While it may be tempting to bring back a former employee, great leaders should give such a practice a second thought.

I was consulting at a publicly held company that had gone through much change over four years, just like so many other companies that have been trying to adjust to the trials and tribulations of the economy.

One of their changes was the movement of management team executives. There were terminations, hirings, decisions to not “back-fill” and then the tenuous “re-hire.”

One management position in particular was a revolving door for the company: five leaders in four years. Actually, one individual (Pat) has been the leader three of the five times. Newly rehired, he was beginning his third attempt at this position.

Why did the company bring him back? In the 18 months since leaving the position, Pat gained in-depth skills and became an expert in Compensation Programs and Organization Design.

When Pat returned, the company released an in-house statement telling all employees that the company was welcoming Pat upon his return and stating the newly acquired expertise.

Pat’s reputation prior to this third hiring was relatively good. He was a VP with the ability to administrate activities. Known as an excellent delegator, he is excellent at managing up to the next level. However, he is not so good at managing/developing his direct-reports.

In general, in the past, Pat has always been disrespectful to his direct reports: rarely prompt to meetings, often a no-show, last minute requests on Friday afternoons, poor planning skills and a lack of consideration of others’ time. He had an “I’m very important” mentality justifying his disrespectful behavior.

When he was brought back to the company, despite his newly acquired expertise to perform at this managerial level, the impact of his re-hiring was felt throughout the organization.

His disrespect to direct reports did not improve since he was last in the position. Instead, he picked-up where left off:

  • He was late to meetings or was a no-show without providing any notification.
  • He requested work of subordinates, but then provided no acknowledgement when work was complete.
  • He requested work of by direct reports in a last-minute fashion and then did not use the deliverables. In fact, in some cases he discarded them in the presence of the individual.

As a result, employees went online to various social media sites and voiced their thoughts and opinions about the re-hiring of Pat. Most comments showed dissatisfaction about the decision to bring him back. In fact, the criticism was not toward Pat, but toward top-level management and their judgment.

Many incumbents within the functional area Pat leads stated skepticism, stating:

  • Clearly the company is not thinking about progress.
  • Upper management must not think much of our function and contribution to the organization.
  • What chance of upper movement is there if the company continues to re-hire Pat? Does this imply I am not considered a valued employee for future promotion?
  • Is this the company’s way of ensuring no further development of people below the management level? There’s no investment for the future?
  • Is the company comfortable with the status quo? Does this imply that the company wants to stay in the past?
  • A “no-hire” would have been better than Pat’s re-hire. No-hire would have been progress.

Then, three incumbents within Pat’s functional area resigned voluntarily. During their exit interviews, when they needed to provide a reason for resignation, they stated “better opportunity.” I probed deeper to discover the truth was directly related to the re-hiring of Pat. They cited the following:

  • Pat is self-centered and has never availed training/development to subordinates.
  • Disrespectful: requesting work and discarding, no-show to meetings, non-prompt entrance when he does show up.
  • Taking credit for other’s work.
  • Clear statement by organization they are interested in status quo for this department.

Thus, in situations like this, when leaders may consider bringing back a former manager, they really need to give heed because people rarely change their ways. A tiger does not change his stripes.

Pat returned to a familiar environment and physical location with the same people since his exit. When people return to familiar venues with familiar people, they tend to return to familiar behaviors from that past as well. Pat was no exception and quickly slipped back into his ways of disrespectful behavior.

While Pat may serve upper management well and hence this was the reason to consider hiring for a third time, one has to wonder, was it worth the residual effect permeating the organization?

A great leader should ask: Is management’s familiarity with this possible rehire better than continuing the search to fill the position?

Before pursuing a past employee as a rehire always consider:

  • Never compromise a hiring decision, no matter the reason.
  • It is rarely a better consolation prize filling a position with someone familiar rather than no one.
  • Familiarity can breed contempt.
  • Survey incumbents directly impacted by a re-hiring. While the incumbents do not make the decision, knowing/understanding their perspective will help address potential issues.

The choice is yours!

Stuart Friedman is president of Progressive Management Associates. He is a business visionary who guides organizations through cultural shifts. He promotes environments that inspire collaboration, transparency in the pursuit of strategic outcomes and heart-felt desires. Reach Stuart via email: stuart@pma-co.com