[Case Study] Should You Rehire a Defector?

The case study published in the Harvard Business Review December 2016 issue deals with Ram Kapur the founder and CEO of Green Impact Consulting, a sustainable design firm. Here is the background story of the case.

Good beginnings

Green Impact Consulting was founded four years ago. When it was two years old, Hari, friend and Ram’s former right hand, started working at Green Impact Consulting. With his more than eight years of experience, the company began to really take off since then.

Initial troubles after Hari, a key employee, quit

However Hari left Green Impact Consulting after working there for two years. After initial troubles due to Hari’s departure, the business has picked up again and is in great condition.

Hari lied about his motives for leaving and wants to rejoin

Now, one year after his departure, Hari wants to rejoin the company. The issue arises around Hari’s motives for leaving and Ram’s feelings about that. Hari went to work for a larger competitor (Sustainable Build Group) after he quit his job at Green Impact Consulting, initially for personal reasons. After a conversation with Ram, it turns out that Hari left because Sustainable Build Group offered him an increased salary as well as the opportunity to travel. His reasons for rejoining Ram’s company is that he missed the Green Impact Consulting’s culture and was exhausted from working the long hours at Sustainable Build Group. Also, „he wanted to feel if he was helping to build something again, not just keep someone else’s company running“.

Should Ram take Hari back?

Ram has to decide whether to accept Hari again. Here is what was mentioned in the article:

Hari might be helpful for Green Impact Consulting’s expansion plans

Ram started to consider expansion into the Middle East, and Hari, with his experience, might be a good help in that.

Employees might resent him

According to current key employees the staff is keen on the idea that Hari might come back, because it would make the Middle East a possibility. However, when Hari left a lot of harsh things were said about him. How employees would feel about him coming back is unclear.

Hari is smarter now

Not only did Hari gained more experience and knowledge in the meantime, he would also come back with more market intelligence about the competition.

If not Green Impact Consulting than another competitor

If Hari does not join Green Impact Consulting he might join another competitor, which clearly would not be good for Ram and the company.

Forgiving is in India’s culture

According to Hari’s mentor said that taking him back would be ok, because forgiving is what they do in India.

Rejoining is business as usual

Also, according to Hari’s mentor, taking former employees is business as usual and all the big companies do that.

Is Hari honest about his reasons for rejoining?

Hari lied about his reasons for leaving, consequently he might be lying about his reasons for rejoining as well. Maybe he was even fired?

Is Ram biased towards Hari’s success?

I particularly like that possibility. Maybe Hari is not as good as Ram remembered?

Can Ram completely forgive Hari?

Ram is not sure if he could take Hari back without any resentment.

Based on that knowledge of the case here is my solution to it:

Ram should not take Hari back.

What concerns me most is:

  1. Hari’s motives for leaving do not seem plausibel
  2. Hari is not trustworthy because he lied about his motives for leaving
  3. Hari might not fit into the company anymore
  4. Ram should hire character not skill

Hari’s motives for leaving do not seem plausibel

If I look a Hari’s motives for leaving I find them hard to believe; he left because Sustainable Build Group promised him more money and more opportunities for traveling. Interestingly, employees at Green Impact Consulting experienced or will experience something similar. Further, after Hari left, Ram raised the salary of his employees to keep them. Also, Green Impact Consulting is now planning to expand into the Middle East, which would give enough opportunity to travel. I am convinced that at the time Hari left, global expansion was, if only vaguely, a topic. As a keep employee he was certainly aware of that. However, maybe I am wrong and he is telling the truth, the fact remains that he lied the first time and might so the second time.

Hari is not trustworthy because he lied about his motives for leaving

As mentioned in the article, Hari lied when leaving, he might as well lie about his reasons for combing back and about leaving Sustainable Build Group. Even if he is not lying, his reasons (and he) might not fit into the company anymore.

Hari might not fit into the company anymore

Hari wants to rejoin the company for the culture, but how has the culture changed? He worked to much at Sustainable Build Group, will he now work less at Ram’s company, especially considering global expansion? Also, what role what role will he have when he rejoins? Besides Hari’s motives for joining, I also want to consider Ram’s motives for letting him rejoin.

Ram should hire character not skill

The major reasons why Ram wants to rehire Hari is because he might be helpful for the planned expansion and that if Ram shifts his focus more on the expansion and less on the day-to-day operations, his young team would have issues running the business. I think this is where the real problem lies: Ram wants to hire Hari’s skill, not his character. I deeply believe that „hire character train skill“ is the way to go here. Ram wants to hire somebody with the skills and knowledge to expand into the Middle East.

In Good to Great Jim Collins advised companies to keep looking if they have doubts about an employee. I think that Ram should do the same, if he has doubts about Hari (which is the case) he should keep looking.

Finally, here are the remaining concerns raised in the article and how Ram (or any other company) could handle them:

Employees might resent him

I think it is a very good point. The company’s size is a double-edged sword; On the one side, if Ram decided to rehire Hare, everybody would most probably know about it and be affected by it. On the other side, Ram could make everybody understand by transparently communicating his reasons for doing so. His reasons (as described above) are the most pressing topic; Green Impact Consulting is a sustainable design firm, all employees certainly have a deep believe in what they do. If Ram hires Hari for his skills and not his character (the firm’s mission) it will send a wrong message to employees making them question the firm’s believes.

Hari is smarter now

Hari gained experience, knowledge and also market intelligence about the competition. Valuable, not doubt about that. However, Hari is certainly not the only employee out there with these skills. This goes along the lines what I mentioned in regard to Ram’s motives for rehiring Hari: „hire character train skill“.

If not Green Impact Consulting than another competitor

That is a threat, but hiring somebody simply to take him away from the competition even though he is not an ideal match, is a waste of money.

Forgiving is in India’s culture

Ram might forgive Hari, but still not hire him, due to the reasons mentioned above.

Can Ram completely forgive Hari?

Ram has to know that for himself, however, if he cannot, I advise against rehiring.

Rejoining is business as usual

Agree, but only under the right circumstances, which might not be given here.

Is Ram biased towards Hari’s success?

I really like that idea. Ram might have to evaluate Hari again as he would do each new applicant.

Lessons learnt

I think there a lot of great learnings in that case, here are the ones I found very interesting;

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

The troubles the company had were a wake-up call fro Ram to not rely on one employee too much, but to constantly train others to avoid cases like that. Such training, would, of course, yield effects not only in case a key employee leaves, but also while everybody is still on board; the better trained and educated the employees the better the company.

Investive your (key) employees’ reasons for leaving

Moreover, Hari left for personal reasons; whether it was Ram’s fault for not better understanding Hari’s motives at the time of his departure cannot be determined through the article, but it is certainly something each company, especially when key employees are leaving, has to do.

Looking forward to your comments!


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