Get Rid of Your Bad Hires Quickly With a ‘No-fault Divorce’ Process

upset couple - from NIH's websiteEveryone knows that the average hiring process is less than perfect. In fact, most selection processes have high failure rates (i.e. even after months or even years of “assessment,” nearly 60 percent of the marriages in California end in divorce).

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that as many as 46 percent of new hires fail within 18 months, according to Leadership IQ. Research also reveals that 61 percent of new hires are unhappy because they feel that they had been misled during the hiring process, according to Harris Interactive. The Recruiting Roundtable similarly reports that 50 percent of the hiring organizations or the new hires themselves regret the decisions they made. Shifting to non-exempt workers, research by Humetrics reveals that 50 percent of all hourly employees quit or are fired within their first six months.

Given this high rate of mishires, it’s surprising that most corporations don’t even track mishires who must be terminated or encouraged to resign. Even fewer organizations have a formal “early release process,” like a no-fault divorce for identifying bad and frustrated hires and releasing them as soon as possible.

Why You Should Release Weak Hires and the Disgruntled as Soon as Possible

Some of the reasons why you should have a formal effort to release mishires include:

  • They are unlikely get better — one major network equipment company that thoroughly researched the issue determined that new hires who are still weak performers after six months on the job have an extremely small chance of ever getting better. If that rule holds for your corporation, it makes sense to cut your losses at the six-month point and move on.
  • They take up everyone’s time — weak hires may take up to 17 percent of the manager’s time that could be spent on employees who have a real chance for improving. They will also waste the resources of the training and performance management teams that will try in vain to get visa mishires up to speed.
  • Customers can tell — if these weak new hires have interactions with customers, their negative impacts after their first six months may equal or exceed their yearly salary.
  • They frustrate coworkers — coworkers can quickly get frustrated with having to constantly help new hires who never appear to “get it.” Keeping weak performers may also frustrate and drive your top performers into job search mode.
  • They delay the hiring of a quality replacement — keeping a weak performer eliminates the possibility of refilling the position with a top performer. In addition, if you put off the releasing of the weak new hire, you also delay the time until a replacement hire can be fully trained and at work meeting their minimum productivity levels.
  • They may “check out but never leave” — failing to release a weak hire may “doom” both the firm and the hiring manager to 10 to 20 years of weak performance. They unfortunately may stay “forever,” because their weak performance record will make it unlikely that they will ever be recruited away by another firm.

Approaches for the Quick Identification and Release of Weak New Hires

There are at least eight approaches that you should consider that facilitate the identification of weak new hires and their quick release. Those approaches include:

  1. No-fault divorce after six months — Cisco once offered a “no-fault divorce” option that would still work today. Under the concept, managers could offer several months of pay and a good reference if their poor performers at the six-month point agreed to resign after being told there was an extremely low probability that they would succeed if they stayed on. If they refuse the offer and stay until their one-year evaluation and failed it, they would get no severance money and a bad reference. This gives them a powerful incentive to leave early. Incidentally, accepting the package means that they must sign away their right to sue. Having the no-fault divorce as an option may also encourage wavering potential candidates to accept your companies’ offer, because they know up front that even if they fail in the job, they will have a palatable “out” available to them.
  2. Extended onboarding — some firms use an extended onboarding process to better identify hiring mistakes. Facebook (six weeks) and Zappos (four weeks) use this intense onboarding process as a secondary assessment level. It has the advantage of giving much more time to accurately reveal not just her skills, but also their team and cultural fit.
  3. Pay them to leave after onboarding — it may seem expensive to pay weak hires to leave. But if you calculate the damage that they can do, the idea turns out to have a high ROI. Zappos offers all new hires a $3,000 bonus to quit at the end of onboarding if they realize that this is not the job for them.
  4. Use initial training as a screening process — if there is an extensive new hire training program, make it an “early mishire identification process.” HR must also learn how to statistically project the probability that the new hire will succeed/fail, based on their training scores. Those with a low likelihood of further improvement should be released immediately.
  5. Consider a more rigorous probation period — almost all corporate “probation periods” are ineffective, because they are unstructured and they are supervised by managers who are naturally reluctant to fire someone who they just recently picked themselves. A more effective approach is to require managers to set periodic objective assessment points, with passing scores, and to report the subsequent rating of each new hire to HR. Human resources should also make managers aware of the low probability of success of a weak initial performer getting better and the economic costs of stretching out their release.
  6. Use a mentor — some firms like Facebook provide every new hire with a mentor. That new hire mentor can be trained as an assessor, so that they can advise the new hire and the manager whenever they deem the new hire to be a lost cause.
  7. Allow the team to vote them out — Whole Foods has a unique approach that allows team members to “vote” at the end of an assessment period on whether to make the new hire a permanent member of the team. Because there is a team-based performance reward, it makes sense to give team members a voice on whether to accept weak performers or “bad-fit” hires.
  8. Encourage the dissatisfied to leave quickly — because 61 percent of new hires may be unhappy with their choice of a new job, it makes sense to take proactive action to encourage those who are dissatisfied (even if they are good performers) to quit even sooner than they would naturally. If you take the option of offering good performing new hires money to leave, you may be initially criticized but realize that you are also sending the message that the firm is “looking out for their interest.” and as a result, you may also create a long term “friend” of the company who may yield future business or referrals. The best way to identify dissatisfied new hires is to have an HR generalist or the recruiter who brought them in to assess whether their dissatisfaction will eventually impact their performance and teamwork.

