Hiring failures: can you avoid them?

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Zinc Team
July 23, 2019
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Bringing a new person into your team carries a huge risk as making the wrong hire is. You invest time and resources interviewing and assessing multiple candidates so you need to feel confident that the person you hire will succeed in their new role and gel with your current team.

Why do new hires fail?

Despite the best efforts and intentions of hiring managers, one study found that . Based on interviews with 5,247 hiring managers, failure was described as contract termination, leaving under pressure, receiving disciplinary action or significantly negative performance reviews.

While this finding is concerning, the conclusion may not be as alarming as it seems. The study relies heavily on the viewpoint of the managers who naturally focus on what they thought the new team member did wrong or lacked instead of examining their own work environment to look for potential causes. Top managers are aware of scenarios and broader cultural issues that can lead to poor performance or failure.

Four of the five reasons given for failure are soft skills that are notoriously hard to measure in an interview: inability to accept or apply feedback (26%); poor emotional intelligence (23%); lack of motivation (17%); mismatch of temperament (15%); and insufficient technical skills (11%).  

Recently, we’ve been focusing on how and we believe that soft skills are key to a successful culture. The good news is that many of the above hiring failures are preventable, and identifying red flags at the interview stage is not the only way to mitigate failure.

Onboarding for success

While it’s not easy to predict exactly how a candidate will fare once they join your team, there are some measures you can take in the candidate’s onboarding to ensure you set them on the path to success. Of course, hiring for culture fit is one way to ensure your new hire gels with your team, but sometimes this is .

When you make a new hire, they are not only starting a new job but they're also joining a new culture which can be a daunting experience.  says that “entering an organization is like joining a party that has been going on without you for years”, some people will naturally blend in and flourish without much direction, but many will flounder.

Differences in feedback preferences, motivations, emotional intelligence levels and temperament can all be managed through personalised onboarding. The best managers empathise with the candidate’s experience, examining their company’s onboarding process and broader culture to identify any tension or mismatch in environments, work or management style.

To create excellent onboarding journeys, you need to get to know your candidate and not treat onboarding as a box-ticking exercise. You can get this information at interview and through directly asking the candidate, but the most valuable way to discover this information is through speaking to their previous managers and colleagues. A perfect opportunity to do this is during the.  

When building your team, Daniel Coyle’s  has some useful advice. He identifies three common behaviours of highly successful groups: building safe environments, sharing vulnerability and establishing purpose. Linking back to the areas that managers identified as common reasons for failure, here are some ways in which you can ensure a new hire succeeds.


Everyone differs in how they best respond to feedback. Some people like regular informal discussions, others like to have achievable action plans that they can measure their progress against, so it’s important to be aware of different feedback styles and present them as options to your team members. Remember that  is just as important as the message.

Firstly, before you even come to delivering any messages, you should listen. If someone in your company is working or behaving in ways that don’t work for your team, rather than dictating what they should do, try to understand their position and the reasons behind this behaviour. You may find the situation is a lot easier to solve and the person may even improve their behaviour just through being heard.

When you do have to deliver tough messages, try to use what they are doing well as a starting point and direct them from there rather than focusing on what you think they are doing badly. As explain, “learning happens when we see how we might do something better by adding some new nuance or expansion to our own understanding. Learning rests on our grasp of what we’re doing well, not on what we’re doing poorly, and certainly not on someone else’s sense of what we’re doing poorly”.

Simply put, feedback that focuses on criticising your team’s weaknesses will not lead them to excel. Giving clear, realistic and actionable feedback based on your team member’s strengths can help build psychological safety which is the foundation of strong work cultures.


Establishing purpose can help workplace motivation. No matter how mundane the task, if your team members know how their work is contributing to achieving your overall purpose, they will feel more invested.

Incentives can also be a factor in motivation. Different rewards appeal to different people. Some people like public recognition of their work, others respond better to perks like extracurricular team activities. At, when we’ve finished a particular task, we’ll take time off to play a card game, this not only motivates us to finish the work, but it also creates a sense of belonging.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a popular topic right now. As opposed to IQ, emotional intelligence can be learnt. As emotional intelligence concerns relationships, it is not only down to the individual. Relationships and groups can be emotionally intelligent when they are built on mutual respect and trust which builds psychologically safe environments.

means teammates are not afraid they will be blamed, embarrassed or punished for speaking up and therefore builds cultures where people are confident and empowered to take risks.

Emotional intelligence is best cultivated through modelling good behaviour. Be a good example from the outset, and manage your behaviour and your self-talk. You’ll be surprised how quickly your team will pick up and follow suit.


Understanding temperamental differences can help you reframe and understand a person’s behaviour. Temperament is strongly linked to personality and while there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ temperament, there can certainly be mismatches between temperament and environment. Learning to recognise these mismatches and identifying potential solutions is a valuable management skill. Susan Geary and Anne Bulstrode focus on and offer tips specific to managing these different temperaments.

It is important to remember that everyone is different and if you effectively manage these differences, diversity in thought can be a strength as your team will push and challenge each other in ways they may not have considered on their own.

New joiner to high performer

Many hiring failures can be attributed to mismatches of work styles, management styles or the wrong incentives. Rather than focusing on the failures of the employee, a better approach is to work out what you can do in your work environment to help the employee increase their engagement and commitment.

At Zinc, we believe an important resource for discovering this information is your reference check. We want to redefine the uses of, a critical stage in recruitment to ensure the success of the people you hire.

When you speak to your candidate’s previous managers or colleagues, they have a wealth of knowledge about your candidate that you can tap into beyond the usual competency check questions. Using Zinc, you can ask questions tailored to your onboarding process, such as selecting preferred work styles, management styles and incentives.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid hiring failures is to listen to your team, make them feel like they belong, can be vulnerable and share a common purpose. If you embody best practices yourself, communicate openly and model the kind of behaviour you want to see in your team, you’ll soon reap the benefits.

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