Should the nice, not very talented person be fired because a more talented person came along?
January 31, 2008 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Should the nice, dependable, but not so talented person be fired because a more talented person came along?

This is in an at-will state in America.

Person A has been dependable, but lackluster in performance. Nothing terrible, but nothing exciting. This person will do what's told and generally does an ok job of it. However they do have a track record of making small mistakes, such as spelling errors or misfiling. These errors have cost the company money, though not a huge amount.

Person B contacted other person in the company, asking if there were any open positions like Person A's. Person B was referred to the manager of Person A's department and a informal interview happened, in which Person B showed that they would be an improvement over Person A in talent, ability and lack of errors.

Again, this is an at will state in America.

Should Person A be let go, in favor of Person B? Person A is very nice and liked in the small office, so their firing might not be taken well. However, for the company Person B is looking to be a substantial improvement for the department and company. There's just the matter of firing the very nice Person A and bringing in Person B.

What would you do in this situation?
posted by jmitchell to Work & Money (42 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
in which Person B showed that they would be an improvement over Person A in talent, ability and lack of errors.

I don't think you can be sure of that. Person B could be a jerk, be habitually tardy, have no motivation and be error-prone. Those things aren't always apparent in an interview.
posted by jayder at 11:30 AM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

a bird in the hand is....
posted by Salvatorparadise at 11:33 AM on January 31, 2008

In what way has Person B exhibited that they are more talented? And how talented do you have to be to press spell check and know the alphabet?
posted by spec80 at 11:35 AM on January 31, 2008

Dependability is important and is a known known. It's the unknowns that kill you, especially the unknown unknowns. Commitment is important, because it is a vote of confidence and a boost of morale for the entire workforce. It's not as simple as A vs B.

Can person A get some training?
posted by |n$eCur3 at 11:36 AM on January 31, 2008

This happened at my company. Person A was fired, Person B was brought in and everybody started worrying that it could happen to them next. Never mind what Person B could bring to the company. I'd say the firing of Person A was much more detrimental to the company in my case - lots of whispers, gossipping, people starting to look for other jobs "just in case."
posted by Ruby Doomsday at 11:36 AM on January 31, 2008 [9 favorites]

Has anyone sat down with person A and told her how her performance could improve?
posted by goo at 11:43 AM on January 31, 2008

I agree with Ruby. If someone from my team was fired for being "okay" rather than great at their job, with little or no warning, everyone would start looking for new jobs and it would kill morale.

Personally I would suggest setting quantitive goals for employees, and tracking the employee's progress against those goals. That way both the employee and manager know what is expected and if the employee's performance is less than, equal to, or greater than the goals. If someone is performing in line with the goals I don't think it's right to fire them, even if some better potential employee exists somewhere.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:53 AM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yearly reviews should have been used to point out the good qualities and the areas that needed improving.

The firing will affect everybody negatively, not just person A.
posted by francesca too at 11:56 AM on January 31, 2008

For me, it depends on whether you are talking about a skill or a talent. For example, many people can learn the skill of using graphic design software, but that doesn't give them the talent to be a good designer.

Also, sometimes it's hard in a small company to separate the position from the person in it, but if the company has needs that aren't really being fulfilled by the person - or could conceivably be done better by someone else - then they have to make the tough decision to make changes. I guess it depends on the boss's willingness to trade the known for the unknown.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:56 AM on January 31, 2008

This person will do what's told and generally does an ok job of it.

From my experience those qualities are both more desirable and more rare than talent.
posted by TedW at 11:59 AM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Following on to RubyTuesday and burnmp3s, the fact is that the rest of the staff will not know (and should not, probably by law) why Person A was fired, unless Person A tells them. Given the criteria you've laid out, that seems unlikely to happen, so the rest of the staff will be subject to their own and each others' perceptions.
posted by rhizome at 12:01 PM on January 31, 2008

Response by poster: Person B's record and abilities are known via sources at their current company. The work is very good, they are dependable, dedicated and loyal.

As Sweetie Darling says, Person A has skill and a bit of talent. Person B has great skill and great talent.

Person A is showing little signs of moving beyond their current capabilities despite some training.
posted by jmitchell at 12:01 PM on January 31, 2008

I'd also be concerned about the message this would give to others, especially if Person A has been performing within the required guidelines. And here's another concern: People with "talent" don't always stick around. What if you hire Person B, and after a year at the job, they go after a better opportunity or start their own business?
posted by PatoPata at 12:05 PM on January 31, 2008

Regular yet small mistakes can be annoying. And besides why throw away money?

I like |n$eCur3's and goo's comments. Give A a chance to improve his/her game.

What is A's attitude in general? "Attitude is everything" they say. And didn't Richard Branson say something like - experience doesn't matter; you can teach someone who has the right attitude just about anything?

Then again Person B might have a great attitude as well.

