"I quit. I'm in Miami and leaving the van with the keys here."

That was the call I received one weekend not long after launching my first business. To exacerbate the situation, the van referenced was full of valuable merchandise, and I was 11 hours away in South Carolina.

And so started my long history of terrible hires.

Some background. I had started a business with a partner, and we were already stretched to the limit with time and money and stress. The van in question was in route to Miami to deliver merchandise to new clients, and needless to say, it never made it to the clients. Immediately, after receiving the call, I drove with my business partner overnight to Miami to retrieve the van.

Of course, like every entrepreneurial story, this one was more complicated. The deliver drive who abandoned our van and merchandise was actually on his third stint with our company. Yes, third.

When the driver originally applied for the position, he was a well-spoken and ambitious and genuinely seemed enthusiastic to join our gritty startup team. The first time we hired him, however, he did not show up for his first day, though he did call later and had a reasonably good excuse for missing. He demonstrated remorse and continued to express enthusiasm to be part of our team, so I gave him another chance.

Fool me once, shame on you.

When his first day again came, he again never showed up. And again, he called and had a seemingly valid reason for not coming. He begged for one more opportunity, and although I declined originally, but he was persistent. Against everything I knew and had been taught, I gave him another chance.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

This third time, he did show up for his first day, and after a couple of days on the job and getting to know our operation, he seemed reliable. We then decided to give him the van keys to make the 11 hours trip to Miami, meet with our clients and deliver merchandise.

He left, and the next day, he called to tell us he quit.

Fool me thrice, call it a day.

What I remember most about this incident were the debates between me and my business partner, who from the start disagreed with hiring this driver and certainly disagreed with giving him two more chances. It was a long, quiet drive together down to Miami, and I left any remaining pride I had at home.

While everything turned out fine -- we recovered the van and the merchandise before our clients even knew anything was amiss -- there were certainly lessons to be learned.

Put In The Time

This story was just one in a handful of terrible hiring decisions during this time in my career, many of which are detailed in my book from that time. It took a while, but I eventually learned that there were no shortcuts to hiring the right people. If you want to find the type of people that are going to compliment your business, you need understand that it takes time, energy, resources and, most important, patience.

In my work now as a consultant, I often see entrepreneurs, in a hurry to build a business, completely overlook or underestimate the resources needed to find the right people. Instead, they rush to hire in order to not stunt the growth and opportunity, failing to realize that hiring poorly could ultimately do just that.

How do you start? In addition to great articles about hiring, Inc also has a great HR reference library you can use to help guide you. Fellow columnist, Bill Murphy, Jr., also has nine great tips for hiring.

Get People Off Your Bus

Author Jim Collins, who wrote Good to Great and Built to Last, uses a bus analogy for hiring, emphasizing that companies need to not only find the right people but also put them in the right seats.

That is sound advice, but there also needs to be an emphasis on getting people off the bus when they become a menace. This is difficult for some entrepreneurs to do, because getting rid of a person involves many steps, creates holes that need to be filled, and takes even more time and money.

With certainty however, I can tell you that whatever you calculate as the cost and inconvenience, it is far less than ignoring the problem and allowing it to fester.

Prioritize Gut Over Pride

Looking back on this delivery driver fiasco, I remember also having a bad feeling about him from the start, and certainly after not showing up the first time. My pride and desire to be right, however, got in the way of the rational decision to move on. 

Today, I go more with gut feeling and will be the first person to admit when I am wrong. That is not always easy for new entrepreneurs, but they can compensate by consulting with partners and advisors about a hire, checking references and backgrounds, and most important, if something seems off, continuing the search until it feels right.

What do you think? Please share your bad hiring stories -- and the lessons you learned -- with me at Twitter.   

Published on: Mar 30, 2019
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