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Hate Firing People? Then Hire Them Instead.

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At some point, every business owner, manager, or human resources professional has to fire an employee. It's a fact of business everyone hates. However, if you simply hired better from the start, you could greatly reduce the number of firings you must do each year.

Consider this: today's executives spend a great deal of time altering the content and processes of their businesses in order to enhance their results. That is, they focus on such things as goal setting, planning, and organizational structure (the content), as well as skills training and development and policy changes (the processes), in order to see their businesses improve. But by focusing exclusively on the "what" and "how" of business, they're limiting their progress. Sure, they may see some short-term gains from their teams, but when it comes to long-term progress, they fall miserably short. Why? Because true business results are produced by human behavior. So if your new initiatives don't change the behavior of your people, then you're wasting both time and money.

By now you may be asking, "What does this have to do with hiring and firing people?" Quite simply, most people hire according to a candidate's resume. They look at the "what" (what the candidate did in the past) and the "how" (how the candidate accomplished the "what"). If those two factors look good, then the candidate gets the job. It's content and process all over again.

But do you usually fire an employee because of his or her skills or processes? For most people, the answer is "no." In fact, when asked, most executives reveal that they fire people due to behavioral problems. Yes, sometimes employees get fired because they falsified their resumes and claimed to have skills they really did not. More often than not, though, behavior that is not in alignment with the company's culture or expectations is the real reason for the firing.

Get the Right Fit.

In general, the "what" and the "how" are not the best indicators of how someone will perform at your company. Good hiring is really about behavioral selection. That is, select people based on their behavioral tendencies, not on their resumes.

This is not to say you should never look at a candidate's resume. You will certainly need the resume if your position requires certain skills or training. But don't base your entire hiring decision on the resume alone. To hire the right person for the job, you need to base at least a third or more of your hiring decision on the candidate's behavior.

When it comes to behavior, look for the following "fits":
  • Cultural Fit: Every company has a unique culture. For example, Microsoft is known for being relaxed and creative, while NASA boasts a culture that is very process-driven and formal. Know what your company culture is so you can assess whether the job candidate will fit with it. Therefore, if your company is innovative and focused on creative endeavors, you want to bring someone in who has demonstrated the capacity to work in a creative setting. Likewise, if your culture requires everyone to have high accountability standards, you want a person who can adhere to that kind of environment. Bringing a creative-type person into a rigid, process-oriented culture will likely cause you headaches down the road and lead to a firing that could have been prevented with proper hiring.

  • Job Function Fit: Know the nuances of the position you're hiring for. A customer service position is very different from a delivery position, which is also very different from an IT position. Depending on the position, there are different behaviors you would expect an employee in that role to exhibit. Take the time to detail a profile of the ideal person in that role, including specific behavioral characteristics that person must have, such as "patient," "good listener," "analytical thinker," "risk taker," etc. Now you'll have a written description of what to look for during the interview process.

  • History Fit: Past behavior is a great predictor of future behavior. So if you want to find out how someone will behave according to the tendencies you're looking for, just look at the person's past. Looking for someone who can respond well in a crisis, for example? Find out where he or she experienced crisis before. Go back and talk to the people who observed the candidate in the crisis situation, and question them to learn how the person really responded. Yes, this takes some time because you're doing more due diligence and detective work, but you'll have more accurate data for your hiring decision when you can find out how someone really acts in a certain situation. If the job candidate behaved a certain way in the past, he or she will likely behave that way in the future.

  • Simulation Fit: How a person responds to a situation that you can personally observe is a good indicator of how he or she will respond in the future in the same situation. Therefore, consider setting up simulation events to see how candidates would act on the job. If you're hiring for a sales position, for example, brief the candidate on your product or service and then have him or her "sell" someone on staff, realizing that it's okay if the candidate doesn't get all the facts of the product correct. You're looking for sales ability—how someone builds rapport and overcomes objections—not his or her ability to recite facts about your product. Likewise, have an IT candidate work with a simulated client to solve a technical problem. These simulation exercises are useful and interesting because you can really see how people behave on the job—how they interact with others, how they process information, and many other behavioral tendencies.
Ready, Aim, Hire!

In addition to personal observation of someone's potential "fit," consider using one of the many behavioral assessment tools available today. Behavioral analysis tools such as the DiSC and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can quickly tell you how someone is likely to act in various situations. Realize, though, that employment law stipulates that any assessment-tool result cannot account for the majority of your decision-making process.

While behavioral tests and fit assessments certainly take time and overhead to implement, the results are worth it. The latest findings state that employee replacement can cost a company two to three times the employee's salary. So rather than pay for recruitment, training, and everyone else's time helping the new person come on board, invest your money upfront to get the right person for each position. Why hire someone you're going to have to fire later because of a behavioral mismatch? Always hire based on behavior now so you can stop firing based on behavior later.

About the Author:

Don Schmincke is a business consultant and author of the CEO bestseller The Code of the Executive. A graduate of MIT and Johns Hopkins University, Don uses anthropology and evolutionary genetics to dispel the usual management and leadership techniques and theories. With more than 20 years of research and consulting experience, Don and The SAGA Institute have helped clients including the U.S. Navy Fleet Readiness, DuPont, IBM, Miller Brewing, and more. For more information, please call 866-LEAD-866 or visit
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