Five bad excuses to avoid firing poor performers, and why you should “expose the pain”

Edited excerpt from Fire Faster: Five Excuses Startup CEOs Give For Not Getting Rid of Low Performers by Hunter Walk:

There are a consistent set of false rationales I hear from founders as to why they haven’t addressed a low performing team member. Here they are. Avoid them.

1. We’ve got so much to do and they’re contributing something.
2. The team really likes them and I don’t want to risk our culture.
3. It’s my fault and a better CEO would coach them up.
4. I’m so busy and want to do this right so….
5. Will send the wrong signal to my investors because means we made a bad hire.

But remember, don’t fire someone just because they disappointed you once. Unless someone has behaved unethically or otherwise misrepresented their skills, they should be given feedback regarding their underperformance plus the opportunity to articulate to you that they understand and can correct quickly.

(1) By far the most common excuse, in my experience, is “We’ve got so much to do and they’re contributing something.” A stronger variant of this is “I can’t fire them, because I need someone to do what they’re doing and I don’t yet have a replacement”.
(2) There are two reasons why you need to reject this excuse. First, at the process level, slow firing of under-performers means it takes longer to build a great team. Leaving a position filled, even with an under-performer, removes the pressure to hire the right person. If you don’t expose the pain, you’ll forget (or ignore) that it’s there.
(3) The second reason to fire someone before you’ve found a replacement is team morale. People resent filling in for under-performers. Constantly filling in for under-performers makes people feel they’re on a mediocre team and they are being taken advantage of. But people are usually happy to do extra work when a position is unfilled. A must-read on this: The best thing you can do for your team.

2 thoughts on “Five bad excuses to avoid firing poor performers, and why you should “expose the pain”

  1. Pingback: Would you fire this person? | A Founder's Notebook

  2. Pingback: Four principles for how to fire someone correctly | A Founder's Notebook

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