That being said, some posters above made a very valid point about how morale can be affected at the company.

Could you not hire B and then reassign A? Or perhaps you already thought about this.

Whoo! I am going back and forth here - I'm getting dizzy!

Good luck! Maybe everything will somehow work out on its own!
posted by bitteroldman at 12:07 PM on January 31, 2008

Yeah, I would stick with the devil I know.
posted by runtina at 12:13 PM on January 31, 2008

Bring on Person B without firing Person A. Find a place in the company for Person B. If they have great skill and great talent, they probably have great ambition too.

There should always be a place in any company for a person with great skill, great talent and great ambition.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:16 PM on January 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

As others have said, it is not possible to know with certainty that replacing A with B will lead to better results. The qualities that you attribute to A are harder to find and harder to teach.

If Person B is not amazing enough that you want to create a new position just to make sure you get this person on board, then they're not amazing enough to fire A before you see how B actually fits in.
posted by winston at 12:16 PM on January 31, 2008

You're infatuated. It's like any relationship question - should I stick with my current dependable relationship or should I jump into bed with someone new and hot? As people point out, there are many levels to the question and there are no sure things. Chill out for a bit and ask yourself what the job expectations really are and how the company works to support employees in doing great work.

It sounds like you have no legal obligation to person A, but if I were in your shoes, I would ask myself how it would be if *I* was person A. Personally, as tempting as it may be to hire the new guy, I'd probably be more inclined to supervise person A more closely and tell him where he's falling short, specifically how you'd like him to improve, and a timeline. This may sound harsh, but it's actually being supportive, and you're giving the relationship a fair chance. If he fails to reach *clearly articulated* goals in the timeframe, then I think you've got reason to let him go.
posted by jasper411 at 12:23 PM on January 31, 2008

Ditto infinitewindow. Bring on B but don't fire A. Let them work together. The best-case scenario is that B brings A up a level and you end up with two excellent workers, and the worst case is that you have to fire one of them later.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:37 PM on January 31, 2008

Absolutely fire the hell out of Person A. The incremental improvement in job performance is the only thing that matters. If anyone tells you you're swine for throwing person A away like so much garbage, just ignore them like the goal-focused machine that you are. Person A's needs are utterly irrelevant and it doesn't matter one whit the effect of being fired will have on them after what had, previously, been acceptable and dependable work. You work in an at will state, and Person A has no claim, legally, ethically, or morally on your loyalty to them. The judgment of Person A's coworkers who like him and would be negatively impacted by his loss is also just so irrelevant.

You should also step aside when someone else who can perform your job a little better comes along. Maybe you should even be helping find that person.
posted by Reverend John at 12:39 PM on January 31, 2008 [11 favorites]

Give person A a "promotion" to do something else, then fill the open position.
posted by Pants! at 12:40 PM on January 31, 2008

Would person B be resented by others when it becomes obvious what happened?

How do you know that B will stick around when a slightly better job becomes available elsewhere?
posted by Kevin S at 12:49 PM on January 31, 2008

If the job is limited to the clerical duties you describe, perhaps Person B isn't a long-term fit for that position and Person A is. I've worked with many a sharp, talented entry-level employee who very quickly got bored/burnt out/resentful when they picked a job to 'get their foot in the door' but didn't find themselves very quickly doing more demanding or challenging work.

I second the suggestions to find room for Person B without firing Person A and for making sure Person A knows where they are falling short.
posted by juliplease at 12:55 PM on January 31, 2008

"Person B's record and abilities are known via sources at their current company. The work is very good, they are dependable, dedicated and loyal."

Then why is Person B interviewing with you? That doesn't sound dedicated and loyal. Are they looking for a step up? More Money?

"known via sources at their current company" Perhaps their current company want to get rid of them and would be thrilled to saddle the competition (you) with them.

Also, perhaps Person A doesn't really exert themselves because they know your company is always on the lookout for the newest, prettiest thing to replace them with.

Wait until Person B finds out you destroyed Person A's life because Person B came along. Person B will always be waiting for Person C to come along and replace them.

These are just observations.
posted by sandra_s at 1:03 PM on January 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

Tell person A you just passed on someone better for her job, but that you won't do it a second time. Tell her specifically how her work can be improved, and what assistance is available to her to improve it. Be serious, but somehow try to make it not sound like an ultimatum. Don't give a hard date for when she has to have had satisfactory improvement, but let her know she has to start getting better now. Remind everyone there that they were hired with the expectation that they grow in their position.

Nobody likes working in an environment where people can get replaced suddenly. Nobody should have the expectation that reasonable expectations for improvement need not be met, though. In every action of this process, stress how reasonable your requirements of coworkers are.

