Let’s Talk: ‘Hire slow, fire fast’



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By Loren Webb

You might have heard the age old adage ‘hire slow, fire fast’ if you’ve worked in business, but is it warranted advice?

The concept refers to employers taking their time to hire somebody, and firing employees quickly if it’s not working out.

On one hand, waiting to hire somebody means you can take your time to find the perfect employee to join your team, although on the other, they may take another opportunity that’s arisen because you were too slow to hire them.

Firing someone quickly means you could be minimising the damage that an employee has caused, or you could be dismissing them too quickly before understanding what exactly went wrong.

So, is there any truth to the mantra today? We spoke to experts for their thoughts.


Jarrad Skeen, founder of technology recruiter, Affix

The tech sector is booming in Australia and our skills crisis is getting worse. Highly skilled talent is in hot demand to fill roles in AI, machine learning, development, design (user experience/product), data science and IT security. Technology companies are not the only ones hiring for these roles– it’s all sectors, banks, insurers and large retailers. Every company or organisation is a competitor and they’re being forced to fight harder than ever to secure talent.

There is no longer the luxury of hiring slow, otherwise you’ll miss the opportunity to hire the best. In the battle for talent, you need to be ready to move fast the moment you spot the right candidate and make that offer. At Affix we do extensive due diligence including reference checking and tech testing before presenting candidates to speed up the process for our customers. Be ready to act, the moment you start the recruitment process.

Elliot Hayes, Co-founder and Director, Smart Energy

We haven’t always had the luxury of time when hiring; when we saw a gap we filled it, but that has evolved. Nowadays we’re not hiring slow, but we’re being thorough in our recruitment and working smarter by identifying people who are highly skilled and keeping in touch with them for when we can utilise their skill set and expertise. We’ve fine tuned our candidate search and onboarding process over time so we’re able to move our candidates through the recruitment process faster to continue to drive the company forward, ease pressures of the rest of the team, and ensure candidates have a positive experience.

As for firing fast, we’re realistic in understanding that not everyone is suited for every role, and that you’re not doing the wrong candidate any favors by keeping them in a role they aren’t suited to. In some cases, moving them to a new role within the company and finding someone more suited to the role means the team stays positive, plus it means the right person and talent get into the role faster.

Mike Featherstone, Managing Director, ANZ/APAC, Pluralsight

Hiring slow, and firing fast, depending on the level of employee skill sets, isn’t the most productive or efficient way to build a talented team—especially in the face of a dire tech skills shortage in Australia. If organisations are truly committed to upskilling employees then the focus would, and should, shift to building an expert team of tech talent.

While it may be the role of human resources to hire talent, it’s the responsibility of CIOs and CTOs to upskill talent. Instead of replacing employees because of a lack of skills, or only hiring those with the exact level of experience and expertise required, organisations should be empowering employees to take the leap into the world of technology and upskill in established and emerging areas of technology such as cloud, DevOps, computing and security. A recommendation-based, hands-on skills development platform is the best way to engage employees and build their knowledge base in real-time.

Monica Watt, Chief Human Resources Officer at ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll

Hiring or firing an employee is a strategic activity and should not be rushed or delayed as time and the right action are critical to maintaining productivity and traction in a competitive market. The process needs to be consistent and respectful to make it fair and balanced for both employers and employees. However, the speed of recruitment and performance management can be dictated by archaic legacy systems which chew up time. In fact, ELMO’s recent HR Industry Benchmark Survey confirmed that manual, inefficient recruitment processes are a challenge for one in three HR professionals.

I would encourage business to look at the employee lifecycle from end to end, how each cycle relates and impacts the other and consider the actions the business needs to take to improve. In looking at the whole lifecycle and employee journey a business can take the steps to make the entire process better which will make a business become more effective.

Fintan Lalor, Regional Manager, APAC, Wrike

If you’re going to fire people at the first sign of trouble, what’s the point of being so cautious in hiring? A better statement would be, ‘hire for competence and values, and coach for process and functional excellence.’ It doesn’t have a great ring to it, but it does better represent my approach to hiring talent.

It’s not that we hire slow, we hire thoroughly—not specifically seeking a culture fit, but striving to find a fit of values like integrity, ingenuity and inquisitiveness to ensure a person elevates our culture and drives great results.

As far as firing fast goes, it’s important that managers look inward before deciding that a new hire an unsalvageable failure. That is, if a new employee is struggling, try to understand why. Is our onboarding process supporting them? Are expectations clearly defined? Are others struggling in this same role? If you ultimately decide a bad hire was made, it might be necessary to cut that person loose, but this shouldn’t be a decision made hastily or lightly.

Jacob Galea, Executive Success and Mindset coach, Founder of GCORP Advisory 

I would have to disagree. In a market where we have 2 major issues, 1) the acquisition of talent & 2) the retention of talent, this saying no longer holds any weight.

What we should be doing in this market is hiring slow, putting time into training and development, and then nurturing and mentoring our staff.

Acquiring good people is a massive issue in boardrooms today as is keeping them, so if you fire fast rather than develop your talent first you may not give the person the chance they need to shine.

Think of it like a seed you plant in the garden, you plant fast and then if it doesn’t grow do you immediately pull it out? No, you don’t. You water it, you feed it, you believe in it and have faith. Why are we not doing the same with our staff / people strategy? 

Craig Padoa, Managing Director – Australia and New Zealand, WANZL 

There’s no pleasure in firing someone, however as a Leader you are required to make difficult decisions that are in the best interest of the business. One of the lessons I’ve learned over the journey is reflecting after the fact: “I should have done it sooner”. This realisation has made me aware that by procrastinating on such a difficult decision, I’m actually doing more harm than good.

I’m not a big believer in “Hiring Slow”. I am a big believer in hiring right. If the process needs extending to allow stakeholder’s input, so be it. It’s incredibly frustrating to get to month 5 of a probation period and realise with a  month left that the person isn’t going to make it. It’s also very disappointing for the person failing their probationary period. Conversely I have made some very quick hiring decisions because the person was the right fit. When you get a strong team dynamic you are already on a winning path – losing candidates who are a great fit is something I try to avoid.

Dionne Niven, Global Head of People, SiteMinder

As anyone who’s experienced a quickly-scaling tech company could attest, there can be strong internal pressures pushing to hire fast and capitalise on often time-sensitive opportunities. This is particularly true when external funds have been injected into a business.

In the last three years, SiteMinder has grown 65% to more than 900 employees globally, and in this process there have been a number of key learnings.

Most important has been to ensure that a discipline and focus on culture-fit remains front and centre when bringing someone new into the fold, no matter how urgent the perceived need for growth. In the Australian tech industry this can be genuinely tricky. Some skills are very rare and it can be tempting to quickly hire someone’s knowledge, rather than take the time to understand their drivers and how naturally they will fit into the culture.

From this perspective, traits such as work ethic and strong communication skills should always be prioritised, and hiring patiently can be crucial to success.

Angus Dorney, co-CEO, Kablamo

Disagree. Hire fast, fire slow.  We hire our top talent by quickly moving through our interview processes and from there, it is our responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that employee succeeds as part of our team. Great tech talent has a lot of choice, so if you are fast growing you need to be able to make hiring decisions quickly. Successful growth also requires thoughtful culture building, because it’s not just a good salary that attracts the best talent.

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