Why “Hire Slow, Fire Fast” is Toxic to Ministry Staffing

Hiring staff members can be one of your most important decisions as a church leader. Who is on your team greatly impacts your church’s direction, effectiveness, and integrity. And your hiring process helps dictate who joins your team and how long they stay.

There is a controversial staffing strategy floating around the business world that your church might be using. The strategy is to Hire Slow and Fire Fast. And it works pretty much just like how it sounds. But using this technique could be costly if used at your church. And here’s why.

What is ‘Hire Slow, Fire Fast’?

As a hiring strategy, ‘Hire Slow, Fire Fast’ is basically just what is sounds like. A company takes its time to fill an open job position until just the right candidate comes by. They want to make sure they find the right person, so they leave no stone unturned before sending an offer letter.

If the hiring process is all about deliberation, then the firing process is all about decisiveness. If a new hire isn’t cutting it, be sure to let them go quickly. You can’t have a bad employee dragging down productivity and morale.

This concept has been around for quite some time, but it’s become more popular recently in tech startups. These trendy companies have limited capitol and sometime limited patience. They want to find the most talented engineers they can hire, which takes time. But they also want their employees to be as finely tuned as the technology they create, so they’re willing to trim the fat when necessary.

Sounds like a good idea, right?

The first half of the equation is ‘Hire Slow.’ And in theory, this makes sense. The people on your team are important and you can’t rush hiring just anyone. Take the time to vet plenty of candidates and find the right person. Don’t compromise quality for speed.

Company culture is one thing businesses cannot buy. They have to build it gradually over time by hiring the right people. You need to add employees that mesh with your existing team and won’t disturb the delicate office eco-system. And the best way to find those right people is to have them take a barrage of personality tests and interview a dozen times over six months.

The second half is to ‘Fire Fast.’ While you’re taking your time to hire the right people, you can’t afford to keep the wrong people. Firing is never easy, but it’s better to let the staff member go before they become a bigger problem. Organization’s with limited resources can’t afford to keep unproductive employees.

By this logic, ‘Hire Slow, Fire Fast’ helps you quickly rid of toxic employees that can drag down a staff culture and corrode trust. Why drag out the inevitable if you’re only going to fire them anyway? You might as well make a clean break. They’ll understand, right?

All of these arguments are valid. And I don’t completely disagree with any of them. But I do think they’re missing something.

Why is it not a good idea?

‘Hire Slow, Fire Fast’ works in theory. But there are still several flaws. The hiring process can be too slow, meaning you risk losing the best candidates to impatience. You also risk firing staff members too quickly before they’ve had time to adjust to expectations or be trained for their job.

At its core, that’s what’s wrong with ‘Hire Slow, Fire Fast.’ It works in theory. But theory goes out the window when real people are involved. And unless you’ve got robots on your church staff, then you’re going to have to deal with people. (Come to think of it, I like this robot staff idea.)

‘Hire Slow, Fire Fast’ has been called “possibly the worst advice ever given” and “a bunch of BS.” That might be heavy handed, but it also shows how unhappy the practice makes people. Why would you wait forever to hire someone… only to immediately turn around and rush them off the team? It’s easy to see why it’s a hiring cliche, but just as easily why people don’t like it.

Ultimately, this philosophy grew out of a “fear of making a bad choice.” Hiring and firing are big decisions. So we create a formula to make those decisions for us. It takes the guilt away from us as leaders. But we can’t make decisions as important as hiring and firing based on fear.

What impact can it have on a church staff?

When you make hiring and firing decisions based on fear, that fear can transfer to who we’re hiring. We’ve dragged this employee through a grueling and lengthy interview process, only to inform them a few weeks later that they’ve been terminated.

This is a great way to generate a company culture of distrust and uncertainty. Why would you take your time to hire a person, only to then turn around and be decisive about letting them go? That difference in speeds is enough to give them whiplash.

We ultimately have to deal with the fact that “employees are people, not resources.” Be sure to let staff members know expectations upfront. When you have to fire someone, make sure it’s not unexpected. If they’ve broken company policy that was clearly stated or have been informed multiple times that their performance is subpar, then there won’t be an element of surprise.

Remember that ‘Hire Slow, Fire Fast’ applies best in the tech-startup world. That world is different from how we operate in the church. Our jobs involve our faith, which makes things like hiring and firing messy. Working in the ministry is as much a calling as a job. That doesn’t mean sacrificing quality of employees. But it does mean treating them with respect.

What are the alternatives?

One alternative is to ‘Hire Slow, Fire Slow.’ Slowing things down on both ends helps new hires to adjust to the church staff. It helps build empathy on the team. And it gives God space to work in that person. However, it may be a little too slow for some people.

The opposite to that option is to ‘Hire Fast, Fire Fast.’ You can’t afford to wait around forever, so why not try to move quickly. Find the best people for your team as quickly as you can and let them go if it turns out they aren’t the right person after all. The system keeps things moving, but probably at a pace too break-neck for most.

On his blog, Matt Perman explains that the time to fire fast is if there’s an issue of character—if an employee is abusive or deceitful. If instead, there is an issue of ability, then fire slowly. Give them an opportunity to grow and develop.

What’s your suggestion?

This is a tricky debate, because there is no right answer. And that’s precisely my point. No catchy phrase should dictate who you ask to join or leave your staff. All the ideals in the world go out the window when you involve people.

So instead of ‘Hire Slow, Fire Fast,’ I’d suggest a moderation of speed as the situation dictates. That makes for a terrible catch phrase. But hopefully it makes for a better personnel strategy. As a leader, you have to make decisions based on the circumstances and people involved.

There will always be positions you need to fill more slowly than others. And there will be some staff members who you might need to fire right away. But there will just as easily be some quick hires or unlikeable employees that you need to keep around for longer than expected. That’s just the nature and requirement of managing a church staff.

Learn to handle your staff members transitions with the care and consideration they deserve.

What are your hiring strategies for your church staff?

About Robert Carnes

Robert Carnes is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.