Antonio Brown and the Culture-Disrupting Potential of a Bad Hire

September 10, 2019
Author: Tyran Saffold Jr

Should an employer lower its standards to hire an individual who is a poor culture fit but is still one of the most talented in their role?

A Top Talent With Culture-Disrupting Potential

A tight labor market creates panic in some HR departments to fill open positions within the company. Some take chances to lure people into their firms. At times, gambling can pay off, but sometimes, it can turn into a situation like what the Oakland Raiders experienced with Antonio Brown. This example demonstrates that hiring a talented employee with questionable character can turn out to be disastrous for the company’s culture.

The talented wide receiver was sent to Oakland, from the Pittsburgh Steelers, in a trade during the NFL offseason. Oakland, short on talent at wide receiver, took a chance on a top NFL talent to bolster their roster. However, after a couple of weeks of bad press that culminated in a heated dispute with his team’s General Manager, he was released from the team two days before the season opener with Denver. The move leaves us pondering what most HR reps and c-suite executives think during the hiring process—is a talented, but questionable cultural fit worth the hiring risk?

Hire Slow, Fire Fast

An old business mantra is, “hire slow and fire fast.” The idea is to be very meticulous during the hiring process and if someone turns out to be a bad fit, then release then as soon as possible. By doing this, there is an assurance that good culture fits are employed while, at the same time, those who may be damaging to the internal structure of your business are eliminated. That is exactly what the Oakland Raiders did. They fired fast.

In just under 6 months after he was signed by the Raiders, he was released. “We tried every way possible to make it work, but at the end of the day, he simply didn’t fit here,” said head coach Jon Gruden.

How important is it to hire for culture as opposed to raw talent? Hiring employees that don’t mesh well with the existing or desired company culture may lead to decreased job satisfaction and a potentially toxic environment. In this case, one player nearly took down a 53-man team, a host of coaching personnel and front office management.

Bad Hires in a Tight Market

The tight labor market creates difficulties for HR departments to fill roles within their company. Brown is arguably one of the greatest wide receivers of all time and on most NFL analysts’ lists, he is the number one receiver in the league today. His talent is unquestionable, but his character, one of the things that had him shipped from Pittsburgh, is toxic to workplace culture.

Today, there are many companies that have lowered their hiring requirements to bring more talent into their workforce. While lowering requirements doesn’t always equate to hiring bad culture fits, it does heighten the possibility of poisoning business culture, which translates into a high turnover rate and low retention.

Although the condition of the labor market may force employers to hire unlikely candidates, there should be some pause when offering contracts or positions to future employees who are bad fits for business culture.

The Cost of a Bad Hire

Oakland receives credit for taking a chance on a top talent, but at what cost to the organization? In this case, the cost was high; specifically, a 3rd and 5th round draft pick (normally translates into NFL starters), as well as an open roster spot to fill. It also cost time and effort that coaches spent with him during practice sessions.

Similarly, a business team must factor onboarding costs, as well as the amount of time and money it will take to replace a role. The team, much like the Raiders, will be back to square one, a problem that most companies will face when a bad hire is made.