It was a little hard for me to write this, mainly because a lot of people who I work with deserve a great deal of respect for their individuality and hard work. Handling a completely remote team has to be based on trust, organization and well established processes, which I have been already talking about.
In the end, the people I work with are the ones I start my day talking to and the ones who I day by day communicate with about the idea standing behind the tasks they are doing. Most of them are the reason I type excited messages in the middle of the night talking about potential improvements.
This little talk, however, is not about those people, as you could have guessed. It is about challenging situation that every entrepreneur deals with. It is about holding on to people that are not suitable for our business, or even toxic to our organization.
Don’t take this advice as an HR experts’ advice on what to do – because, simply, I am not an HR guy. I am an online entrepreneur for a while now and have faced numerous different sessions with employees. And, as every engineer in this planet – I’ve noticed some patterns.
Why do we hold on to people
I recently had this talk with a few friends of mine from Chiang Mai. We were disbarring at a random evening with some beers about this girl who is trying to hire a virtual assistant. Thing was, she was holding on too long to her existing virtual assistant while the person was not performing optimally.
I kind of took that conversation and brought it to our company as well.
Anytime we fire someone, we feel like we’ve failed too
The thing is, I hate firing people. I’m really bad at that. Very often I keep making excuses:
”No, this person is learning.”
“Oh no, next month it will be better.”
“Maybe I didn’t explain it very well.”
This all comes from a notion I’ve learned from a book from Sir Richard Branson called “The Virgin Way,” where he expresses that whenever he needs to fire somebody he feels that he failed as well.
I have that same feeling as well. When I need to fire somebody I think to myself:
“I failed. I probably didn’t manage that person well enough because, in the end, I have to fire that person.”
“I didn’t hire the right person in the very first place, as well.”
It’s just not always like that. Sometimes collaboration just doesn’t work out, or people fail to deliver.
Here’s what happened to me
Here is a small example of what happened to me:
I hired him and introduced him to the team. I made him do a test and the results were awesome. It was great work, he definitely knew what he was talking about.
After the test I gave him his first assignment with Jobrack. He actually did a good job. Good turnaround on his work.
Then, he was assigned a second task.
He was supposed to make some opt-in pop-ups. Of course, the pop-ups needed to have a form, so that people could fill in the details and you can store those details.
I told him specifically that it is extremely important that the opt-in forms are fully responsive. And that’s exactly what he did.
Opt-ins as the art of aesthetics
However, I couldn’t understand two things:
- It took forever to be finished. I mean, literally, forever
- When he finally delivered it, I was so surprised to see that it was such poor quality
He did make them responsive but what he did to make them responsive was he wrapped every input element from the opt-in form in a different form element.
To anyone that is even not technical at all would have been clear that made this way they were completely useless.
I asked him: “Why the hell would you do something like that?”
He answered: “Well, I didn’t know the form had to be functional.”
I couldn’t stop but wonder “When have you ever seen a form on the Internet just for fun? Just for aesthetics?”
Where did the sudden change come from?
In the end, I decided to let him go because the work was just that bad. I was thinking:
“How the hell could this person live with such incredibly low quality work?”
That’s the thing, he did an exquisite work earlier so I really couldn’t figure out what happened with the second assignment.
How could it be all of a sudden that it was super slow and the quality was not there at all?
I still, obviously, can’t say for 100% sure what was the cause. But, at some point, I came to the realization that what probably happened is that he outsourced his work.
And he most probably outsourced it to some workers that had no idea what they were doing.
Firing is a part of any business
For some people it’s easier, for some harder. Some, well… some have George Clooney do it for them.
I actually spoke with Neil as well about firing some people and when to fire and when not to fire.
Obviously, in this example case I just gave you, it wasn’t very hard for me to make a decision… due to such poor quality.
But then again, there’s lots of other situations where you’re dealing with a good person who’s not doing bad work. It can be that the person is just delivering the work too slow or the quality is just not up to par and it kind of gets into a grey-zone.
That’s where firing people gets really difficult.
Hire slow, fire fast
Neil Napier basically said the same to me:
“I just keep giving them new chances and I’m really bad at firing people on time.”
Although many people take it as a knee-jerk reaction, they don’t say for nothing, “Hire slow, fire fast.”
Well, in our case we realized it was “Hire slow, fire slow.” And we didn’t want to be there.
As an entrepreneur you have to keep the construction of your startup clean, even if that means being insanely meticulous when it comes to hiring people and keeping people who stick around.
The solution, or better said, what we came up to, is what I really want to share with you today.
The infraction system
We just took a document and created an infraction system.
We wrote down a whole bunch of rules and for any time one of those rules gets broken by any employee of ours, they get an infraction.
Whenever they get to three infractions within those ninety days, they’re out. This ninety days is kind of arbitrary right now… but for right now we agreed on ninety days.
No more excuses needed from myself or from Neil.
“Oh but last week he was getting a lot better all of a sudden.”
No, with those three infractions done in ninety days he’s just out.
That’s kind of the solution I wanted to share with you today which is a very handy, less personally and less emotionally involved situation where you can decide upon whether to fire another person.
Have clear policies
For example, one of the rules we wrote down is:
”Whenever a developer does not complete all the tasks within a sprint for three sprints in a row, that’s one infraction.”
Obviously sprint planing is kind of in the middle, right? I can also put it on myself. If I don’t do my job well enough and I plan too many tasks in a sprint, I could get somebody fired.
That’s kind of why we said:
“Okay, if a programmer doesn’t get to three sprints in a row, all the tasks done, then the infraction will be implied.”
There are some other specific rules, most of them are about making promises. Both myself and Neil as well, we hate it when employees promise us something and then just completely break it.
Luckily this doesn’t happen a lot but sometimes it does happen. When you make promises, you just have to keep them. Especially since everything is virtual on other sides of the world and other people are depending on you.
Customize the infraction system
These rules should be made up by you and made applicable completely to your situation and company but that’s what I’m going to leave you with today. Just to take the emotional part out of letting someone go, when to fire somebody, create an infraction system, create a time period.
Outsource the emotional part as well
For example, three infractions within 90 days, if you break it you’re done, you’re out. Make that a rule to yourself so you don’t get them any extra chances any more.
You can even automate it or outsource it to one of your managers and say:
“Okay, you keep track of the infractions. Every time when somebody gets three or more infractions within ninety days – let me know about it and I’ll automatically let that person go.”
The whole emotional part is removed so it gets easier, so to say.
You owe it to your business
Finding a worker that should stay is equal to finding a beautiful unicorn because working with some people will eventually start being tiring. It would feel like you are dragging a toddler to a foreign language class when they really don’t want to go.
Your employees can become unprofessional, cold and bitter with time. It can really fire back on your startup after some time of you not acting upon it. Nothing is seen as more destructive but people who are toxic for the team.
Yet, so many of us are completely paralyzed when firing staff. We easily get carried away by fake promises, respect we had and we forget to be decisive.
The future of your business and the people who are proactive in the team deserve nothing less but the best community and work culture they can. And for that, they need you to be decisive.
This post was written by Steven Van Der Peijl, CTO of Jobrack and a long term Digital Nomad.