· Comment

Second time lucky for David Cameron? Is it wise to bring back ex-employees?

David Cameron is back in the corridors of power as Rishi Sunak announced last month (November) he had the job of foreign secretary.

It happens- people leave and return to jobs for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps they have taken parental leave; perhaps there has been a change of circumstances within the business or an individual's personal situation that means that something makes sense once again or perhaps someone is returning from a sabbatical or period of sickness.

Whatever the reason, re-integrating someone back into a team can be tricky.


Question your why

The first question is why?

In some cases, such as when returning from paternity leave or a sabbatical, an individual returning to post is anticipated, welcome and healthy.

But when it's not for an anticipated reason, it should be a prompt for business leaders to look deeper into why this person left and why they are coming back.

In Cameron’s case, we might say it didn’t work out the first time, and they resigned.

So why are they coming back? Why does the business need them back and is this really the only option? If so, why?

There is a lot of appeal in bringing back an ex-employee. They are a known quantity, and they know your business.

They may have a specific and hard-to-find skill set, and presumably, there is a strong degree of trust because, without it, neither party should be entertaining the idea of a return in the first place.

Hiring previous employees could help solve recruitment issues

Another factor may be the reduced recruitment fee, although this shouldn’t shape your thinking as a bad rehire could be more expensive.

Perhaps their departure was a mistake, in which case, there will be lessons to be learned. Unnecessary attrition is expensive and disruptive.

What has changed to make what was not working more likely to work this time around?

At the very least, a clear-eyed conversation of radical candour will be necessary. Get to the bottom of why the individual left and identify what needs to change to ensure that this time around, the same problems don’t arise.

Speak to your team

How does the rest of your team feel about the individual returning to the company? Might they feel overlooked? Does this move undermine the team's faith in the leadership’s ability to attract new talent?

Or are they delighted and looking forward to reuniting with an ex-colleague?

Whatever the team feels is legitimate and needs to be understood and addressed. Two-way communication is vital with a team when anyone returns after a period of absence.

Whilst pre-existing relationships may work in the team’s favour, someone returning is not as conventional and may not be as anticipated as a new starter, for which there is a likely to be standardised onboarding and induction processes.

Four ways HR professionals can be disruptive

Improve your recruitment practices

Is your need to bring someone back a reflection on your poor recruitment practices? How effective are your talent assessment processes?

You won’t increase your business’s talent unless you prioritise it.

We suggest all our clients put a talent assessment process in place. This is a deliberate way of reviewing all your people and ranking them as A, B, C, or Toxic A-Players. And you don’t just do this once. You revisit it every quarter.

When working with us, most new clients have around 10%-30% A Players. With persistence and focus, they increase this. (One businesses has recently reached 64% A-Players after only two years). Your goal should be 90%.

You need a system in your business that defines the expectations in each role. Only then will your people know what good looks like. 

We recommend using job scorecards. These give you an understanding of clear targets and definitions of A-Players.

You can determine the return on investment you’re looking for in the role. Say you’re hiring a new salesperson for £100,000. What does that job need to deliver to be a sound use of your money?

Lengthy recruitment processes could be pushing candidates away

Do your job ads need to be fixed? Are the interview processes too dull? Are you retaining data on previous interviews?

We encourage our clients to keep records of who hired whom on their HR system. I used to have someone working for me who’s now the MD of a great UK business. But he was shocking at spotting good people in interviews.

If there were three candidates, he’d always pick the wrong one. So, I told him he couldn’t hire anyone anymore.

Another reason you may be forced to bring back talent that didn’t work out is that you are too slow to the available A Place talent. A-Players are in high demand. Your competitors will snap them up if you don’t act fast.

There may be many different reasons why Sunak has brought back Cameron, but like most organisations considering re-hiring an ex-employee, this might also be a red flag that should prompt closer analysis of what is going on in the recruitment process.

Dominic Monkhouse is CEO and founder Monkhouse & Company