Most business owners and managers today will tell you that the least favorite part of their job is firing an employee. Even though—obviously—there must be good reason for doing so, it can still be a challenging—and, sometimes, even heart-wrenching—experience. On top of this, current labor laws—and a law-suit happy society—make terminating an employee a very difficult process.
But let’s step beyond the firing for a moment. It’s the hiring of the replacement that I want to focus on in this article. Who is chosen to take the spot of the person that got canned?
I have heard recently from a couple different people that the typical scenario is that the recruiter looks for someone who is a complete contrast to the person who was terminated. The knee-jerk reaction is to find the person’s polar opposite. For example, if the first employee was dismissed because of a lack or organization, the replacement must be extremely organized. Or if the terminated person was fired because they worked too slowly, the new person must be super-fast.
So, let’s say that Emily is not very fast at compiling her reports. The company depends on those reports to forecast the months ahead. If they are not accurate, the planning and scheduling will be way off. But Emily is very slow in putting the reports together. It takes her more time than management thinks it should. So Emily is terminated.
Then, in walks Joseph. He is fast. Really fast. His initial test during his second interview indicates he should be able to do the reports in about a third of the time that Emily did them. And that’s without it being a weekly experience. Over time, he will likely get them done even faster. That could amount to a significant cost savings. But because each report is based on the company’s performance, there is no answer key to check Joseph’s work. So no one notices that he transposed two numbers. This means the final document will be wildly inaccurate.
See, what apparently no one realized was that Emily’s “slowness” was because she was meticulous. In her four years with the company there was only ever one error and it was a minor one. Joseph—quick as he is—is far less interested in details. He is going for speed. His very first error on the very first report ended up costing the company three times his annual salary. So much for the company saving money because of his speed.
What many business owners and managers fail to realize is that nearly every weakness has a complementary strength. Someone who is disorganized is often—not always, but often—the creative type. So the advertising department employee whose desk looks like a tornado hit it, isn’t necessarily the wrong person. That creative person—even with their inherent messiness—may be just the right fit for that specific job.
If you are replacing an employee—especially one that you’re glad is gone—don’t just look for their opposite. Don’t assume that someone who is a total contrast to that person will be the best fit. Think through the job. Consider what the final outcome needs to be. After all, if the accuracy of the reports that Emily generated is really so crucial, then getting those reports done more quickly isn’t going to benefit anyone if they are not accurate.
Don’t knee-jerk when replacing someone. Consider the position and what it will take to best fill it.