Why I sacked my “best” staff member

The deal was done, and we had shaken hands on it. I was so excited. I had just employed a senior manager for my business, and the future looked bright. I was going to delegate much of my day-to-day management tasks to him — I could spend more time building the business and focus on my key customers.

I had spent the last 12 months trawling through recruitment agencies, employment websites, word of mouth and advertisements to hire a manger for my business so I could free up my time and focus on growing my business. The hunt was over, and now I was going to enjoy the fruits of my labour, or so it seemed.

He had all the right credentials, a glowing resume and had said all the right things during the four vigorous interviews that we had together. He said he was a “high performer” and a “top producer” and that he would be the “best” person I would ever employ for the position. I was convinced, and so was he.

Fast-forward eight months later and the dream had turned into a nightmare. My existing staff were unhappy, customers were complaining about him and we were losing business. I had to act. I had no choice: I sacked the person who, eight months earlier, was supposed to be my best staff member. Where did I go so wrong?

They say in business that staff are your best asset. However I’d like to think staff could be your best asset — or your worst liability.

Like your own children, staff can bring you moments of great joy and happiness, as well as periods of total frustration and misery. Most business owners alternate between the two: days of business bliss where everyone in the team is working well, to days of complete frustration, when staff let you down or just hi-jack your working day.

Like any business owner I needed to grow, so I wanted to put on senior people who could share the load and help me expand my business. However, while great staff can grow your business, bad staff can sink your business just as fast.

When I went back and did a post-mortem of where I went wrong with employing my “best” staff member, I began to see the critical mistakes I made. I am going to share these mistakes with you and also the tips that you should follow when recruiting key staff for your business.

80 percent is not good enough

Never employ someone who is 80 percent of what you want. I thought I could turn that 20 percent that was missing into the 100 percent I needed. If you are not 100 percent sure about a person, don’t employ them. Be patient and keep looking.

Also, don’t accept anything less than 100 percent positive feedback when you do reference checks on a potential staff member. I made the mistake of dismissing one poor reference check out of two good ones. One past employer specifically said not to trust this candidate. I just put it down to a bad experience, but I should have delved deeper. Don’t accept anything less than three glowing references; otherwise, you will regret it.

I also accepted other references from people who were his friends. What else would you expect them to say but give a glowing reference to one of their mates? Also be very cautious when potential candidates tell you not to contact certain past employers. Alarm bells should go off in your head when you are told this.

Go with your gut feel

Great business owners who run thriving businesses tend to rely on “gut feel” or intuition when running their business. From recruiting staff to picking trends in the market place, such business owners exhibit a certain gut feel and trust their instincts when making key decisions. I had a gut feeling that things were not quite right about this candidate, but I ignored the little voice inside my head.

While my candidate exhibited all the right qualities and said all the right things during the interviews, I just had a feeling I couldn’t quite explain. Things seemed too good to be true about his responses and the claims he made about how good he was and what he had done in past jobs.

At times we like to believe what people tell us, and we try to give people the benefit of the doubt. However, one of the key traps that I fell into was not relying on the cold, hard facts in a person’s resume and reading between the lines. When you recruit staff, you need to be able to separate fact from fiction and take emotion out of the equation. This can be hard, as we all like to talk ourselves up and exaggerate what we can do.

You need to be a detective and look for the clues that tell you a different story about a potential staff member. You want to look for truth and not fiction in the story they are telling you.

Cut your losses early

Within the first few weeks that my candidate started work, I saw some early warning signs. Customers complained that he was disorganised during meetings with them; that he didn’t know the correct advice he was giving and was making mistakes on jobs. I put this down to being new on a job, but in hindsight I should have expected someone of his calibre to hit the ground running. I saw the warning signs, but I chose to ignore them.

When you have a new staff member that isn’t working out, then you must act quickly or your business will suffer in the long run. This may be difficult, but it is your business and your rules. Remove problem staff members quickly; otherwise, you will lose customers and regret not acting sooner.

Trust your network

Use your network of friends and associates to judge some of the candidates that you have shortlisted for recruiting. Trust your network to give you valuable feedback and share information with you on likely candidates. It is always great to get a second opinion from others in your business networks because sometimes our own subjective emotions cloud our decisions.

I sought the second opinions of my trusted friends in my business network, and they were suspicious about this person. Yet again I ignored the sage advice of my colleagues, went with my emotions, and lived to regret it.

In business, we all want quality staff to help us grow. Without the right staff in the right roles, your business growth could be slow. However, rushing to put on inappropriate and average staff can impact financially on your business, and it can take years to recover. Be patient, trust your instincts, hire slowly and fire quickly.