Three women in an interviewJosh is a line manager with a staff of 20 workers. Together with his two supervisors, Josh hires about 5 new employees every year. When I met Josh, he complained that there were too many ‘bad candidates out there’, resulting in his team making too many “bad hires” that had to be replaced.

“A bad hire”…Meaning, a hire that didn’t have the right skills, couldn’t adjust and fit into the work group/culture, or simply never clicked with the leader.  

In other words, there was something intrinsically wrong with the person who was hired. It was the new hire’s fault they didn’t work out, not Josh’s.

While it may be true that a hire lacked requisite skills, or wasn’t really a personality or behavioral fit, or just didn’t know how to adapt to the style of leadership being offered, labeling anyone a ‘bad hire’ misses the point.

The real point is that a leader made the decision to hire someone who didn’t work out. It wasn’t a ‘bad hire’. It was a bad hiring decision!

When Josh called his employees ‘bad hires’, he was deflecting, shifting the fault to the employee. It enables Josh to wash his hands clean of the selection mistake he made, and take no accountability for selecting the wrong person in the first place. It closes the door for Josh to ever consider that perhaps his ability to assess and select talent was not as acute as it needs to be.

It also lets Josh off the hook for one of the principle accountabilities of leadership—to ensure that every person he hires becomes successful.

However, when Josh shifted his thinking to “I made a bad hiring decision”, he had to own the hiring mistake. It forced Josh to focus on the problem and answer the critical leadership questions:

  1. Did I hire the wrong person with the wrong skills or wrong behavioral profile? (If yes, how can avoid making this mistake in the future?)
  2. Did I hire the right person but lead him/her poorly once they arrived?  (If yes, how can I improve my assessment acumen to better assess candidates’ capabilities and likelihood for success in my environment?)
  3. Did I hire the wrong person AND do a poor job of leading them to success? (If yes, what do I need to do to immediately improve that?)
  4. Did the candidate lie to me/fool me in the interview?  (If yes, how was it that I was so easily fooled, and how can I avoid being so gullible in the future?)
  5. Am I hiring against the wrong success profile, and if yes, do I even know what the right success profile is for my roles? (or, am I really just guessing)

Stop thinking that people are ‘bad hires’, and start examining how you made a bad hiring decision. That small change in thinking will open a path to improving your hiring and leadership acumen.