Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
Do you have any advice on replacing a current employee before they know they are being replaced, when that employee is HR? In a small company with one HR person, we certainly can't place an ad -- and we want to have viable candidates before this person is let go. This is due to serious performance issues which have been addressed, time and again, yet continue. I am the one picking up the slack for what isn't being done and am now involved in the replacement process.
The one HR professional I knew who was on the market got a job 15 days before I was asked to see if she was interested. That exhausted all our personal connections -- such as they were.
This can't be uncommon, but it's really hard to find anything written about this.
Well, the first thing I'd ask is: Are you sure that's the order you have to do things in? I strongly advise firing the employee first and then launching your search -- largely because it feels like the right thing to do, but also because you want the strongest candidate pool possible, and if you're sneaking around conducting the search covertly, you're almost definitely going to compromise your ability to do that.
Yes, firing her first does mean that the position would be vacant for a period, but I'd be surprised if it weren't possible to find a way to cover her essential responsibilities for a couple of months until you get someone new in there. After all, if she were suddenly hospitalized for a month, you'd find a way to make it work.
If there's no one on staff who can cover the essentials, look into getting a temp with an HR background to fill in while the position is open.
But if for some reason you're absolutely committed to starting the search before she's gone -- and again, I recommend against it -- you could (a) use a search firm so that applications aren't coming into your office, and make sure the search firm knows it can't identify your company in the ad, or (b) set up an anonymous email address for applications and do the screening yourself.
There's another option too, although it depends on the employee's character and maturity: Could you simply be open with her about the fact that it's not working out and mutually set a date for her last day that's a month or two away, with the understanding that that will give her time to look for a job and you time to look for a replacement? Of course, this works only with employees who you know won't be so hostile or demoralized that they're at risk of poisoning the office environment or sabotaging the company in some way. And if you find that either one of those things is happening, you need to be prepared to have them leave immediately. But with the right person, in the right culture, this can work. Listen to your gut on this, though; if you have doubts, don't do it.
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