Hiring and firing – quality, not quantity

Recruiting is acknowledged to be one of the hardest things to do for startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses. Ashley Ward shares his experience on how to get hiring and firing right.

15th May 2009 at 2:28 pm

Many CEOs and MDs will tell you that their people are their biggest asset, yet spend less time on the selection process than they do on deciding what font to use in their latest presentation.

Even larger organisations with HR departments and formalised recruitment procedures can be woefully bad at really making sure the people they hire are the right ones for the job. Sure, they may force candidates to endure three interviews and a battery of psychometric tests, but none of this is worth a dime if they’re not actually testing them on the things that matter – their attitude, their ability and their potential.

There are lots of reasons why hiring well can be scuppered from the start. Particularly in smaller businesses it can be hard to make the time to really put a candidate through their paces, and convenience wins out over rigour.

In addition hiring can often be a knee-jerk reaction – ‘we’ve won some business, we’re over-stretched, we need to hire!’ – and the recruitment process is started from a base of panic, without anyone taking time to really define the role that needs filling, let alone the qualities required to fill it.

But hire in haste, repent at leisure – getting the wrong person in can cost your business a fortune in terms of time, money, morale and reputation.

So how do you know when it’s time to call it a day with a specific employee? In general, if you’re even thinking of firing someone because of an attitude problem, then you probably should have done it yesterday.

However, if the attitude is right but the performance is under par it may be worth looking at other factors prior to making the decision. Changes in the office or with client requirements, pressures at home, illness or simply stress can all impact ability to perform, and can often be overcome with the right support.

Whatever the issue, if you have any concerns about an employee it is essential that you address them immediately. Either they’re a keeper, in which case you will want to help them get back on track as soon as possible, or they are not suited to your organisation and the sooner you can remove them the better.

Some CEOs delay firing because of the fear of costly legal action. In such cases, you need to compare the cost of delaying versus the cost to the business. Perhaps leaving the individual in place could have worse financial implications than firing, or would demotivate the rest of the team.

However, this does not give you licence to fire people in an unpleasant or insensitive way as this will only create an enemy in the market for you and your company – not to mention all the legal implications.

So what is the secret to hiring success? My personal rules of thumb are very simple. Surround yourself with people that are better than you. And make sure that they are the kind of people you would enjoy going to dinner with.

You need people that will keep you on your toes but also people that make you want to go to work in the morning. A strong, motivated team is worth more than anything to your business in today’s climate, so hire, nurture and retain the quality, even if that means losing some of the quantity.

Ashley Ward

Ashley Ward is a partner in Nexec Partners and programme head of the European Leadership Programme (ELP), a cutting edge training forum helping CEOs of venture capital and private equity backed businesses sharpen the range of skills required to meet shareholder expectation. As a serial CEO for 26 years Ashley led several businesses to sale or IPO including Wharfedale Loudspeakers, Anite Networks and Orchestream. http://www.european-leaders.com/

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  1. In the current climate, almost everyone is primed to be fired. This could present an opportunity for the CEO.

    CEOs have got to be prepared, for the sake of the continuity of business and for customer commitment, to streamline the business if necessary.

    In my experience, I’ve worked with a close group or people with more experience than me when firing and hiring.

    I’ve needed people with the following skills:
    Communications, Legal and Process.

    I’ve used outsourced companies such as Peninsula in the past as well as internal teams.

    For me I am aware of the sensitive nature of firing and it has to be thought through very carefully, but can be acheived if the correct process is followed.

    A great article Ashley which rings true with my experience.

  2. scopy says:

    There is a school of thought that if a person can get the job done that you hired them for then everything else is secondary, especially in these hard economic times.

    The prime focus is getting someone that can and will do the job and have potential to improve who fits in. Your right in saying that the secondary stuff can often be overcome with the right support.

    This way the worse case scenario is you have the wrong person but the job is being done rather than you have the right person but the job is not.

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