I’ve brought back several former employees, some of whom had resigned and some I asked to leave. I’ve had some successes and some failures doing this, so in this post I’ll share my perspective on the issue.
In all cases, you should start from scratch in your decision-making process. By this I mean that whatever your process is for considering a complete stranger, put this former employee through the same process. Consider everything you learned about this person during his or her employ to be extremely important information, but don’t make the mistake of relying solely on that information. You’ll learn new, important things when you go through your standard process.
No matter how much time has passed since this person worked for you, remember that the situation has changed. The more time, the greater the change. Even if very little time has passed, I assure you the situation has changed. For one thing, there are different people, internal and external, who are competing for this role. Your product mix might have changed. You might have re-organized. The person might have to report to a different supervisor. Your organization might be facing different challenges currently. You get the point. There are all kinds of changes that might well materially affect your decision.
You should also refresh your memory about why this person left. For example, a client recently re-hired a person who was very effective in his sales role, but had been fired for unethical practices about two years ago. In the interview process the candidate spoke eloquently about how he had changed. Sales were down and the client was a little desperate. I advised the client to pass, but they re-hired him. I predict they’ll end up terminating him again for similar reasons.
When the reasons for terminating someone are based on fundamental character traits like work ethic, integrity, or positivity, to name a few, DON’T re-hire the person. There is only a tiny likelihood that they’ve changed enough to make a difference. Every time you hire someone, you’re placing a bet. When you’re betting that a person’s character has changed, the odds against this bet are huge.
I saw this recently in our company. An employee left voluntarily, was gone for a few years, and inquired about whether he could return doing the same kind of work he had done previously. While he was with us, he produced an impressive amount of billable work, but he took shortcuts in his work and too often did not fulfill his commitments. He told us that he had been struggling with an addiction problem during that entire time, but now he was clean. He stated that the flaws in his previous performance would not occur. Frankly, if we could have enjoyed that level of productivity without the performance flaws, it would have been a terrific win-win solution.
We decided to give him a second chance. Sadly, it didn’t work out. We watched his work very closely, and his propensity to take shortcuts remained even though the addiction was gone. He was fully capable of doing high quality work without the shortcuts, but he simply wasn’t motivated to do so. The propensity to take shortcuts was part of his character, not part of his disease. He resigned.
To be honest, I might well make the same decision again. I believe that giving him a chance reflected well on our leadership and our culture. When a person’s previous performance was negatively affected by drugs, alcohol or similar problems, and they’re now clean and sober – that’s when I’m most likely to give that person a chance.
If a person left due to performance problems, you should ask, “What’s changed that gives us confidence the outcome will be better this time?” Becoming clean and sober is a good example. Or perhaps the person was in a very bad fit for their talent last time, and now you have a role that’s an excellent fit. Perhaps he or she had a terrible supervisor (who is now gone). Perhaps the person earned a relevant degree. These are all good reasons to give a person another chance. If you don’t have a clear answer to that question, “What’s changed?” I advise you to pass.
Before you re-hire a former employee, check their references with current employees who used to work with them. On more than one occasion, this step has caused me not to extend an offer to a former employee. I was enlightened about certain aspects of their performance, and I learned more about how the decision would be perceived. When you re-hire a former employee, you must be prepared to explain why.
One final thought. It’s often the case that while the person was with you, you tolerated certain less-than-desirable aspects of their personality or performance because in the big picture you didn’t feel like making them “deal breakers”. But now, when you’re considering re-hiring this person, those deficiencies might take on more significance. If the prospect of dealing with them again is unappealing, it’s okay to pass.
- Put this person through your standard selection process.
- Refresh your memory about why this person left.
- Check references with your current employees who used to work with this person.
- Ask what’s changed about the person or your organization that gives you confidence you’ll get a different outcome this time.
- Be prepared to explain your decision publicly.
Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.