When New Hires Go South

What you need to say and do to minimize the impact on your business.

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We all appreciate the hopeful feeling a new staff member brings to the organization. A burst of optimistic energy floats around the shop as all the people and parts of the business settle in around the new addition.

It’s not a quick process but rather a gradual shift for all involved. But what occurs when you sense that the new addition is not blending with the shop culture, and you begin to get the dreadful feeling that separation is inevitable?

If you trust your instincts, they’re usually right. Intuition is knowing without reasoning or proof. Good intuition comes from focus. When you’re focused on your business, you’re tuned in. And though you may not want to follow your sixth sense, it’s good business to do so.

When the economy is tight and jobs are scarce, there are more mis-hires. Candidates take the wrong job or a job they’re not qualified to perform just because they need a paycheck. In the economic work culture that the United States has been in for several years, new-hire turnovers are more frequent. The pressure of a mortgage payment or health insurance is often behind a new hire overselling their skills. The employee may be a really nice person, just not the right person. Another factor can be a shop that has run with minimum staffing during a tight economy and on losing a longtime regular employee for whatever reason feels the need to quickly fill the vacancy.

Conversely, you may have no sense at all that the new hire is unhappy or not fitting in. This scenario is one of the most challenging and when the bomb of “I am leaving” gets dropped on your business, there are so many priorities that spring to mind. It’s difficult to know how to respond effectively. But how you react will impact the whole operation, and you only have about 30 seconds to respond. Reading this article will help you prepare for the unexpected.

Say this, not that

When a new hire goes south, you can’t afford to let your emotions guide your response. Most responses fall into a few patterns.

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You can apologize that it didn’t work out and ask what it would take for the person to stay? This is not a strong position for you and tends to put the employee in charge. It may work temporarily, and it may feel OK, but it’s usually not a lasting solution.

You can suggest talking it out, but you run the risk of prolonging the inevitable out of sympathy. This is not a good business decision. A sympathy hire or a sympathy salvage job always costs you and the shop later on. The person responsible for this type of hiring, or firing, gone wrong is not the employee. The person who owns this problem is you, the employer.

Business management advisers seem to agree that the most powerful and most effective response is to take action by saying, “Let me pay you for your time. Good luck wherever you’re going.” This lets you stay the boss, be in charge and avoid fallout with your other employees. It may sound harsh, but realistically it’s good for everyone in the end. Trust yourself to do this, and you’ll spare yourself and your shop the defeated or rejected attitude. How you present this to the shop is how they’ll perceive what happened. And we all know that perception is reality.

A leading hiring/staffing guru, Dr. John Sullivan, has some insightful tips to help avoid new-hire turnover. He suggests that the 90-day period may be too long to let an employee settle in. At half that time, 45 days, hold a meeting to review how it’s going for both of you. He calls this a “Stay Interview,” as opposed to an “Exit Interview.” At the end of the meeting, you can agree to continue the 90-day trial or choose to separate if both of you aren’t satisfied. It’s smart to ask new employees if they feel challenged in the job and if they’ll be able to use their talents at your company.

Change your hiring framework

One of the hard lessons of new hire turnover is to look in the mirror and commit to a different hiring framework. As with so many other parts of the business, the key player is you. There are always two questions to ask yourself: “What was my role in this process?” and “What can I do differently next time?”

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In researching this topic, I found a solid outline for setting a new path in hiring. If you decide to change what you’ve done in the past, it’s like any other change: You have to commit to doing it. We all go to management seminars, and if you just return to work and are too busy to implement any change, then nothing will change.

Forbes Management (www.forbes.com/management/) suggests easy new tactics to put in place:

Network all the time. Talk to everyone about what your business is looking for and what your business is built on, what your mission statement is or what your core values are all about. Follow all referrals so that you are ready when and if the need arises.

Create a chart of what makes a good employee. Do this by asking your staff what they think is important. They have a different perspective and priorities than you do. Listen to their input and you might get a better handle on what works.

Observe how potential employees respond to you. Review their emails from the point of view that this is how they will connect to your customers. This is a reflection of their communication style and their timeliness. Does it fit your style and your expectations?

Don’t rush through the facts of employment checking. This is the biggest priority in the hiring process. Knowing that the potential new hire is going to offer you their most positive references, call and listen for verbal and nonverbal clues. Nonverbal clues are pauses when answering an open-ended question. These pauses may reveal a weak area about the candidate. Set aside the time to make these calls so you’re truly available and not rushed.

Lastly, if you do decide to make a leap-of-faith hire, be upfront that you’re doing just that. Document what you need to see. Put a time frame together before you make the offer. Be willing to hold to those deadlines for the performance you desire. Follow through, and you’ll know if you made a good or a bad choice. Do not make a leap-of-faith hire if you’re too busy to devote some quality time to this new person.

Bill Haas, the owner of the training and management-consulting firm Haas Performance Consulting, recently wrote in an article for The North American Council of Automotive Teachers magazine, “I am frequently, no always, asked by shop owners and managers where they can find qualified technicians and automotive staff. The question is usually posed because they need someone now. Many are desperate to hire and will hire in desperation. Hiring in desperation leads to further problems in your business, unless you are just plain lucky.

“One of the things I find interesting is that most shops are looking for a quick fix. Their approach is, I need help now and I need to get them on board immediately. Watching technicians change places of employment is like watching a chess match that ends in a stalemate.”

Sage advice from a longtime automotive peer of mine. Hopefully, this article prepares you to handle those situations in a new way and produce new and better results for the future of your business.

Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series of management articles contributed to AutoInc. by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org. AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) program.

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