Hire slow, fire fast is both a strategy and an encouragement for fixing bad hiring decisions. Fire fast should also be taken as permission to use firing more often than other approaches to fixing bad hiring decisions. Fire fast not only applies to fixing bad external hiring decisions, it applies to fixing bad internal promotions too.
Why is this so important? Because at the heart of nearly every single IT performance issue or inability to execute is one or more people that should be fired and a manager that won’t do it.
No Time for Euphemisms
Understanding the importance of fire fast requires that we not rely on euphemisms. In fact we have to get more comfortable with the word firing because it helps you regain your power over your apprehension of firing people.
If You Can’t Take the Heat
Allow me to also get this out of the way up front. Just because you decide to fire someone you recently hired, or undo an internal promotion, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person or that you’re being mean or unfair. Firing someone certainly has an effect on the lives of those being fired but you cannot allow yourself to carry that burden.
If you can’t overcome the fear and guilt of the possible impacts on people and their families that may result from them being fired, maybe you are not cut out for management.
Ethics of Firing People
Regardless of firing fast or firing slow, ethics do come into play. The ethics of firing someone varies based on who is being fired and why. Firing a new hire is a lot different than firing someone after one year, five years or twenty-five years.
Somewhere along the continuum of a person’s tenure, the ethics of a decision to fire them changes. The ethical questions of firing a new hire consider that you made a decision to hire them in the first place which presupposes some obligation for them having relied on that decision and you having relied on their representations of their abilities.
The ethical questions of firing an existing employee considers issues of loyalty and commitment which includes questions relating to having done enough to help the person succeed. Firing and existing employee also includes consideration of the employee having done enough to maintain relevant skills and a sufficient contribution level.
But you have to give yourself a break in all of this because any employment relationship requires a balanced obligation and fair and equitable considerations for both parties. When it comes to existing employees though, the balance shifts because we know them and should have a greater certainty as to what to expect than an outside hire.
Moreover, if you are caught up in the ethics of firing people, make sure you are not using that as an avoidance mechanism. Sometimes it helps to remember where your obligations lie. That means you must balance your ethical obligations to your employer with the perceived obligation to the employee.
Importance of Fire Fast
By now you should understand why it is so important to fire fast. First, because the longer you delay the decision the more likely you are to be vested emotionally. It also means you are farther down the ethics timeline which will certainly complicate things.
Another reason to fire fast is that personnel related issues almost never get better or go away. The longer you live with a bad hiring decision the longer you will have to live with it.
To use a more objective way to look at it, your people are assets which must deliver a proportionate value to their cost. Maybe that means a 2.5:1 ratio of value to costs and any resource not pulling its own weight must be eliminated because of its own value contribution but also because of the additional burden it place on the other assets.
I get it, you don’t like me referring to people as assets like they were a server or storage system. Why not? Don’t we all talk about our workers as out greatest asset? So why not embrace ‘asset’ in this context too?
For new hires, the importance of fire fast is also about forcing the hiring manager to have a clear plan to validate the hiring decision quickly during the “probationary period’. That requires that you fully test the new hire instead of using the first few weeks or months for training or getting adjusted.
For new hires, I recommend you treat them like a contractor whom you expect to be productive from day one. No honeymoons. Just push them into the deep end and see if they will swim.
For existing employees, fire fast is different whether it is for an internal promotion or a change in duties. For an internal promotion, your options for fire fast do not always include allowing the person to go back to their old job either because it no longer exists or because of why they are being fired.
Still, you have to consider the likelihood of the internal promotion succeeding. Too often managers concede on requirements or results in order to let the person succeed. If we are being honest it is also so that the manager doesn’t have to confront the firing decision. Either way, it means you are not going to realize the full value of the promotion which should carry its own ethical questions because you are cheating the company.
So let’s be more honest with ourselves and the people we hire and promote, you are relying on them in the hiring decision just as much as they are relying on you. So if you are honest upfront about the expectations, the decision to fire someone who is not meeting them should be a lot easier.
Overcoming the Guilt
If you think I am going to offer advice on how to overcome the guilt of firing people you’d be wrong. This is about overcoming the guilt of not having acted sooner. That seems to be the hurdle most managers have when confronted with the decision of firing someone.
Get over it. Each day is a new day and the decision to fire is made like all others. It is forward looking. The past is the past. If the person’s contribution is not sufficient, and they have had a fair chance to correct it, put on your big boy pants and fire them. It may surprise you that you are more upset about it than they are.