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Why Bad Hires Happen, and How to Avoid Them

By Lou Whiteman - Jan 25, 2021 at 8:00AM

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Hiring is hard. Here's what Morning Brew co-founder Alex Lieberman tries to do when bringing on new staff.

Morning Brew co-founder Alex Lieberman had to learn a lot on the go over the six years he spent guiding his media company from a dorm room project to a $75 million enterprise. 

You can't grow that fast without people, giving this millennial business leader a firsthand look at what can go right -- and wrong -- when hiring. 

During a Jan. 16 appearance on Motley Fool Live, Lieberman told Motley Fool Marketing Manager Margaret Powell some of the lessons he has learned while trying to grow the company, and shared some advice on what to do if you realize you've hired the wrong person for a job. 


Powell: You've actually spoken on before, really the importance of hiring and how bad hires have that trickle down effect. Can you speak on that a little bit here in building a [inaudible] what does it look like to bring on people that think those four steps ahead about the brand and the product?

Lieberman: Yes, if I didn't just share that lesson around thinking two or three steps ahead the second lesson I would share is that you can't spend too much time thinking about people. Thinking about the right way you to hire people, thinking about the roles you need to hire for, thinking about how you develop people and retain them. I just don't think as a leader, you can spend too much time on that. I think the biggest thing we learned in making mis-hires is it generally came down to two things. Actually, sorry, three things. Hiring someone too quickly, where basically what happens is we run a hiring process. We go through two months or three months in the process. It doesn't work out, so we have to restart the hiring process, and we find someone who is pretty good, two weeks into that new process. Because we're mentally exhausted for looking for someone for this role for three months or for two months, we end up pulling the trigger on hiring that person. Every time that behavior has existed for us, we have made the wrong decision and honestly it ends up leading to that person no longer being at the company six or eight months in the future, and it's not only not fair to ourselves, it's not fair to the people that we mis-hire. I would say the second thing is hiring anyone we know. Every time we have had any friends or friends of friends in the business, it has not worked out ever, like ever, ever. The other thing that I would say is taking basically a bunch of things that need to get done in the company now, where like you're talking to your current team members and you have one person whose saying, "These three things. I want them to get done. But they're not exactly my job description, but they should get done," and then having another person say the same thing. You basically find a list of nine things that need to get that done, you match those into a role that you hire for and what you end up realizing is you hire someone to do nine things that were never a top priority so there probably a reason you didn't hire someone to do that.

Those are the three big learnings I've had from hiring and I would say the other big thing is, no one fires fast enough. Human beings hate tension, human beings strive to be empathetic and good people. I think that is the antithesis of what needs to be done when you realize someone's not right for a role. By the way, when I realize someone is not right for a role, it takes me far too long to let someone go also. It is a very tough thing to do. But if I could give one piece of advice to everyone including myself, it will be let people go in the most humane and empathetic way, but as fast as possible because I believe you're doing disservice to your company and to the person. Once you get to the point that you feel you've given every chance for someone to succeed in a row and it's just not going to happen, they're not the right person. To me what happens is one, it's not right for the company because things won't be pushed forward as fast as they should be. Also, if you think someone's not right for the role, you're never going to be the only one. Other people in the company will have the same exact thoughts, and the longer you keep that person, other people will question why is management keeping somebody we don't think is effective enough in the role. I think one, it hurts the credibility that you have with your team. What I think the second is, is it's a disservice to the person that you ultimately are going to let go. Because if you don't think that they're going to grow in the company, you're literally slowing down their ability to progress in their career because you know that they're not going to be able to escalate in your company.

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