Fire Them Before You Hire Them: Why Your Hiring Team Should Perform Premortems

About to extend an offer to a candidate? Maybe you should fire them first.

Premortems—the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem—have been popularized in business media the past decade and a half. Made famous by Harvard Business Review (HBR) and Amazon, premortems are performed before a project starts and operate on the assumption that the project has failed. So, the purpose is to ask what did go wrong instead of what might go wrong.

The intention of this reframe is to get your mind thinking about concrete threats to success before the project begins, rather than trying to brainstorm hypotheticals from scratch. And studies show “prospective hindsight—imagining that an event has already occurred—increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%” according to HBR.

But these exercises are typically performed in project management circles, not personnel or HR decisions.

Until now. Here’s why your company should perform a premortem firing before hiring your next candidate.

  1. Many people are reluctant to speak up with their reservations and true feelings during the hiring phase. A faux firing of candidates highlighting how and why they failed makes it safe for dissenters who otherwise may be too worried to speak up with doubts. After all, anything said in a premortem is entirely hypothetical.
  2. Engaging in a premortem firing session will bring creative ideas to the table. Maybe there is one area of doubt you are feeling about a candidate but you can’t find the words to articulate it. Having an entire team use their imaginations to find reasons why the candidate didn’t succeed will more fully flesh out your thoughts.
  3. You’ll make better hires and continually improve at it. If prospective hindsight increases our ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%, your team will weed out the wrong candidates with 30% more efficiency. Apply this to your next 10 hires and you can start to see how big of a difference this practice can make in your organization.

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