Rehire Every Employee, Every Day

Two years ago my partner and I bought three small (but expensive) olive trees for our roof terrace. We carefully planted the trees in very big (and even more expensive) steel bowls, and we gave them the best soil and nutrients our money could buy.

Each of the bloody trees died within a year.

As a gardener, you need to make sure that plants and trees you select for a garden match the environment they need to grow in. It turned out our olive trees (and the steel bowls we planted them in) were not able to cope with the extensive rain showers in our country. The trees simply drowned.

In his book Good to Great Jim Collins listed The Right People First as one of the main principles for growing great companies. Not every tree is a good match for a roof terrace in Holland. And not every person is a good match for your business environment. When selecting people for your organization you carefully need to pick the right ones. Giving people the best office space, proper tools, cool projects, and a weekly massage, is not enough. If they're not the right people the environment will drown them. And when their performance is bad, it doesn't mean they are bad employees. It means the match just didn't work out, and they are probably better off elsewhere.

But what if the match was good, and the environment changes?

What if there's a financial crisis, and the business environment changes dramatically? What if customers suddenly require small economical cars, instead of big expensive ones? What if customers suddenly require small projects with fixed price contracts, instead of big projects on a time/material basis? What if customers reduce the size of the carrot, while enlarging the size of the stick? When the business changes, the organization needs to change, and the people in it too.

And some people might not be able to…

The principle of selecting the right people already gets sufficient attention in your recruitment efforts. Right? But have you also implemented the principle of retaining the right people? The people you hired yesterday, may not be the ones you would hire today. Yes, you have to educate and train them, and give them the opportunity to change. But that might not be enough when trying to match people with a changed business environment. As a manager, you must think as if you are rehiring every employee, every day.

Growing a business means the right people first, and the right people next.


Re-organizing teams and departments, changing accountability, and changing job descriptions, will have an effect on employees. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Some people can decide to leave the organization, making room for others with a better match. Other people may have to be fired, when they don't change and don't leave. Performance that was OK yesterday, may not be acceptable tomorrow. It is even possible that, while firing some people, you have to hire others, only because they offer a better match in the new environment. (And that won't make it any easier for the ones that are leaving…)

Did I ever tell you management is fun?

I never liked management. And I never liked gardening. The big expensive steel bowls on our roof terrace are now empty. Some climate reports on global warming say that our country will have more of a Mediterranean climate in the near future. Environmental change is on the way. I'm looking forward to it. One day we will buy ourselves three new olive trees.

(pictures by C'est moi and coda)

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  • Pawel Brodzinski

    I don’t think the problem is with acting like you were rehiring people everyday, which is by the way far too often. The problem is what managers do when they come to a conclusion that someone doesn’t fit anymore.
    I’ll tell you what they do.
    They wait until rains come back to Netherlands, which may never come. We put a lot of pressure to hire great people but we forget what to do when they aren’t so great anymore, which may be inflicted by change in organization, economy or simple burnout.
    Being good manager is about firing people too, which is probably the worst part of the job.

  • curiousEngine

    Would you consider firing the High-flyers of the organisation?

  • Neal Blomfield

    It’s not only business environment changes that can impact the “fit” of an employee to a company. As a company changes it’s culture will change as well and, depending on the employee, this may impact that person’s fit with the company more than changes to the business environment. I have seen this happen – I was the employee that did not fit any more.
    As Pawel states, the biggest issue in these situations is not so much that you need to review the suitability of people as things change, it is that you must continuously reevaluate your employees in light of a changing company and when they start to “fit” less well – address the issues early rather than letting them become more and more isolated. IMHO most people will respond to being “assisted” in understanding their position / fit in the new environment IF the issue is addressed early enough. It is when the problems are allowed to fester that they get to the point where the only option is for the company and employee to part ways (in my case I resigned and found work elsewhere).
    Management takes real courage, unfortunately I think a lot of managers lack the true courage to deal with situations before they have accelerated out of control.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Pawel, Neal, thanks for your additions. They are insightful and useful!

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Ehm, why would I want to?

  • Marcus Bligh

    you are bordering on the illegal in some countries – certainly in the UK.
    When you want to lose someone from your organisation here you can do one of two things.
    a) fire them
    b) make them redundant
    If you fire them, you had better have a damned good reason to or you will end up in court and likely lose. (In my experience you will lose even if you have a good reason). You must demonstrate the efforts you put in to retrain the fired person and you must show that you looked at every possibility for moving them within the organisation.
    If you make them redundant, you cannot refill their position for a period. Otherwise you fired them becuase their position was clearly no redundant.
    The other option you allude to is to wait for them to leave. Fair enough, but put any pressure on or make things “awkward” for them and they get a new approach. They can leave, then take you to court for unfair dismissal. Even though you didn’t fire them, constructive dismissal counts.
    I would be surprised if things were greatly different in Holland. After all, it is easy to talk about hireing and firing in a blog post but these are real people with real families and commitments we are talking about. If technology moves on and they take a little time to adjust, should they really lose their livelihood? This is why we have laws here to protect employees – it is a sign of a civilised country.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Marcus, I think you misunderstand me.
    “you are bordering on the illegal in some countries”
    With what? By only keeping people that are a good match? How can that be illegal? You want me to keep people that do not fit in the organization? I’m not saying you should get rid of people for no good reason. I know that’s illegal (and perhaps immoral).
    “If technology moves on and they take a little time to adjust, should they really lose their livelihood?”
    You’re making things up. I didn’t say that people cannot have a little time to adjust. What do you take me for? A monster?
    But you’re wrong when you think I should feel responsible for people’s livelihoods. Only they themselves are responsible for that. By doing a good job. I’m responsible for hiring (and keeping) people that do a good job. I don’t care about their livelihoods. That’s not my business.

  • Jim Danby

    You may not have said those things directly but go and re-read your post and you may find that you strongly implied it.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    You’re wrong.
    To imply = to indicate or suggest without being explicitly stated
    I do not agree with firing people for no good reason, and without giving them a fair chance to adapt. From a management perspective it would be unwise, as hiring and teaching someone else is often more expensive than educating the employees you already have.
    Obviously, since I don’t *agree* with it, I can also not be *implying* it.
    So you’re wrong.
    Of course, you may accuse me for not writing more clearly. I wouldn’t mind, and you’d probably be right.
    But you shouldn’t confuse your interpretations with my intentions.

  • Jim Danby

    Why’d you remove my last comment? Don’t like the truth?

  • Jurgen Appelo

    I removed your latest comment because I do not allow offensive language on my blog, no matter whether it is directed to me or someone else.
    I sent you an email about it, because I wanted to let you know that you’re welcome to add another comment, but without name-calling.
    However, you’re giving incorrect email addresses, which probably indicates you wish to remain anonymous. As is the case with most other people using similar language.
    I invite you to answer my comments with proper arguments, in a civilized manner. Otherwise, don’t bother.

  • Jim Danby

    Exactly how was what I said containing offensive language?

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