It’s a big responsibility and commitment when you’re hiring someone new and a decision is rarely taken lightly. There’s excitement and anticipation about the problems they’ll solve, the extra help they’ll provide or the growth they can help you achieve. As a small business owner optimism, whether it comes naturally or has been learnt, has to be part of how you operate. So when you first see the signs that maybe you have made a poor hiring decision, you hope that it will just take a little time for them to learn the ropes and settle in. However, when one sign becomes many and you’re also getting knowing looks from other team members or feedback from customers, then you have to do something about it.
I know first-hand the disappointment that comes from this realisation. It was hard to find a suitable person for the role and you probably like the person or you wouldn’t have hired them in the first place. You reflect on the hiring process to see if there was something different you should have done or something that you missed. Perhaps you knew there were a few shortcomings, but had to compromise because the need for a person to fill the role was greater and more realistic than waiting for the perfect fit (which doesn’t exist by the way).
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To be clear, one sign that you have made a poor decision is not enough. In the hiring process, we’re looking for repeated examples of skills, knowledge and behaviour to confirm they can do the job, similarly in this situation, we’re looking for multiple evidence points that it is not working out. Every new hire (and existing employee) needs to clearly understand their role, have the conditions for motivation and receive constructive feedback. If after you have provided feedback and given them time to rectify and improve, and things are still not working out, then you need to take the unfortunate action of ending their employment. Let me explain that in a little more detail for you.
Before you make any decision to potentially end someone’s employment you need to make sure that the person clearly knows and understands what is expected of them in the role. Have someone both explain and show them what is required and how to do the work. It’s helpful to reiterate expectations in a written format, even if it simply outlines the key tasks and expected standards, but sometimes this is not always practical in a fast-paced environment or when you are short on resources and time.
Role clarity alone is not enough for people to feel motivated. Psychologists have shown that three factors best facilitate and enable motivation; they are autonomy (i.e., having some control over a situation), a sense of belonging and feeling competent (having the skills and knowledge to do the work). Have you tried to make the individual feel part of the team and explained how their role contributes to the greater business and the impact it has? To give you an example a highly motivated hospital cleaner might describe their role as “helping patients heal” because a clean environment is absolutely required for that to happen. You can imagine how much more motivated a person is to do a great job when they understand the impact their contribution has.
Every employee needs feedback and especially a new hire that is not working out as you’d hoped. Giving feedback is never easy, and even harder when it is about poor performance and someone not meeting expectations. Schedule a time for a one on one discussion with the employee and prepare constructive feedback.
A useful acronym to help you structure your feedback is B.E.E.R (Behaviour, Effect, Expectations and Results). Focus on the behaviour that you have observed and describe it. Explain what effect the behaviour has and why it doesn’t meet the required standards. Clearly outline your expectations of the required behaviour and results and then explore options for improvement. Ask what suggestions they might have to turn things around and what support or help they need.
Finally, outline the positive results if changes are successful and also what the consequences are if they are unable to meet the required standards and expectations for the role. Set a timeframe to review progress and improvements. Ok, you caught me out, technically I’ve expanded this acronym to something that should be BEEERCT, however like most I’d rather have a BEER. As you give them time to improve, continue giving them feedback along the way. Acknowledge what they have done right as well as what still needs improving. If you are only finding fault, it will be difficult for them to turn things around.
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A sit back and hope strategy is not usually a successful one. When you have done everything we just outlined and things are still not working out, you have to take action to end the employment ideally within the first two to three months. Most employment contracts set out a probation period where you have time to assess the person’s suitability for the role.
As the employer you can determine the length of the probation period, however, they are usually between three or six months. This window of probation enables you to end the employment, providing them with the required notice. Do this both verbally and confirm in a written letter. If the employee is with you for 6 months or more, there are additional steps you must take to end their employment, refer to the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Small Business Fair Dismissal code for more information. The probation period also works both ways, so the employee may decide that it is not the right fit for them and leave. Particularly if you are providing feedback consistently and in a timely way, you may find that they make this decision for themselves.
Admitting you have made a poor hiring decision is not easy, but doing nothing about it can have significant consequences. If you have already spent too much time agonising over your decision, making one, whatever it may be, will be a huge relief. We all make mistakes, and hopefully, people can improve and turn things around. If not, learn from what went wrong and take action as soon as possible ideally within the probation window. You’ve likely made many more right decisions than wrong ones, and as Henry Ford said “ The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
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