Being Uncertain About a New Hire

Kah Seng Tay

VP of Engineering at Airtable



As a first-time manager to an early-stage startup, you are cognizant that it's critically important to make the right decision when hiring a new employee. Yet, you are haunted by uncertainty about a new hire. It is someone with whom you worked before. Someone who under different circumstances delivered great results. Knowing that a bad hiring decision could have a detrimental effect on your organization, you are set to decipher how prior working arrangements, the communication style, and personal problems troubling a new hire, affected their performance. The problem is additionally amplified by the fact that the team works remotely and opportunities for in-person communication are limited.

Actions taken

  • First off, try to determine what exactly has changed and what is the reason for that change. For example, if a new hire was a contractor for several years before going full-time, that can be a dramatic change. If his or her work was milestone driven and paid at a fixed price, that alone is an entirely different work incentive option compared to daily filing up of timesheets.
  • Now, put for a moment work aside and see if there is something else that could have caused the change. Perhaps, a new hire is troubled by personal problems that will be settled soon.
  • Once you have elaborated professional and personal reasons, make a leap forward and communicate over your expectations. Establish a communication channel that will allow for critical feedback.
  • Maintain control over this communication channel. Be persistent about regular check-ins and ask for feedback even if he or she is openly evasive.
  • Before making any final decision about a new hire, make a plan B. If he or she has a unique set of skills, it may not be easy to find a replacement. I was once hesitant to discontinue working with a hire because of his unique skills and the agony prolonged for over a year. The problem was eventually solved when the company grew enough and other people specialized in these specific skills.
  • If you are reluctant to terminate a working relationship, consider finding another working arrangement including going back to contracting. Offer him or her a possibility to define themselves working arrangements that will be the most productive for them.

Lessons learned

  • When a new hire performance falls below satisfactory it is hard to determine what has caused the change and if the reasons for that are of personal or professional nature.
  • Human performance can be affected by reasons that are personal. They can cast a shadow on our ability to deliver the performance we desire. However, the degree of tolerance for personal problems varies and the general rule would be to leave such issues at home.
  • It is important that managers display wisdom and are able to find the balance between being empathetic and being a professional who is driven by objectives.
  • Companies at different stages can be comfortable with a different amount of uncertainty. At an early-stage startup, uncertainty is less tolerable in comparison to bigger companies where a person can be given more time to self-correct.
  • Part of the learning process includes overcoming regret for letting things go too far and blaming yourself for not reacting before. Sometimes circumstances require this to be the path and there really is no single best way to handle people and their situations.

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Kah Seng Tay

VP of Engineering at Airtable

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership TrainingPerformance ReviewsFeedback Techniques

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