Hiring the right employee is always the goal — but so often — not the reality. Many agency owners particularly suck at hiring. Worse than not hiring the right employee — agency owners suck at firing the wrong ones.

If there’s one universal flaw among agency owners it’s that they hang onto bad employees much longer than they should.

Sometimes your diamond in the rough is just a lump of coal.

They’re not going to get better.  You can’t keep moving them from position to position, trying to find a better fit.  They’re not going to suddenly fit your culture or stop behaving like they’re phoning it in.  Their proofreading isn’t going to magically get better and their horrid email composition isn’t going to suddenly get all Struck and Whited.

And even if they are busting a hump — you know when it’s not working.

I’m not talking about expecting someone to get it on day one. Hiring the right employee takes some time and effort. Everyone needs time to ramp up.  Everyone needs some training and mentoring. But they shows signs that tell you that maybe this time you’ve hired the right employee.  Or at least someone with the potential of being good.

So what should you do when you get that sickening feeling in your gut that perhaps your newest hire is your worst hire in a long time?

 Design one last chance but make sure they know it’s their last chance: I know you. You can’t fire them today, like you should. So create one last chance.  Odds are you’ve already talked to them about their performance.  They know you’re not happy.  Even if you’ve only communicated that passive aggressively — they probably have a clue.

Just in case — sit them down and explain why they’re not cutting it. Explain that you are going to give them one last shot to demonstrate to you that they deserve to stay.

Now, create some sort of finite goal for them to either accomplish or not. Make it something you can objectively measure. Be clear with the bad employee that this is a test and based on the results — they will either get to keep their job or you’re letting them go.

Don’t let the test take on a life of it’s own — one month at the longest.  If they’re going to rise to the occasion — that’s plenty of time.  If they’re going to fail — you don’t need to drag out the inevitable.

Tell someone else:  You know what’s going to happen.  One week before you fire him because the test is going badly, his wife is going to get pregnant, or his dog is going to get sick or some other twist of life is going to make you feel sorry for him.  And you’re going to mentally give yourself permission to ignore your own deadline.

Do  not do it.  Hedge your bet by telling someone else (Your HR person or CFO are good choices) so they can hold you accountable.  No matter what happens — fire them if that’s the result of the test.

Think about the rest of your team: It’s really not fair to keep a bad employee around.  It’s demoralizing for your great employees and will (if it hasn’t already) impact productivity. A bad employee is like an infection.  If you don’t get it out of your body — it makes the healthy cells sick too.

You want to be very clear about what your agency expects from a team member. Which means you can’t tolerate a employee who does not live up to that if you actually want anyone to live up to that expectation.

Hiring the right employee isn’t easy. Firing the wrong employee is even tougher. But both are skills that agency owners need to develop.