10 days, two months, one year: How soon can you fire someone you know was a bad hire?

The Office
The Office

Consider the brief, wondrous White House career of the Mooch.

Ten days after he was hired by US president Donald Trump, Anthony Scaramucci—the bombastic communications director who threatened “to fire everybody” on his team—wound up booted himself. Most bosses won’t have encountered an employee quite like the Mooch, who gleefully bad-mouthed his White House colleagues in a colorful, vulgar interview with a New Yorker reporter. But many managers have faced the dilemma of what to do about a new hire who doesn’t seem to be working out. If a new employee looks like a bad fit, how long should a boss wait before showing them the door?

Ideally, job candidates will have been well-vetted before their start dates. But “hiring isn’t a perfect science,” says Alison Green, a management consultant and author of New York magazine’s popular column “Ask a Manager.” “Sometimes you just hire the wrong person and realize very quickly that it’s not going to work out.”

In such cases, here are a few expert-approved guidelines to consider before va-mooching a new report.

Give new hires time to settle in

If a new employee seems a bit overwhelmed, inefficient, or withdrawn, that’s probably because they’re a new employee. Judging someone’s competency based on first-week (or first-month) jitters is usually an irresponsible mistake, says Monique Valcour, an executive coach, management professor, and Harvard Business Review contributor.

“It’s typical for new hires to take a few months to bring their performance up to expectations,” she says. “This is because they need to form relationships, learn how to access resources and function effectively within a new environment, and absorb the culture and ways of working in the new organization.” During this entry period, managers should be looking for signs of progress, interest in learning, and openness to feedback. “So long as those things are present, it’s in the best interest of the organization to overlook missteps and to support the development and integration of the new employee,” says Valcour.

Be honest about expectations

The experience of starting a new job and receiving little-to-no training can be very frustrating. New employees may feel like their coworkers are speaking in tongues—referencing acronyms they don’t understand, or asking them to use programs they’ve never heard of. Sometimes the manager or on-boarding process, not the hire, is the problem.

“When you’re concerned a new hire isn’t working out, you want to think about how clear you’ve been about your expectations,” says Green. “Sometimes managers assume that a new hire will just ‘get it’ without a lot of explicit discussion, and unsurprisingly, that can lead to talented people struggling to perform at the level the manager is looking for.”

If you’ve laid out clear expectations and given clear feedback, then you have to be realistic about whether the problems can be fixed easily and quickly, or whether they’re inherently rooted in the capability (or lack thereof) of the new hire. “As a manager, you’ve got to be able to distinguish between ‘this person needs a bit of coaching to get them to where I need them to be’ versus ‘this person fundamentally lacks the skills, smarts, or attitude that is needed in this role,'” says Green. If you’re not sure, it’s important to ask other managers for outside opinions.

When the writing is on the wall, move quickly

At Bridgewater Associates, my former employer, it has been reported that one in four employees are fired within a year and a half. This statistic, mentioned in 2014 by Ray Dalio, the hedge fund’s founder, is driven in part by two of the company’s core principles: “When you find that someone is not a good ‘click’ for a job, get them out of it ASAP,” and “Know that it is much worse to keep someone in a job who is not suited for it than it is to fire someone.”

Once new-job jitters and insufficient training have been ruled out, Green and Valcour agree with this advice. “When you’re sure that it’s a fundamental mismatch between the person and the role, it’s better to pull the plug sooner rather than later,” says Green.

Never is this strategy more important than when a new (or seasoned) employee has veered into explicitly inappropriate behavior. “When employee behavior violates ethics or signals a clear misfit with the organization’s culture and values,” says Valcour—Mooch being a case in point—”it’s important to sever the employment relationship quickly.”

Waiting too long to get rid of a new hire whose behavior indicates clearly that they are going to be a poor fit is particularly damaging when the employee in question is in a leadership role. “When you leave a new, poorly performing manager in place for an extended period of time without taking clear, active steps to either correct their performance or to release them from the organization, morale can suffer,” says Valcour. “Leaders whose behavior violates standards that are important to the organization’s culture can also damage the culture, resulting in a loss of trust and commitment from employees.” For proof of what happens when a boss lets bad managers fester, just Google ousted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Take responsibility

Even if the new employee you fired committed Mooch-level offenses, if you hired them, you share responsibility. Being honest about such mistakes, and working to prevent them going forward, is key to maintaining trust within your organization.

“You’re the one who hired them, maybe even lured them away from another job that they left to take this one,” says Green. “You’ve got to own your error in judgement, and in many cases the real impact it’s going to have on the person’s life.” Ideally, management should offer a generous amount of severance to cushion the blow, assuming there wasn’t outright misconduct involved, she says. Should they happen to give an outlandish, profanity-laden interview, however? No need to worry about the cushion.

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