Hire slow & fire slower

A few weeks earlier, I read a blog post on TechCrunch and that worried me. What’s worse was the comments & discussions that followed. The employers (mostly the fresh breed of “entrepreneurs” & “CEOs” next door) were going HURRAH defending the article while the employees (coders, designers & all sorts of non-entrepreneurs) were getting pissed off. The community was suddenly split into two parts throwing mud at each other. Now come on! This is not the culture which powers successful startups! This post is my personal opinion combined with what I learned from the comments on that particular article.

Now this fire fast strategy might sound good for your first fire (as a last option), if you are finding yourself in a position to fire a second employee, it’s time you looked into the mirror. There is a very high probability your hiring process is flawed. No enthusiastic employee would join a startup which doesn’t fit his/her profile. And if you got them, either you lied to them while hiring or you didn’t make your expectations clear. You failed them right at the moment you hired them. Had you put your expectations straight, communicated well, and knew how to evaluate interviewees, you could have easily avoided this day.

On the other hand if you believe that your hiring process is perfect and you hired the right person and they got worse after joining, then you have reasons to blame your work culture. You hired rockstars and converted them into the people you’re planning to firing today. Think about how did it happen. While it’s natural to get tired of a job or outgrow it, that takes at least a few years.

If you’re hiring rockstars, treat them like rockstars!

If you’re an employer and still argue that the fast firing strategy is acceptable, then just flip this over and think about it from the employees perspective: find a job fast and quit fast if necessary? Finding a job fast does sound like a plan, but quitting fast (often) as an employee exposes you to the risk of being seen as a “quitter” by recruiters. This is not what you want. If you’re firing your 2nd-3rd employee in a year, would you hire a guy who has switched 3 companies in the last year? He might cite the same reasons. What if his last jobs sucked? If you don’t hire him and don’t find him loyal enough, your startup sucks too! BIG TIME.

Success maybe like swinging a baseball bat, the more you swing, the better chance you have in hitting a home run. But if you think you can “swing” employees (the best ones you hired, remember?) you aren’t getting very far. Soon enough, the people around you will know what you’ve been doing. You have no idea how quickly your lame office policies reach across the city. In a couple of months, you won’t find any good employees for your startup anymore. Joining a startup is risky, and they took the risk of joining you. And most of them must have checked social networks (from your ex-employees) about the office culture. Now ask this question to yourself – do you think your ex-employees have a good story to tell about your company? All this because you didn’t take time to hire the right person in the first place. Pat yourself on the back and jump of a cliff, seriously.

Image credits: @stuartpilbrow, @mandy_pantz & @aloshbennett

A start-up shouldn’t just hire someone based on their experience, but their PASSION for what they work on. If you hire someone who works on your company as if it were THEIRs, you have found the right fit, and I don’t see the reason to fire them. It would be like firing yourself. If you think they have changed, look at your policies and see if it’s you who has changed instead. Do your other employees look happy (other than the “yes-men” who find all your actions AWESOME & the leeches you love hanging around with, for a while)? Look at the employees you don’t usually talk to or you’ve stopped paying attention to. Are they happy?

I agree Fire Fast if firing is merited. But for the first X employees, you should also target zero attrition. It’s your failure as CEO-recruiter if you fire any material number of employees. It’s easy to see who won’t work out before they even start. If you have to fire one of your first X employees, that’s because you failed as a recruiter, and lowered your standards or hired someone who wasn’t a good enough fit. If the people you hired were “best” in your scale and suddenly turned unusable, either step down as a CEO or give the hiring responsibility to someone else in the company. Your people instincts are letting you down and probably aren’t as good as you think they are.

I have been working for some very successful startups that hired very slowly and filred slowly as well. We worked well as a team, we knew each other, we knew we could express our opinions without worrying about getting fired for saying the wrong thing or admitting a mistake. I’d still recommend my best of friends to join them.

If you want to build a company which the employees respect, make sure to take time in hiring. Spend several weeks on every person you hire and if things don’t go so well, go talk to them. Try to find out what went wrong and why aren’t they motivated anymore. You might be surprised by listening to what they have to say. Your employees are the best people to tell you if your work culture is flawed or if the office atmosphere is depressing. Let them be honest, let them trust you. Don’t impose weird restrictions, set them free. If you hired them by yourself after making sure they are good enough, then they know what they’re doing. Don’t micromanage and turn your own company into a jail.

All this boils down to a simple question – What is the culture you want to build in your startup? Do you really want to spread a scare of job insecurity and get the work done or do you want them to take resposibility, ownership and work honestly? If you think you can push them to work that way, you’ll find the best ones quitting your startup as soon as they get better jobs. Yes, I said better jobs because yours sucks! And the ones you’ll end up working with will be the ones who were never hired by anyone else. And trust me, they aren’t the ones who’ll take you towards an IPO.


Written by Arun Pattnaik