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"We really like them, but they're just not meeting expectations..."

I hear this fairly often, but a conversation with a client this week really hit hard.

In a previous role, I was lucky to have a "consolation prize" of sorts... When we hired someone into my department who didn't quite "make it", we were able to offer them a position that allowed us to recover some of our "lost" resources spent on on-boarding that employee by keeping them on board. The role was less exciting and paid less, but that employee got a chance to stay with the company and/or have time to look for an opportunity elsewhere.

My question for everyone out here is:

What do you do with a hire that is a great cultural fit, and everyone thought would be a terrific add, but 6 months in they aren't panning out?


  • Good question Mark. I think in a large part it boils down to their intent. In my opinion it can take a long time to find someone who is truly a good cultural fit for an organization, so if they have done everything to try to improve and have put the effort in, but for whatever reason it becomes clear that there is misalignment with their position, it can be beneficial to seek other opportunities for them within the business that may be a better fit and give them a chance to shine elsewhere.

    On the other hand, if someone is a great fit in terms of how they blend in to the culture of the business, but there has not been enough effort on their part to improve performance, then I think a more drastic decision may need to be made.

  • Great question Mark, and there is an important differentiation that I think we have to make. If we're hiring an individual at the outset because of a great culture fit, strong understanding of the business and market, and an institutional knowledge that could provide us as an organization great learning and proactivity in approach, then it is imperative that we work to find a role where lack of production doesn't outweigh the net benefit that drew a candidate to us at the outset.

    More commonly though, we see what you just described above; that is, an employee or a candidate who failed to meet expectations is realigned because of a fear of opportunity cost. We have the data to correlate to performance, and in spite of this data point because we don't want to lose out on the onboarding investment we'd made, we try to recoup this by realigning role, minimizing impact, and often reducing pay. Not only is this an ineffective way to recoup human capital investment, it can often compound the problem and bring it into another part of the organization.

  • Mark, great question that I'm sure everyone in every company experiences at one point or another.

    Adam, you make a valuable point.

    There have been times within multiple organizations where someone wasn’t meeting the bare minimum requirements but exhibited a great attitude. We always tried to move the person around attempting to find the “right fit”  -- but did so with a blindfold on. Not knowing anything about “Behavioral Fit” at the time, we had no idea how to place the right person in the right seat and were ill-equipped to explain the perfect fit desire to the employee. As such, we never had anyone stay on and keep that great attitude after experiencing a perceived “demotion” or reduction in the rate of pay.

    With behavioral fit in place for both job and employee as well as a structured interview process, the chances for a bad fit are drastically reduced. Assuming this framework is in place, and we discovered there was a lousy match, we would fully assess all the dynamics of the role, job, and team to see where we were falling short and make the necessary adjustments on our end. If we determined that it was an outright bad match and there were no other ideal fits for the person we revert to the golden rule of “Hire Slow & Fire Fast.”

    I'm not sure how it’s possible to “recoup” monies spent to recruit, hire, and onboard a person. It doesn't seem reasonable to the person or the company to prolong a bad hire / poor fit. 

  • Great Q! And a question I wish I'd had a forum like this to discuss years ago.

    In total agreement with other responses—do your due diligence upfront in the hiring process for role fit and find another role in the organization if you can.

    That said, if there's not another role, it may just not be the time. That sounds kind of callous, but I used to have a colleague who was super smart, great culture fit, but there wasn't a clear role for her and it ended up causing her to become disengaged. She left and went somewhere else—and it wasn't a happy parting. So as much as it sucks to let someone go, sometimes that's the only way to help them find someplace they actually fit. This doesn't have to be an immediate fire but more of a coaching out—help that person find a new position with another company where their personality and talents are a good fit RIGHT NOW (not in a future world where the right position exists).

  • I think Shannon makes a really great point here about role fit and timing - if a candidate is a great culture fit but might be lacking in certain pieces of the position, it would likely be more beneficial to say "not right now" and keep their contact information on file for future roles that better align with their skillset. Proactive sourcing of candidates is great for your people ops teams and makes the pipeline flow much quicker. As Shannon said, for those on whom you've taken a chance that didn't pan out, coaching them out of the position/organization will benefit both the organization and the employee.

  • I saw a great quote earlier this week: "Were they dead when you hired them, or did you kill them?" - W.E. Deming

    I'd suggest you engage in a little self-reflection on the hiring process used to bring them in, and/or the on-boarding process that resulted in their flaming out. Maybe culture fit isn't the key driver of performance in the role, and a greater emphasis should be placed on business results, cognitive, skills or other competencies. Perhaps they have great aptitude to be successful but no one has done a great job of training them, acclimating them, or communicating what success looks like in the role. In any case, it's never an easy situation to be in. Good luck!

  • The above quote is awesome!

    There area lot of reasons someone may not work out in a role... And Kelly nails a lot of them. Ultimately, it is worth evaluating this from a Talent Optimization perspective in terms of job fit, team fit, manager fit, or org fit . In other words, understanding the root causes to help fix the situation or at least to learn from it for the future. Research shows that employee engagement drives productivity. There are a lot of reasons it can go wrong (e.g., job, manager, team, broader org and culture).

    So when considering what to do - I think it comes down to evaluating... In which way do they fit or not fit?

    Job - If it is a job thing, then maybe there are other jobs at the org where they will be a better fit. This is the easiest one to fix. Either there is or there isn't. Performance management can help here as can reshaping small aspects of the job.

    Manager - If it is manager conflict, is it due to performance or personality differences? Will a new manager really make a difference? Is there even a new manager available or do you have to change the job?

    Team - Is it the team or is it the person? Did this person just not bond with anyone or do are they a source of conflict with others? Is it the person's fault or is the team (or at least one person on it) not helping? Fixing team dynamics is tough but doable. Usually, you can't move someone to a new team without changing job and/or manager too.

    Org - Is it the broader organization and dislike for senior leaders, the way things get done, or the culture? If it is, then it may best to save energy and send them on their way because convincing them that the culture, the mission, the values, and the leadership are worth getting excited about is the hardest of the four to fix.

  • I have really enjoyed reading everyone's perspective! From mine, it boils down to the potential longevity of the employee. If they continue to be unsuccessful in the role, they will ultimately leave because they are not being fulfilled. Of course there are people who will stay because the are getting a paycheck and finding fulfillment in other areas of their lives but most will not feel good about themselves and eventually find a more suitable role.

    In these situations, it's best to be transparent. Before taking steps towards letting them go, have an honest conversation with them. Talk about how they clearly display the company values and culture but honestly discuss their performance issues.

    Ask them if they see it the same way and if they have any ideas why this might be an issue. Ask if there's anything you can do to help them.

    If they agree that they just aren't good at this job, and you're ok with doing this, let them know that it's ok if they are interested in looking for another job and that you'll give them a stellar recommendation, then work on a phasing out timeline.

    If their perception is that you could be doing things to help them, try. Develop a performance plan together with a re-evaluation date. Agree that you're fully committed to making it work if they are but that, if it is not, you'll agree to part ways.

    I had a VP once who operated this way - unless it was a behavioral issue - and gained a lot of respect by being respectful and open. We're all humans. We don't need to sugar coat issues like this and we do need to have the conversation. Once you open the conversation, there's an opportunity for a mutually beneficial resolution. 😊

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