Good Managers Hire Slow and Fire Fast—Not Vice-versa (Part 1)

Kevin P. Dincher

I’ve never watched The Apprentice, the TV series that turns getting fired into a game show, because I don’t find firing people particularly entertaining. 25 years ago as a new and inexperienced manager, I fired an employee for the first time. She already had a lengthy history of poor quality work, low productivity, bad judgment, negativity and troublesome work relationships when I inherited her; nevertheless, firing her was a drawn-out and excruciating experience. As a result, however, I learned early on the importance of hiring the right people—and not hanging on to the wrong ones. You need a top-notch team to do your best work, and so the most important thing a manager does is decide who to hire and fire. Making good decisions about who is—and who is not—on the payroll is critical to your company’s success—and your own success.

Don’t Hire too Quickly—but not too Slowly Either

Because the pressure to fill vacant positions is enormous, the tendency is to rush. The wrong help, however, is worse than no help—and hiring the wrong person is costly. You need to take time to really think about each and every hire you make and not settle for a warm body. Never lose sight of the ultimate goal: a high performing employee who meets your needs and is a good fit for your company and team.

Identify What You Need. 

Before you start recruiting, whether filling an old position or creating a new one, figure out what your real need is. If your business is growing, identifying the need can be especially difficult but also incredibly important because you need to be forward thinking and hire for where you want your company to go, not where it has been. But every hiring manager needs to remember: you are hiring to fill a need, not a slot. And don’t forget the intangibles; how important are collegiality, commitment, passion, confidence, communication skills, patience, high energy, and the like? Identifying these intangibles is just as critical to making good hiring decisions as identifying technical skills.

Put It in Writing

After you have identified your needs, create a job description with as much detail as possible. You want candidates and new hires to be clear about responsibilities from the start so there are no confused expectations. Additionally, be sure to have your company policies and procedures for employees in writing. That will save you big headaches later if someone doesn’t work out.

Don’t “Wing It” at the Interview

I am always amazed when managers tell me they don’t prepare their interview questions ahead of time. There isn’t enough space here to go into all the reasons why this is a bad idea—and how that contributes to hiring the wrong person. Prepare your interview questions before you start scheduling interviews. Yes, a good interviewer is flexible because a good interviewer is a good listener and knows when to follow-up on something unexpected, unusual or unique. But remember your ultimate goal:  a high performing employee who meets your needs and is a good fit for your company and team. In order to achieve this goal, you need to come away from the interview with the right information. If the interview process ends without your having obtained that information, then the interview was a failure. Forbes has a list of some good standard interview questions—but be sure to include some company specific questions and to ask questions that give you a sense of the candidate’s personality.

By the way, never be the only person to interview candidates; have other managers and team members do interviews. They provide important perspectives and make sure that the new employee fits with the existing culture.

Finding someone you like, your team likes and fits your needs and company can take time. Don’t rush it.

But Don’t Take Too Long Either.

Hiring too slowly can create its problems. It is possible to over-process a hire. I have seen teams who think “just to be sure” they should interview 3 more candidate—and then just 3 more, and then just 3 more. I recently spoke with an HR Director at a company that had recently filled a large number of new senior level positions. Candidates went through 15 rounds of interviews! 15! The best candidates withdrew from consideration before finishing the process. When you take too long, you actually risk losing the best hire.

When you are too slow to hire, you also risk your team members becoming overwhelmed and falling behind as they try to fill in or work doesn’t get done. Your organization goes into firefighting mode, and acting strategically becomes increasingly difficult. It becomes harder to solve the hiring problem; the more behind you are due to everyone being so busy, the less time you have to devote to finding and interviewing candidates. In the end, hiring too slowly then flips into hiring too fast as companies over-correct. “Just hire someone so we can move on!”

You need to find a balance so that you are hiring slowly, but not too slowly

Fire Fast … continued


Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

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