02/11/2014 05:02 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2014

Hiring People You Won't Have to Fire

I should have fired my first employee long before I did. If there was one area where my inexperience really showed when I started running my own business it was in not firing people who should have been let go. I naively believed that, more or less, everyone was like me and my friends -- ambitious, hardworking, friendly, and ethical. And, in fact, most people are like that, but not everyone. Even so, when I came across an employee who wasn't, rather than firing him or her, I lost sleep over it, procrastinated and made excuses for not doing it.

Today, I'm much different. If I find an employee who can't meet performance expectations, but it still a quality individual, I make the assumption that we made a mistake putting him or her in the position and try and work something out internally. We might, for example, move the employee to another department, or create a position that will utilize his or her strengths and, at the same time, benefit the entire company. Quality employees with the right attitude are not always easy to find, so once we've invested time and resources in one of them, we try to keep them. Employees are an asset, and like any other asset, they should be maximized, for their benefit as well as the organization's.

On the other hand, any employee who ignores how we want the job done is out the door pretty quickly. This also applies to anyone we catch lying to customers, other employees, or managers. Similarly, any employee who stirs up trouble, has a negative attitude, or is constantly complaining needs to leave, and I believe in helping him or her do so. I also don't lose any sleep over firing employees like this -- it's very cut-and-dried. As a matter of fact, in today's business environment, your policy has to be cut-and-dried if you don't want to find yourself in court.

Of course, at the end of the day, the objective is to hire people who you won't have to fire. And for that to happen, you have to implement good hiring and good firing policies, so that your employees will know what's acceptable and what isn't. Doing so consistently will enable you to hire people who are just as ambitious, hardworking, friendly and ethical as you are -- people who won't have to be let go. Here are some lessons I learned that can help you and your company hire and retain those kinds of people and keep you out of the "firing line."

1. Never hire anyone you wouldn't invite into your own home.

2. Always look for people who have a positive attitude, because bad attitudes are like measles -- they're both contagious.

3. Never hire any job candidate who isn't willing and able to pass a drug test.

4. Be relentless when you're doing background checks. I've always believed that bad employees should be working for my competitors.

5. Search out and destroy whatever makes employees and managers feel they are on opposite sides, and stress those things that unite them, such as common success and more money.

6. Great businesses, like sports teams, are built on the premise that everyone must do what is expected of them, and the best way to assure that happening is to conduct regular performance reviews. Of course, not everyone likes to have their performance measured, but the bottom line is that it makes everyone perform better.

7. You and your managers are the only ones who can set policy -- you can't even let your top performers do it. If they don't want to do what you expect them to, they have to go, and you can't make any exceptions. I know this is easier said than done, but once you started letting the tail wag the dog you've lost control of your company.

8. Before you promote any employee to a supervisory or management position, make sure he or she is proactive by nature. If they're not, no matter how well they're doing their current job, they will fail in their new positions.

No one likes to fire people. It is, though, a reality of business, and no matter what you do, every once and a while you're going to have to let someone go. But the sooner you draw up solid criteria for hiring and firing employees -- and implement them, no matter how painful it might be -- the less frequently the problem will come up, and the smoother and more successful your business will be.