It happens to every business owner eventually. You think you’ve found and hired a great candidate for a key role in your organization. You start out with high hopes that they'll settle in quickly and start contributing to projects, their department, or the company. At first everything seems to be going great. They're asking questions, offering to help out with projects, and bonding with co-workers. This new hire may even bring donuts or bagels to the office one morning to surprise everybody.
But then you start to notice little things. They show up late for work two days in a row. Not really late, just a few minutes late. You ask to check their work on an assignment, only to find out that they haven’t made nearly as much progress as you would’ve hoped. They leave early one day complaining that they have an upset stomach, headache, or a parent teacher conference at their child’s school. You let it slide, thinking “I’m sure they're just getting used to the new environment”, or “Sure, everybody has a life outside of work”.
But then the signs become more apparent. One of your trusted employees notices odd behavior. They missed a deadline on a key task or project you assigned to them. Maybe they just don’t show up for work one day, but they’re back the next day pretending as if nothing happened, offering a vague explanation for the absence. Finally, your radar starts to ping. Loudly.
What should you do about it? Do you confront them right away? Do you look for more evidence? Do you try to manage through it, spending more time with them than you would normally expect? Maybe it’s your fault. Maybe you set expectations higher than reasonable. Maybe you didn’t provide them with adequate training, or short-circuited their on-boarding process to get them producing results sooner? Did you fully explain everything, or did you skip a few corners? How much of it is really your fault?
But then you start to think “They interviewed so well. This doesn’t seem to match up with what I learned about them in the interview.” Maybe you didn’t ask all the right questions. Maybe you didn’t check their references as thoroughly as you should have. Maybe you wanted them to fit so well that you ignored some telltale warning signs in the interview process. How much of it is you, how much of it is actually them? It can be hard to know as a business owner. We have so many things to focus on in our day-to-day life, and we want to trust people at their word.
At some point it comes to a head. They are not meeting your expectations. Your other employees are coming to you about the employee's performance, their personality, and with their suspicions. You can’t let it rest any longer. The ‘wait and see’ attitude will no longer suffice. You have to do something.
I recently had an experience like this. I hired a person I thought would excel at the position, someone with a wealth of experience, a proven track record, and a positive, outgoing personality. But the warning signs were there the first week they were on board. The odd questions, the inconsistent attendance, the sneaking suspicion that I had made a mistake.
Read More: How To Recruit and Hire Top Performers
To make matters even more complicated, I had two weeks of travel booked and could not rearrange my schedule. Within days of my departure the calls started coming in from the office. “Something isn’t right. They’re not doing their work. I can’t get answers out of them. They keep avoiding my questions.” I almost canceled my plans and flew home early just to deal with the issue. But I trusted my team and promised them I would handle it as soon as I returned.
My first day back in the office it was readily apparent. I held a staff meeting and immediately saw what the team had been seeing for two weeks. The odd comments, the strange behavior. Without wasting another minute, I call the employee into my office and closed the door.
“What is going on with you? You’re acting very strangely.”
Without going into details, I got to the bottom of the issue very quickly. There were personal issues that hadn’t been disclosed during the interview process. There were things going on in their life outside of work, but were directly impacting their ability to perform on-the-job. There was no question that I had to remove them from my team in order to save my team. With as much grace, kindness and understanding as I could muster, I informed them that they had left me no choice but to terminate their employment. I thanked them for their service for the past few weeks, wished them well, and escorted them from the office.
Upon announcing my decision and the resulting events to my team, I was met with many thank you’s. They were relieved. This bad hire had quickly become toxic to the team in my absence, and they were praying that I would remove this person from our environment immediately upon my return.
It felt like a tough decision in the moment, but as soon as it was over, I knew I had done the right thing. My business comes first. Always.
My business is built around my team. They (collectively) come before any individual on the team. Without a happy and productive team, I don’t have a business, I only have a group of unhappy and unproductive people, which leads to unhappy clients, and eventually it will all come crashing down, leaving me to pick up the pieces. Not a pretty picture.
So, now that it’s over, I have time to reflect. I began by asking myself these questions:
What did I not see that had me invite this person to become a part of my team, even if only for short time?
What can I do to improve my interviewing skills in the future?
What will I learn from the experience?
Ultimately, I am 100% responsible for everything that happens in my business. No exceptions, no excuses. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. My greatest failure as a leader would be to learn nothing from this experience.
And so, the lessons will continue. That’s how we grow as leaders, business owners, and humans.
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