A big part of WeddingIQ is sharing mistakes I’ve made, and lessons I’ve learned as my business has grown. It’s humbling to say I don’t always get things right. It can be tough to put oneself out there, knowing there are people out there who will judge and gloat and insist they have never screwed up. Still, an honest account of what can go wrong in operating a small business is so important in helping other people, which is why I started this blog in the first place.
So, on the theme of mistakes made, let’s talk about hiring, firing, and everything in between. Here are a few things I’ve learned when it comes to hiring people (and letting people go):
1. Don’t hire people as an antidote to other people. In other words, make sure your hiring decisions are objective — don’t just go for the polar opposite of the person who burned you before. I’ve made this mistake a few times, hiring a quiet mouse to replace a nonstop chatterbox; hiring someone wildly entertaining, but admittedly distracting, to replace someone who was so dull I couldn’t stand to share an office with them. It sounds kind of silly in retrospect, but I guess work relationships aren’t always so different from personal ones; when something (or someone) doesn’t work out, it’s natural to steer too far in the other direction. Each time I’ve done that, I’ve missed the mark.
Instead, it’s much smarter to carefully review the job description for the position you’re trying to fill. What qualities and traits, as well as talents and skills, will a person need to be successful in that position? What will that person need to be, and do, in order to bring the best out of you? Your answers to those questions are a much better indicator of whom to hire than just a knee-jerk reaction to a previous bad decision.
2. Start as you wish to go on. One of the easiest things to forget is that you, as the boss, set the tone. If you’re unprepared for your new hire — the position isn’t clearly outlined, you don’t have training materials ready, or you just don’t have the time to put into making this person successful — then it’s not the right time to bring someone on board. Once that person gets used to being bored or doing personal things to pass the time, you’ll never get them back on track. Similarly, the emotional involvement you have with your workers can deeply affect your working relationship. If you become their sounding board, or allow them to become yours, then your personal bond might strengthen but the work will become second. Next thing you know, you’re paying them to dish about their romantic relationships or to listen to your vents about your kids. (Trust me, I’ve been there.)
3. Decide exactly what your expectations are, and communicate them. When I say “expectations,” I’m speaking of the behaviors you will and won’t tolerate “on the clock,” and your requirements for a worker’s time and productivity. I will be the first to admit I am terrible at this (but I’m working diligently to turn that around!) and I think it’s because of something my mom always told me: “Don’t paint people into a corner. Always give them an opportunity to save face.” She wasn’t referring to work situations when she said this, but I think I carried that lesson into all aspects of my life — I find myself expecting that, if I mention things in a subtle, nonconfrontational way, people will take the hint and make changes to avoid a situation worsening. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. Being direct is a challenge, especially for those of us who prioritize niceness, but it’s the only way to avoid resentment — the single most toxic emotion in the workplace, in my opinion — and prevent a salvageable working relationship from going right down the tubes. So, before something becomes a problem (preferably, before you hire someone), decide: what’s your expectation when it comes to tardiness? How will meal and smoke breaks be handled? How much personal phone/computer time is too much? When you know your limits, you can communicate them from the very start, and will then have a framework for those uncomfortable, albeit necessary, conversations down the road.
4. Decide what your limits are, and don’t tolerate them being disrespected. If expectations are the behaviors you won’t tolerate, then limits are the true deal-breakers. Every supervisor’s limits are different, and may be influenced by the supervisor’s personal values. My limits — the things that I won’t allow under any circumstances and that will earn a worker an immediate pink slip — are any form of dishonesty and any form of theft (including theft through the misuse of paid time, which in my opinion isn’t very different from stealing money from the till). Yours might be very different. The point is that you know them and that you respect them enough to require that others respect them too.
5. Remember that, when they leave, their story isn’t the story. We, as humans, are naturally defensive creatures. We will go to great lengths to protect ourselves from shame and embarrassment. Just like we as bosses can feel disappointed and betrayed when a worker leaves (under whatever circumstances), the worker too feels those same emotions, and will likely start to scramble to create a story explaining it all.
Unfortunately, we live in a digital world, one where people seek public validation for everything that happens to them, and you shouldn’t be surprised if you see some online commentary about yourself and your company. And if it happens, it probably will hurt — and frankly, piss you off. It sucks to see someone who worked for you gripe on social media about how terrible their job was, or how they couldn’t wait to quit, especially when you perceive the situation most differently. Just remember that anything they say is funneled through their own filter. Their version of the story isn’t necessarily the real story. And, as hard as it is, looking at it objectively — as someone trying to save face — can make it easier to deal with and move on to create a team that’s a better fit.