How to Know When to Keep a New Hire

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A coaching client recently asked for help with a new hiring dilemma: An excellent candidate for the law firm's staff supervisor position turned out to have had a close working relationship with one of the firm's associates at a previous employer.

The firm making the new hire was a small one and feared that such a bond with the currently employed attorney could create a wall between them and other firm members. The other question was that if the new supervisor did come on board, how could performance be accurately and objectively assessed?

From a practical standpoint, business conditions today are such that a potential new hire is likely looking for a stable place of employment at which to remain and excel for some time into the future. Job-hopping is not part of today's market; moreover, a hiring decision is not set in stone.

A firm should always be on the lookout for capable new candidates and have a "plan B" identified if a new hire does not work out. Various online job search and job posting services have supplanted ads, casual referrals or accidental contacts to aid in this process.

Hiring someone is an extremely difficult process. There are many psychological tests to use, but you have to hire a professional psychologist to administer them (a person different from a headhunter, who has a vested interest in the hiring process).

Ultimately they are self-defeating, because tests imply that there is a "perfect" employee with a 100-percent score, and such persons simply do not exist. What the firm can and should try to find is the "right" employee - one who is skilled, congenial and committed.

Having a comprehensive job description for every position in the law office is essential to making an informed evaluation of a new hire's performance; alternatively, the absence of such descriptions promotes inconsistency and threatens objectivity. Descriptions should include the very specific tasks of each position and the performance standards by which the accomplishment of these tasks is judged.

When new hires understand what they should be doing and how they are evaluated, their performance is more likely to be positive and justify retention.

The idea of a written statement of responsibilities is definitely a two-way street. Just as the firm must be clear on what it expects from a new hire, it must be clear on what the new hire can expect from the firm, particularly in order to reach the necessary measurements for success in the position.

These measurements must be clearly defined so that the new hire understands how the firm will make its evaluation. Whatever the criteria for success, it must be clear which ones are considered to be within the new hire's control and which ones are not.

Finally, evaluation criteria should be as flexible as hiring decisions. Have continuing dialogue and evaluation that allows for reinforcement, modification or expansion of responsibilities as the circumstances, performance and expectations concerning the new hire evolve.

It will likely be apparent in the first few weeks if the new hire is the right candidate. Once past that hurdle, the goal is to move from new hire to valued firm member.

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