'Hire fast, fire slow' doesn't work

Feb. 1, 2011

Hire slow, fire fast. That business advice is as true now as when it was first conceived.

Remember that caveman who invented the wheel? Perhaps he hired his brother-in-law to help out at the wheel dealership without doing a background check  on him first.

Getting the hire right the first time is the first step. Keeping the hire happy and engaged is the second, because there are substantial direct and indirect costs to replacing a productive employee.

There are recruiting expenses. It also takes time to interview and evaluate applicants. And productivity is necessarily lost while the associate is being trained.

I bring this up because Modern Tire Dealer is in the process of hiring a new senior editor. Mike Manges accepted a wonderful offer from The Timken Co. after 13 years with our magazine.

I’m not saying that Mike was well-liked, but his fan club in the tire industry had a membership waiting list. Had that caveman hired Mike, the slogan would have been “Hire once, fire hot.”

I’ve only been editor for 10 years, so this is the first time I’ve had to hire a full-time employee. There’s more to it than I thought (just ask our Human Resources Department).

As many of you know, there are a number of questions you cannot ask for legal reasons. I’m sure the list is longer than it was 10 years ago. For example, you can’t ask any job applicant the following:

• Where were you born?

• What is your maiden name or marital status?

• Do you have any children?

• How old are you?

• Do you have any disabilities?

• Have you ever undergone psychiatric evaluation?

You also can’t inquire about an applicant’s lineage, ancestry or nationality; height or weight; and arrests that did not result in a conviction (unless, of course, you are a law enforcement agency).

 As a rule of thumb, you can ask non-discriminatory, job-related questions. Although you can’t ask applicants if they have disabilities, you can ask them if they can perform essential requirements of the job. You also can ask them to describe how they would perform necessary job functions.

Can you inquire about union membership? No. The National Labor Relations Act makes it unlawful to discourage or encourage membership in any labor organization when hiring.

However, union membership can be a requirement of the job in some circumstances.

In the 22 states that have passed “right to work” legislation, it doesn’t matter.  According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation Inc., a right to work law “secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union.”

Titan Tire Corp. recently offered contracts to United Steelworkers union members at its tire manufacturing plants in Des Moines, Iowa; Freeport, Ill.; and Bryan, Ohio. The contracts were specific to each plant.

Des Moines workers ratified their contract. Workers at the other two plants did not.

Iowa is a right to work state. Illinois and Ohio are not. I wonder if that had anything to do with the initial outcome? Just a thought.

And after you have made the hire, don’t forget about the other candidates. If you invited them into the office for an interview, try not to leave them hanging.

As soon as the hunt is over, let them know. You can either do it personally or have your human resources director handle it. E-mailing them with the news is fine. A phone call is certainly acceptable.

Respect the process from beginning to end. You never know when another job needs to be filled.

No discussion about hiring would be complete without some mention of firing.

The second part of the business advice, “fire fast,” is fine in theory. Break ties before too many problems arise.

 To paraphrase former General Electric Co. CEO Jack Welch, “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” If only it were that easy.

In his book, “By the Seat of your Pants: The No-nonsense Business Management Guide,” author and former tire dealer Tom Gegax defines firing as “freeing up someone’s future for more suitable work.”

That's a good way of looking at it.

If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me at [email protected].

About the Author

Bob Ulrich

Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000 and retired in January 2020. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and had been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993. He won numerous awards for editorial and feature writing, including five gold medals from the International Automotive Media Association. Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University and has a law degree from the University of Akron.