Let's be honest: if a company makes a bad hiring decision, especially at the senior executive level, you can expect plenty of fallout throughout the entire organization. In other words, the implications of a bad hiring decision go far beyond the poor performance of this one individual. For instance, the individual may have taken a strategic direction that can significantly hurt the organization. This is in addition to the impact of all those poor decisions in the area of general day-to-day operational management.
In the several cases I've observed, the signs of poor leadership arise quite quickly. The most common sign of trouble occurs when a new leader reorganizes and restructures without sufficient analysis of the current situation and without effective communication strategies.
I've also seen new incumbents focus their attention on superficial things such as refurnishing their offices with elaborate and expensive purchases. This often results in the loss of respect by the management team while employees experience a sense of fear and go into self-protection mode, or what I call "career survival."
All in all, you'll soon see seasoned employees getting out of the way of this new leader. They don't want to stick around to see what's coming next. In larger organizations, you'll see employees transferring to different departments and/or leaving the organization altogether. The result is staffing and resource gaps, the loss of corporate knowledge and productivity and training issues. Finally, these terminations and/or resignations are often accompanied by employee severance and costly buyouts.
On the other hand, one of the challenges encountered by recruitment and selection committees is that senior level candidates are typically excellent communicators. In other words, they can tell a very convincing story that makes it very difficult to expose exaggerated experience and/or expertise. Not only that, without expert assistance, committees often fail to identify the warning flags that might appear in a candidate's psychometric assessment results.
Hopefully, new leaders and their board/selection committee have carefully outlined first-year goals and objectives, but on occasion, the evidence will suggest a hiring mistake has been made. The challenge then becomes how to rectify the situation and/or how to get rid of a bad hire before it's too late?
Don't jump to conclusions -- first of all, keep in mind many of your current employees may well be resistant to any and all change the new leader will be trying to implement. The key here is to provide clear guidance to the new incumbent during the first year so that you know what they are doing and why. If these goals weren't established at the time of hire, meet with your new leader and set these goals immediately.
Provide coaching and mentoring -- hopefully, the employment contract outlines reporting structures, orientation and a probation period. Yet, no matter what, assign someone from the committee to stay in close communication with the individual to provide guidance, coaching and mentoring as they move forward in their new job. Define this time frame, and in particular, help the new incumbent understand the work environment and encourage them not to make changes too quickly.
Reaffirm frequency of reporting -- confirm the nature and frequency of reporting such that senior leaders and/or the board are well aware of everything that is occurring and that they approve of any and all actions. Continue to provide feedback and ask for incumbent feedback with respect to challenges and the assistance they may require from you.
Determine when and how you will intervene -- you have hired the new incumbent to do a job and so you need to let them do it. However, you also need to define under what circumstances you will intervene. When you do take action, engage in a discussion so you fully understand the rationale behind any decisions. Give guidance as much as possible and give specific direction in special circumstances for which you have concerns.
Keep incumbent informed -- if the leadership is not satisfied with performance, it is critical the incumbent is informed and given an opportunity to realign his/her course of actions. Keep in close communication particularly because if you are unhappy, the incumbent will typically also be unhappy. Be open with the incumbent about the right fit to the organization and provide as much support as possible.
Review the orientation and current situation -- if the incumbent is still not making the progress anticipated, organizational change is not being well managed and your goals are not being met, it's time to do a reassessment. Review how you have contributed to the problem, if at all. Review your selection process to determine if you assessed the candidate fairly. Determine if you described the job accurately and assess your orientation process. Did you provide sufficient resources or guidance? Be certain to work with the incumbent to determine their level of satisfaction.
Extend the onboarding process -- consider extending the orientation and onboarding process. However, if your staff is frustrated and anxious, board members are also frustrated and customers are holding their breath, then this might not be a viable option. If extending the onboarding process is questionable, then determine if you have the time, energy and money to turn this person around. If not, then move on to other solutions.
Cut your losses -- work with your selection committee and/or appropriate decision makers to confirm that termination is indeed the best option. Help the individual to accept the job is not for them. Seek out legal advice with respect to entitlements and contractual obligations. For instance, if there are accusations of "wrongful" hiring through misrepresentation of a job, then damages for the employee may go beyond a few month's severance package, especially if an individual left a good position to accept your job role.
Treat the incumbent with respect -- overall, it is best to work towards a resignation versus a termination. Offer a severance package accompanied by career-transition services. This is a more cost effective approach than continuing with the risk of financial costs and potential collateral employee damage. Ensure the incumbent is treated fairly and with respect. Prepare a communication strategy that is accepted by all parties and negotiate a reference that is appropriate to the situation.
Managing a situation where the new incumbent doesn't work out is very sensitive and can be very difficult. Overall, it typically leads to bad feelings for all concerned and often leaves employees shaken, as well. My recommendation is to go slow and to "document, document, document" as you try to follow specific steps to rectify the situation. Finally, be sure to seek professional guidance as you work through the situation.
Source: Wrongful hiring is costlier than firing, Howard Levitt, National Post, September 06, 2006. Interview with Paul Therrien, Legacy Bowes Group.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed., is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org