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Hiring freeze = Firing freeze

Posted by Amy Wilson on March 23, 2009


The hiring freeze is an admirable way for an organization to prevent future lay-offs and other cost-cutting measures. In fact, I don’t hear too many people with a job complaining about hiring freezes these days. There are far worse things to complain about (like the new Facebook layout, for example).

That said, the hiring freeze does have its drawbacks. You just can’t fire like you used to. And don’t get me wrong, firing has never been easy. A front line manager is in a tough spot when he encounters a performance problem. Addressing it, dealing with it, trying to improve it – all hard things that take work. However, the work can be worth it if a) the person makes a remarkable turnaround or b) the manager can replace the person with someone 50x better. A light at the end of the tunnel! A hiring freeze crushes that light.

Conventional wisdom suggests that a poor performer drags down the morale of co-workers and so it is best to get rid of them. But is this true when there is no replacement? Let’s do some math. Let’s say the manager gets 15 hours/week of productivity from the poor performer. Meanwhile, the other 3 people on the team are putting forth 50 hours/week of productivity (including taking on a large chunk of the poor performer’s work). How will the team’s morale fare if they have to take on 5 additional hours of work when the poor performer is let go? Is it really worth it to the manager to deal with the performance problem?

A line manager has deadlines to meet and does the best he can with available inputs. When he is unable to replace, he lacks the incentive to remove poor performers. And, in this way, it is impossible to build a high performing team, now or in the future.

What’s the alternative? It may take more work, but why not consider the budget freeze? Set the budget (and, by all means, change the budget according to business priorities) and then, push it to the line manager. Give the line manager the decision power over hiring and firing. Hold that budget tight, but give the line manager an incentive to create a high performing team especially when times are tough.

5 Responses to “Hiring freeze = Firing freeze”

  1. Meg Bear said

    Yup this is the tough one. I will submit to you one thing to consider (that is often forgotten). As a manager, if I don’t fire the person and I continue to let the rest of the team take up the work of the non-performer I am losing the credibility of the rest of the team, since they often think I don’t see the problem. If, however, I let the person go, I might have a hidden option of re-negotiating my own commitments with senior management as a result of the loss. I will never get that chance, if I continue to look the other way.

  2. Amy Wilson said

    Great perspective, Meg! I think that providing managers with a mindset of controlling their own destiny – whether it’s staffing changes or realigning commitments – is key here.

  3. Definitely some tough questions to think about. Adding to Meg Bear’s comment, if you let the low performer go it could improve your credibility as well as improve the morale of the remaining team members. With the low performer gone, the remaining employees know that each are putting in the same effort and respect each other for it. They may be taking on more work, but trust that everyone will get it done.

  4. Amy Wilson said

    Trainingtime – more great thoughts on how good managers can counteract these tendencies. Building an environment of trust is a good one!

  5. […] Hiring freeze = Firing freeze (Amy Wilson) […]

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