Fire Fast

My last post generated a bit of harsh comment (a few on the site, but many more in private e-mail and on a few other sites that picked up the theme).  Apparently I came off as pretty insensitive (perhaps ‘jerk’ would be an appropriate description) in how I described my approach to some of the “can I get 30 minutes of your time?” meetings that I seem to have a difficult time saying no to (note to commenters: I do see value in the meetings and as a general rule spending time getting to know as many people as possible. Hey – at least I TAKE the meetings . . .). Trying to roll with that theme, I’ve been thinking recently about how companies get rid of non-performers. I have a lot of visibility into the performance of most of the executive teams of the companies I work with and some visibility down the ranks.  One thing I’ve observed over and over and over again is that companies tend not to fire fast enough.  I understand that US employment law can make this difficult (I am NOT giving legal advice here, so don’t take this as such in any way shape or form), but regardless, companies tend to hold on to people too long.  This is true both in terms of mass lay-offs and more disturbingly in the case of non-performers.  This is true almost 100% of the time and often in the face of extraordinarily clear evidence that supports the decision to ask someone to leave.

I’m not trivializing firing  people – it is and should be hard (I vividly remember the first person I let go crying in my office; it was extremely uncomfortable and I felt terrible for this person who was a great employee, but whose position was being eliminated).  But if you really care about running an effective organization, own up to making a bad hiring decision and take out the red pen. Keeping people around too long ultimately only damages an organization (particularly when their lack of performance is obvious to all around them) and delays the inevitable.

  • Of course there’s a corollary to your fire fast rule for employers, which is my quit fast rule for employees. If you really care about your own success, you shouldn’t be afraid to admit it when you’ve made a mistake joining a company and gracefully bow out.

  • A better solution is to take a “consult-to-hire” approach where a company brings someone in on a consulting basis to check the fit before making a permanent commitment.
    As much as we might talk about being quick to fire or quick to quit, even in the US, there is a stigma associated with both, irrational though it may be.

  • S Y

    A prerequisite of performance-driven hiring and firing is that the role, responsibilities and expected results be clearly articulated and agreed upon by the hirer and the hired worker. Employment law only becomes a problem when such clarity is not the case.
    And if you think US laws make it hard to fire people, try crossing the Atlantic over to Europe.

  • Workforce turnover is a reality in any business. However I believe there are definate disctinctions between firing, workforce reduction, position elimination, etc. Moreover, the reason behind the termination should also dictate timing and positioning. There is an old management axiom that states: Hire slow..Fire Fast…In your post the hire slow piece of the equation didn’t get much air time, but the more disciplined and structured the hiring process is the more successful the hire is likely to be. More thoughts on this topic can be found at the N2growth Blog and in particular in a post entitled How To Win The War For Talent