Firing is More Important Than Hiring

Building a great team has two parts: making sure you get the right people on it, and quickly getting the wrong people out. But while leaders spend a lot of time thinking about hiring, they push firing to the back of their minds. That’s a problem, because while firing might be uncomfortable, it’s even more important than hiring.

Why? Because under-performing employees are toxic to your entire organization. They undermine productivity by not doing the job they are supposed to do, and then your best people have to work twice as hard to pick up the slack. When great people see that mediocrity is acceptable, they lose their own motivation. Keeping under-performers will alienate and annoy your best people to the point where all of your A players want to leave and all you’re left with are the people you should have worked out in the first place.

Leaders like to think about their hiring process. We see hiring as something positive, and we understand how better hiring will improve our lives. We think that if we get the hiring process right, all the rest of our people problems will go away. If only we could pick perfectly, we wouldn’t have to worry about management, difficult conversations, or firing. And because the hiring process is relatively structured, and a process where we’re in control, we understand the tools we can use to make it better.

The problem is that even the best hiring processes are limited. They tend to favor candidates who do well on tests, who remind interviewers of themselves (i.e. people they ‘like’), or who simply perform well in an interview situation. Some of the best people are poor interviewers, and some of the best interviewers don’t have much substance beyond those first meetings. Even the best hiring process is imperfect, and most of us don’t use the best process. In other words, the system you use to get the right people into your firm is only half of building a great team. You also need to have a great system for getting the wrong people out.

It’s unfortunate that we spend so little time on the processes that make it easier to fire, because the same steps are important to everyone on your team:

  1. Make sure people know what’s expected in their current job and to get to the next level
  2. Create a culture of feedback, with both formal processes and strong informal norms, so people know where they stand long before it gets difficult
  3. Treat career transitions with empathy – celebrate your alumni when they leave, and treat people with dignity when you’re helping them out
  4. Be clear and communicative in your decision making

If you want to keep your best people, you need to learn to get rid of your worst. Even when hiring is difficult, it’s nowhere near as painful for either party as firing. But that’s why it’s so important that you get firing right.