How to know when you’ve got a hiring decision wrong & what to do about it

Let’s face it. When we get hiring decisions wrong the consequences can be painful. Lost time, money and productivity together with low morale and damaged relationships are among the most common impacts I see. The decisions you make about who to appoint to each role matter not only to the individual’s success but also to the performance of your business as a whole.  

Whether recruiting from within or outside of your organisation, appointing talented people who bring culturally aligned values and behaviours underpin your ability to achieve great results through your team.  Appointing people who are capable and behave successfully brings strength to their role but also influences the success of others around them.  

Reflect for a moment on when you have gotten hiring decisions wrong.  Have there been times when you’ve hired someone, only to decide soon after their probationary period has ended that they aren’t working out? All too often I observe leaders miss the valuable opportunity employment probation provides to continue the assessment process and validate hiring decisions. 

Consider your recruitment process completed at the end of probation. Take deliberate steps throughout the early stages of employment to continue your assessment of each person’s suitability to their role and your team.    

 How to know when you’ve got it wrong 

Two essential questions you need to ask yourself, and other members of your leadership team, about every new starter include 1) Do they behave in ways that we need and want them to? and 2) Can they perform the tasks of the role to the standard we expected? 

Contemplate what happens when you hire people who bring strong technical skills but an inability to communicate effectively. Have you hired people who’ve had the ability to do the job, but struggled to perform or fit in? The simple reality is the value anyone adds, no matter how knowledgeable or skilled they may be, is ultimately determined by how well they apply themselves through successful behaviour.    

Observe the extent to which your new team member’s approach is aligned with what your business values most. If you have defined business values, reflect on the extent to which their attitudes and behaviours are typically aligned with each.  

For example, creating a workplace environment that inspires and enables innovation demands an open-minded approach from every member of your team.  Recognise when a new team member brings an overly directive or aggressive approach that undermines healthy robust debate.   

Critically assess the ability people have to build healthy relationships with their colleagues, customers and service providers.  Pay particular attention to their tendency to behave with respect and decency, earn the trust of the people they work with and hold themselves accountable to high standards of conduct and performance.  

Fairly assessing someone’s ability to perform starts with setting clear expectations and then providing the coaching support needed.  Armed with the clarity and guidance they need, reflect on whether the team member is able to quickly assume responsibility and operate with appropriate levels of autonomy? Are they able to make sound judgement calls and ask for help when needed?  Do they have the ability to learn what you need them to, in the time frame required? 

If you get the hiring decision wrong, the most important steps you can take include these: 

  1. Engage in honest conversations early.  Provide truthful insight into the concerns you hold and help your new team member to understand the ways in which they need to improve.  Don’t leave your feedback so late in the probationary period that they have little opportunity to demonstrate their ability to meet your expectations.   
  2. Don’t kid yourself.  Being overly optimistic about someone’s ability to improve is unhelpful.  Recognise when training or coaching is worth investing in, but also understand when the time has come for them to move on.   
  3. Take the action you need to.  When it becomes evident that despite best efforts the person simply isn’t up to the job, part ways respectfully.  Avoiding the issue will only prolong the detrimental impact a poor performer can have on your team and business.  
  4. Learn from the experience.  Reflect on how the hiring decision was reached and what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes next time.  Invest in your leadership team’s ability to accurately assess candidates, in particular, their capabilities and cultural alignment with your business.   


Karen Gately

Karen Gately, a founder of HR Consultancy Ryan Gately, is a leadership and people-management specialist. Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical Guide to getting the best from people (Wiley) and The Corporate Dojo: Driving extraordinary results through spirited people. For more information visit

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