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Hire Fast, Fire Fast? Not so Fast.

Silicon Valley is full of advice and it frequently comes from people who have little experience on the subject matter.  A popular topic surrounds hiring and terminations with the king catch phrase being: “Hire Fast, Fire Fast.”  To me, what that usually means is lack of diligence, thought, communication and courage.

When hiring people love going with their gut feel, often with disastrous results.  There is an obvious subject of diversity of thought, appearance and background.  When thinking “fast” you are probably hiring people like yourself because humans quickly react to people who they believe are in their tribe.

A startup that lacks the resources of a big company often becomes so desperate to get technical staff that when a decent candidate comes along, excitement ensues and the employer doesn't slow down to put them through a more rigorous hiring process.

I highly encourage technical founders and engineering executives to write out their precise hiring process.  Of course, you can skip parts of it when appropriate, but you should skip parts of it consciously.  Here are some things to ponder:
Do you give people a coding exercise?
Do you review their public code?
Do you check references?
My hiring process document is 5 pages - I’ve been refining it for a long time and it’s continuously evolving.

In my opinion the bar is even higher for terminations. It should never come as a surprise to an individual getting terminated. The “performance improvement process” has a bad rap because it’s used by big company management to avoid making tough decisions. Still it benefits you to have a formal process outlined and follow it.

Obvious cases for firing fast include; crime, harassment and offensive behavior. Other issues like speed of work, hitting quota, not delivering the right kind of solutions definitely deserves several conversations prior to actually terminating the employee.  Chances are, if you hired a smart person who has been learning and achieving things in the past you can probably get them to improve their performance with appropriate feedback.

To start up executives, I recommend getting very comfortable with the following phrase: “we need X, you are producing Y, we need this corrected in Z time or we’ll need to start looking for someone else to do this job”.  Being able to have an honest, direct conversation is what separates the tough but fair leaders from those who avoid the subject all together and suddenly decide to “fire fast”.

Lastly, one of the best pieces of advice I can give is to outline your process and calibrate it with your Board of Directors, people you respect in the industry and your team.  It will help you balance Thinking Fast and Slow.

Here are some articles that were a source of material and inspiration: 

If you like this article you might also consider my writing on Highly Effective Software Teams and Win Forever review


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