HR’s Role

HR can take a more aggressive role in the early release by developing predictive metrics that through statistics, allowing your firm to accurately predict the likelihood that a weak new hire will eventually become a very good employee. HR can also develop a new-hire monitoring program to more closely watch weak-performing new hires and to provide the hiring manager with their recommendations on which new hires should be released. HR should also report to senior managers on how well they have reduced the “time to release” of weak-performing new hires.

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Why is Recruiting So Error-prone?

Recruiting is at best a hit-or-miss operation. Even the best-designed recruiting systems provide ample opportunities for misjudging candidates and thus producing bad hires. Hiring errors occur because candidates misrepresent themselves on their resumes (more than 50 percent do). New hires also exaggerate their experience and put on their best behavior during interviews, so it’s easy to overrate a candidate. Companies also make errors by skipping or doing ineffective references and by assuming that managers are a good judge of talent.

Unfortunately, despite these many potential errors in the hiring system, recruiting managers continue to operate under the false “zero failure rate assumption” that everyone is a good hire! If continuous improvement of the hiring process is also a goal, you will need a formal feedback mechanism that educates and thus improves the hiring system after a hiring mistake is discovered.

Final Thoughts

Once you understand the damage the weak new hires can create, everyone should work together to reduce the nearly 50 percent new-hire failure rate. However, because there will always be a significant percentage of weak hires, an additional focused effort is required to speed up the identification and then the quick release of these “weak and won’t get better hires” who somehow get through the hiring process.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



10 Comments on “Get Rid of Your Bad Hires Quickly With a ‘No-fault Divorce’ Process

  1. Why is Recruiting So Error-prone?

    John – compelling invitation to take post-hire action.
    How about pre-hire action

    Companies that have higher retention and make well informed hiring decisions use objective candidate evaluation data.

    Evidence-based management practices, when applied to hiring translates into candidate evaluation methods that have been locally validated. Read more on the rigor of staffing process improvement here:

  2. John you only made a brief comment about the fact that companies seem to lie as much in the hiring process as do candidates. (Yes I used the word lie) I wonder how many of the hiring mistakes were because the company was selling what they could not deliver.

    How many of those employees are not producing because the quality of the manager they work for is was below par?

  3. Thanks, Dr. Sullivan. From Recruiting’s perspective, the more people that quit or are fired, the *better. It’s a fool’s errand to try and fill a full cup, but there’s job security in trying to fill a sieve!



    *As long as there’s money to pay US.

