How to Hire (and Fire) Well

Hiring a new employee is a critical step in growing your team but it can also be intimidating. How do you know if that individual is a really a good fit? How do you ensure there’s a smooth on-boarding? On the opposite end of the employment spectrum, what is the best way to go about letting an employee go? Julie Bolton, VP of Casualty Risk Engineering at Zurich Insurance and 4word: Houston board member, shares hiring and firing insights she has learned in her years in management and what you can do to keep your team running as smoothly as possible.

Why is the hiring and firing process something that often trips leaders up?

The hiring process can trip leaders up because everyone is susceptible to having a good or bad day. I remember when I interviewed for an engineering job at Estee Lauder. I would not have been given the job had a friend not vouched for me. Three months into the job, when I was told how great I was doing, I was also told that I had “tanked” my interview. Personally, I have hired people I “clicked with” in an interview only to fire them six months later.  

The firing process trips leaders up because no one—especially those of us who want to see the good in people—wants to see anyone fail. We see a glimmer of hope long after we should have actually terminated someone.

What are some tips you have for the hiring process? How can you set up your new hires for longevity within your company? 

The best tip I can give is to involve others in the interview and throw in a wild card or two.  Inviting someone from a supporting position not only boosts that individual’s confidence and feeling of value but can also reveal so much about a candidate’s character. If there are internal customers, involve them in the process so they know their opinion matters. While it may not be feasible during these times, a meal out lets you observe how a potential hire interacts with servers and others. 

It’s also helpful to create a template of key characteristics or hiring requirements to arm every interviewer with. You can use a ranking scale or a pass/fail scale. When you have two strong candidates, having a tool like this in place can help break the tie, especially if you factor in each candidate’s characteristics. A hiring scale also helps promote neutrality. 

What are some of the biggest mistakes managers make when it comes to terminating employees?

The biggest mistake I have seen made and have personally made is to take too long to terminate someone. It does not help the employee, the team, or the manager to drag out the process of letting an employee go. Other mistakes that can happen include poor documentation, confiding in people who do not need to know, and not engaging your own HR support team early in the firing process.

How do you fire someone without leaving them feeling defeated?

It is never easy to terminate someone. I have let go more people than I want to share and had both men and women cry. Not dragging the process out ensures that it doesn’t feel like death by a thousand cuts. A critical step to take as a Christian manager (a step that I didn’t take early in my career) is to stop and pray for the right words before beginning the termination process. At the end of the day, managers must be diligent in setting clear expectations from the beginning, identifying employee shortcomings early, and when things cannot be corrected, not dragging out the process of letting an employee go.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Managing people became much more complicated as many transitioned to remote work environments. Employees now have significantly more stress than many of us have ever experienced before. Empathy and being aware of an employee’s overall wellness has never been more critical. No one comes to work wanting to fail. If someone starts to fail, especially during these times, it’s imperative that managers seek to understand what is really going on before taking any kind of action, especially when it comes to solid employees. 

Hiring during these times might be based on video or phone interviews, so references and involving others in the interviewing process are critical steps to include. Firing during these times can financially devastate an individual, but managers need to remember to do what is right for the company and not make take things personally. As leaders, we must communicate expectations clearly, frequently, and in writing, and pray for discernment and guidance daily. 

Currently VP of Casualty Risk Engineering at Zurich Insurance, Julie Bolton is degreed in mechanical engineering and holds a master in civil/environmental engineering “from back when it wasn’t so cool to be a ‘girl’ in engineering.” She’s a 30+ year veteran of manufacturing and service environments in the US and abroad, specializing in leading cross-functional teams to address complex capital projects for both internal and external customers. Her passion for first understanding and then further developing the visions of customers and employees alike makes her and her teams stronger players as they provide technical insights to customers and underwriters on exposures and emerging issues that could lead to losses. In her words, her teams “save lives and keep businesses running.” 

Julie joined Zurich 14 years ago as a regional manager in Canada and has steadily climbed upwards in an industry and field that is strongly male dominated, bringing skills traditionally viewed as “female” but which Julie insists are “human.” A native of rural Massachusetts and the only girl in a family of five, she has lived and worked in Boston, New York, Virginia, Toronto, Scotland—and now Houston.