Hope that if A doesn't improve, B will still be around. Hope that the other people you work with understand that every business is a growth business.
posted by aswego at 1:03 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

In my first job I was asked to interview summer interns,. After the interviews, the first thing my employers ALWAYS asked was "Were they nice?" That irritated me because I really felt like one's skills and performance should be more important. Then I worked there for two years. And now I know better.

I'd take a mediocre nice person over a talented asshole anyday. Here's why: working with someone is almost like an arranged marriage. You're spending most of your day with someone. If they are unpleasant to work with, that time will be agony for everyone.

From "The No Asshole Rule," unpleasant people "...poison the work environment, decrease productivity, induce qualified employees to quit and therefore are detrimental to businesses, regardless of their individual effectiveness."

Niceness counts! Get the already-existing employee some training or give them an assessment that indicates they need improvement.
posted by answergrape at 1:11 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is an abuse of at-will employment law. Firing someone and replacing them when they're not actually failing at the role (just doing 'ok') is heartless and reprehensible. You will squish the morale at your firm.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:14 PM on January 31, 2008

It's my experience that everyone makes mistakes at their job but they tend to make them more in their first year or two in a position. While B does great work at their other job, there will be a period of time where they will be less valuable to your company than A.
posted by drezdn at 1:22 PM on January 31, 2008

I would hire person B to fill the role of person A.

this not only helps you in the obvious way but sends a clear sign to other employees as to what is expected from them. person A may be a great friend to many but is not in the job position, as demonstrated by performance. to keep this person in this position would be bad management: you know about a problem, you know the solution, you do not act.

This is an abuse of at-will employment law.
bullshit. as the employer it is your choice what and who you wish to employ.

the question has to be asked though if person A should be reassigned to a position he or she is more qualified for.
posted by krautland at 1:29 PM on January 31, 2008

Should? The best-case scenario would be finding them a lateral position to what they've got now doing something that speaks more to their strengths.
posted by desuetude at 1:35 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is an abuse of at-will employment law.
bullshit. as the employer it is your choice what and who you wish to employ.

And this is why I think at-will employment law is bullshit itself - we're not talking about heads of cattle here, we're talking about people. The work and effort of those people is what makes a company a success. Where I'm from, we have laws to protect people from exactly this kind of cold-eyed mercenary nonsense. At-will employment is not an excuse to treat people like fungible stocks. Companies that treat their people like interchangeable gears will find sugar in the gas tank pretty damn quick. Or they'll just fill up with assholes and be miserable places to work.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:48 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

What kind of position and what industry? How have the mistakes cost the company money? Mistakes requiring rework? Mistakes making you obligated to take on work for free? Mistakes that lost you clients/future business?

There's not many situations where ditching Person A for Person B makes long term sense. Three things to consider:

Everyone, even the mega-talented hypothetical Person B, makes mistakes.

Take a look at the responses so far in this thread. These people don't even know Person A, Person B or yourself, and most are already in a lynching mood. Firing Person A is going to cause short term chaos, and depending on the maturity of your staff, resentment towards Person B.

From a cold-blooded managerial/executive standpoint, the only way this makes sense is if Person B can increase your revenue significantly. Order of magnitude significantly. If they're just going to be a drop in, more efficient replacement for Person A it's not worth the risk of disrupting the chemistry of a small office that's already gelled. It's a safer bet to work with Person A to improve the areas they're weak in, or just accept their occasional mistakes as the cost of doing business.
posted by alana at 1:53 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

One more idea. If it's Person B's ideas you want, can you hire them as a consultant of sorts? They could keep their existing job and do a little work on the side with you. Then you'll get a better sense of what they're like as a worker while you continue to enjoy Person A's reliability. And maybe Person B's ideas will light a fire under Person A and make them more effective.
posted by PatoPata at 2:03 PM on January 31, 2008

Real life situation I know of:

Person A was technically "laid off due to restructuring." They eliminated Person A's position and then created a new similar one so they could hire Person B. Person A was a longtime employee who had risen through the ranks, but had a few small issues. Person B was a temporary hire that had a slight edge over Person A, and the company wanted to hire B permanently. Company could not afford to hire one more person permanently without getting rid of someone. Person A was also the easiest one to eliminate in the office because they were at the end of their probationary period after getting a promotion.

Person A was originally told of their issues, but as the conversation went on, it was made pretty clear to Person A off the record that A was specifically being gotten rid of because of B's existence, and if B did not exist, A would not have lost their job. Whether or not A "cleaned up their act" did not matter, because the decision had already been made by the time A was informed of their issues that were supposedly a problem.

An employer can certainly do this if they wanna. Sucks to be A.

I would not want to work for such a company with a lack of loyalty, but loyalty doesn't matter in this day and age. You might as well be an ass and stick a firing onto the record of someone who might not deserve it, I guess. But if they MUST can A, at least do it in a "no-fault" sort of manner, I think.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:08 PM on January 31, 2008

If you were looking for someone to fill Person A's shoes because A screwed up and you were determined to fire A, and then found B, I would say go ahead and hire B.

