The Chicken or the Egg?

Can you hire a replacement for someone before you fire them? Or, should you fire them, then replace them?

We’ve observed companies (our clients and others) thinking about this more carefully before deciding how to handle a replacement. We applaud this, because it considers the needs of the company, the team, and the current employee.

Here are some ramifications and considerations related to hiring before firing:

You could avoid loss of productivity and time by having the replacement ready to go when the current employee is fired. It takes time and money to find replacements, so you could fast-track the process and save time.

Sometimes the termination may be for cause (in which case you may have worked with the employee on a development plan for some time), and in other cases there may be a need for the position to be redefined altogether.

Does the replacement know that they’re being hired prior to termination of the current employee? If so, that may inject trust issues into your relationship. The replacement may wonder if some day you’ll do that to them. Thoughtful, discretionary communication should be carefully planned.

When you hire before firing, you may also limit the talent pool from which you can draw. If the entire search is in secret, you’ll not be able to see as many candidates as you would in a public search.

There are several good solutions to these issues.

One, hire a search firm. They can keep the identity of the employer confidential until it’s time for an interview. A search firm that has knowledge of the job title to be filled can deliver you qualified candidates without the risk and hassle of posting the position.

Two, hire a temp. When the employee is terminated, immediately hire a temporary replacement for a couple of months to allow you time for a proper search.

We have several employer clients who have recently handled this situation in an admirable manner. In addition to engaging with us for a confidential search, they also had transparency with the employee that a transition would be best for everyone. A long notice was provided to the employee, with full flexibility and support for the employee to find another position, complete with outplacement services.

It’s never pleasant to make the decision to replace someone, but it is possible to seek the best outcome for all involved with planning, good communication, and the help of professional partners.

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