  4. In my opinion, the reason for many mis-hires is that hiring managers do not know what it is they want to hire and many hiring managers have defaulted the initial part of the interviewing process to internal recruiters, HR representatives etc. In my industry, most managers are individual contributors with management titles and do not have any tools on their management tool belt. In most instances, there is no sense of urgency in the hiring process. If you are looking to hire yellow fin tuna, why not invest the time to find out as much about yellow fin tuna as possible-what they eat, what depth they tend to favor etc. and then proactively go after yellow fin tuna. Most companies want to cast a net which means you may get yellow fin tuna, but you still have to deal with the other species of fish that are caught in the net. Until more attention is paid to the initial part of the hiring process( what do you want to have this individual do for you?), streamline a process that is more efficient with a greater sense of urgency and either engage in a mentoring program, or an educational program regarding the importance of hiring quality people, little will change.

  5. Hello Dr Sullivan
    Would it be possible to get links to the sources that you cited? Namely, Leadership IQ, Harris Interactive, the Recruiting Roundtable and Humetrics?

    I also have a question regarding your article. Wouldn’t there be a vastly reduced Need to follow you advice in dealing with weak hires if the intitial candidate matching process had been efficient? For example focussing on the declaration of an applicant’s skills. If recruiters could demand not only a clear description of the skills that applicants say they have but also an indication of the level of their competency would that not enable the recruiter to test that competency Level at the application stage and follow up during interview and pre hire assessment? It seems to me that an Intervention to this issue could be made at the outset of the whole process?

    Also regarding one piece of advice that you offer, what are the legal implications of teams voting out an employee? I understand that the team has to work with any new hire but could there be any backlash or claims of discrimination that a Company would have to confront?

  6. I also have another point. How effective do you think it would be if the hiring manager was accountable for her decision to recruit a particular candidate – if she was measured on her success at finding the right person? Furthermore, she would have a vested interest in encouraging the newhire during the probation period to progress and fit into the new culture. Considering that the decision to hire someone clearly has such an impact on the bottom line as you indicate in your article, wouldn’t this be an effective measure?

  7. @ Edward; ISTM that the gist of your comment is that
    1) Poor hiring often comes from hiring managers unclarity about what their actual needs are and an inability to properly articulate those needs.
    2) A solution requires that more attention be paid to the importance of hiring.
    Since that will only happen in occasional cases (we’re stuck with the sinners we’ve got and not the saints we want, it looks like little will change.

    @ John D: It’s not clear to me that a majority of unsuccessful hires appear to be “flagged” from the beginning (maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t). You could have a very promising person who changes over time as circumstances change.

    As far as employee teams voting an employee “off the Island”: I wonder if Dr. Sullivan is proposing the introduction of German-style codetermination ( where the employees have a role in management of a company, and works councils ( which give representatives of workers from all European countries in big multinational companies a direct line of communication to top management. They seem to have worked quite well: German industry is strong and so is the German labor movement- industrial relations are more harmonious with low levels of strike actions, while better pay and conditions are secured for employees.

    As far as hiring quality being a managerial deliverable: I’ve advocated that hiring quality people on-time, in budget, EVERY time be as much a deliverable as doing the same with the department’s product or service.


  8. I agree with many of the comments here that poor staff retention isn’t predominantly due to faulty on-boarding, but in the hiring process. After all it’s not just candidates bluffing their way through interviews. Recruiters who over-sell positions in a bid to fill a gap are also contributing to a square peg/round hole situation. I wonder how many pushed for time recruiters have shoe-horned a new hire into a role without giving second thought about the long-term consequences? Or perhaps, as pointed out by @Keith Halperin, they have…

  9. Common sense? In hiring? Not a chance. When you have a side that lies because it can, and the other that lies because it must…Tell me how well that process would work out?

  10. “New hires also exaggerate their experience and put on their best behavior during interviews, so it’s easy to overrate a candidate.” The opposite side of the coin is also true. It is also very easy to underrate a candidate and not hire them even though they would be the best for the position. If they are especially nervous, suffer from autism, don’t have quite the right experience, don’t have enough interviewing practice, or are at the wrong stage in their job hunting process, they may interview badly even though they are the best.

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