Make Bad Hires!

Make Bad Hires!

Conventional wisdom, oft repeated on the intarwebs, cautions us to take great care when hiring people. Some folks go to the trouble of quantifying the costs of just one bad hire. But what about the costs of such caution? Here’s a few (sincere) arguments in favour of making bad hires:

  • However much of a misfit someone may seem at the outset, most people have the ability to learn, grow and develop. Recognising this can send a warm, reassuring and respectful message to everyone in the organisation – including the new hire.
  • Sticking with a new hire – even when recognising that the hire was “questionable” – can earn much loyalty and commitment from the person in question.
  • Finding bad hires is a lot quicker and a lot simpler than finding good hires.
  • Who’s to say that someone that looks like a bad hire will in fact turn out to be such? Kahneman cautions against the cognitive biases that makes us think we can predict people’s performance in advance. (This also reminds me of the Zen story “Farmer’s Luck”).
  • If we accept making bad hires as policy, our organisation can gear up for it and streamline the procedures for taking people on and letting people go. Much like the agile policy of “deliver early, deliver often, get feedback.” (See also: Zappos). The increased frequency can help us learn faster.
  • The stigma associated with making ‘bad hires’ decreases or disappears, reducing the delays inherent in people (well, managers, really) avoiding taking “risky” decisions.
  • People other than managers can be “entrusted” with making hiring decisions.
  • If you subscribe to the idea of “Deming’s 95%” – that 95% or the performance of any employee is down to the system (the way the work works), not to their own innate skills, experience or talent, then any gap between “good” and “bad” hires will be minimal (5% of overall performance) in any case.
  • Seemingly “bad hires” will bring diverse perspectives into the organisation, perhaps much more so than “good hires” might.

Note: I would advise retaining one “good hiring” filter: the “No assholes” rule (including filtering-out of folks with sociopathic and/or psychopathic tendencies).

Can you think of any more good reasons for making bad hires?

– Bob

Further Reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman
7 Reasons Why Not Making Mistakes Is The Biggest Mistake ~ Blog post from PurposeFairy
Everyone sucks at Interviewing ~ Blog Post from Jason Freedman
“Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs” ~ Online article by Dr. Peter Cappelli
“Bad Hires Have Cost Zappos Over $100 Million” ~ Tony Hsieh
What’s Wrong with Job Interviews, and How to Fix Them” ~ Adam Grant

  1. It seems to me that the whole idea of a ‘good’ hire is subjective, and more often than not a ‘good’ hire may serve only to perpetuate what might be a thoroughly dysfunctional culture. In such cases, the ‘bad’ hire could be the catalyst for ‘real’ change in an organization, giving people a sufficient kick in the ass to start testing their own boundaries and getting out of their comfort zones.

    • Hi Thom,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. Very congruent with my thoughts whilst writing this post.

      – Bob

  2. Stefan said:

    Excellent idea!

    I know a company that waited for one year to make a hire for a position (not top management) and didn’t find a fit. In my view this is unacceptable.

    In one year it could have hired a smart person, sent them to training, stuffed them with books and advice from peers and in the end it would have been a much much better choice.

    Also, sometimes brain, enthusiasm, team spirit and dedication beats experience and certifications.

  3. Thanks Bob for sharing this ideas. I like it and I have another argument for you.

    To allow both “bad” and “good” hires is the only way to establish whether the good hires are really good.

    Any hiring strategy is based on assumptions. This approach provides a perfect opportunity to validate those assumptions. If the person who scores low in our recruitment process gets in and turns out to be a great employee you might realise all the other missed opportunities. It could prompt you to review your approach and perhaps start ignoring things like CVs 😉


    • Hi Marcin,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. I very much agree with your observations / opinion. Go #NoCV ! 🙂

      – Bob

  4. Letting people go, a.k.a. firing people, isn’t always easy and sometimes comes at high cost, both monetary and non-monetary. While the latter is organizational culture thing and your argument aims to change it, the former is more about the law, which wasn’t that easy to change last time I checked.

    Considering that adding wrong person to a team may have negative impact on team’s productivity I wouldn’t be that quick to accept bad hires.

    Bearing in mind Deming, I believe he didn’t deny that even within a system there can be huge differences in people performance within the same system. Actually any improvement of a system simply multiplies these differences.

    And by the way, it isn’t a binary choice. It’s just a scale. If a company needed new people badly and couldn’t find any candidates they’d eventually lower the bar. On the other hand if they have a comfort of choice, what’s the point of making bad hires?

    One point I really like on a list is about preparing the organization to handle such situations. It means that people are prepared, and even expect, that is happens on occasions. It means the org is prepared to absorb new hires on continuous base. It means there’s an incentive to do the work according to higher standards as then it’s much easier to overtake it if you’re a new team member.

    Continuous recruitment, isn’t it?

    Actually, I prefer to think about the idea in terms of “continuous hiring” instead of “making bad hires.”

    • Hi Pawel,

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      I’m wondering if irony translates well from English? ;} Of course I’m not suggesting that folks deliberately seek out the worst hires they can find, or even just “bad” ones. But I see so often organisations (specifically, hiring managers and HR) paralysed by the fear of making a hiring mistake, that it’s seriously affecting their ability to recruit enough people to their open positions, let alone retain their employees over time. If an organisation can find enough “good” hires, then that’s just fine and dandy. But many organisations have (unwittingly) raised the bar so high that just about no one can get hired.

      And I’m not talking about hiring “wrong” people, either. Simply “bad” hires. Which for me is something rather different. Specifically, in the context of the organisations I have see, a “bad” hire is more like a “not-immediately-obviously-great-hire” – and in these organisations it is much more binary than I feel is healthy.

      As for adding a “wrong” person to a team – are there still organisations that do not give the team a say in the hiring decisions?

      And I think the legal thing is a red herring (specious argument), practical issues notwithstanding.

      Happy to hear you likes the point about continuous recruitment.

      – Bob

      • Actually I’ve seen a couple of those “immediately-obviously-great-hires” that weren’t so great after all. Another point for your argument.

        Anyway, as a manager (yeah, I’ve just used the m-word) who had real troubles getting rid of bad apples legal thing is not a red herring for me, as much as I’d like it to be different. I guess it’s just a different perspective we have, but I will be more cautious.

        And on “wrong” people – I wish guys out there were wearing “wrong” label on their backs or something. Of course often you get clues during recruitment process but sometimes they are neither obvious nor correctly interpreted in the first place. Actually the more bad hires you’ve made (and have lived with them) the more likely you are to get those clues. Not every team went through enough bad hires though.

  5. Our clients use different strategies, yet the vast majority of them decide to employ candidate not exactly ideal for trial periods, short-term contracts.
    I think this is a good compromise. Do not buy a pig in a poke but give yourself time to familiarize mumps. Never “bad” candidate is not that bad … mostly of derogation from the ideal are not so drastic, then we could select the person with the greatest potential for development.
    I really like Pawel’s idea of the scale instead of a binary choice, nothing is black and white!
    By the way, Bob’s look at the matter seems to be rather optimistic 🙂

  6. Hi Bob, It seems, where the organization is in the right shifting scale, would change the effectiveness of this idea. Which I guess helps make your point too. If the company is a learning type organization on the right of the scale it is very possible to turn a less skilled person into a great team member. A company in other parts of the scale you will probably destroy as many potential good team members as well as destroy some strong team members.

    • Hi Wes,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. Yes, I concur with your observation. And thanks for reminding me that this, like so much else, is relative to an organisation’s position on the Rightshifting scale.

      – Bob

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