Made a Bad Hire? Four Ways to Recover

Nov 20, 2018 | How To, Knowledge Center, Leadership, Management

Does this situation sound familiar? …

Your new hire was initially considered because of their credentials and experience.

They flew through the interview process with ease.

All of the references you called had rave reviews about their work ethic, timeliness, and ability to interact well with others.

However a couple weeks after their first day, they struggled to jive with the rest of the team and did not live up to their expectations.

Sound familiar? If not, consider yourself lucky because only 19% of new hires are considered fully successful and by the 18-month point 46% are deemed failures.

This can feel like a lose-lose situation. Is it worse to be stuck with an employee who can’t handle the work and is damaging to the team, or admit you’ve made a significant mistake? The sooner you jump to make a change, the better. And although coping with the impact of a bad hire will never be an easy task, following these four steps will help you recover and move on with the least possible damage to all parties.

1. Prepare for an uncomfortable conversation with the new hire.

Instead of clinging to unrealistic hope or avoiding confrontation, start by sitting down with the employee and explain your dissatisfaction. By sharing your concerns, you open the door to discovering alternatives or understand how bad the situation actually is. Additionally, it’s only fair to get their side of the story before making any rash decisions. Start by saying “I want to talk about your first few weeks and where we are on track vs where we need to make some adjustments.” The employee may be aware of the issues and be grateful for the opportunity to hash it out and come up with a solution together. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to how they thrive in a work environment, so meeting in the middle may be the quickest answer.

2. Try to repair the situation with focused feedback or reassignment.

The position you hired them for may not be where they should stay. Job descriptions don’t always match up to what it’s like in the field. If they were expecting something more challenging or exciting, and they feel their days are quite mundane, it can affect motivation. On the other hand, if they were looking for a mindless position but find themselves being excessively challenged, they may be unhappy. Is there is a position more suited for their goals and personality? Keep in mind this doesn’t always work if the organizational parameters are not currently flexible and there is no room to move people around. Also, watch out for the escalation of commitment. Many of us resist giving up on a tough situation. If you’re giving the person lots of feedback and you don’t see both significant effort immediately and improvement over the next three months, you probably need to cut your losses.


3. Identify both the current and the future expense of keeping the bad hire.

Sometimes the negative impact a bad hire has on other team members or on the business makes it unnecessary to look for other internal opportunities or development. In these situations, the costs include reduced productivity or increased opportunity costs, employee disengagement and possible turnover, and conflict between departments. Some indicators are missed deadlines and poor work quality. A less obvious sign is extra meetings outside of meetings—often an attempt to compensate for and underperformer. Compare these with the cost of replacing and on-boarding a new candidate. Often times you may not realize how much of a negative impact a bad hire has on your organization until they are gone.


4. If the relationship can’t be salvaged, look for every opportunity to make the transition and departure as smooth as possible.

Consider whether you can negotiate a mutually beneficial plan. An upfront conversation can give them a better sense of personal control and also give you the leeway to support the team and find a replacement. If it has to be a surprise, be direct and respectfully let them know you have to terminate their employment. While it’s true that most companies only provide severance payments or outplacement services in situations where an employee has provided long and faithful service, when organizations take responsibility for the mistake of a bad hire, it shows good faith and helps everyone move on. The exception would be if the employee misrepresented their skills or has ethical or behavioral problems.


It’s unfortunate for all parties when the wrong hire is made, so learn what you can about what went wrong to avoid repeating the situation. If you move deliberately but quickly to handle the problem, the new hire is more likely to still have some job opportunities in the pipeline and will be grateful for the chance to salvage their career — and it’s more likely that you’ll still have a list of candidates to consider.


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