I am beginning to think that Jason Calacanis’ advice should be taken in the opposite. Jason Calacanis’s latest advice on when to fire people ignores human psychology:
Calacanis goes on to examine the three categories of that mistakes and employees can fall into and discusses his thoughts on who and when to fire:
- A great team member who makes a big mistake
Verdict: Don’t fire them. Talk about the mistake, and brainstorm ways to fix it and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
- An average team member who makes a big mistake
Verdict: Fire them. In fact, Calacanis makes the argument that you shouldn’t hire average employees at your startup in the first place.
- A great team member who makes multiple mistakes
Verdict: It’s complicated, and unfortunately, it’s all too common. Calacanis says that when faced with this, he does try to work through the person’s problems. And while he notes that founders might not have the time or the training to do this, he stresses its importance. “When you try to save a flawed, yet at other times effective, team member, you send the other members of your team a positive message: loyalty.”
Seems reasonable doesn’t it? But lets break this down from the perspective of the employee.
Flaw #1: Employee does not know where (s)he stands.
Does the employee know that he is an “average employee” or is a “great team member”? From earlier in the post, clearly in this case the employee responsible for the problem in question thought that he was an average employee living under the one strike rule:
And according to Calacanis, the individual responsible was apologetic, fearing that he’d be fired.
Flaw #2: “Great Team Member” Employee does not know when their chances are used up.
In the case, in question the sysadmin who screwed up and let people post the the jason-list discovered he was a “great team member”. This mistake did not mean his job. whew…. however, if that sysadmin makes another mistake – how much time has to elapse before he is in the category #3 – “great team member but multiple mistakes”? Is he allowed 1 per month? one per quarter?
Flaw #3: Inconsistent response
Human beings as a rule do not respond well to perceived inconsistently applied punishment. Having the “great team members” not get fired for a mistake that got a “average” employee fired does not create loyalty – just fear.
Flaw #4: Dependency on above average employees
A business owner should be creating a reproducible process that drives repeated high-quality execution. Relying on above average talent to sustain the business is simply bad practice that results in inconsistent and high-stress environments.
Flaw #5: Blame
Failures are always a sign of a systemic problem. When the B-17 (Flying Fortress) was developed there were several crashes traced back to pilot error. “Some newspapers had dubbed it[B-17] as ‘too much plane for one man to fly.’ . The Air Force’s solution was not to find better pilots but rather to develop the checklist.
My summarized counter suggestions:
- Look for and reward passion – passionate people will self-correct each other
- Define a fireable offense, in advance and apply consistently
- Expect better – Put everyone on a Performance Improvement Plan including the CEO – Performance improvement plans should be a plan to raise the organizational execution level.
- Expect Greatness – Drive a plan to get people to “hit above their weight class” – in other words exceed their personal best. Read the book Moneyball to understand this idea applied in baseball.
- Create Checklists – Use the above average people in the organization to create a process that does prevents mistakes. In other words, the creative great people should not necessarily be promoted to managers but rather be put in charge of formalizing their “above averageness”. Internally, I am working on having a great contributor (“Bill”) formalize his current responsibilities. This formalization will enable another contributor (“Peter”) with a significantly lower skill set to take over the tasks. Because of the formalization of greatness, “Peter” will operate at Bill’s higher skill level. Bill can now move on to other new challenges.
Update: Read ben horowitz’ post