Saturday, June 4, 2016

4 Things I Learned When I Fired Someone For the First Time

I questioned myself over and over again whether I’m right to fire this person. Did I do enough as a manager? Have I tried giving enough support and guidance? Or are their shortcomings something I cannot fix and firing them is the final step after providing that support and guidance? Here’s what I’ve learned about hiring and firing someone who is fairly junior in the working world.

1. Have a more thorough interview process
If I had seen more of what they’re capable of in the interview, I might not have hired them in the first place. I had some tests in place, but after this experience I’m definitely going to up the ante. So ask yourself: Is there a way to test their skills? Request copies of their previous work (or request school projects from fresh grads), give them more than one test, and try to see evidence of their performance. I took every interview question I could find from more experienced coworkers, business books and magazines, and this junior performed really well in the interview: she looked good on paper and is a pro at social situations, really easy with her answers and body language, but the devil was in the details of her work, which I hadn’t looked at closely enough. 

2. Spend more time in the beginning investing in them
At a start-up, there never feels like enough time, especially in the early stages. My regular meetings with the team grew further and further apart, and when things really got tough I ended up delegating more and supervising less. I knew there were some problems, but they felt secondary compared to launching new projects and meeting business objectives. I’ve learned that I should have pushed all of that back and kept those regular meetings to provide that support. 

3. Set standards and deadlines for improvement, so that it’s easier to see when people are not meeting them. 
This seems obvious, but in my case I had a slightly indefinite deadline for when this person improves. They had started out as “good enough” and I just wanted them to stay and grow in the company; I didn’t want to consider firing them as an option. But after I implemented a more regimented meeting schedule, set standards for work and deadlines for improvement, I began to see results a lot faster and my answer crystallised: under more structured stress, the junior began to perform better in some ways but still failed to grow in others, and that was clear enough to see that that lack of growth in key areas meant that she wouldn’t be able to hack it in the long term.

4. Fire them early.
This sounds harsh, but it’s honestly the better option over dragging out a bad fit. If I had just let them go sooner within the first 4 months, both I and the junior would have benefitted from it: I would have saved more time by letting them go and finding a better fit sooner, and she wouldn’t have settled into the role and the company, and worst of all, settled into a substandard routine. 

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