You’ve Hired the Wrong Person — What Now?

You can learn a lot about a new hire during onboarding — including that you perhaps should not have hired them in the first place. There are people who look good on paper and say all the right things in interviews, but sometimes the only way to reveal a person’s true work ethic is to see them on the job. Whether it’s a know-it-all attitude, lack of cooperation with colleagues, or something else altogether, there are a few things you can do if you find you've hired the wrong person.

Difficult and uncomfortable as firing an employee may be, it is definitely something you must to do. Failing to address a bad hire can have a major impact on your company’s bottom line. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the average cost of a bad hire can equal 30% of their first-year potential earnings. Not to mention that you will then have to recruit, hire, and onboard an entirely new team member, an action which can cost at least $12,500.

Knowing if You Hired the Wrong person

Knowing with certainty that you’ve hired the wrong person often comes following many sneaky suspicions and warning bells. A single slip-up from a new hire isn’t any reason to panic — your job as a manager is to be patient and see whether a trend develops.

As one company co-founder writes in Forbes, employees are not good or bad — they can be placed on a spectrum. That spectrum can be determined by four general factors, listed here in their most desirable order:

  • An employee who performs well in their job and has a good attitude;
  • An employee who performs in a mediocre way and has a good attitude;
  • An employee who performs well in their job and has a bad attitude;
  • An employee who performs poorly in their job and has a bad attitude.

These combinations bring us to the question of attitude and the important role it plays in both employee performance and workplace dynamic. There is a reason why an employee with mediocre performance but a good attitude is listed higher than one with excellent performance but a bad attitude. Here’s why: performance can be improved more often than attitudes can be changed. If you think you have hired the wrong person, look at these four bullet points and see which category the person falls within. If it’s the bottom two, be wary.

The Problem with Bad Attitudes

Bad attitudes must be dealt with sooner rather than later. Attitudes are internalized, and have less to do with a work environment than they do with a person themselves. If your new hire has a negative attitude — whether it’s pessimistic behavior, harassment, or lack of respect — he or she should be given a few chances — not a set time period — to improve. If they fail to pass a “three strikes you’re out” rule, they should be terminated.

One problem with bad attitudes is that they impact more than just that employee’s performance. Bad attitudes are potent enough to sink an entire team, and create a miserable work environment that can trigger bad behavior in other employees. This negativity breeds alarmingly fast, so it’s better to nip a bad hire in the bud.

Leave Room for Improvement

If it’s not because of an attitude problem, then chances are you’re hesitant about a new hire because of their performance. While definitely an issue, performance can be improved, where attitude often cannot.

A new hire isn’t solely responsible for making their first months a flop. As an employer, it could actually be that you didn’t do a good job onboarding. Effective onboarding makes for efficient employees, and a formal, automated onboarding system can result in an increase of 50% in new hire retention. If your onboarding was more of an orientation — or if you didn’t offer onboarding at all — you may have contributed to your employee’s poor performance.

The good news about employee performance is that it can almost always be improved. A managerial role is to diagnose where an employee is having difficulty — be it because of too little information, lack of clarity around their job, or some other factor. Given that $12,000 employee replacement figure mentioned earlier, it is less expensive to invest in your current hire than to instinctively give up and search for a new one.

Here are three best practices to deal with a low performing employee:

  • Structure your hiring process to allow for a trial employee period: As one CEO puts it in this Forbes article, “date before getting married.” Offering employees a one or two month trial period before being hired full-time will give you a better picture of how that person interacts with your work environment and their new team. There is definitely the risk of a honeymoon period still happening — where the employee puts on a productivity or good attitude “show” — but it’s still one way to insure your hiring choice.
  • Do regular performance check-ins: If an employee is having a difficult time adjusting, a monthly performance review is certainly not going to be enough. Instead, try consistent coaching: weekly or bi-weekly sit-downs between manager and employee. Consistent coaching addresses issues in a timely manner and creates space for discussion in less formalized work environments, such as construction sites or factories.
  •  Set a time limit: Like a probationary period, know when enough is enough. Decide on a period of time an employee will have to improve their performance, and if they haven’t made that progress, cut your losses.

And above all, remember to document everything — from employee onboarding to performance reviews to learning management. This is important for the good employees as well as the bad. Documenting an employee’s efforts (or lack of effort) to improve will mean you have a paper trail to refer to if and when it comes down to letting them go.


Chris Lennon is Vice President of Product Management at BirdDogHR. He is responsible for ensuring the BirdDogHR Talent Management System meets the needs and exceeds the expectations of our customers. He does this by working directly with customers and partners, identifying key market opportunities, developing product strategies and bringing exciting new products, features, and partnerships to market.