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business, improvement, lean thinking

It is Too Easy to Fire People?

I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people.  At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies.” – Lawrence Bossidy

How effective is your hiring process?  How do you know? If it was difficult or impossible to fire people after you hired them, would it change your process?

If it was a given that every hire would stay with the company until retirement, most companies would likely change their hiring practices.  The fact that we are able to fire people fairly easily, though, allows us to worry less about the effectiveness of the process and distracts us from addressing the real issues that affect long-term performance.

The objective of the process should be to recruit and hire people who have the right skills, are a good fit with the company’s culture, continually learn and develop, meet or exceed performance expectations, and stay with the company until retirement.  When this is understood, people begin to see that, whenever someone is fired or quits, the process has failed and the effort to find a replacement is rework.  The time and cost associated with dismissing an employee, and recruiting, interviewing, orienting, and training a new one is waste and would not have occurred if we hired correctly in the first place.

Although a rather blunt way of looking at the issue, a company that truly wants to be the best has to hire the best; and “best” means those who meet the objectives described above.  Hiring is one of the most critical processes for a company, yet it is rarely taken as seriously as many other less critical processes.

Elements of Effective Hiring

The elements of an effective hiring process that are often missing include the following:

  1. Assuring the Hire is Necessary: Although it is pretty common in most companies to justify the necessity of a new hire, it tends to stop there.  Fiscal responsibility should drive companies to always question whether hiring a new employee is necessary, but the emphasis on reducing headcount should coincide with tension to improve processes to the point where replacements are not always needed.  The focus should be improvements first, and hiring second.
  2. Finding the Right Person: Wanting to hire a new employee quickly should never drive people to shortcut the need to find the right person.  It takes time to screen candidates effectively which, unfortunately, often leads companies to become impatient and hire the wrong person.  Concern about the extra workload caused by a vacancy should be dealt with accordingly (e.g., contract labor or temporarily shifting responsibilities), and any concern about losing a position by not filling it quickly is irresponsible and potentially destructive.
  3. Training and Developing People: Training and developing people once they are hired helps assure they succeed in their jobs, grow and learn, feel respected, and reduces the chance they will leave for a job at another company. Although many companies talk about the importance of training and development, very few actually do it well.  Like any critical process, developing employees should have clear objectives, a defined method, effective measures, and the proper focus to assure it happens.
  4. Measuring Effectiveness of the Process: Because the hiring process is so critical to the success of the organization, it is important to measure its performance and use the results to drive improvement. Some of the events that should trigger problem-solving include firings, resignations, and the need to hire leaders from the outside. The measure should be visible to everyone involved in the process so its objectives are clear and performance is visible.

When the culture is driven by a continual improvement mindset, hiring for any reason except replacing a retiree or to staff up for growth signifies a breakdown in the process.  If it were impossible – or extremely difficult to fire people – this concept would be much easier to accept.  As long as it remains easy to fire people, though, there will be little tension to improve the hiring process, and successfully driving a continual improvement culture within the company will remain elusive.

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About Gregg Stocker

Gregg Stocker is a lean advisor for Hess Corporation. He possesses over 20 years experience in a variety of disciplines including operations, manufacturing, human resources, quality, and strategic planning, and has worked in manufacturing, service, and oil & gas industries. He has extensive international experience, including successfully leading an $65 million business in The Netherlands. He authored the book, “Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing & Eliminating the Signs of Decline,” (Quality Press, 2006) and was a contributing author to "The Lean Handbook," (Quality Press, 2012). Gregg is a frequent speaker and recognized expert in business and performance improvement having been interviewed on television, radio, and in a number of newspaper and magazine articles including The New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, and InformationWeek. Gregg has implemented change in organizations ranging in size from $10 million to more than $100 billion. He is a team-oriented leader who achieves results by improving teamwork, focus, and communication throughout the organization.

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