If He Hollers 'Bad Fit,' Let Him Go

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A recent conversation with a senior bank manager friend reminded me of a basic business fact. When we put the wrong person in a job or allow the wrong person to stay in a job, we undermine our businesses.

On the surface, that would seem to be about as obvious an observation as you can make. And yet if you speak to many managers (sometimes off the record), most of them can cite multiple instances of bad fits they're struggling with now.

My friend was telling me about the blessing and curse that a tough job market was to his business. He has about 250 retail branches that report to him. For as long as he can remember, employee retention has been a key focus of his team. And it obviously still is.

But he pointed out that in normal job markets, there was a tendency for bad hires, or people no longer happy in their jobs, to leave the company on their own. Now, his problems are twofold.

He has allowed his hiring process to become less stringent than he would like. Too often, his managers have jumped to hire the first marginally qualified person for a job. Their priority has been filling a spot quickly to help an understaffed team. He also admits that he hasn't preached the importance of hiring good fits and good attitudes as much as acceptable resumes.

On the other side, he freely admits that he and his managers are not very good at "managing" people out of jobs they are no longer (or never were) suited for. Bad situations become worse when folks stay in the wrong jobs.

Not long after our conversation, I had the opportunity of hearing Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com speak at a JD Power and Associates event. I subsequently read his book, "Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose."

One of Hsieh's more compelling points is that in order to build a successful team, you need to have core values that you are willing to hire or fire for — independent of performance. He stresses that a person can be individually talented and productive and still be an overall detriment to your team.

The fact that Zappos.com offers people who are already in its training program $4,000 to quit before starting their jobs shows how much the company believe in this. If a person takes the money, it is highly unlikely he will be the kind of employee the company desires, anyway. An initial cash payment to correct a hiring mistake is far less expensive than keeping a bad hire.

Becoming obsessed with finding and hiring only the "right fits" for a fanatically service-oriented company, and becoming serious about removing bad fits, has been at the core of Zappos.com's ability to survive and thrive even in a weak economy.

I've found myself touching on the right-fit subject a bit more than usual in recent presentations. I tell bank managers that if I made a list of jobs I would be terrible at, my list would be pretty long — and so would theirs. In fact, it's a fair bet that if we went back to certain jobs we were once good at, we'd likely be bad fits now for any number of reasons.

Being a bad fit doesn't mean you're a bad person. You're just not the person for that job. Again, that seems like an obvious statement. But I've found that many managers are uneasy even considering that a person is bad for a job. They mistakenly think they are judging the individual as a person.

I then like to kid, "So, what we need to do is get rid of everyone, start over, and get it right this time!" Thankfully, most managers immediately get that I am joking. My point is that most of us need to become a little more open and honest with ourselves and our teams about "job fits." It's been pretty well proven up to this point that sitting back and allowing a person who is ill-suited and/or unhappy in a job to stay there helps no one.

On the upside, sometimes simply talking to a person about how he feels his job suits him can uncover any number of possibilities.

Maybe he simply needs help focusing on what matters. Maybe he has talents and ambitions you were unaware of that can be positively channeled.

Managers often put this off because these aren't always the easiest conversations to have. But they are usually among the most beneficial for all parties involved — and your bank — in the long run.

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