But you were fine with A's work until B came along, which suggests you just really like B and want to find a place for B. It's not right, I don't care what anyone says, to fire someone without any warning and for no real reason, even if it is an "at-will" state. While you might not care about the ethics of it, believe me, your current employees--and future prospects--will. Incidentally, I note that you left out how long A has been working for the company. If A has been there only a couple months, I might feel more inclined to let A go, as for some jobs there is a probationary period. But I think A has been there for a while. I get the feeling you are wording this question to get the answer you want, which is to hire B.

In A you have a loyal, dependable person who occasionally makes mistakes. In B you have an unknown entity. B comes, as you say, highly recommended--why then does B want to move from their current job, and why is the other employer so ready to get rid of B?

Maybe B is a personal friend of yours or you have some other connection to B, and so you want to work with B. But doing so at the expense of A is rotten. Unless A has failed to meet their work objectives all along the line, there's no reason to let A go. If you have another position that is open or will be opening soon, suggest B go for that job. Keep them in mind, by all means. But unless A seriously screws up, A should stay.
posted by misha at 2:18 PM on January 31, 2008

Amen, Reverend John.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:43 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

This analogy is a bit of a stretch, but I have been a captain of a soccer team for many years. Every once in a while, we get a new player whom everyone is excited about. Wow- he played at a Div. 1 school! What speed! What moves! Most of the time, the new hotshot player shows up for a few games and then vanishes. Or, always comes late and refuses to play defense.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't take reliability and dependability for granted. The older I get, the more I've found them to be traits that I value higher than talent alone.
posted by emd3737 at 2:56 PM on January 31, 2008

I've seen plenty of nice people get fired, but it's always been because they sucked at whatever job they were doing, for whatever reason. And people are sort of sad, but they get over it, because the nice person wasn't really good at their job and all that. But when you fire someone who is actually doing their job and is nice, then people get pissed (and worried). (If person A was a jerk, people might not care as much.) It's not so much the niceness that matters, but whether or not A can do his/her job, and from I can tell, s/he can and does.

Where I've worked, even though it was at-will, you had to have some serious paperwork behind you before you fired someone. They had to be on probation (requiring their's and a manager's signoff), there were review forms, the whole nine yards. Even though you're in an at-will state, what is your employer's policy?

What would I do? I would get serious on Person A's track record - that is, let A know that mistakes cost the company money and find out why they are happening and how to stop them, maybe send A to some professional development, try to positively motivate him/her to improve performance, etc. This can go one of two ways, maybe it will help A and s/he will become a better employee, or it will make A want to look for another job, at which point you can hire B.

Guess what, person C is better than person B, s/he just hasn't contacted your company yet. You can't keep "trading up" when someone better emails you their resume. Develop the employees you have and if the performance is still "meh", then you can consider finding an alternative hire.

P.S. In my experience a new employee often costs more than the vacant position was paying - how much does B want and are you actually willing/able to pay that amount? What if B is shopping around to have an offer in hand to get a raise at his company, and then you fire A and B stays where he is. Then where are you?

Did you hire A or inherit A?
posted by ml98tu at 3:04 PM on January 31, 2008

The problem with the question is very basic: It treats employees as objects, stripping them of their humanity.

That's no way to think about employees. At best, it's an engineering mindset (Let's replace this PC with a newer, faster one) taken outside its area of applicability. At worst, it's arrogant, elitist, inhuman, and cruel.

I say: Fire the person who came up with this sand-for-brains idea.
posted by exphysicist345 at 3:07 PM on January 31, 2008

Keep A. Hire B.

If you can't afford to do that, then you can't afford to rock your boat like this, because you've got worse problems already without creating more. If B actually were any good, then the second they realized that you couldn't even afford to hire one more staff member, they'd realize that your company has serious problems and will walk away.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:41 PM on January 31, 2008

I would like to echo what people have said about morale among any other workers. I know someone who studies careers, and he has said that something like downsizing always ends up costing more in the end because people who not feel secure in their jobs do not do good work.

If you just up and fire Person A, and hire B in their place, the other staff members will find out why. It will hurt morale in the company, and both loyalty and performance will suffer. Unless they also feel that Person A really isn't pulling their weight - perhaps you should ask around? I don't know how one would do that sort of thing, though.
posted by jb at 7:35 PM on January 31, 2008

Best answer: Did it 2 months ago. It's worked out great, company morale, if anything, is better than before because of the new employee's performance. The old employee was given a generous severance and offered similar job at different location, but choose to look for work elsewhere.

This was one of the smartest decisions we ever made.
posted by jmitchell at 5:22 PM on June 1, 2008

« Older Showdown: PSP vs DS lite   |   How can I become a better and more prolific reader... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.