Managing Human Capital: The Bad Hire

Managing Human Capital

“Unfortunately in life a lot of bad decisions are driven by a desire to avoid owning up to past bad decisions.” —Matthew Yglesias, Slate Magazine

This quote hit me like a hammer blow between the eyes when I read it. It is SO TRUE! It makes me shudder when I look back on some past mistakes that I haven’t been able to satisfactorily explain to myself. Ah. Now I see what that was all about.

So how to learn from this particular piece of simple wisdom? Maybe have a look at what is going on in your life or your company at the moment. Map out what you are currently holding up (or on to) as your main problems, and just give them this “owning up test”:

1. What solutions are there that I have an impulse to reject outright?

2. If I did apply one of these solutions, would it follow that I am reversing, or even just highlighting, a prior decision that lead to this problem?

3. How do I feel about that?


The Bad Hire

I’m trying to think of an example, and the one that leaps out very strongly is: the bad hire. The wrong fit. The employee who seemed like a great fit at the time, but turns out is costing more than they earn, a.k.a. negative return on the investment (note: for the personal life equivalent you could substitute a bad relationship choice).

There are always lots of reasons not to fire this person. Among them are a desire to give them every chance to change, to learn, to realise, to become the person you want them to be. But in truth, if they are not that person now, you had better thoroughly assess the likelihood and possibility of them ever reaching the aspirations (and expectations) you have for- and- of them.

Is It About Them?

Truth is, you are not doing anyone a favour by keeping them in an unsuitable or stagnant situation. Not only are you increasing the burden on everyone else in the company/family, yourself included, but you are degrading the true value of that position and of that relationship. You are patronising them and wasting everyone’s time. Hours, days, weeks and sometimes years, of people’s lives.

The sooner you cut them loose, the sooner they can find the right situation for them and restart their own development.

Or Is It About You?

And here’s where the self-questioning gets really uncomfortable. Do you have the emotional intelligence to admit that a portion of your reluctance is not really about them. Honestly? It’s about you. It’s not only about your concern for their situation; sometimes it’s also about your reluctance to admit that you made a mistake. Your reluctance to abandon the sunk costs in time, money, training; relating to them; encouraging them; defending them. You were their biggest champion. Won’t you look like a hypocrite if you turn around and give them the boot?

My advice, from many years of hanging on to people who couldn’t quite cut the mustard? Own up. Do the deed. Move on. Have a little faith that you are not the key to their success – they are.

Like I heard Dr. Phil say once: “You wouldn’t care what people thought about you if you knew how little they did.”