Hire Slow, Fire Fast
In his book No B.S. Ruthless Management of People & Profits, business coach and consultant Dan S. Kennedy presents a straightforward assessment of the real relationship between employers and their employees, and dares you to take action. In this edited excerpt, the author discusses the importance of taking your time when hiring new employees but firing someone as quickly as you'd pull off a Band-Aid.
I first heard the term “hire slow, fire fast” from Chuck Sekeres, the founder of a very successful company, Physicians Weight Loss Centers. He was attending one of my seminars, but when it came out of his mouth, I scribbled it down. It’s at least as profound as anything Aristotle ever said. Its genius and its truth is in its being the polar opposite of what 99 percent of us do. (Oh, yeah, I’ve been guilty of this one a few times myself. And it cost me dearly.)
As an aside, here’s the single most useful and empowering piece of success advice I've ever heard in my entire life. I’ve based most of what I’ve done in my own business life and in developing strategies for my clients on this single piece of advice. I heard this one while I was still a teenager, listening to a cassette tape by Earl Nightingale. Earl said that if you wanted to do something—anything—successfully and you had no instructions, no role model, no road map, no mentors, all you needed to do was look around at how the majority was doing that thing, then do the opposite—because the majority is always wrong. Whenever I teach this, there’s always one twit who challenges me with our own great American democracy as his sword. After all, he’ll say, our system of government is based on majority rule. Well, no, it’s not. First of all, the founding fathers originally had only people paying taxes—at the time, landowners—voting. Second, the electoral college got stuck in to provide a last line of defense against public stupidity—in case you didn’t know it, the electors aren’t legally bound to vote as their state’s majority has. Third, fortunately, the majority does not vote. If the majority actually, directly elected people, Kim Kardashian would be president and the guy from Duck Dynasty would be vice president. So, no, thank our stars, our government is not majority rule. And the principle stands that the majority is always wrong, and you gain most by conforming to the majority as little as possible.
Now back to this hiring and firing thing.
Most business owners fire slow. They manage like they go to the movies. Sitting through a three-hour-long movie that is rancid from the first to the 180th minute. Why? They think it has to get better. They keep hoping it will get better.
Bad employees don't cure themselves like ham hung in a barn. Hope isn’t a sound business strategy. But that’s what too many managers do—they wait and hope for a miraculous, spontaneous cure. Consequently, according to my admittedly unscientific survey of about a hundred of my clients, the average firing occurs somewhere between six and 18 months after the business owner knew the employee was consistently performing poorly, consistently noncompliant, poisoning the workplace and negatively affecting others in it, or otherwise stinking up the joint. Ironically, most employees who finally get fired are mystified the axe didn’t fall sooner. One told a friend of mine, “When you didn’t fire me five months ago when you should have, I figured I could get away with just about anything.” Some fired employees are even relieved and glad it’s over; they’ve been visualizing the sword of Damocles overhead for months.
Being six to 18 months late doing anything in business is a very bad idea.
There is, sadly, one other reason the necessary firings occur so late. Sure, we’re waiting and hoping for the bad movie to get good, against our best instincts and all our previous experience. But beyond that, a lot of owners delay firing people who desperately need firing because they're lazy. They've permitted the bad employee to amass and control information that only the employee knows, carried in his or her head or filed with his or her own unique code. One lawyer once told me, “She’s my worst employee, but I rely on her every time I go to court.” Huh?
And the business owner dreads the difficulty of finding and training a replacement. In this, they're like the single guy at home alone on an autumn Sunday afternoon in dirty underwear, watching football, who discovers he has no cash and his refrigerator has only a beer, a two-day-old half of a pizza, and some bologna going green around the edges. After weighing the options, he’d rather trim the green and eat the bologna and old pizza for dinner than find some clothes, get dressed, go to the ATM, then go to the grocery store. Hard to have any sympathy for him when he’s up half the night at the vomitorium.
Being six to 18 months late is inexcusable.
Next mistake: hiring fast. This is closely linked to the first mistake more often than not. After finally firing the toxic employee, you create a vacancy that needs to be filled. You’ve done nothing proactive to be able to fill it until your urgent and desperate need has arisen. Thus the fact that your “best” applicant attracted from your first help-wanted posting at Monster.com has two nose rings, sports a tattoo that says “Kill The Boss,” has no references and occasionally interrupts their own sentences by snarling like a dog is ignored. Hey, those phones need answering today.
This is the way almost everybody operates. Do the opposite.