The correct way to view an executive firing is as an interview/integration process system failure. Therefore, the first step is figuring out why you hired the wrong person. You may have blown it for a variety of reasons:
1. You did a poor job of defining the position in the first place. CEOs often hire based on an abstract notion of what they think and feel the executive should be like. This error often leads to the executive not bringing the key, necessary qualities to the table.
2. You hired for lack of weakness rather than for strengths. You hire an executive with no sharp weaknesses, but who is mediocre where you need her to be great.
3. You hired for scale too soon. The most consistently wrong advice that VCs and executive recruiters give CEOs is to hire someone “bigger” than required. But if you hire someone who will be great in 18 months but will be poor for the next 18 months, the company will reject her before she ever gets a chance to show her stuff.
4. You hired for the generic position. There is no such thing as a great executive. There is only a great executive for your company for the next 12-24 months.
5. The executive had the wrong kind of ambition. The wrong kind of ambition is ambition for the executive’s personal success regardless of the company’s outcome.
6. You failed to integrate the executive. Be sure to review and improve your integration plan after you fire an executive.
The special case of scaling: When a company multiplies in size, the management jobs become brand new jobs. If you get lucky, the person you hired to run the 25 person team will have learned how to run the 200 person team. If not, you need to hire the right person for the new job. This is neither an executive failure nor a system failure.
(1) Three of the causes of failure Ben lists are obvious — inadequate job definition, wrong kind of ambition, and integration failure. But three of them run counter to explicit or implicit advice frequently given to CEOs, and are therefore important to think about — hiring for lack of weakness, hiring for scale too soon, and hiring for the generic position.
(2) Case in point: I experienced exactly this — “The most consistently wrong advice that VCs and executive recruiters give CEOs is to hire someone “bigger” than required…the company will reject her before she ever gets a chance to show her stuff”.
(3) Cf. How to hire senior executives for your startup.