What to Do When a New Hire Isn’t Working Out

Dec 15, 2016
7 Min Read
What to Do When Your New Hire is Struggling with the Job

What to Do When Your New Hire is Struggling with the Job

If you’ve ever hired someone who was clearly struggling a few months into the job, you probably know that sinking feeling of wondering if you made a hiring mistake.

Don’t panic (yet)! These steps will help you figure out what to do.

First, review the person’s training. Did your new hire get a reasonably organized, thorough introduction to her role and how you do things? We all intend for that to happen, but in reality, sometimes things are so busy that we throw new people in the deep end without a lot of guidance. If that happened, it’s worth pausing and covering the basics now.

Here is a simple onboarding application that can be customized any way you like to improve your new hire experience.

Review how clear you’ve been about your expectations. How clearly have you explained what good performance in the role looks like? If you’ve been assuming that your new hire would just “get it” without a lot of explanation, that might be the root of the problem. Ask yourself, too, whether you’ve given clear and direct feedback on the work she’s produced and talked to her about what you want her to be doing differently? Have you shown her examples of the type of work you’re looking for? If you haven’t done those things, take a step back and do them now.

But if you feel confident that you’ve laid out clear expectations and given clear and detailed feedback, and you’re still seeing evidence of problems…

Think about whether the person can get up to speed as quickly as you need. Some skills can be developed pretty quickly, especially if you’re able to do some intensive coaching for a week or two. Other skills, like writing, are much harder to develop quickly, and may be impossible to develop in the amount of time that you have available. Be realistic about what it would take to get the person working at the level you need.

Have a frank conversation. Talk honestly with your new hire about your concerns. Explain the ways in which she’s not meeting your expectations – and because this is high-stakes feedback, it’s crucial to be explicit here. Often managers think they’ve clearly communicated “you’re not performing at the level I need in this job and I’m questioning whether it’s the right fit,” while the staff member hears “here are some suggestions that will make your work better.” So don’t sugarcoat your concerns; it’s far kinder to be direct about where things stand than to hide the message and risk that the person will be blindsided by it later.

As part of this conversation, give your staff member an opportunity to explain what she thinks the problem might be and listen with an open mind – but be honest if you can’t do what she says she needs. For example, if she says that she needs more time to get her work done and you need someone to work more quickly – and you’ve seen others meet that standard this early in the role – you should be honest your office is fast-paced and you need more speed. Being honest about your needs can be tough, but it’s the only fair approach since your staff member needs to have a full understanding of where things stand.

Decide on next steps. If your conversation gave you hope that the staff member might be able to make the improvements you need, you might simply give things a few more weeks to see if that happens. But if you determine that the person’s skills aren’t the right fit with what you need from the person in the role, the best thing to do is to be honest and move quickly toward transitioning the person out of the role. That’s a difficult decision to make, but also the right one for your team – and even for the staff member, who deserves to be in a job that she’s well-suited for. (Whether this means a formal performance improvement plan or a more informal process will depend on how long the person has been on staff and your organization’s policies. But with a newer staff member, it often won’t make sense to do a lengthy formal process.)

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If you do end up parting ways, make sure that you reflect on what happened. Hiring isn’t an exact science, and even the best managers will sometimes get it wrong. But when a new hire doesn’t work out, spend some time figuring out what went wrong. For example, you might realize that you need to see more work samples or probe into different things in your interviews or ask references different types of questions. Make sure that you’re incorporating those lessons into your hiring the next time around.

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