Don’t Hire Anyone You Can’t Fire

Years ago, I was running a division of a field services company.  A colleague from another division called me and asked if I would agree to interview his newly graduated son for a job in our Denver office. I agreed to the interview on an informational basis with no commitment.

I did a phone interview with the young man. I realized quickly that his expectations were unrealistic and that he would be a poor fit for my team. This was good news as I had no intention of hiring this young man.

Early in my career I was the marketing director for a company in which the founder’s brother also worked in the business. This fellow didn’t attend meetings, didn’t follow procedures, and believed that his above average performance insulated him from these commitments. The founder was frustrated but (against my advice) he couldn’t fire his own brother. The situation caused an internal furor. Middle managers were unable to deal with him, the younger brother’s associates who were doing the same job became resentful, the CEO lost respect from his team by failing to resolve the issue.

Nepotism is a tricky issue in companies. The candidate must be made to understand that she must fit into her niche at the firm and would not be privy to discussions held by leadership. This requires a level of understanding on both the parts of the current and prospective employees. It tends to work best in larger more vertically integrated companies where the organizational chart is fixed, and expectations are clear and reinforced. The real lesson here is not to hire anybody you can’t fire. Whether the spouse of a board member, the brother-in-law of an investor, or the son of a colleague, tread carefully. An underperforming employee must meet with her manager where performance issues can be discussed, and clear expectations are given. The employee must understand that failing to improve performance will result in dismissal.

Most employees will strive to improve after honest evaluation. However, what about employees who believe that their connection to the firm renders them immune from management. This can be a real problem. So never hire anyone whom you can’t fire.