When it comes to winning the talent game, one half of the equation is getting the best people to join your team. But the other half is recognizing--quickly--when it's time to let someone go. Leadership IQ reports that almost half (46%) of all new hires fail in less than two years. Knowing this, accept the fact that you'll make some mistakes, and be prepared to part ways soon once you identify it.

There are a number of common reasons for letting someone go, from failing to perform up to standards, to being less qualified than he or she originally appeared to be. However, deeper and more problematic issues might stem from attitude problems or misalignment with the company's core values.

Here are three ways to make the process of parting ways clearer and easier for all involved:

Emphasize cultural fit over competency. When deciding whether or not to let someone go, it's crucial to be clear about your values. The soundest reason for parting ways is when an employee is clearly not aligned with the company's stated core values. While a learning curve can be overcome, a true cultural mismatch can't. According to Harris Interactive, a majority of new hires (61%) feel unhappy specifically because they believe they were initially misled about the job or company before they were hired. You can reduce this problem by letting the organization's core values guide your hiring process.

We follow this practice at Pluralsight, hiring only candidates who represent the qualities that have been identified as most important to everyone at the company: specifically truth-seekers, entrepreneurs, and eternal optimists. To get a reality check on the front end, consider putting candidates into real-life scenarios like a team lunch or a pair programming session that will help you see more clearly what it would be like to work with them, and whether or not the core values are evident.

Act quickly. It's human nature to want to allow for the benefit of the doubt. When presented with facts or feelings that suggest someone is a poor fit, rather than trusting their gut, many leaders fail to make haste and instead drag out the process of evaluating every nuance of the situation. This approach unfortunately just drags out the toxic dynamic, causing greater damage to the employee, the team, and the company.

Instead, think like Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, and ask yourself if you're really moving too quickly--or if you're acting too slowly. In a recent CEO Summit I attended with Jim, he surveyed the group about the decision to let people go. He asked us to consider whether we typically err on the side of taking more time (to give the situation a chance) or of acting quickly (more out of instinct). The entire room said that they typically err on the side of taking more time. Then Jim asked us to reflect back on all of our recent terminations and whether we waited too long or moved too fast. Almost everyone in the room said they waited too long, every time. This makes it pretty obvious that we're wired as humans to do the wrong thing. Statistically, we'd be much better off to move faster once we recognize an issue.

Trust the team. While you can do your best as a leader to make smart hires that reflect your company's core values, no one can get it right every time. Instead of kicking yourself for mistakes, realize up front that you'll make some bad hires, and enlist your team--from the outset--to partner with you in preserving a positive atmosphere for the group. It's the team's responsibility to protect the core values. At Pluralsight, if peers on a team notice that someone is poisoning group efforts by bringing bad behavior, negativity, or dysfunction into the culture, everyone keeps their commitment to each other and to the company by shining a light on it. The leader of the team is then responsible for holding that person accountable--and if the necessary change is not possible, leaders must be willing to let that person go for the benefit of the group.

This process is about extracting a commitment from leadership, as well as within teams, to identify bad culture fits and cut them loose. Teams should be trained to identify cultural mismatches and take action, like rejecting a failed organ. Zappos has even tried to engineer this into their hiring process, offering every new employee the option to take $3,000 in return for leaving the company at the end of their onboarding if they feel the position isn't the right fit for them. In the end, $3K is a small price to pay to build the right team of talent that can lead your company to a more successful future.

Published on: Mar 31, 2015
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