Hiring and firing at will – Emotional intelligence matters most!

Hiring for your small business

Hiring for your small business

I know that the title above might seem a bit alarming to some folks. No, I am not espousing that you treat your people like disposable assets. As people are really the most important assets (and occasionally liabilities), that any business has, it is important that due prudence and diligence is given, when hiring key employees for your small business.


Further, if a hiring mistake has been made, then it is more important to get rid of a wrong hire, than keep a potential parasite or virus that often has the ability to outgrow your capability to control it.

I will also assert that the hiring of key employees might be among the most important decisions that you, as a small business owner or investor will be making on behalf of your company. This chapter is not a best practice in hiring or firing. It is rather advice on stuff that is often overlooked.

Over the years, I have had the privilege and opportunity of hiring across different countries, many highly talented folks. During my professional career, I have made some grave errors in my judgment when it came to hiring.

The key to know is that, there are common threads and characteristics in hiring that you need to know and watch out for. At the same time, whilst if mistakes are made, then they will have to be limited and or mitigated.

Most countries around the globe have laws that regulate and govern how businesses treat its employees. Unscrupulous employees and businesses, often take advantage of the myriad complexities of these laws to dismiss or sue the other party.

As a small business owner or investor, you may not be able to fully avert such legal actions against you. However, there are tools, frameworks and traits that you can apply and identify to ensure that you minimize your risks.

What really matters in hiring?

No matter what job you are seeking to fill, there are some basic and functional expectationsHiring for Business of a candidate that you, as a small business owner will require of a potential candidate.

These expectations could range from having a relevant functional professional degree to a certain number of years of experience doing a relevant job. You would probably add additional expectations like the ability to communicate well and the ability to work flexible hours, and so forth. For good measure you would in all likelihood add the requirement that a candidate be an excellent team player, flexible, hardworking and so forth.

In addition, for most management roles, you would expect a certain level of functional knowledge and intelligence as well as analytical and creative intelligence.

Most small business investors or owners will go through the mechanics of verifying the obvious. However, most small business investors and owners miss out two very important characteristics that will determine whether a potential candidate is going to succeed or not. I personally call it the EPIC factor. It is an acronym that I personally have formulated. It stands for Emotionally and Practically Intelligent Candidate, hence the word EPIC!

emotional-intelligenceWhat is emotional intelligence?

In every day work environment, especially in a challenging small business environment, emotions have a way of getting in the way of some very important relationships between the owner, the key manager employee, a key customer,  supplier and supporting staff.

Therefore, it is important that you need employees with emotional intelligence; which is the ability of your candidate to evaluate, determine, and perceive one and others around them.

This is very important as in most business situations; a conflict or disagreement is not on the strategy or the tactic itself but rather the emotion of the moment.  I know that this seems too farfetched for most folks. Take a moment and reflect on each of your conflicts and disagreements during the past 30 days. I bet you that it had nothing to do with the strategy, direction or tactic. I bet you that it had everything to do with the emotions surrounding the situation J

Emotional intelligence is not about controlling your anger

Emotional intelligence is often mistaken for a person who is controlled in his or her temperament and one who is not angry. This is certainly not true.

The wise ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said of anger “Anyone can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — this is not easy.” Think about this profound statement for a moment.  This is emotional intelligence at its best.

Why is emotional intelligence important?

Let us assume for example that a potential candidate interviewing for a job in your company gives a response. This response from the candidate includes his or her cognitive ability to articulate the issue at hand.

Do keep in mind that it is the emotion that provides the intonation, the sighs, gasps, gestures and animation.  Just imagine your view of the candidate if there is no emotion but a robotic, matter of fact and boring discussion!

Therefore, for me emotion is like beautiful picture with no one to admire it. It has the instinctual, intellectual and creative aspects to it. It has no emotion.

Or, take a house or building that is designed with brilliant architecture, but has no furniture or fitting or even no occupants. The building is said to have no emotion.

The best description of emotional intelligence that I have come across is this – emotional intelligence is like an orchestra or band playing music to the lyric. A lyric unto itself is boring without the music.  You will never recall a lyric without the right recall of music!

When you are hiring a key candidate for your small business, you need to be able to decipher the candidate that can combine their intellectual  and creative capability to their emotional intelligence. This way, you will be able to identify one that can relate to others, versus someone who is drab and ineffective.

So, how do you identify emotional intelligence?

There are 6 primary emotional intelligence factors that you should look out for a candidate that you are hiring.  Here they are:

  • Practical
    • This is requirement for a person to high a sense of reality check, despite or in spite of all the bullishness or bearishness around them. Practical intelligence enables employees to fix problems realistically based on the environment or the situation that has been dealt for them.
  • Assertiveness
    • This is the ability of someone to constructively state his or her own position, beliefs and take a stance without offending or belittling others. This is critical requirement for leaders. It does not mean that one has to bark orders or threaten. It just means the ability of someone to challenge conventional wisdom or the status quo in a positive but reinforcing manner.
  • Deliberate
    • This is a requirement for a person not to be impulsive or not to take sudden or rash decisions based on a whim. Being deliberate in how a person responds to provocation, situations, deal negotiations, and other business situations could mean the difference between losses and profits, for the business and the individual.
  • Flexibility
    • This is the ability of a person to adjust their responses, thoughts, emotions, actions and others to reflect the situation. This is especially critical when you are hiring a marketing or sales individual, as the job requires dynamic adjustment to the market environment, customers, competitors and other extenuating factors beyond any one’s control.  Flexibility might not be an attribute you would expect of someone managing your purse strings!
  • Emotional self awareness
    • This is the ability of an employee to recognize his or her feelings and emotions and relate and differentiate them. Candidates with high emotional intelligence will know what caused them and why. This is a critical requirement to enable successful work place resolutions on areas of disagreement.
  • Empathy
    • This is the ability of one to put oneself in someone else’s shoe. The innate ability to relate, understand and empathize with the other person’s point of reference. I am sure that you would agree that understanding others feelings and emotions on a particular situation or subject will lead to better work place collaboration

