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Hiring is a tough business. It takes patience, proper screening and careful analysis. With so many talented people out of work right now, it's going to take some time to find the one who really fits the bill.

After 10 years of leading a growing online payroll company, the biggest lesson I've learned about hiring is one I keep learning over and over again the hard way.  Not surprisingly, it's the same one you hear from any experienced manager — not correcting a hiring mistake quickly is always more harmful than taking the time you need to pick the right person the first go around.

For most small businesses, it's a natural part of the business' evolution. At first you need generalists in most positions. You need someone to run all aspects of your marketing or finance, for example.  But as your business evolves and grows, you'll often need people with specific skills sets rather than generalists to keep your business growing.

Sometimes generalists are up to the challenge of learning new skills and taking their careers in new directions. Other times they're not ready, right, or interested in growing into the positions your business needs. I've seen the results of putting the wrong person in a new position firsthand, and I haven't reacted quickly enough. The employee becomes frustrated or unhappy, or both. The work suffers, and if this person manages employees, they suffer too. When you've seen these signs, the writing's on the wall.

You're running the show, and that means you're ultimately responsible for fixing the problem, whether that's changing the process or the people. Sometimes it means bringing in someone with the skills, experience and desire to grow to help your generalists. Other times it means, unfortunately, terminating someone whose skills no longer match your needs, and who's unwilling or unable to adapt. Nobody likes to fire anyone, except maybe Donald Trump, but as the leader, you have to make the decisions that benefit your whole organization.

I wish I could tell you I have a surefire method for pinpointing very early when an employee isn't the right fit and how to terminate someone in a completely painless manner. Unfortunately, it doesn't exist. Remember that while you have to make decisions that are best for the company as a whole, you must  respect the individual you have to let go.

I can tell you, though, that when you find that right person, you'll never second guess your decision to handle the problem swiftly.  Recently, we hired a new manager for our Customer Care department. It became very obvious within weeks that he was the right fit for the position. Everything fit. Customers are happier, Customer Care representatives are happier, and he's providing constant ideas to improve operations.

Swift changes may make you uneasy. The status quo can be comfortable. But when inaction is hurting your business' performance, change has to come. You need the right person in the right seat. The sooner you address the problem, the sooner you can find the specialist who can turn it around — and the sooner you can focus on growth or other problem areas in your business.

Last updated: Jan 21, 2011

MICHAEL ALTER | Columnist | President of SurePayroll

Michael Alter is president of SurePayroll, America?s leading online payroll service. He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Northwestern University.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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