Whoops, You Hired a Dud. Now What?

U.S.News & World Report

Oh, is that your new hire, rolling in at 11 a.m. with a macchiato? Is that her, gossiping about HR in the restroom? Oh no, that's him, shrugging off assignments that are "not his job?"


Hopefully, this is an unlikely occurrence. You and your team spend so much time and effort finding the best candidate that duds don't make it through the door. But what happens when an underperformer slips through the cracks of the hiring process? And here she is, now a paid employee, taking three hour lunches and bringing down the team? And you hired her. Here's your plan:

[Read: 8 Things New Employees Should Never Do.]

Recognize the signs of a potentially regrettable hire. Martin Yate, author of "Hiring the Best: A Manager's Guide to Effective Interviewing and Recruiting" and the upcoming "Knock 'em Dead 2015: The Ultimate Job Search Guide" lists a few behaviors to watch out for:

-- The Head Nodder. When new hires accept tasks passively and don't follow up with questions, it "shows a lack of engagement," Yate says.

-- The Disappearing Act. These folks arrive late, leave early, take long lunches, have a suspicious number of appointments and take sick days right off the bat. Similarly, be wary of new hires who immediately make special requests for flexible hours and work-from-home privileges.

-- The Slob. Questionable personal hygiene? This is particularly troublesome for employees expected to meet with clients, vendors or the general public, Yate says.

-- The War Zone Worker. "Workplace cleanliness tells you about the person's sense of self-worth," Yate says. This is a judgment call, given the level of messiness and the office's policy on workspace upkeep -- if there is one.

-- The Mistake Mishandler. "All new employees make mistakes," Yate says. "When they do, the correct response is, 'I did this, and it was wrong because of A, B, C, D and E. I will correct that' -- as opposed to arguing or trying to lay blame elsewhere."

-- The Gossipers. Like haters gonna hate, gossipers gonna gossip. "And when they don't have anything better to talk about, they know they can get attention by criticizing the employer," Yate says.

-- The Voluntarily Detached. Managers should look out for people doing the least they can do and leaning on the "not my job" mantra, Yate says. Ideally, you hired someone who is stepping up, volunteering for extra opportunities and going above and beyond their duties, he adds.

Yate points out that managers should look for a pattern of behavior. If the employee has a messy desk and is otherwise great, there's probably no need for the firing squad. But often these behaviors will overlap. The person who doesn't care enough to show up on time probably won't care enough to take on new assignments or volunteer for extra tasks.

Document. So say your new hire is giving you doubts -- what now? "Ideally, you work with your really great HR generalist, who is going to support you in creating a coaching and documentation plan," says Laurie Ruettimann, a human resources consultant based in Raleigh, North Carolina. "But generally speaking, that doesn't happen." Maybe there are no HR resources at your job. Or maybe, like lots of managers, you turn to passive aggression -- or plain old passiveness.

There's a better way: "The moment you see a trend, that's when you start to document it via email to the employee directly or work through your local HR department," Ruettimann says.

Jaime Klein, founder and president of Inspire Human Resources, a New York-based consulting firm, suggests verbally warning the employee on the first offense and following up via email, which "formalizes the conversation." Klein says that in these emails, it's OK to hint that this unfixed action could be grounds for termination. And, she adds: "Whenever you can tie in the reason for your criticism back to the organization's goals, or the culture or the business objective, it just feels less personal." For example, say your new editor has been regularly rolling in at 10 a.m. Point out that 8:30 a.m. is not an arbitrary start time. This new hire needs to arrive ;that early so he or she can provide edited copy to the proofreaders by 10, so they can meet their noon deadlines. Tie it back to the team.

Best case scenario: Employees realize the error in their ways, understand the seriousness thanks to the email and fix the problems. "Sometimes they need a mirror held up to really understand how they're coming across," Klein says.

If that's not the case -- if an employee continues to create headaches, and you choose to part ways -- you have documentation to show his or her behaviors have been addressed and gone unresolved. Documenting issues via email or logging them in a time-stamped Word document is "not just so you have a legal paper trail," Ruettimann says. "But it's to feel good about it and say to the employee, 'I dare you to come at me with a lawyer, because clearly this has all been documented.'"

[Read: How to Fire Someone Compassionately .]

Act quickly. When you have a situation where a new employee isn't performing, "You have to attack it like a freaking heart attack," Ruettimann says. "You don't let it fester like the cancerous tumor that it is." If you wait six months to talk with HR and haven't been documenting, "you almost have to start the clock fresh," she says.

As a leader, you should think of the team and your brand. "When a leader has someone with these concerning behaviors and doesn't take action, it chips away at the respect that the complacent employees have for that leader," Klein says. Those complacent employees may think: This manager doesn't reward the hard workers and reprimand the slackers. Or: This manager is so disconnected that he or she doesn't notice poor behavior. Or simply: Oh, the new hire shows up at 10, and the boss doesn't say anything? I'll start coming in late, too. On the flip side, "Employees end up respecting a leader more who has very clear boundaries that everyone knows, Klein says.

[See: The 25 Best Jobs of 2014.]

Do some soul-searching. Ask yourself: What went wrong in the hiring process? "Hold the hiring manager accountable," Ruettimann says.

Whoever is in charge needs to learn how to interview better to weed out candidates who will show these deviant behaviors. Ruettimann's "secret weapon" as a recruiter is the secondary reference, in which she talks with the reference listed by the candidate, and then she asks that person if there's another contact.

Klein suggests behavioral-based questions, so that the candidate must describe an experience when he or she had to use the exact skill that will be required in the job. "Get to meat," she says, and "ask substantive questions -- not just, 'tell me your strengths and weaknesses.'"

If you hired an underperformer, chances are you underperformed while hiring him or her. "A manager's job is to get work done through others. And so if you don't hire effectively, you cannot manage effectively," Yate says. "So it's kind of important you learn how to hire people."

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