Hiring ProcessThe interview process

When I am conducting interviews, I normally test the candidates on each of the areas in different ways. As a small business owner or manager, you probably cannot hire expensive human resource consultants to test the attributes discussed above.  However, each of this cold be tested with scenarios related to your industry or business situation.

Keep each of this required attributes in mind and challenge the candidates in various scenarios. The key is to be prepared for the interview. By the time you do it for about 5 times or more, it will come naturally to you.

The interview is not just about the functional, creative or intellectual capability of the candidate. These are easily verifiable. You need to ensure that you get a candidate who can succeed in your often challenging environment and that you get someone who can make that difference!

Other secondary and tertiary factors to check for emotional intelligence

There are many other attributes that will determine the overall emotional intelligence of a candidate. However the 6 attributes discussed above are paramount. Some of the other key ones that you should test in your candidates are:-

  • Positive outlook and a sense of optimism
  • Independence
  • People orientation
  • Self realization of capabilities (strengths and weaknesses)
  • Ability to work under stress

The firing at willHiring and firing for your business

Now that you have hired champions, how do you then deal with the occasional lemons that you pick up?

It is never easy and often heart wrenching to say good bye to an employee. These emotional feelings, we as humans feel are often exacerbated in these trying economic times.

Strategies and tactics to fire at will

You have to assume that every termination will or might result, in a legal suit against your company. As a small business owner, you do not have the time or appetite to be caught in a legal tussle with an ex-employee. Therefore, always, keep in mind the following strategies and tactics to minimize your risks in the eventuality of a legal suit against you.  Firing an employee is never easy. However, it often might mean the survival of your business.

  • Documentation
    • Have a well-documented file outlining misconduct, non performance, breach, harassment or whatever reason you have, prior to terminating the employment of any employee, regardless of the reason.
  • Confident
    • Exude confidence when you have to terminate an employee. If you are not confident, this could be misconstrued as you firing someone illegally.
  • Respect
    • Treat the employee with respect and dignity even if he or she had stolen from you!
  • Be fair
    • Exercise fairness. Your other employees are watching! You need them to succeed in your business
  • Compensate humanely
    • Compensate your employees humanely within the limits of your affordability
  • Be transparent
    • Be open, frank and candid when you have to deal with an employee whom you deem is no longer suitable for your business.
  • Have a witness
    • Have witnesses around you, when you are dealing with a termination. You do not want to be accused of harassment or anything worse.
  • Offer reference
    • It an employee has not been terminated for performance, breach of trust, violence or harassment, offer reference.

I know that the tactic discussed above are straightforward and common sense. However, you will be surprised to note that many small businesses ignore this simple commonsensical approach to terminating employees.

A note on labeling the termination

You have to ensure that a termination is labeled appropriately. You have to be acutely aware of the labels that you use when you have decided to separate an employee from your small business. This is important to avoid legal action and emotional over reaction from your separating employee.

  • Dismiss
    • This means that your employee’s performance and or conduct were unacceptable and unsatisfactory.
  • Resignation
    • This means that your employee has voluntarily decided to part company with your business.
  • Retrenchment or Lay off
    • This means that you have to terminate employment for economic reasons and that they will be rehired as soon as work is available.

I am sure that you have heard of other buzz words like de-layering (when management is terminated), to right sizing or reorganization. These terms should NOT be used when small businesses have to deal with terminating employees.

Exceptional circumstances to watch out for

When an employee of a small business acts illegally, dangerously and aberrantly, do not give him or her opportunity to improve, but rather dismiss instantly. Additionally, at times, suspension might be an alternative before you decide to terminate permanently.

In summary

I cannot stress here enough that your hiring actions will determine the success of your business. Don’t do the obvious. Functional and creative intelligence are important but are verifiable much easier. The sum total of the practical and emotional intelligence of your employees will make the difference between just surviving versus having a sustainable and growing business.

When dealing with termination of employees, be deliberate and structured. You have no other choice as the opportunity costs of time money and morale of your employees are just too high!

As the saying goes, “time spent on hiring is time spent well”. Also keep in mind that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence as we know it.

As someone once famously said “It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head — it is the unique intersection of both.”

I would also recommend that you read the following articles in my blog:

    1. How to be a great manager?
    2. What is leadership?
    3. Enhance your virtuous cycles and disrupt your vicious cycles.
    4. Connect the dots in your business, so that your customers and profits are connected!


All rights reserved – John Lincoln, Brentwood, CA 94513, USA

John.lincoln@gmail.com Twitter: @lincolnjc



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This entry was posted in Business, Connect the Dots, SME, Strategy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Hiring and firing at will – Emotional intelligence matters most!

  1. Patricia says:

    Like the modern appear. I really enjoyed this article. Bless you for a good blog post.

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