I had a great feeling about Jenna. I met her when she came to my company to meet with us about exploring a potential partnership. She was intelligent, polished, and very professional. A few months later, I needed to fill a critical job within a very tight timeframe. I heard she was in the job market, and I raced to hire her before she landed someplace else.
During her first week on the job, she and another employee got into a nasty dispute—the kind you don’t expect to see in the workplace. I didn’t know what to make of it. I addressed the situation with each of them, and we moved forward.
Over the next few months, she settled into her new role. She brought great ideas. She was a hard worker and was quick to do whatever was asked of her. She was flexible and always up for a challenge. She looked to me like she had the makings of a high-potential leader. Despite this, she frequently seemed to end up in disputes with her coworkers.
I refereed. I coached. I tried to get to the root cause of the issue. I didn’t want to have to terminate her. She was in a critical role that I couldn’t afford to have vacant, and her work was solid. After nine months, she came into my office and gave me her two-week notice. She told me she was quitting because she felt bullied by her coworkers. No one was bullying her. I’d monitored what was happening in an attempt to understand why it was happening with the hope of fixing the problem. The problem was her. She was the kind of person who would throw a rock and hide her hands and then wonder why everyone was mad at her. We agreed on which projects she would finish up during her final two weeks, and I began the process of figuring out the next steps for filling the role.
The day after she left the company, I went into our shared drive to find some files she’d worked on for a client. I couldn’t find them. I contacted her to ask where they were and got no response. I began pouring through our network and soon discovered that she’d deleted every file she had created before she left the company. Every single one. Not long after, I learned she had a history of getting into disputes with coworkers and other disruptive behavior in the workplace. All I could think to myself was, “I walked right into this one.” I’d made a bad hire which had cost me a lot of time and a lot of money. It also negatively impacted my company’s culture.
One Bad Apple
The cost of a bad hire can crush a small business. By some estimates, it can cost as much as $240,000 before the employee is terminated. Much of this is because business owners don’t pull the trigger fast enough when they see red flags. (Check out this handy cost of a bad hire calculator to see how much a bad hire could cost you.)
According to People, Culture, & DEI expert Nancy Harris, Founder of Restart Consulting, business owners need to do their homework and be prepared to act before they see problems. It’s about being proactive and not waiting until there is an issue.
“People think hiring is easy,” she says. “It isn’t. Understand what’s important to you beyond whether the individual can do the task you are hiring them for. Ask yourself what kind of culture you want to create. We tend to forget about the intangible things that can end up negatively impacting the company’s culture.”
Harris recommends that business owners incorporate behavior-based questions into their interview process. “These kinds of questions get to the heart of characteristics versus skills,” she says. “Focus on things like Challenge-Action-Result. What challenge did you face? What action did you take? What was the result? You can learn a lot about a person’s behavior from this.”
Harris recommends that business owners look to resources from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) for help understanding how to conduct this type of interview. She also offers these tips to entrepreneurs:
- Be really clear about what you expect behaviorally, communicate this, discuss it, and agree with your employee.
- Address issues immediately when you see them. Document clear examples of what you are seeing and provide feedback. Ask your employee if they need help. Don’t simply assume the person can’t do the role. Ask yourself, “how clearly have I communicated my expectations?”.
- Be clear about consequences if you don’t see improvements and give a time frame for improvement.
- Act fast and terminate quickly if the situation isn’t improving.
- Reflect on what you could have done differently and integrate it into future hiring.
Looking back, it’s pretty clear where I went wrong. I failed to do things I knew to do and did things I knew not to do. I know the importance of doing proper diligence during the hiring process and taking the appropriate time to make a hiring decision. I recognize behavioral red flags when I see them. But in this case, I allowed my judgment to be clouded by focusing on the fear of negative operational consequences if that critical role was left vacant. By acting from emotion rather than taking a reasoned approach to the situation, I ended up far worse off than I would have been had I left the role vacant long enough to conduct a proper search or even if I had terminated the employee when it was clear her behavior was disruptive. After all, I paid nine months of salary and benefits and got nothing in return except disruption to my organization. Lesson learned!