Biz Features

How Soon is ‘Too Soon’? –On Replacing Recent Hires With ‘Better’ Ones

by . March 8th, 2012

Small businesses are still responsible for generating most new jobs in the US. However, the smaller the enterprise, the more difficult it normally is to recover from a bad hiring decision.

The burden of finding the best possible employee to do a specific job can weigh heavily on new entrepreneurs- After all, one employee in a start-up with just 5 people already represents one-fifth of the workforce. I know- I did the math.

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You’re never totally certain if one applicant is better than another. But sometimes… you just have a gut feeling.

Seriously though, employers sometimes get a curve ball and find someone better for a position after they already hired someone. This can happen to any employer for any number of reasons, but this is an especially difficult problem for new entrepreneurs to handle, even with most states allowing employers to fire at will.

Should an employer fire the new hire and get the applicant they see as better qualified?

More Efficient?

Says Marq, a senior technical analyst for a tech firm “It depends on how new the hired employee is, but my answer is yes. Because I can probably get better results with the same [resources]…The business will run more efficiently. And a more competent employee means less stress for me since I won’t waste time bringing them up to speed”

Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a very popular assessment, even if the rationale is generally understood. Still, few entrepreneurs would find it easy to bite the bullet and fire an adequate but less-than-ideal new hire when faced with a more experienced or better performing applicant.


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Inhuman But Often Necessary

“It’s unethical” says Victor, a marketing content specialist. “But competition [for both jobs and market shares] can be brutal…you might have to do it, but I see no ethical way around it.”

Carmina, a junior exec agrees. “It might be more practical to fire someone, but it’s unfair. Maybe I’d ask the new guy if they’d be willing to do a different task. But that’s not so easy if it’s your own money on the line. I don’t think I could do it.”  The handyman overhears and adds “Yeah. What if the new guy already made plans because he thinks he’s got it made? And what will the other employees think when they see how little job security there is?”


Nothing Stays Secret

The American job market is still making a slow recovery. Still, it’s complicated. For most people that can’t find a job suited for their skills, the gains are meaningless and losing a job right after they’re hired might come across as unnecessarily cruel.

On the flip-side, applicants who know they have something to bring to the table are also much more likely to do their homework and completely reject job offers that offer tenuous security.

“Word will get around.” adds Jen, a senior manager at Marq’s firm “’Employee’ means you already hired the new person, so ‘last minute’ doesn’t –or shouldn’t- apply anymore, right? If the other prospect shows up right after the new employee signed the contract, tough luck. A deal’s a deal… even if it’s legal, ditching the new employee just like that is just going to hurt your rep in the long run, so you’ll have to either make do with the person or hire both of them. Besides, you’re really never sure if your hires are any good until they actually start working with you.”


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Culture and Opportunity Cost Matter Too

Michelle, a tech and design writer with extensive outsourcing experience says “I think that businesses are meant to grow in all aspects, including the number of employees. So if you can afford to hire the new applicant and keep the new hire, why not have both?” She then adds “There’re cultural differences to think about- it might not matter as much for Americans as it does for people from cultures that don’t do things as directly as we do.”

“I wouldn’t fire anyone.” Kurt, a veteran internet marketer explains. “Especially if they haven’t proven themselves yet- and that takes time. Besides, I would never hire anyone without being sure they could do the job, eventually. Opportunity cost is just something we all have to live with.”

The possible decisions and their merits are endlessly debatable. Personally, I wouldn’t have it in me to do it. But given how critical the early stages of a new enterprise can be, I wouldn’t judge entrepreneurs who choose to make tough, yet unpopular decisions.

What do you think?