I've Had to Fire Hundreds of People. Here Are 5 Lessons I've Learned.
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For almost 10 years, I’ve been laser-focused on building a culture at Kabbage, a financial technology company, to ensure we’ve got the best possible mix of skills and personalities to build the best possible company. If you’re thinking about how to manage talent in your business, it's important to focus not only on how to hire new team members, but also how to gently transition away anyone who isn't a fit.
If you're in charge of hiring and letting go, here are five guidelines to consider based on the lessons I've learned.
Don’t hire jerks
If company culture is important to you and you spot a "jerk" during the interview process, it's a good idea not to move forward — no matter how objectively talented they may be. But the reality is that jerks can slip through. For example, when Kabbage was just getting started, sometimes we had such a strong need for specific skills that we’d take a chance on someone who didn’t feel quite right. For a growing company, a superstar software developer with questionable people skills might seem essential for speed-to-market. But in my experience, those gambles seldom pay off. Over time, I’ve learned to trust gut reaction and let those candidates go elsewhere.
Having a jerk on your team doesn't just mean a bad fit — it can also mean a liability. They can make the people around them unhappy, and concentric circles of lowered performance and morale can spread out around the person, damaging overall productivity.
Know which personal characteristics fit best in your environment. If someone is just going to tolerate the pace at which your company works rather than thrive in it, then that could have adverse effects for everyone in the long run. If they stay, they might decrease their team's levels of motivation or slow down a project timeline.
If you hire someone who will burn out in six months, that’s a loss for everyone involved — and for your business, especially after taking into account the costs of a new-hire search, onboarding, training and lost time. It’s well worth the effort to screen for values-compatibility at the hiring stage.
Fix your mistakes
If you hire the right person for the wrong job, you'll likely need to either provide them a new path forward or a gentle push toward the exit.
If a current team member is objectively falling short (not meeting quotas and deadlines, for example, or not demonstrating the skills they claimed to have on their resume), instinct might tell you to cut your losses immediately. But based on my experience, I’d encourage you to first evaluate if investing in their development might be a better option. Someone who is a good culture fit may serve your organization well in another role. We’ve successfully transitioned people laterally, and sometimes more than once. Ideally, people let go from your company should never be surprised by it — there shold have been a number of pointed discussions and specific goals that were missed in order for things to progress to that point.
Treat people well, even on their way out
Dealing with performance issues can be frustrating, but it's important to treat everyone you encounter with kindness, respect and humanity. If you expect team members to give you two weeks' notice as a courtesy, make sure you’re giving at least two weeks of separation pay (possibly more depending on tenure) when the choice to part ways is your own. Yes, you're letting someone go because the work relationship didn’t work out, but everyone escorted out becomes a de facto ambassador of your brand. They will tell other people about their time with your company — including how it ended.
Don’t just collect talent — build your team
No one enjoys the termination process, but it’s something all leaders must manage at some point or another. To ensure success, it's important to identify your business's values, demonstrate them often across all decision-making processes and make them transparent — on your website, in job descriptions, on screening calls, during the onboarding process and regularly in team meetings. As a business leader, you must be the champion of your company’s brand and culture, and if you make the decision to part ways with a team member, this provides you some guidelines to assist with your message. Pay careful attention to your hiring and firing, and you can accelerate both your team's success and your company’s bottom line.