Whether you’re a business owner or executive looking to hire your first employee or your 50th, you’ve probably heard the popular catchphrase, “Hire Slow, Fire Fast.” This mantra, which has become popular for startup founders, advises entrepreneurs to hire deliberately and intelligently. Or, in other words, “hire slowly.”
On the other end of the spectrum, business owners should “fire fast” to avoid prolonging the inevitable; keeping on a worker who is not only the wrong fit but who’s also hurting productivity and the work environment you’re trying to build.
As with any business practice, there are skeptics who point out some exceptions to the “hire slow, fire fast” rule. Nonetheless, recruiting new hires is typically one of the most important tasks for employers who are keen on increasing efficiencies and managing costs. Here are a few reasons why “hire slow, fire fast” has become a guiding principle for organizations of any size or industry.
Opponents of the “hire slow, fire fast” argument point out that for companies just starting out—particularly in sectors where dragging your feet on business decisions signals the difference between total success and complete failure—taking your time during the hiring process is counterproductive at best. Danny Boice, cofounder and CTO of Speek, believes that startups have a small window of opportunity to either thrive or crash within the first six to 12 months of existence. In a 2013 piece for Fast Company titled, Why “Hire Slow, Fire Fast” is a Bunch of BS, Boice states, “For an early-stage startup founder, doing anything slowly is simply not an option. You need to get good at finding great developers and other people who will fill key roles very quickly.”
Hiring workers slowly and deliberately, however, does not necessarily mean moving slowly. Most hiring managers know that taking the time to thoroughly research, screen and interview candidates can pay dividends in the long run. Most business owners want to make sure that the new faces they onboard will be competent at what they do, and fit well within newly created and established teams.
Hiring slow also means not bloating your staff with unnecessary talent, and hiring employees only when it’s absolutely necessary. Hiring too many employees too quickly may bring in workers that underperform, make costly mistakes, and create havoc within the office culture.
Don’t hesitate to use the HR technologies and resources that assist companies in moving fast in the competitive hiring market. Using these tools in tandem with the “hire slow” principle will help you perform the proper due diligence as you expand your team and grow in your-house talent.
No one likes to be the person to give bad news, especially when the message is that the person will be let go. Even more so, employers put off firing employees due to the time it takes to find, hire, and train a replacement. Despite the overwhelming advice from hiring experts to let go of sub-performers sooner rather than later, employers delay in hopes that the employee will change their behavior or improve their performance through endless rounds of feedback, corrective action, or both.
Unfortunately, a few underperforming employees can take up more energy and time than the vast majority of your staff. And with total cost of workforce being the single largest expense in an organization’s operating budget, small businesses can’t afford to fire slow if their goal is to build a healthy company that enjoys long-term growth.
Dan S. Kennedy conducted an unscientific survey of roughly 100 of his clients and found, on average, that employers took between six and 18 months to fire employees who were underperforming, noncompliant and negatively impacting the workplace.
Outright firing someone is undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of management, particularly if you lack the HR or legal personnel to guide you through the process. Nevertheless, if it becomes quickly apparent that an employee isn’t working out, move quickly but fire humanely. Moreover, treating terminated employees with respect and dignity, as well as conducting the dismissal meeting in person (rather than via email, phone, or letter) can help you avoid litigation down the road.
Improve the Hiring Process
Although it’s impossible to prevent hiring mistakes from ever occurring, you can institute certain recruitment practices to increase your chances of hiring top talent with both the right skills and a personality that’s compatible with your corporate culture. For example:
- Identify and define clear business needs for the new employee(s). Determine which tasks you can delegate versus those you can keep yourself.
- Develop a formal or informal onboarding program that officially welcomes employees to your company, whether that’s communicating your company’s mission, products and services; or setting them up on the various payroll, HR and departmental systems that will allow them to get paid and do their jobs.
- Establish training, whether formal or informal, for the different roles you’re hiring for.
- Set up a mentor program or buddy system, where seasoned employees can team up with new hires, offer advice and provide peer support where appropriate.
- If you must terminate an employee, communicate it to your active workforce. Be open and honest instead of secretive and evasive. Otherwise, you risk hurting employee morale and contributing to an atmosphere that feeds suspicion and mistrust.
Finding and hiring a new employee after a long search can be elating. On the other hand, firing workers is often demoralizing and defeating. If you find yourself in the latter situation, figure out what went wrong, communicate openly with your remaining team, and learn from previous hiring mistakes. Though hiring mishaps happen, recruiting carefully and strategically can increase your chances of attracting individuals who ultimately become your organization’s most valuable asset.