Think You Made a Terrible Hiring Mistake? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I recently hired a new member for my team. She was great in the many rounds of interviews, seemed to have the skills we needed, and was unanimously the first choice of the hiring committee.

She is now about six weeks in, and I keep waiting to see the person I met in the interviews.

She has not completed any of her onboarding training. When I look in our LMS, she seems to have made it through only about 40% of some of the required modules. I have had to show her several times how our Teams site is set up (she was used to the Google Docs system), and she keeps asking questions that she would know the answers to if she had looked at the different files I have assigned to her. I can see in people’s files the last time they were opened, and she has only opened about a quarter of what I expected.

It’s like she can’t remember anything we talk about from one day to the next.

I asked her to submit a short report on all the calls she is attending with her teammates so that I can keep track of what she is picking up. She submitted one short report and then nothing. (I should have at least fifteen by now.) We meet every other day and I have brought this up several times. She assures me she is working on them. I know she has plenty of free time but I have no idea what she is doing with it.

I’m so confused. I don’t want to come down on her like a ton of bricks, but I need to get to the bottom of what is going on. I think I may have made a terrible mistake. What should I do?

Terrible Mistake


Dear Terrible Mistake,

Oh dear. I am sorry. It is so strange when people come across one way all through the interview process, and then turn out to be not at all what you were led to expect.

The only thing to do is tackle this head on. Share with your newbie what you expected compared to what she has managed to accomplish and ask her what is going on. The question is: “What has gotten in the way of your being able to meet these expectations in the past six weeks? Is it too much work? Is it lack of clarity? Is there something you need from me that you aren’t getting?”

She will either be honest and tell you, or she won’t. If she does, then you’ll know what you are dealing with. Much as I hate to speculate, it might help you to prepare for different scenarios.

  • If something totally unexpected has happened, she might need help to arrange for a short-term leave.
  • If it turns out she has no idea how to prioritize all of the tasks, you might offer to break down the tasks you expect to see completed day by day.
  • If she is feeling so behind now that she has become paralyzed, you might re-negotiate her deliverables and offer a fresh start.
  • If she is second-guessing her own interpretation of what a good job looks like, you can offer more clarity. Your newbie may very well need a list of what you expect laid out as daily tasks until she finds her footing.

It would be smart to involve your HR business partner if you have one. If your newbie has a learning difference and needs extra time or help, there may be provisions for that. If she is dealing with an unforeseen challenge, she may need to take some time to deal with it.

She may decline to tell you the truth about what is going on and try to head you off with more promises to catch up, so you should be prepared to not accept that. The key is for you to tell the truth as kindly as possible, without judgment or blame. It might sound something like: “Look, let’s not worry about catching up. I’m okay with letting go of the reports I asked for—those were to help you keep track of what you are learning. But I do need to see x, y, z by the end of the week. Is that something you think you can commit to?”

You will also want to be prepared to share the potential consequences if it becomes clear that she is not able to do the job the way it needs to be done. Maybe you won’t have to share those just yet; but if she commits to something you think is eminently doable and then doesn’t come through, you may have to at that time.

It sounds like you have been patient. It also sounds like she may think she can fly under the radar with substandard work. It is time to get the cards out on the table—to be clear that you are paying attention but also that you are invested in helping her succeed. But for you to help, you have to understand what is going on.

Being direct and telling the truth can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to mean “coming down on her like a ton of bricks,” It just means—well, being direct and telling the truth. Not doing that won’t serve either of you. If she is ultimately not capable of doing the job, keeping things in limbo will just make things worse.

Be kind. Be respectful. Be truthful.

Give her step-by-step instructions if you both agree it will help. Give her an out if there doesn’t seem to any help for it.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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