When your company is growing and you start to hire new employees, it can be exciting! In May of 2011, I was trying to get my ducks in a row and prepare New Scooters 4 Less for a busy season (particularly August and September). I hired a new service technician (let’s call him ST) to help with the enormous amounts of scooter service we were expecting. Shortly after bringing him on, I got that gut feeling that this individual was not right for the team. ST wasn’t as productive as he could be. He was milking the clock. He wasn’t a cultural fit. He didn’t connect with anyone on the team. I simply didn’t feel comfortable with him around. I knew that we needed to let him go.
What did I do instead? I made excuses. I told myself that we needed the help. Heck, even though I knew the right decision was to let him go, I asked a couple of our managers what they thought…“Collin, we really need the help. The team will be really strapped and hurting for help if we let him go. We can look for someone else, but let’s keep him on until we find someone.” Here I was. Letting my team make excuses for me so that I felt better about making excuses.
A short time after deciding to keep ST, a young lady came in to the shop for an oil change on her scooter. She was concerned about a rattling noise she heard while driving her scooter. Our service manager asked ST to complete the oil change and take the scooter for a test drive to check out the rattling noise. What happened next would go down in NS4L history.
As ST was out test-driving the customer’s scooter, he was involved in a MAJOR accident. He ended up tearing the customer’s scooter up badly, but worse, he ended up tearing himself up, too. An ambulance had to come out to the scene, we had to send someone out to pick up the scooter and I (as the business owner) had to go explain to the customer sitting in our waiting area that her scooter had just been wrecked by one of our team members. NOT FUN. (Side note: Like most of our customers would be, she was extremely concerned about ST and not at all about her scooter. I was so grateful.) ST ended up breaking his collarbone and needing extensive surgery. This was the first time I had to file a worker’s comp claim with my insurance carrier, so I was stepping into new uncharted water there as well.
If I would have followed my gut and let ST go immediately upon knowing “he was the wrong guy for the job,” I would have saved myself a lot of headaches. I wouldn’t have had to fork out money for major repairs on our customer’s scooter. There wouldn’t have been the near $100,000 worker’s compensation claim to cover ST’s surgeries. I wouldn’t have lost my worker’s compensation insurance policy with said insurance company. (Again, I had never had a previous claim, but this one was enough for the insurance company to drop me.) I wouldn’t have had to spend the many hours searching for another insurance company that would take on the “risk” of insuring our company with another worker’s comp policy. Most importantly, I had to focus on all of these things, which took my focus away from the things I wanted to be focused on.
On top of all that, due to his injuries, ST couldn’t work the busiest season of the year (which was the entire reason we hired him in the first place!). Once ST had healed and could return to work in October when it was slower again, I found myself stuck in a tough place…“What if I fire him now? Could he (would he) sue me for some sort of wrongful termination saying I was firing him because of his injury? Can he even do that?” I didn’t know.
What did I do? I delayed letting him go (again) and put him to work. Soon after, a customer contacted me saying he believed his scooter had been dropped when it was in for service. I told the customer he had to be mistaken — at New Scooters 4 Less, we had built a foundation for our company on service, integrity and quality, and if someone had dropped his scooter (because accidents can happen), my team would have told me and we would have contacted him (the customer) and made the necessary repairs. With a little more investigation, I found out that ST had dropped the scooter. He was immediately fired, but here I was, responsible for damage to yet another customer’s scooter.
I learned my lesson, but I can’t believe the amount of stress I put on myself and the rest of the team by keeping this individual on.
One of the biggest lessons one can learn as an entrepreneur is to “Hire Slow. Fire Fast.” As a small business owner, this is easier said than done. In the early stages of your company, employees often become more than employees — they become family (even though this wasn’t the case with ST). So, when it is time to remove someone from the team, it can be one of the most difficult tasks for any business owner, but don’t put it off. And most importantly, in all cases, always trust your gut. You may never know how much you are saving by doing so.