring practices, both Disney and SW screen for this cultural fit.  Nancy Negative or Drew Downer don’t work at either place, or if hired, not for long.  While diversity is important (see below), core values and cultural fit are critical.  When hiring, ask leading questions to hear stories about the candidate’s ability to perceive and adhere to a company culture.

  1. Screening Tests

Many interviews are a waste of everyone’s time since they just review the resume.  Why bother – she  wrote it and you can read it.  Do waste time with what is already known.  Instead, give practice tests and exams to your candidates, both formal and informal.  Two great screening tools are the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test and any of a dozen Myers-Brigg based assessments.  Going beyond 3rd party tests, challenge your candidates with real company problems or ask their 30-90+ day action plans if hired.

  1. Drug Test and Background Checks

To be blunt, if you let anyone join as an employee without a drug test and background check, you’re an idiot.  Ok, maybe not an idiot but grossly negligent.  These two screens have caught more liars, addicts, and violent felons than you can imagine.  For your own safety and to protect your workplace from avoidable problems, these two screens should be mandatory especially for the friend you’ve known for years.  As R. Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.”

  1. Diversity

Diversity matters and not just because you are being politically correct or showing social enlightenment.  Diversity increases cash flow since, with diversity, you have a wider range of opinions, outlooks and possible solutions to problems.  Most bosses prefer to hire someone just like themselves, but that is as big a mistake as the Hapsburg’s inbreeding.  The position of Devil’s Advocate was developed specifically to avoid the risk of group think.  As Surowiecki argues, the Wisdom of the Crowds works if and only if there is a diverse crowd.  To get a diverse, wise crowd, you have to actively work to hire that.

  1. Cut Your Losses

Like everywhere: Pareto’s Principal lives here too: 80% of your time will be spent with 20% of your less-than-exemplary employees.  The cost of disruptive employees goes well beyond visible dollars and cents.  Management time, employee retention and organizational culture are all negatively impacted by boorish and ill-fit employees.  Employees respond to the environment: when they see the obnoxious employee protected, they do not need to be Einstein to figure out what matters.  Fire a talented but extremely hard-to-work-with employees and everyone’s behavior will improve.  Surprisingly, so will results.

Give proper warnings; if helpful, implement a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”).  But, if unacceptable interpersonal dynamics continued, let him or her go.  It is a rare triple win: for the company, for the other employees, and, as contrarian as it sounds, for the dismissed employee as well.

Brett R. Keenan is a CFO/General Counsel for Small Businesses, Business and Executive Coach, and author of “Small Business 101: From Start-up to Success”.  Based in Chicago IL, BRKeenan & Associates has helped numerous large and small companies succeed, focusing on Finance, Law, Strategy and Operations since 1999.

©BRKeenan & Associates, LLC. January 2015