It was day two of the new hire orientation training for the most recent cohort when I got a visit from one of the training facilitators, Sharon. As the human resources manager, it was customary for the training facilitators to check in and share how things were going during the new hire computer training. However there was nothing customary about this check in. Sharon reported that one of the new hires was asking the other new hires to borrow money. Strange…I had to find out what was going on so I asked the new hire directly. “Linda”, as we’ll call her, said she left her wallet home…hmm, understandable…but I had a nagging feeling that something was off. After all, the manner in which she handled it was odd. By now, you are probably thinking this story doesn’t have a happy ending. You’re right! I had to let her go within the probationary period.
That situation was a blinking red light in the middle of the night, but the most common signs that we have hired the wrong person don’t always grab our immediate attention. Understanding the nuances of human behavior is necessary to spot some of them. When you couple that with the free-flowing compassion of many nonprofit leaders, it is easy to see how these signs get overlooked. To cushion you from The Not-So Surprising Truth: Nonprofit Leaders Are Likely to Repeat Bad Hiring Decisions, here are 3 warning signs that whisper “bad fit” and some strategies for addressing them.
1. Lateness/Call Outs – Surprised this is on the list? Well, don’t be. This issue definitely makes the “top 3 reasons people are fired in the first 90 days” list. Let’s set the record straight. Life happens and there are legitimate reasons why someone would be late or call out (e.g. hospitalization/illness, death, pre-scheduled court appointments). However, those are not the most common reasons you will hear for why someone is late or absent; “the train/bus was late”, “I overslept”, or “I wasn’t feeling well” are more likely. On the surface being late once or twice a week may not seem like a big deal, but frequent lateness is often the first to manifest itself in a series of unprofessional conduct such as not following standard policies/ procedures and lack of consideration for team members. In my experience, this is one area where past performance can be a predictor of future performance. For example, at one of my former organizations, we found that 6 out of the 10 new hires who were late during their probationary period received progressive corrective action including termination for lateness within the first year of employment. What are the stats for your organization? Conduct a quick assessment by looking at your hires for the last 2 years. For the new hires that showed up late within their probationary period, have you had to counsel them subsequently? Chances are you won’t have to dig far to know the answer. Use that information to develop a protocol for lateness/attendance issues in the probationary period.
2. Regular complaints about the work, organization, co-workers and/or clients – In the “honeymoon” period, new hires are the most excited about their new role, their new organization and the new possibilities. The excitement tends to wane as new hires assimilate into their new experience and begin to put their new skills to the test – this is normal, and so are the accompanying doubts/concerns they might voice about doing a good job. During this time, you play a critical role in helping your new hires succeed by providing direction and restoring confidence. However, if a new hire regularly complains about the work or is very critical of her/his new co-workers this could be an indication of something more serious. Addressing this kind of issue can be uncomfortable because it is not as tangible as a lateness record or a poor quality report, for instance. However, leaders must specialize in the “intangible” as it is their responsibility to uphold the vision and values of the organization. Trust your instinct and probe further by having an honest and open check-in meeting with the new hire:
- Does she/he feel this is the right place for her/him?
- If not, what is the best exit strategy?
- If so, how is her/his behavior not aligned with organizational values and your expectations? What behavior change is necessary? Leave the door open for another check-in within 2-3 weeks to reassess the situation.
3. Poor quality work –During the “put the best foot forward” period, most new hires want to show off their skills and abilities to convince you that you have made the right choice. That’s a good thing! However, when the work product doesn’t reflect that, don’t ignore it. Instead, get to the bottom of it. Poor quality work can result from a lack of know-how, a lack of resources, a lack of motivation or any combination thereof. Before deciding the next steps, consider these questions: