When You Have Concerns

I hear this said all the time – “when you have concerns about an employee, it almost always means you will need to make a change.” I hear execs lament that they tend to wait too long to admit that they made a hiring mistake and act on it. I hear them wish they trusted their gut more. And it is not always a hiring mistake. It is often a case of someone doing great in a role or an organization at at time and then failing as the org or the culture changes around them. In this latter scenario, loyalty and appreciation for contributions made loom large.

And yet that conflicts with the idea that you can grow and develop talent and you can coach people to evolve and change.

A friend of mine told me yesterday that “you have to pay attention to the key moments” when you are evaluating an employee that you have questions about. She suggested that concerns always exist and it is not true that when you have concerns, it almost always leads to making a change. And she said that culture matters a lot and can’t be sacrificed when making these calls.

I don’t do a lot of hiring and firing personally, only at the highest levels. But I do observe executives in our portfolio companies struggling with these decisions and have gone back and forth on how to advise them in these situations. I tend to like action, decisiveness, and a willingness to make a mistake over inaction, pondering, and a desire to get everything right. And so I generally coach executives to make a call and move on when they have concerns.

But the conversation with my friend yesterday gave me pause. I wonder if my advice to make a call and move on is always the right advice. I am curious how the AVC community thinks about these things. Because these are the things that matter most of all in building, managing, and leading a business.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Pete Griffiths

    I think you’re right 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      damn. i was seeking clarity 🙂

      1. Vendita Auto

        Are you saying your past decitions were wrong, obviously not. Go back over the data to play the percentages

      2. Pete Griffiths

        In the unlikely event you haven’t already read it, this may help:”Thinking Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman

  2. LIAD

    not all concerns are created equal.concerns over ability/performance should be triaged. concerns over attitude/commitment should be excised.

    1. ShanaC

      By commitment/attitude you mean what? Ie: How much is personality

  3. Rob Underwood

    Coaches, especially professional HR folks, will probably advise against listening to your gut too much. But, just like a romantic relationship, sometimes your gut tells you “it’s over” and nothing can fix it once you’re there. At that point, as my friend Joe Parente says, you have to “shoot the wounded” for all involved.Also important to be self-aware when it’s yourself who needs to be taken out and when you’ve stayed at the party too long.

    1. JLM

      .Haha, as a CEO coach, just two days ago I told a VC to “listen to your gut” — not his gut alone but as a big part of his decisionmaking. He reads this blog so he may chime in.As a CEO for 33 years, I could tell in 5 seconds whether someone was right for any job.Why?Because I had paintstakingly designed the job, written a job description, crafted a Basis of Employment that set out expectations and, most importantly, 6 and 12 month objectives.I met every new employee at the door their first day. I wore my best suit, shined my shoes, wore a French cuff shirt that measured at the top range of the Moh’s scale, and I told them — “We’re a pretty good company but you, YOU, are going to make us a great company.”They believed it and worked up to my expectations.I handed them a copy of my Values which I had spent years developing. I gave them two copies. To this day, I will bump into people who say, “I still have that Values booklet you gave me.”Go here and get a free copy for yourself: http://themusingsofthebigre…When you set expectations clearly — which takes a ton of work — people will rise to meet your expectations.Know the only thing special about Special Forces? Their expectations. Same raw material, bit more demanding training but it’s the expectations.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. LE

        Good on the special forces approach but curious if you have any data on the people who didn’t make the cut and what happened to them? (Who you passed over in other words..)By the way what is “moh’s schedule” it doesn’t google to anything that I can find. I was thinking maybe it was something that relates to a rockwell scale (a measure of hardness which in this case would mean stiffness of the shirt).

        1. JLM

          .In my day, all Regular officers had to go to Airborne School and Ranger School. No exceptions. I was a Regular v Reserve or National Guard officer. Ranger School was the toughest thing a man could ever do.It stripped you to your core and laid your soul out. Three-four hours of sleep at the most. City phase, mountain phase, jungle phase, and in my day desert phase.You lost 25 pounds and you learned the meaning of suffering. Real suffering. If the bone wasn’t sticking through the flesh, you drove on.Thereby you identified the officers who were tough enough to do it and who would be tough enough to lead in trying situations. I often say that it mated a man with his manhood. They became friends.When you were there, you jumped into mountain drop zones which were as big as a 7-11 parking lots. In the middle of the night. You did stuff that made your heart beat through your fatigues.Only about 50% of the starting class gets their tab.When you report into a new unit and they see your Ranger tab, they make a hole at the bar for you.The Regulars who didn’t make it through Ranger School could recycle or they could report to their units.Look at most Infantry or Combat Engineer Generals — Ranger tabs all.Sometimes there is no substitute for success. You either do it or you realize you don’t have what it takes. Not everyone does. It is a screen that is demanding enough that not everyone can make it by design.Funny thing is it is never the guys who you think. It is the skinny little wiry runt who doesn’t know the meaning of quit.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. Tom Sullivan

            Your anecdotes really make me feel like a coward for not serving in the military. I feel like its something that I should have done.

      2. panterosa,

        I will steal your Values template. I will redesign it for my needs, with more in depth items relevant to our case. But you just saved me a butt load of work. Thanks boss.

        1. JLM

          .Send me a finished copy when you’re done. I did that with a chainsaw.One of the funny things I remember was the conversations that I would have with young folk when I told them I expected them to be “honest.”People used to take notes and i would wonder — “WTF are they writing down about being honest?”JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. panterosa,

            Do you mean chainsaw as in rough? If so, I agree. Perfect Daughter needs to up your graphics skills :)My update is for mission on our big why, and the feel good about working with us. We have a college bound girl (whip smart – already published) coming on this summer. These guidelines will be great for her reach out to other partners we are courting.

      3. ShanaC

        Hi mystery Vc! I’m curious what you think!

  4. JimHirshfield

    If it doesn’t work, make the change quickly, graciously because it’s both the employee and employers fault when things don’t work out, usually. So you’re right.On culture… it’s overrated and shorthand for lack of diversity, or worse, boys’ club.Competency and curiosity trump cultural fit all day long. Smart people with drive just get it, and get the job done.

    1. Jason T

      In other words: competency, drive and curiosity are the only parts of a culture that matter. Everything else is just style/image nonsense. It’s fascinating how many companies fail to recognize this. Wanna hire a bunch of frat boys because they fit culturally? You’re fucked. But go ahead hire a random mess of people all day long. Because as long they’re all very smart and very driven, they will gel because of that more than anything else.This is especially true for small startup teams and executive leadership teams.

  5. laurie kalmanson

    HumansGreat managers get the best from staff

  6. awaldstein

    There is an old Hollywood saying that in the life of every studio exec, they will one day come to the office and be fired.True for everyone. No fault just reality.

  7. Doug

    In those key moments…. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck… it’s a duck.I think a good question is how does the executive define “key moments”. Those change dramatically person to person and will have a significant impact on the decision making of when change is required.

  8. Brandon Kessler

    I think every employee deserves to have direct feedback about performance issues, a timeline to move forward, and a clear understanding that if it doesn’t improve their job is at stake. It’s absolutely a culture and fairness issue and your other employees are watching closely. There is no reason this can’t be done relatively expeditiously.Firing someone based on concerns is not a good approach for all involved including the company. Being honest and transparent about concerns is.

    1. Rob Underwood

      This makes a ton of sense. That said, most organizations I have seen, both small startups and F100s, create a public mythology with employees that they (the employee) can/will only be fired for 1) doing something really bad (i.e., criminal activity, sexual harassment, etc.) or 2) as part of a layoff that is about something structural/financial not related to their performance. It is not made clear to employees that the HR process is in fact an escalated discipline process that can and does lead to termination when things don’t work out. No one is very forthright with each other that most companies actually do have some form of “up or out” and/or “cull the bottom 10%” regardless of whether they are explicit about it or not. Too many people avoid hard conversations that need to be had, especially hard conversations that need to be had on day 1 of employment, that any employee situation is at best tenuous.I advise friends and colleagues that if a company has put you on PIP (“Performance Improvement Plan”), you’re toast (and your next two calls should be an employment lawyer and a head hunter), because the realpolitik is that when you get to the PIP stage, 99.9% of the time the company/organization has already decided to can you, external counsel has been phoned and helped draft the letter, and the company/org is now doing everything by the book to 1) hope you’ll decide to leave and 2) avoid a lawsuit.The problem of course is the Orwellian name — “Performance Improvement Plan.” The organization doesn’t want you to improve. They want you to leave. The employer has to represent otherwise, but the employee is naive to believe improved performance is the intended outcome. At every PIP meeting I’ve ever preprepared someone has uttered the words “Let’s just hope they make the right decision and decide to resign now.”And so it would be much better to have a much more candid, honest conversation earlier on about it not working out. Too often it’s only when the organization has made the decision to fire someone (i.e., the day the PIP is handed out) that they start to use the words “This could lead to your termination.” The words and warnings don’t catch up with the actual actions at hand, and that’s bad for all concerned.

      1. Brandon Kessler

        Great point. The conversation and plan must have integrity and not be just a formality.

  9. Nidhi Mevada

    I made big hiring mistake in first attempt after college, But after that I have learnt, when you hire someone make sure three things :1. Person is smart2. He/she can get things done 3. He/she is someone with whom you would like to spend time.Process to filter : Spend 20 hours with potential candidate.

  10. falicon

    I believe communication is the key here.If you have concerns, communicate them as quickly and clearly as possible…if they continue after that, take action quickly & decisively (and without regret).In my experience, most hard feelings, regrets, & uncertainty really stem from a lack of clear communication throughout the process.

  11. Maria G. Manes

    Hiring mistake or talent management mistake? Maybe the manager needs to be fired :)What is the organization doing to fix either challenge going forward? What is the criteria to hire? Are employees being truly and often “managed”?

    1. Joe Marchese

      Spot on. Has management created the conditions of success, even as the circumstances change as the org matures? It’s not managers’ job to succeed for their workforce, but if a manager fails to create the conditions of success, where does the issue lie?

    2. Donna Brewington White

      So true.

    3. LE

      Maybe the manager needs to be fired :)That’s kind of a typical corporate way of looking at things. Guy who makes it to the top is good but more importantly manages to have a great deal of luck as well. Don’t take into account nuances and details just the end results (politics runs this way as well).

  12. Tim Schigel

    I think you’re right to bias towards action, especially in the context of a fast-growing startup where time and culture are critical. However, I would include a development plan in the definition of “action”. There are times when someone can turn around if given clear feedback and a chance to overcome the concerns. Sometimes this involves moving into a new role, which I’ve seen work great. The key is to have definitive expectations and a timeframe for re-evaluation. Once you’ve done that it will be clear whether it’s working out or not.

    1. Rob Underwood

      The development plan – i.e., the hard conversations, should have been happening all along. Instead what happens is that an employee thinks they are doing great and then all of the sudden, out of the blue to them too often, they are handed a development plan (a “PIP”), which as I said in another comment is much more often than not really a passive-aggressive way of an organization saying “please leave.” Too often the development plan comes way way too late, often because time was not invested in the day to day, week to week, hard feedback that should happen from day 1 (this is also what makes terminations hard and long — that point at which the lawyer says “have you been documenting your concerns all along?” and people realize there is zero paper trail of a performance issue).

  13. Kwame Som-Pimpong

    I think Jeff Weiner has a good framework for thinking about this from the organization’s position and the individual’s. That way, if the person has to move on, you’re thinking about it form the stance of how to position that person to flourish elsewhere within the organization or somewhere else entirely. Here’s a link that walks through the framework: http://www.inc.com/ilan-moc

  14. Donna Brewington White

    I’ve had an interesting situation. A client recently asked me to coach a group of laid off employees through their transition out of the company. Not something I’d ordinarily do, but as a favor — for a fee. :)None of these were poor performers, per se. As this fast growing young company was rapidly changing to meet the opportunities and changes in the marketplace, people hired just a year before were no longer relevant. The company is moving too fast and doesn’t have the leaders on board to do the coaching or training needed to transition these people into new roles.Hiring me helped them to feel more humane while making the tough but necessary decision to let these people go. And I’m helping these displaced people turn this transition into a positive.The point here is that sometimes you must make tough decisions for the business that negatively impact individuals, but you can think creatively about ways to make the situation as fair as possible. And even show kindness.

    1. LE

      A client recently asked me to coach a group of laid off employees through their transition out of the company. Not something I’d ordinarily do,This is a good business to be in. One of my customers in the 80’s was Manchester Inc. which built a huge business around doing that coaching (providing office space, pep talks, resume help and so on). They rode that entire wave of “not a job for life” anymore.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        It is gratifying work because I am helping people think about their career, work and value in new ways and it’s fun to watch the lights come on. But my passion is helping to support entrepreneurs and helping to build entrepreneurial businesses. Recruiting is just the means to that end. I also want to help develop/strengthen/encourage leaders. We desperately need great leaders in the world and it can be a thankless, lonely road to travel at times.As I continue to slog it out in building my own business I keep thinking that this will help me to empathize even more with the founders I support.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      And then there is our own @leigh:disqus showing us how it’s done. Just came across this article today. Go Leigh!http://www.profitguide.com/

      1. leigh

        aw thanks Donna 🙂 (just saw this – reason I love Disqus otherwise i would never be able to find anything in the growing crazy AVC comment stream)

    3. Mark Essel

      I think this is great, maybe it will lead to a new role elsewhere.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Helping to build teams (i.e., companies) is my passion.What this little side project may lead to is creating a new division within my firm at some point to become a more well-rounded “talent services” business. But one thing this coaching is doing is strengthening my resolve to eventually become a certified executive coach.

  15. Tom Labus

    There are no rules for firing. You’re on your own and each one is unique. Timing is the biggest factor unless you uncover fraud or major deceit

    1. JLM

      .I once downsized a company in the middle of a turnaround. I fired everyone at 2:00 PM on a Thursday.Each week, I’d unlimber another level of management and by the second time, if you had a meeting with me at 2:00 PM on a Thursday, you knew what was going to happen.I like Thursdays because on Friday everyone gets it out of their system and then, it’s the weekend. Over the weekend, things settle down and by Monday, nobody even remembers who got the ax.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Lawrence Brass

        Did you get nice boxes for them?

  16. kevando

    I like to take said employee (or colleague in most cases) to dinner with drinks and talk about everything but work. If she directs the conversation towards work, I can see what is top of mind for her and it makes understanding her POV pretty easy. Then I ask if she is happy. An open conversation about “da right fit” develops rather naturally.

  17. Anne Libby

    Yes!!! Thank you. Like fish, problems never get any better with time.I’ll be sharing this with a group emerging managers at a young company today, rather than commenting here…

  18. Aaron Klein

    People problems are not like fine wine. They rarely improve with age.

    1. Anne Libby

      They’re like fish — and I don’t mean that they swim away.

      1. ShanaC

        Murm. Certain kinds of fish jokes I dislike. I like to think I improve with age while being a fish

  19. IamJJ

    As executives, the targeted employee is aware they are in the crosshairs – our actions, body language, non-verbal cues are all reminders that they are not living up to expectations. Being decisive and executing on that decision should be the preferred path over allowing the employee to wallow in the uncertainty.

  20. Paul Teshima

    The people part of growing a business is absolutely the hardest part. I think you need to get to the root of the concerns from both sides (yours and theirs). I had an exec who was a long time (loyal) employee and a big part of the company culture. But as we grew, the role was changing, and needed to be more of an operating role vs. artisan. The exec just wasn’t performing as the business needed, and I thought it was because they didn’t agree with the direction of the business, but in actual fact after I got to the root of the problem, it was because they didn’t want the evolving role. They didn’t want to be an operator. But it was just as hard for them to let go after being part of the company for so long. After we got to the root of the problem, it became clear it was time to move on from both sides. Sometimes concerns actually get aligned on both sides, if you make the time to get to the root cause. Understand sometimes that process can take too long. But I find it can be worth it, and it was a key learning for me as an exec.

    1. pointsnfigures

      that’s why my friend Raman Chadha created TheJuntoInstitute.com

  21. drmarasmith

    There is no recipe that can be followed as each circumstance is different. Each employee should know where they stand – if there is a problem, there should be clarity and communication. The employee should have a chance (with a timeframe) to change/improve/fix. Although it it easier to make a call and move on, putting the extra time and effort can often benefit execs and emps – whether they stay or not.

  22. Jeff Hohner

    My experience is that most, if not all of the other staff in my company knew that someone was not working out way ahead of time because their attitude and approach to things that were important to our company (e.g. supporting each other, no job was too small, be kind etc.) just stuck out like a sore thumb. The times I ignored these early warning signs and/or delayed listening properly to the respectful feedback from those affected (usually because I felt we needed to keep the person because of their expertise), always resulted in problems and with the person ultimately leaving the company (and generally not on their terms). Nothing new or earth shattering, but it hits home with me today about the power of culture. For us, it came down to the culture of our company and how people fought hard to protect it. They knew who was on board and who wasn’t; leaders should listen intently, continuously, early, and act quickly to protect their culture. Your staff and especially your customers will love it.

  23. iggyfanlo

    My rubric is pushing the rock up the hill…. especially when the organization is pre cash flow positive, you need EVERY employee pushing the rock up the hill (and it is uphill), but if that person is either sitting on the rock, or god forbid, working either directly or indirectly to impede the progress up the hill, then that individual must go

  24. FlavioGomes

    I’d advise against viewing your team as a family – Families often put up with a lot of underachievement. Everyone likely has an “Uncle Eddy” that asks for money, gossips, causes conflict, but because he plays ball with kids and we “Love him” he’ll always have a seat at the thanksgiving table. Rather, treat and view them as a high performing team and they’ll help you manage the growth and culture.

    1. ShanaC

      Better way of thinking about it: some family of origins are really broken. There are reasons why we have child protection services. You as a company want to eat better than a good family

  25. jason wright

    ask the person concerned to evaluate their own performance. it’s a good starting point.

  26. Donna Brewington White

    I agree with @CCrystle:disqus — it really is relative. But sometimes the issue is not the actual team member but the stage of the company and the strength of the management team. I have seen great turnarounds with people based on the skill of a leader/manager and the result can be a fiercely loyal team member who goes on to do great things.When I am recruiting a leader for a situation where strong people management skills are involved, I do look for an example of when the person turned a situation around with a problem team member. But I also look for the ability to assess the situation and make a sound judgment call. There is something to be said for knowing when to cut bait.Plus, it isn’t always what you do, but rather how you do it.

    1. Ana Milicevic

      Hear, hear! More often than not concerns really translate into role/company stage has changed, role and/or expectations aren’t clearly defined, more proactive communication and actual managerial skills are needed. It’s staggering how little emphasis is placed on grooming management skills in many a tech company; in my industry (adtech and martech) people jump roles frequently to level up and we’re stuck with directors and VPs who manage teams of 10-20ppl without the skills to effectively manage themselves, let alone others.Whenever I’m interviewing people for any type of managerial role I start with asking them to walk me through how they think about structuring their team, what their approach to communication is, and how they’d handle a key team member leaving. To date I don’t recall anyone ever asking me a similar question in an interview; it’s usually ‘have you managed more than X people’ and that’s it. Hard to discern someone’s people skills based on that type of question.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        You stand out in the crowd, Ana, for sure.For some time now, I have considered that we are in a leadership crisis in many arenas. It is hard to look for leadership qualities when you don’t really know what to look for or understand their value. People are pushed into leadership roles with little preparation. I could go on and on.I do distinguish between a manager and a leader. You can be one without the other.

        1. Ana Milicevic

          Thank you Donna. I couldn’t agree more on the leadership vacuum.Re: managers vs. leaders – understanding this distinction is so critical for scaling companies. Big Cos specialize in have managers, and those are typically the folks who get brought in to be leaders in scale-ups. Completely different skillsets, can severely hamper scaling efforts, sacrifice culture, etc. An all too common trap.

  27. Erin

    I wrote about this this morning and I think it might provide clarity… it kind of sounds like you can’t decide if 1) the hire isn’t as smart as you’d hoped, or 2) the hire isn’t participating or going along with the flow of the culture. I think if you’re not “fitting in” with the culture, it appears as if your IQ tends to drop around people who DO fit the culture, while you’re still really that smart person that was initially hired. This might give you a vocabulary around what you’re trying to say. http://rhodeandcompany.com/

  28. Matt Zagaja

    After doing really well in a program I was in after law school a position was created for me to be what was basically a middle manager. The role was not well defined and there was an end date. Thank God for that.I was paid a good amount of money to attend lots meetings and read AVC in a role that was not at all well defined (other than it seemed like a good idea to have me around because I did very well in the program as a student). I have yet to fully recover the salary cut, but after being in a position with little room for growth where I was not learning much, I realize that the “investment” approach to the career is much better than being stuck in a place where you’re not growing, even if the cash is coming in.I don’t think there are hard feelings on either end. I’ve still talked with my manager/supervisor since I left and I think we both knew it was the right move for things to come to its natural conclusion. It’s just not easy when people’s livelihoods are on the line. I wish we had a bit of a better safety net and transition programs so losing a job in America should not be such an extreme event.

    1. Eddie Wharton

      I assume you are likely familiar with the Universal Basic Income that Albert and others advocate. I see one of the key benefits as making job transitions less dramatic.

  29. David Hofstetter

    One solution to this challenge is to implement a performance management program. An ongoing process of providing communication, feedback, and accountability from the executive level down to the employees, in support of the strategic goals and objectives of the organization. If leaders/managers meet with employees on a regular basis, say monthly, to provide feedback on how they are doing towards those goals, both will know where they stand and what they need to work on. This changes the conversation from behavior based to skill based and subjective to objective. This helps in making the decision of coaching and developing employees to moving them out based on data. Of course if there are behavioral issues or they just don’t fit the culture, that makes the decision a bit easier.That’s not to say if they don’t excel and fit in the current job, that moving them to another area wouldn’t help them succeed. For example, a salesperson who is making the numbers or following the sales model wouldn’t be a good fit in marketing or customer service. These are all decisions that can come from the regular feedback and coaching sessions with managers.

  30. lichmd

    Early startups are like families, you need to think carefully about talent, fit, cultural alignment and work ethic when hiring. When letting someone go We always ask: Impact to team, division, business, can the issue be “managed/coached away”. If yes to this last, we ask ourselves is the coaches time worth the output? Good managers and coaches have a finite amount of time, could their time be better used on others?Also agree with others, everyone deserves clear and transparent feedback. Individual goals (OKRs, etc) and how they align with business goals are critical. They must adapt and grow as the business does, or you lose alignment with employees

  31. Andrew Mulvenna

    At Brightpearl we grew from 6 > 120 in 3 years, during which I discovered the “rule of 1/3’s”.1/3 of the team will flourish with the new responsibility 1/3 will succeed with development: structure (goals/accountability), support & autonomy1/3 will struggle.Structuring an organization’s operations around this reality means investing more time in assessing & developing the team, not being quick to fire, and can create a genuinely high performance team.

  32. Sudheendra

    Over communication creates trust and transparency. Never tolerate jerks, weed them out early. I realized changing people is really hard, values are formed during our upbringing. That’s why reference checks is very important before hiring someone – do as many ref checks as possible and openly share concerns with the candidate before you hire and see how he/she reacts.

  33. David A. Frankel

    I was just having a conversation yesterday with a colleague about a similar situation at our company. The person in question was a long time employee who has been involved in a lot of projects, talented, but lots of warning signs that are now having a negative impact on other employees and our culture as a whole.My feeling is this (particularly if you are at small firm):Everyone is replaceable in an organization (including you). If you are spending time agonizing over whether to make a move on one employee, stop and recognize how this is now making you unproductive and distracted. Make the move and deal with the consequences. Not only will it immediately boost your productivity, think about the positive effect it will have on other team members who deal with the employee in question on a daily basis. The company will not fail without this person. It will adapt and move on.

    1. Eric Satz

      Well said. If the question of a decision is occupying too much of your time, you know the answer.

  34. B. Llewellyn Shepard

    We’re small. With 16 people, I am loathe to fire anyone; I take the need to do so as a sign that I failed in hiring.If we have concerns, we sit the employee down with a written statement of what they’ve done wrong (in our eyes) and tell them that we’ll revisit this in one month. I then ask them to sign the written statement, acknowledging that they’ve read it.For the most part it works pretty well.

    1. LE

      I then ask them to sign the written statement, acknowledging that they’ve read it.Something about that comes across as non trusting (as opposed to simply dotting the i’s). And the fact that you say “we” I assume means that more than one person is in the sit down? If so I think contemporaneous notes (written in front of the employee) would suffice w/o the negative impact of signing a confession.Edit: Maybe a better way of memorializing the event would be to send an email indicating what as discussed. This is what I do in many business situations since it helps me keep my thoughts easily available for review.

      1. B. Llewellyn Shepard

        I should be more clear: signing it doesn’t say “I agree with your assessment of me, boss” but rather “I have read this document.” And the actual document is pretty clear on that distinction.The “we” refers to the fact that I’ve never done this one on one – always me + the employee’s direct supervisor.If I’ve done it 4 times in five years I’d be surprised; in each case except one the employee ended up staying with us for years.

        1. LE

          Well first I won’t take issue with what works for you but just off the top it seems to send the wrong message. All I am saying is (with my above edit of sending an email after the fact … which you may not have seen) is to try and achieve the same benefit with less negative. Something like “points discussed in meeting” w/o requiring any particular acknowledgement. All a matter of taste everyone is different.Along the same lines I typically avoid in many (non employee I mean) situation formal legal contracts if at all possible simply relying on the email (or even sms) trail. To me a contract shouts “watch out”.

      2. K_Berger

        I’m a big fan of the post-discussion email. It is impossible to know if someone hears what you mean to say, whether because you did a poor job communicating or because people tend to hear what they want to hear. Putting it in writing clarifies it. (Of course, you need to be clear in your summary email as well…)

        1. LE

          Exactly. And something written up for presentation at the meeting isn’t able to address many of those things that might be said or clarified in the meeting.

        2. sigmaalgebra

          Improvement: Write the e-mail first, then talk staying close to the e-mail, then send the e-mail.

        3. JLM

          .That’s too late. You have to get them to “brief back” on the spot. This applies to everything. Make the pizza delivery order guy recite your order.Ask them, “What did I just tell you?”JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. K_Berger

            Good point. But then still send the email to document.

          2. JLM

            .Nay, not so. Send a “memo to the file” if you must.But don’t send a document to an employee that memoralizes for all time that he failed you.If you do that, he will read, re-read, thrice-read and show it to his wife or friend or lawyer. They will opine that YOU are the problem.Praise in writing. Discipline verbally. Let time bury the discipline. Let the praise be enshrined forever.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          3. K_Berger

            What about leaving the discipline out and sending a summary email of the actionable follow ups (as one should do after any meeting)? Or is that “implied discipline”?

          4. JLM

            .Me, I would ask the man/woman to write out what we had discussed — the brief back — and send me an email committing them to do exactly that.Get their fingerprints on the murder weapon, so to speak.I would reply, thusly, “Thank you for your email. You have got it exactly correct. Let me know what I can do to assist you in accomplishing all of this by 15 June. I am glad we were able to get together on this.”This is exactly like learning how to dance the Swing. Learn how one time and you can enjoy yourself ………………… forever. Fail to learn it and you are a wall flower …………………….. forever.Work smart. Use the natural inclinations of people to please you as the CEO.Feel manipulative?Good, you did just that.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    2. JLM

      .Here’s a gem I learned in 5 years of soldiering and 33 years of CEOing.Set expectations in writing. Discipline verbally.There is a reason — the written word will be referred to constantly. Expectations are aspirational and will drive performance in the direction YOU have set. They will look at that document and their written objectives constantly. Then, they will do them. That is positive energy.Discipline is limiting as it says something is wrong and it is your fault. It is negative energy.This is why regular performance appraisal — at any stage of a company’s growth — is important. It forces the parties to focus on performance and nothing else.Discipline — different than performance appraisal — should be bespoke and verbal. Discipline is coaching. What do you really hope to accomplish by getting an employee to sign something?Aren’t you really just documenting his ultimate termination? People get that. You can’t fool them. They’re looking for a job six hours later.You don’t want the employee showing your letter to his wife, friends, lawyer, mother.They are all going to say — “The CEO is a shit head, cause you, babushka, are a darling.”Happens every time. Every time.Good luck.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. sigmaalgebra

        A CEO has to know down in the organization chart closer to the trenches there are various cases of goal subordination, maybe in military terms a Captain who wants to see several Privates DEAD.Once I was in the Research Division of a BigCo. No one was ever clear, but I thought that the main goal was to do good research that would lead to good, new, valuable products. Nope. Not wanted. For the Captains, any Private who tried to do that would either (A) be successful and, thus, have power that would threaten the power of the Captain or (B) fail at which time the Captain could be blamed for wasting BigCo’s resources. Lose-lose situation.Well, my Captain and Lieutenant told me that “There must be some publishable work in there somewhere. So, you have six months to write a publishable paper.”Okay. I never had any trouble doing research or publishable research, so, okay by me, Boss.So, I took a problem and thought “What we’ve been doing is just totally brain-dead, and we should be able to get something much better.” Then looked at some old material and thought “Intuitively this is simple, but no one actually writes out the math complete with theorems and proofs.” Doing that in my head, while on my back in bed, I thought, “This math is way too simple, really throwing out nearly all the baby with the bath water, based on just a really simple, nearly trivial situation, and we can do much better.” So, I generalized the math, with theorems and proofs, and got some much more general and powerful results. I wrote some prototype software, ran some real data through it, and got some really nice results. I dreamed up a test case, really challenging for any old techniques but a piece of cake for mine, and again got good results.I wrote up the math fully carefully — yes to read and check it might have wanted to have seen measure theoretic approaches to ergodic theory, of course some group theory, etc. Sorry ’bout that.So, I submitted my paper on time.Results: “We had a tough time finding someone who could read your paper, but we did. We conclude that your paper is not publishable.”Really? They really read it? Are you sure? Uh, there is a tiny little point, but the way I wrote it it has a typo. They found that, didn’t they? Nope you say?They didn’t read the paper.I got escorted out the door.I got some good math word whacking and typed in the paper again. Got a list of likely journals and sent them a copy of the paper not actually submitting but just asking if they were interested. I aimed high, picked the best appropriate journals in computer science. One of these had an editor in chief a guy at MIT — I wrote him background tutorials for two weeks before he gave up. More than one editor in chief, chaired prof at a famous research university, wrote back “Neither I nor anyone on my board of editors has the mathematical background to review your paper.”. But one editor in chief and I communicated, and I suggested some reviewers. He got good reviews from them. The editor he assigned gave up on understanding the paper, so, apparently for his final reviews, the editor in chief (a prof of high end approaches to EE) walked the paper around his campus, to the math department to check the math and to the computer science department to see if the problem I was solving was important to computer science. He accepted the paper without revisions and invited me to present the paper at a conference he was leading.The paper was quite publishable. And the work could have been valuable for BigCo. The people in the Research Division lied.CEO Lesson: When some Captains and Lieutenants are dumping on some Private, the problem may be that the Private is not a bad private but too good of a private for the Captain and Lieutenant.More General Lesson: There is only one way to convince skeptics that a paper is publishable — and, may I have the envelope please, yes, here it is [drum roll, please], right, PUBLISH it.Reason? The paper doesn’t look like one they would have written. Moreover they can’t read the math. So they are eager to conclude that it’s not publishable.Special case: There was only one way for Trump to convince the GOPe and the pundits that he could win the Republican nomination — WIN it.Reason: Trump’s campaign didn’t look like what the GOPe wanted or the pundits had seen or expected. So they were eager to conclude that Trump couldn’t win.The pundits and GOPe have no sense of shame for being so wrong.So, now it’s “YES, Mr. Trump. Of COURSE, Mr. Trump. Very GOOD, Mr. Trump. Right AWAY, Mr. Trump. ANYTHING you say, Mr. Trump.”Lesson: When have Michelangelo painting the ceiling, just sit back, watch, and be in awe and definitely do NOT ask some second rate paint slappers to comment and suggest improvements.

        1. JLM

          .Good read. Here’s the thing — you can’t use the last election’s rule book when the current guy isn’t playing by those rules and, particularly, when you came in second last time.Trump has re-written the rules. He has defined the aqenda. He is playing by HIS rules and not the GOPe’s rules.The GOPe looks silly playing by the old rules. The problem is they don’t realize just how silly they look.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  35. Kevin Hill

    I’ve only been in light leadership roles, but I’ve done a lot of collaboration and have faced similar challenges.The biggest thing that triggers my concerns is an unwillingness to take in new information and learn from it. This framing I think tackles both of your main points. Everyone has things they don’t know or aren’t good at. Dismissing others based on a single failure I think is a mistake. However, precisely because no one is perfect, the ability to learn from your mistakes becomes incredibly important in the long run. When I see signs of that sort of failure, I usually try to back away as much as possible.

  36. TRoberts

    In a frenetic & fast moving environment, it is all too easy to cast off valuable people for the sake of pure efficiency — it can be a formula for creating a lot of turbulence inside the organization. It is difficult to put a metric on that turbulence; but often times it would be more effective in the long run to take the time to iron a wrinkle than discard the shirt.

  37. Eric Satz

    i disagree that “concerns always exist” with respect to a given employee. When they do arise, you need to move quickly to determine if the areas of concern are real and if they can be mitigated with a greater level of communication and direction. As for culture, I believe it is an output, not an input, and delivered from the top down by setting expectations for action and accountability. Individual personalities do not define company culture.

    1. ShanaC

      There are concerns and there are concerns

  38. Jay Janney

    Fred:A thoughtful post. FWIW and IMHO, concerns for change have a lot in common with the flu. Sometimes the flu will kill you, but rarely does it do so; normally, you’re down a while and then you get back to normal. I lean more towards letting it sit awhile before making a change (unless the concern involves a criminal act or something like that, then moving quickly matters a lot). Cohesion and Culture matter a lot.But I deal with much smaller start-ups than do you as well, so the type of concerns I hear about may differ a lot.

  39. JLM

    .I built three companies to 500-1000 employees. Two others to a lower number.I hired a lot of people in 33 years.Every time I read a story like Fred’s today, I ask some basic questions.1. Do you, CEO, have a clear Vision for the company? Is it believable? Did you hire in accordance with that Vision? Do you have a Vision tattoo on your forearm?2. Do you have a dollar weighted org chart which outlines your growth over the next 2 years?3. Do you have Job Descriptions, a Basis of Employment document, 3/6/9/12 month objectives?4. Do you have a working Performance Appraisal system which asks and answers the following questions:a. Can I expect to be fired in the next 3 months?b. Can I expect to be fired in the next 12 months?c. Can I expect to be promoted in the next 3 months? If so, to what position and what do I need to do to prepare?d. Can I expect to be promoted in the next 12 months? if so, to what position and what do I need to do to prepare?5. Is the CEO brave enough to actually create an atmosphere of real accountability or is he/she so cowardly that he/she relies on bullshit 360 degree circle jerk appraisals which fail to set real accountability and firing/promotion expectations?CEOs do not receive power. They take power. Be brave enough to set expectations and then call balls and strikes. Do not delegate performance appraisal. Do it with a chainsaw.6. Are you paying for your expectations and does your comp model include salary, benefits, short term incentive comp, long term incentive comp, and a splash of secret sauce?7. Do you train — TRAIN — people to succeed. [Pro tip: Draft athletes, world class athletes, then train them for the position. If you hire experience, then the training burden is less.]If you cannot answer YES to these simple questions, then YOU are the problem.You never get what you expect, your get what your inspect and what you train the team to do. You, CEO, are a trainer and you train to your expectations.In 33 years of CEOing, I failed only one employee. My fault, completely. I fired less than a hand’s fingers of folks. I existed solely to make them successful.Of course, I defined SUCCESS. I wasn’t playing, I was participating. I was into winning and I was going to win with or without everyone. I am odd that way.The job of a CEO is to create an atmosphere in which their followers can thrive. Not “do well” THRIVE.People will do what you set expectations for them to do. People want to please CEOs.It is hard work but then lugging a lot of money home from the PAYWINDOW is also hard work. I like hard work.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. LE

      Lot’s of good stuff above but keep in mind that you (like Donald actually and take that as a compliment) can pull off what someone else can’t just by force of personality, tone, cadence, temperament and so on. Some people just come across differently saying exactly the same words and doing the same actions. They get taken more seriously and people listen to them and act. Imagine Hillary saying “go ahead make my day” vs. Clint Eastwood. Imagine a Seinfeld joke coming from the mouth of someone else. Don’t underestimate the advantage that you have there. I experience some of this as well and it always surprises me how others can’t pull it off.

      1. JLM

        .One of my greatest pleasures is following the careers of promising folks who worked for me. I get a kick out of seeing their success.I think almost anyone can do a bit of “monkey see, monkey do” but you have to have the courage to be a monkey.We are not born knowing what to do but we condition ourselves by our experiences which informs me that the critical thing is to get off one’s ass and do things.There is also training. Everything that ever started me to respect the skill of “negotiating” was spawned by my attending the Chester Karass Negotiating Seminar — required by a company I worked for every six months for anyone who was negotiating big construction contracts.I used to send all of my people to that course for decades. Refresher training also.I think we are all infinitely more capable than we think we are. Trump has the thickness of skin to be able to withstand the naysayers.Bit of it also is just timing and luck. Of course, the earlier I get up, the luckier I get.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. LE

          I get paid to do negotiation but have never read a single book on negotiation, or taken a course, and never plan to do so. It would mess with the feel that I have developed over the years. The difference might be that I was raised with this (you can call that my education) and have practiced from an early age. Besides part of it is the game that I creatively play and that is different each and every time. The fun part. Fwiw I can always tell when someone has read a book or taken a seminar since they act very unnaturally and predictably or, in all fairness, maybe the ones who don’t have that base feel and (apparently) are following some kind of formula they have been taught. Quite possible there are those who are good that have read books but don’t come across like they are following a formula. I am not doubting that people can learn (as you attest) from reading and going to seminars but in the end practice and experience is what ends up making the biggest contribution to success. Noting also that some people won’t be good negotiators simply because they are not good at reading people and/or signals (voice, tone, words in an email) (just like not everyone can learn to dance). It takes a certain sensitivity.

          1. JLM

            .Of course, if you did you’d realize you were doing it the right way all along.I was a shitty golfer — shooting 85-90 all the time.I sold a company and had a 5 year non-compete. I decided I was going to become a “good” golfer.I took lessons — two per week. Hit balls for an hour a day. Played 18 holes six days a week.Two years later, I’m coming home on the 16th hole at Barton Creek Lakeside 4 under par. My ten year old son jinxes me. I finish two under.We can all get better at what we do. Read the book.Send me your address, I send you one. Also, the Checklist Manifesto.You will be able to teach the course.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          2. LE

            We can all get better at what we do. Read the book.Well first thanks for the offer (what is the “checklist manifesto? That I might be interested in..”). But I am not a shitty golfer I am really good at my “game of golf”. And my point is I don’t want to know what anyone else is thinking because I don’t want to disturb my head with it and I don’t want to mimic techniques that others use (that I often see them using). As such it’s different than golf, tennis, flying an airplane or any number of other things. And what I do works for me Just like I have figured out how to eat and stay 100% fit at the perfect weight with a nominal amount of exercise (exactly the same) every single day. It’s just a philosophy that I follow. I could write a short book on that (and have been told to do so).My point is that I’ve developed something that works for me and that I am comfortable with. Like a guy who is good at picking up girls in a bar (I am not that guy) he doesn’t want to mess with a technique that is effective.Now of course you could be right and I could be wrong. But I am looking at the potential gain vs what I think is the downside.That said I am 100% in favor of getting better at what I do. That is why I often practice on deals even when I am not getting paid just for fun (just like you play golf).

    2. Rob Larson

      Love this. Your approach is much harder than simply (frequently) deciding your employees aren’t the right fit anymore and letting them go. But I think yours is the right approach. Hard work but rewarding.

      1. JLM

        .It is also the essence of real team building because everyone knows the position they are to play. When people play a complementary position, you have a team. When everyone is freelancing, you do not.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    3. BillMcNeely

      I’m going through this personally right now at the startup I’m at.company has changed a lot since I started in July 2015 Feel like a square peg in round hole so I’ve been driving this conversation the last few days

      1. JLM

        .Sorry I missed you in Austin. Rain check.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    4. sigmaalgebra

      A keeper.In my time in work, I never saw or expected anything nearly so clear, explicit, comprehensive,and likely effective.The need in practice for these techniques is enormous, and the potential value is in the billions for many individual companies and in the trillions for the US economy.E.g., if CEO F. Smith at FedEx had done even 10% of that with me (my office was next to his and essentially I reported to him and literally saved his company twice), then in percentage terms he would be significantly richer, and I would be many times richer.I’m learning. I’ve paid “full tuition” for some of these lessons, and here am getting the lessons for free. That’s why I come here.That these techniques are so important and that so few people understand them is much of why I should be 100% owner of my company and why I’m terrified to report to a BoD.In my first post here today, I gave something like these techniques but only about 1% as comprehensive, well organized, and, likely, effective.IMHO: Fred, as in your scenario today, when talking to your CEO’s, learn from JLM as here. Both your CEOs now and your LPs later will thank you.

    5. Twain Twain

      Exactly the vision+execution thing. Not that I completely agree with this Kotler-esque value chain flow for talent but it has end-objective: company’s vision and mission.Inventor-me has free rein to be “mad artist-scientist,” connecting random pieces of knowhow to catalyst and make new systems.Strategic operator-me keeps “mad artist-scientist” in check and refers to execution frameworks like these (and then adapts them and then some, LOL).

      1. Lawrence Brass

        Mad Twain burned ants with her loupe when she was a child? I am trying to correlate.

        1. Twain Twain

          Haha, Lawrence. No, I tested Archimedes’ water displacement with crabs in Dad’s watering can, made catapults using the tongues of his leather shoes and wire coat-hangers and tried to suspend jelly balls in orange juice.Never harmed any insects — although I did try to catch tadpoles with a bottle attached to one of the rods my Dad used to keep his tomatoes growing upright and some elastic bands.He noticed one particular tomato vine was … wonky, LOL.

          1. Lawrence Brass

            You are a very kind mad artist-scientist then. I always ask this ant question to people trying to correlate scientific curiosity with doing such a thing, maybe I just feel guilty and am looking for an excuse. I was just a reckless ant predator.I get a peaceful image picturing your Dad’s tomato vine, crooked tomato plant and all. Not so peaceful if I add the volume checked crawling crabs though.

    6. cavepainting

      JLM,awesome post as always. Loved this line: “The job of a CEO is to create an atmosphere in which their followers can thrive. Not “do well” THRIVE.”The CEO gets paid the big bucks because he or she has a disproportionate impact on everything in the company.Either take charge and directly shape the business and its culture or there may be no pay window to go to.

  40. Brandon Burns

    “Make a call and move on” can easily lead to making the call to invest the time and energy needed to cultivate a talented person.The problem is that maybe 1% of bosses can effectively do this, so they don’t.

  41. Ryan Anderson

    If leadership can’t train employees it seems like they’re going to have to rely on being great recruiters in order to have enough talent on the team to see outsized returns. That can work in the early stages, but I doubt it’s a strategy that scales especially well.This is probably a problem that has different solutions at a 5 person company than a 50 person company.

    1. JLM

      .A CEO should run his company like the company he wants to be rather than the company he is right now.That is the essential nature of leadership — where we are today is just a stepping stone to where we’re going.”Hang on cause it’s going to be a bumpy ride, y’all.”JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  42. pointsnfigures

    I have had a couple experiences. I don’t know if they relate or not. In early early stage startups if an employee isn’t working out or causing friction the opportunity cost of trying to mold them is higher than firing and plugging in someone new.I suppose the same can be said for expanding companies. When the inflection point hits and the hockey stick starts to happen-the pressure is different. Many people are great at starting companies, some are not great at building.Gut feel has a lot to do with it-but so does the culture you want to promote. I really like Mike Gibbs/Ed Lazear book on Personnel Management in the Workplace. Gives some math guidelines to try and apply your principles to

    1. Sierra Choi

      A very good point, but I disagree. The new person could create just as much friction as the old person. However, simply firing someone for disagreeing or causing friction causes a negative atmosphere for a startup- of fear and paranoia, and when people are in a state of fear and paranoia, they will never become productive. therefore, the opportunity cost is higher when you fire someone for being a dissident because it creates a long-term psychology that affects other workers.

      1. pointsnfigures

        They could, but you have to assume that the CEO is better at hiring. If they aren’t hiring the right people, the company will most probably fail.In the space of a blog comment it’s hard to be exact and clear-and admittedly this is a squishy topic. But, handled the right way, firing will be good for company culture. In small companies, everyone knows who is pulling weight and who isn’t.Done the wrong way, you are correct about fear and paranoia. Fear and paranoia tends to increase as runway gets short.

        1. Sierra Choi

          I see your point. However, in my experience, the CEO doesn’t really do the hiring. They delegate that to HR personnel or else a talent recruitment agency, then might make the final call at the end, but don’t really get to know the new hire aside from a short meeting in most cases. As Mr. Wilson says in his post, he is not involved in the hiring at all aside from top positions, and most CEOs are the same.Also, I don’t think firing people is really related to productivity. Often, the most productive people can get fired if they don’t play politics well. This is especially true in the film industry in addition to many parallels in the tech industry. If we take for example say, the film March of the Penguins (2005) which was originally a french feature, that was picked up by a fledging producer at Warner Bros, who rebranded the movie with a voice-over by Morgan Freeman, became the best source of revenue for Warner Bros at the time, effectively making the management team at Warner Bros look very incompetent. Did the management team reward him for producing the highest grossing revenue for their independent division? No, they fired him. A lot of US firms may suffer from Peter Pan syndrome, in which effective and productive people are regularly weeded out, and incompetence and ego become all too pervasive. Let’s remember that 99% of startups fail, and there is a comprehensive list of reasons for that, and primarily it has to do with the relationships between the founders and management team. If a team has high turn-over- that is always going to be red flag that something is going on. (ie, the most competent people get fired for disagreeing with the management team on strategy etc)I think Steve Jobs’ strategy of hiring people who are smarter than yourself, and letting them do their thing is a better methodology- even if he has been criticised for being a tyrant- he didn’t actually fire anyone on his team, and worked with everyone on his team for a long time, even if he did criticise them. Hence the low turnover at companies like Apple and Google, who have approached hiring as a different sort of tactic, as opposed to startups that regularly dismiss people and create a climate of fear and paranoia.

  43. Sierra Choi

    I think it is usually in the best interests of the company to keep members who have made lasting contributions, even if their behaviour at present warrants “concern”. Typically, changing their role to something else- or even asked to take a sabbatical or classes to enhance their performance might be a better tactic than simply firing everyone in the line of sight who raises “concern”.For young founders/ CEOs- (I am thinking of Clinkle, Yelp, and many others) they have been bred on Donald Trump reality TV shows and “you’re fired” is the first thing they may think of if they do not have any management experience. I can attest to this, as I made the same mistake many years ago when I ran my first company; but that sort of turnaround creates fear and paranoia, and you will never have a productive team if they are afraid of losing their jobs; so it is worthwhile to keep that previous highly-efficient person who is now raising concerns- and simply transition his/her position into something that he will be happy doing instead of going on a firing spree. This sets an atmosphere of loyalty and people will give it their all, if they believe you won’t simply “downsize” them at any moment.I think all organisations need naysayers and critics as well as the cheerleaders. If an organisation has only cheerleaders, that will lead to certain ruin. There has to be a way for workers to voice their opinions freely because that keeps a checks-and-balances system in the organisation. If an employee has made previous positive contributions, I would definitely not downsize the person; rather, I would transition his role to something else where we can come to a compromise. Investing in people is important, but the current atmosphere of many startups is that people aren’t important- only the ego of the management team, and this is not a good way towards a return on investment nor profitability.

  44. sigmaalgebra

    So, the question is, when have a subordinate are concerned about, what to do?Answer: IMHO, overwhelmingly the key issue is, and the candidates are, …, may I have the envelope, please, and the winner is [drum roll, please]Did the manager make fully clear just what the heck the manager wanted the subordinate to do?Q. Why is this such a difficult issue?A. Because we are humans and live in a society just awash in a huge range of issues of socialization and anxieties that are usually poorly understood and rarely clearly articulated. So, both the manager and the subordinate are awash in unspoken, non-explicit, assumptions. So, each can be intending, hoping, trying, and fearing but in ways that are not understood by the other.E.g., the employee can wonder if the job is to do tasks that are explicitly assigned or to look for how to contribute more broadly, to do narrowly defined tasks or pursue more broadly defined tasks, to do a lot of tasks quickly at medium or low quality, fewer tasks at higher quality, or a small number of tasks with very high quality, if they are supposed mostly just to do their own assigned work or to contribute more generally, if they are supposed to contribute to their views of the goals of the organization broadly or to focus narrowly on the interests of the supervisor, etc.Net: If a supervisor has concerns about an employee, then the supervisor has to ask themselves if they made fully clear just what the ~!@#$%^&*()_ they wanted the subordinate to do. Usually the answer is no. Nearly always, if what the subordinate is to do is made fully clear, then they can do it.Due to the “huge range of issues of socialization and anxieties that are usually poorly understood and rarely clearly articulated,” making clear what the subordinate is to do can be challenging.

    1. cavepainting

      Seeking to understand and reflect on how humans think and behave is a must for any manager or CEO. Treating people as humans is different than seeing them as “resources” hired to do a job.Trust, empathy and clarity of communication go a long way in making people feel a part of the mission and bring out their A game.

  45. Tom Austin

    Every founder is different. What kind of company do you want to work in / live in? Your job will be like your life. I believe culture matters a lot. A high-turnover culture is typically one with low engagement and is not that fun a place to work – you will have to overpay to attract and then hold on to talent and they will leave as soon as they find a higher paying offer. You will be a place for mercenaries. That’s one end of the pole. At the other is a place where everyone feels like a family – but they are still driven to achieve an amazing goal – that’s where I want to work. I err on that side. You do have to remove mediocrity, but if you are consistently hiring mediocrity, there is an issue on the up-front side. I believe you have to create the culture by having a big vision and working hard up front on who you hire. Once you’ve hired ‘stars’, a lot of things come down to clearly defining what success looks like and, if the person is failing, getting why the person is failing. If they are failing because of character issues or they are an ‘a-hole’ or immoral, the leash is likely very, very, very short. But there is still a leash (unless it’s completely abhorrent – in which case they may be gone instantly). If they are failing because they are talented, but the job-person fit is off, that’s an organizational failing and you have to find a place for them. I have seen many people ‘turn around’ when put in new positions and become stars once this was fixed. There are many things a company can do in on-boarding and ramp up and culture building and ‘support’ to help potential stars actualize their potential more reliably. People know if the organization cares about them – and will work harder for companies that do. They will reach out to their networks and become some of your best recruiters for A+ talent. That’s been my experience. A company with very high turnover has major problems. Also need to look at what the person has done for the company and their total ability to perform. I believe loyalty both matters – and impacts the bottom line so long as the person still wants to be there and has the talent to do good in some real way. If you are ‘consistently firing fast’, you have some major issues in your expectations, hiring, on-boarding and management practices. There is no real excuse for managers hiring mediocrity at any organization size below 50 to 100 people. The CEO / COO or someone senior should be checking on on every hire below this size.

  46. Tommaso Trionfi

    in my experience I have learned 2 things about this. The first is when you hire someone. I call it the elastic rule. When you like someone very much, but on paper she may not be a great fit, you tend to stretch a little because you think she is great. Now if she likes the company and the team as well, although she knows it is not a perfect fit she will stretch too a little to find a mutually convenient middle ground. Unfortunately, as things move fast, both (the company and she) will revert to the original position, and it will create a problem, and you only have one solution. So 1 avoid being elastic on your needs.2 – And I experienced this many times over, when you have a legitimate doubt about someone, it turns out to be 90% right. And the faster you move on it the better it is. I know there is training, development etc. But in my experience the doubt is oftentimes based on attitude or integrity, and that’s really hard to change. If the person is lacking some skills you can do it. But I found that doubts about someone are generally deeper than skills. Today I do not hesitate anymore, already paid that price.

  47. Ronnie Rendel

    I have a problem with a resource, a back end developer who is extremely detailed and smart but has deep personal and emotional issues that make him go AWOL sometimes for days and always at the worst time.This should be a no brainer – let him go, but I don’t have another resource that knows the back end of our system and has the specific tech skills (can we say LEGACY TECH !), etc.Many times a task came up that this resource took care of and I said “I’m glad we kept this guy around…” But the cost to the well being of the team is steep, not to mention our PM overhead, etc.What would y’all do about this case?

    1. JLM

      .You own your employees’ problems. This is why healthcare is such a no brainer. Why flu shots are good business. You own the problems regardless of from whence they come.You have to assist in fixing the real problems. Not the cosmetic ones. The real ones.That’s not the answer anyone wants, is it?It is, however, the real world and how that bitch operates things.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Ronnie Rendel

        I deleted my comment out of fear of being taken totally out of context.

        1. JLM

          .Okay, not to go all touch-feely on you but when YOU have the ability to help someone, there is a reason why you are where you are.You were put there and on this Earth for a reason. There is a plan for you and me and sometimes that plan gets a little messy. I think the Holy Ghost is the one who likes to make the plan frothy. I think He enjoys watching us.One day it may pay incredible dividends when people decide you are the guy they want to work with or for.I once paid off a guy’s mortgage when he was in financial trouble. Guy made me a ton of money and it became an investment with an almost infinite ROI. Paid me back every penny.I once bonused a guy half a hundred thousand so he could send his kid to rehab. Whoa! Now, that was messy. Guy walks into my office and bares his soul. I call the CFO and tell him he’s got 4 minutes to cut a check. I give it to the guy and say nothing.Saves his kid’s life. Today that kid is a prince. How did I ever deserve the chance to do that? Because the Holy Ghost was testing me?Best employee I ever had then or since. Ever.Here’s the thing. I was in the right place at the right time and I never gave it a second’s thought. I am really not that deep a thinker. I sort of pride myself on being a simpleton.What it did for me personally was fine. What it did for me professionally, I couldn’t have made happen with a million dollars, literally.When you can help. Help. It will all come back like bread on the water.Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. Ronnie Rendel

            I deleted my comment out of fear of being taken totally out of context.

          2. JLM

            .You can always advocate to do the right thing up or down the chain of command.”People do not really care what you know, until they know that you care.”In the Army, I used to eat last behind a couple hundred of my men. The mess sergeant knew this and the food was both good and plentiful. Damn, I was hungry.But, the men always knew I was going to eat what they did — just later and, perhaps, not as good.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          3. Ronnie Rendel

            I grew up an army brat living overseas, and wad an E4 in the army national guard. I was an ROTC cadet at Northwestern but didn’t contact opting for a 6 digit tech job right out of college. It was 2001.

          4. ShanaC

            You answered your own question.He’s not going to make you a priority unless you make him a priority, especially if he’s 1099 or paid off the books (because health insurance, including mental health, becomes his economic burden, and unless he got lucky and knows awesome healthcare providers who are willing to work with him and know the cutting edge aspects of the field, he may be getting very subpar, very expensive care for problems made worse by the 1099/off the books aspect of the job)For a complicated legacy system, you have to start confronting your options as a pm for the organization’s sake, for the sake of long term maintainability, for the sake of this guy’s stability and career growth (you’re not doing him any sort of chessed by keeping him in this situation: he’s not learning a new skill, he’s not advancing in his career, and he’s underpaid. By the sound of it, the greater organization could care less. I’d go awol Irregularly if critical systems were under my responsibility and people did that to me).You’re overdue to confront the organization and fix this.You are also overdue to ask him to mochel you for the many wrongs you’ve caused him, since by both underpaying him and preventing him from learning new skills inside the job, you’ve stolen income both past, current, and future (through the wonders of compounding interest) from him.If the organization is majority frum, you should say that they violated business halachot by not paying him market, and there are long term practical matters that halacha will impact if you don’t switch over the code base.If you need to keep this code base going while this is happening, you might want to hire in say India, but that comes with complex halachic concerns viis a vi mesechet avodah Zara.I have a very good friend who is a very educated yu smicha holder who knows a rabbi and professor of comparative religion who taught comparative religion in India to To-Be Hindu Theologians for a year. While he’s orthodox, he’s not quite the same stream as you. Nevertheless, he knows his sources well, and definitely has a better sense about how different eastern religions see themselves, and how halachic sources historically framed them (both correctly and incorrectly). While you may disagree on meta-halachic interpretation and meta-halachic first principles, sources are sources, so if you want to go that route I can get that set of introductions made.

          5. Ronnie Rendel

            I deleted my comment out of fear of being taken totally out of context.

          6. ShanaC

            DudeHE CAN TAKE YOU TO BEIT DIN AND WIN FOR CIVIL, PUT YOU INTO SERUV + GET PAID FOR DAMAGES, AND THEN FORCE IT INTO SECULAR COURT FOR CRIMINAL PENALTIES!!!!This could totally cause whatever business this is in to fold if not carefully handled. Wage theft + lack of support from management + career growth theft really has left you and this company with SERIOUS liabilities.(if he is savvy/reads this site, essentially, you’re screwed.)cf Bava Batra 87aR. SIMEON B. GAMALIEL SAID: IT WAS UNNECESSARY [TO STIPULATE THUS]: EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON LOCAL CUSTOM. What does EVERYTHING add?42 — It adds that which has been taught: If one engages a labourer, and stipulates, ‘[I will pay you] as one or two townspeople [are paid],’ he must remunerate him with the lowest wage [paid]: this is R. Joshua’s view. But the Sages say: An average must be struck. (referring to the Mishna 7:1)(While generically this doesn’t mean a living wage, it does mean you can’t negotiate under the average, nor deny typical benefits for that kind of job, Choshen Mishpat concurs. It also is one of those Halacha books people tend to ignore in the frum world. Stop doing that. It exists. Take it seriously.)By the sound of it, and almost definitely now, he probably can claim ona’ah as a po’el. He’s continually “renting” his labor on a day to day basis, so each day that the price differential accrues more than 1/6’s difference extends out the timeline for his claim. If he fits the definition of a po’el. Through his being able to claim ona’ah, you and your organization are most assuredly violating a d’orita, and not any old d’orita – you’re violating one of the eser dibrot.Depending on the structure of the 1099/off the books cashness (I really hope neither of these are happening, for your sake) you may also be underpaying him in cash/benefits on both the state and federal level.Of interest:http://businesshalacha.com/http://businesshalacha.com/enhttp://businesskollel.com/fhttp://businesskollel.com/I believe this is the critical onehttp://www.sefaria.org/Shul…(but I also might be translating wrong, my rabbinic hebrew is very rough and google translate just is funny)You know, I carry a ban warhammer around the digital here. Do i have to bring it to you (which I believe is somewhere in brooklyn) sit down with your org, and in all seriousness explain that I gave you Tocha’cha with instructions to give your organization Tocha’cha, and that didn’t happen, so therefore I have to go and personally give said Tocha’cha because of just so many things that ignoring Choshen Mishpat represents?Just be glad I code switch and the vast majority of people here don’t understand large chunks of this without looking up the not really english terms individually.You and your org need to ask for mechila from him and fix the ona’ah situation NOW.

          7. Ronnie Rendel

            Shana, I think you went a bit overboard, none of this is actually the case. I think this subject got you a little too excited. I’m sorry.

          8. Ronnie Rendel

            Not only did you take what I said out of context, but literally scared me out of the comment community on this site. I know I’m Jewish and religious, etc., but I feel like whatever I say you are out there with a baseball bat ready to let me have one for all the people you think I represent.I think we should meet up for coffee some time and air this out, but in the meantime, I’m out of this community (as a participant at least).

          9. sigmaalgebra

            Good grief, what stories.Gee, do such stories make sense? I’m challenged to see just why.So far, from all we’ve learned and as far as we can tell, there’s a lot about this universe that doesn’t make sense. In particular it’s not at all clear why the heck the universe is here, why we are here, or what the heck we are supposed to do.One answer is that there is a naughty boy in his bedroom with a computer, a quite naughty boy and a bigger than usual computer, and he types in some equations of physics and clicks on the icon “Run Big Bang”. Usually all he gets is just a big “poof”, but occasionally he gets something that seems to be more, and we are the result of one of those. Naw, can’t be true.Maybe we are here for a bizarre experiment with a novel self referencing theme: Can there be laws of physics for a universe so that parts of the universe will discover those laws? So, when we discover the last of the laws, a big voice from Heaven will cry out — “What took you so long?” Naw.Often it looks like nearly everything here is as low, bad, and just awful as it can be and still exist at all, yet at times the best there is can be just terrific, sparkle in the heavens, beam across all the galaxies.But maybe there is something, some reason, we are here. Maybe doing good, for reasons not easy to see, is the purpose — better than some answers.Good stuff? As I type this, at YouTube, an English guy,https://www.youtube.com/wat…one heck of a musician, arranger, and organist. Super fun stuff! Sounds like victory in the evening!

          10. Lawrence Brass

            I love the sound of pipe organs, those bass notes that vibrate on the chest, other notes resonating with some brainwaves. I would love to know more about the origins of music.What you say about discovery being an intrinsic part of nature’s original design is very interesting, how could human curiosity be explained otherwise? I am not very religious, the magic and beauty of nature is all I need to believe in, and everyone of us is a manifestation of that same magic and beauty, so there you have my God. If you can feel yourself being a functional part of that unbelievable chain of events that nature is, you don’t need a purpose really. Properly tuning into that feeling can give you all the love and happiness you need.Enough of cheap philosophy, it is time open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.Cheers friend.

  48. ShanaC

    This reminds me of the saga of the tomato and pepper plants I rescued and (tried) to overwinter.Note that to become a good garder/manager/venture capitalist you have to sacrifice a few plants/people you shouldn’t have/capital. The question is what’s your measure and where did it come from.For my rescued plants, it was failure to thrive as the light dropped away.Interestingly, while the tomatoes grew and grew, as it got really dark they started to just fail and attract fungus mites (ewww). Eventually they just clung to my disappointment and I threw them out.Originally, it appeared that the pepper plants were not doing well at all. They weren’t really growing and had a leaf shedding problem, and then the fungus mites (ewww) got to them too. They hung on and slowly grew. (Though one is still having a tougher time than the others).I eventually got flowers. For a while, it appeared like the plants were still having problems, then suddenly I have 5 little peppers. Not only that, one of the other plants is going through another round of flowering.People are like the tomatoes and peppers. You think it’s a great match and they are doing great work, but in the hard/long/difficult moments they don’t thrive, like the tomatoes. Meanwhile, there are the pepper plants who need to settle in and go through the difficult moments with you to become the employee you need.(Then there is the story of the blueberry bushes, where you radically misunderstood thier needs, the rosemary, slow, steady and healthy, the scented geranium, gang busters producer and show off all the time, and the fig tree named Tree, who is part spoiled brat, part brilliant producer, part best friend…and yes, I named my tree.)

  49. Rosalind Marinou

    I agree with LIAD’s comment that not all concerns are the same and love its simplicity. That’s very workable, in my view.I am also amazed at how little discussion there has been about the advice to “pay attention to key moments.” I seem to live there.My questions surround: How do we, as leaders, pay attention to “key moments?” How do we use them as tools for discerning what we’re dealing with in an individual or team? How can we use these points or places in process to insert growth, leadership or support — whether it is within our organizations or elsewhere?I don’t see “elsewhere” as my job. Constantly discovering what is “healthy” and “happy” in my organization, is my job…and sometimes that includes identifying “elsewhere” for someone (or a non-fitting project, even if it’s really “pretty”).One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is to honor my discontent — become present and systematic about listening to concerns I sense.

  50. Mrinal

    In a world where we are being trained 24/7 that ‘what can be measured, can be managed’, we often get lost with people (how do you measure them?) – there is no right or wrong answer with these, imho.

  51. Sean Saulsbury

    One of my biggest regrets in hiring is NOT fighting more for hiring someone I thought was a fantastic fit. There was one dissent in a group of many and he didn’t want to hire someone unless everyone agreed…. but the reasons for the dissent were dubious in my mind (among others I spoke with) and I think if I had stood up to my manager more and really insisted on hiring this guy things would have turned out so much for the better.

  52. Jc_mellinger

    I often hear or read “…its important to establish our build culture…”. What never follows is, “…here are the processes and practices we follow to maintain our culture.” It starts with a robust interviewing and hiring process in which ALL department heads are trained and held accountable to following. Having a meaningful review process an action plan in place to enable identification of “key moments” well before they present a problem.

    1. Jc_mellinger

      *establish or build culture

  53. Dave Rothschild

    In people issues, it’s always important to consider the social psychology principal called: the fundamental attribution error. It’s the tendency to blame the person rather than the environment.Do you ever see that the same person that does well in some situations and not in others? Or the references that said the person did great at their company but is not doing great at this company? People’s behavior is highly influenced by the environment they are in.Management is largely responsible for the environment so they tend to not point to that as the problem but rather the person.My point is that you should at least ask if you are making this attribution error as part of your analysis of the person in the environment. It doesn’t always apply but you owe to the person you are considering firing to look into how the environment is influencing their behavior and results.Read more about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wi

  54. daryn

    “Make a call and move on” is a platitude that is far more nuanced in practice.When you have concerns about an employee, the steps to resolution should be understanding 1. what the issue is, 2. what the root cause is, 3. whether the employee is aware of the issue 4. whether they/it is coachable, 5. whether it is worth coaching.#3 is the most crucial, and often the most overlooked, especially by new managers. If you don’t set the right expectations for an employee, and then are disappointed when they don’t meet them, then you, as the manager, have failed. Communicating an issue, and paying attention to how it is received, is a very important piece of knowing what the next step should be.Delaying letting someone go because you’re “unsure” is typically a mistake. And statistically, by the time someone is on a formal PIP, their chances of recovery are slim at best. But delivering feedback early and often can be hugely valuable to helping people calibrate to expectations and succeeding in their roles. It also encourages a culture in which mistakes can be made and learned from, instead of covered up for fear of consequence.

  55. hypermark

    Three thoughts:1. There is a tendency to fall into the All or None. People are great until they suck. I support you 100% until I support you 0%. And so on. Recognize that trap, and be more discerning about the WHAT and WHY.2. The best way to figure this stuff out is by taking inventory. The act of actually writing down, and putting the narrative on things is usually illuminating as to the right path forward.3. First thought, best thought. There is a lot of goodness in heavily weighting your first conclusion…before Analysis Paralysis sets in.

  56. cavepainting

    When it comes to people, nothing is what it seems at the outset. People and their egos are complicated.There are always multiple stories behind a situation. Each case is different and it is important to dig in and understand what’s exactly going on.Some times, it is more the culture that makes the person seem like a misfit. And the culture may have to morph to fit new people with different ideas. Some other times, it could just be a genuine hiring mistake and separation is the best option. It could also be that the person needs direct coaching on style and work attitudes and is actually amenable to receiving and acting on advice.I would always recommend taking a pause and seek to understand from multiple angles. It does not take much time to do this and is better than jumping to a decision to avoid inaction.In psychologically safe environments, where there is openness to vulnerability, it is a lot easier to get to the truth.I recently wrote this about bullying at workplaces and how situations can be made to look differently than what it actually is. https://meta-edge.com/bully

  57. Asim Aslam

    So I’ll start by saying, I’m one of these difficult people, and I know it. But one has to realise, its because I am deeply deeply passionate about my work and the success of the overall company. I will sacrifice to see the company succeed. At times it can be difficult to work with people like that because while everyone has a common goal to see the company succeed not everyone sees the same path to that success.As employees we don’t always have the full picture but we’re “in the trenches” and we see something the executives don’t see it. Unless the leadership team are the founders, they’re not normally as invested or as intimate in the product. They’ve been dropped in coming from 10 years at some large corp with a resume of supposed successes launching or building divisions in those places. Us employees are making fuck all, doing it for the passion, love the users, fundamentally understand the target demographic and with stock options that you can’t even see with a magnifying glass, still put in the blood, sweat and tears to try see it to a point of global success. For us its not business, its personal. So we see it all, and to be emotionally invested sometimes makes it difficult to work with us.Now given all that, I would say the best and most eloquent formulation of dealing with difficult employees I’ve ever seen is from Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg of Google. So I leave you with this https://plus.google.com/+Er

    1. cavepainting

      Your comment rocks !

      1. Asim Aslam

        Thanks! I really appreciate you saying that. Didn’t know how it would be received.

    2. Lawrence Brass

      The article recommends fighting for the divas. I would fight for the *sweating* divas and those as you fighting at the trenches every day. But for the *seating* divas that cast the shadow of their glorious past over the rest of the team and share none, I would probably lock them in the sleeping pod room during the day. It is also important to keep an eye on the potentials, on the future divas and Neos, as special people will eventually fly and seek their own destiny if the managment team don’t give them a special status.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        The problem here is recognizing the exceptional.Now, we all know that Trump is exceptional. How do we know? Because he won. Or because he whipped all the rest like “rented mules”.But, in the context of the article, the challenge is picking the divas, to put this delicately, actually there is no effective way to put this delicately, in ADVANCE.Now we come to a fundamental problem: Who can accurately judge exceptional people, as I put it, in ADVANCE?Hint: Not ordinary people.

        1. Lawrence Brass

          Not ordinary people, just experts in their own fields and not applying formal methods. It requires having trained senses and sensibilities, just as the type LE says today he has developed for negotiation. That takes a lot of years and I guess it cannot be done in advance, some exposure is needed so the expert can interact with the prospect.I will fail miserably choosing a mathematician for an advanced AI software project but will probably succeed choosing a programmer for the same project. But not in advance, we will need to have lunch, work together for a week, talk.

    3. sigmaalgebra

      There is a still entrenched attitude toward business that: “It’s a BUSINESS. Run it like a BUSINESS. Keep down expenses. Keep up profits. Bring in an experienced, professional manager to run the BUSINESS.” Believe in the statement that “A good manager can manage anything.”So, all of this ignores a lot. It’s like in 1900 running a factory that produces, say, buggy whips. So, the buggy whips are taken as a given, and that’s the BUSINESS. The workers? They make the buggy whips. Everything else about buggy whips and everything other than buggy whips is ignored.So, ignore maybe better ways to make buggy whips. Don’t look for related businesses. For the fact that cars are on the way to replacing horses, just ignore that because are in BUSINESS, in this case, the buggy whip business, and that’s all there is to it. It’s admitted: In time the buggy whip business will die, and then the company will die. But there is nothing that can be done about that.So, product details and improvements, related products, new products are all ignored. Since the workers are just making buggy whips, the CEO is just running the buggy whip business, and since everyone else, the accountant, the marketing guy, the salesman, the purchasing guy are all just doing their jobs as those jobs have long been defined, there is no one to come up with improvements or new products.In 1900 it was easy to believe that this approach to business was fine. By now we have seen the power of disruption, new ideas, new techniques, new products, etc. and know better.Actually, someone with their eyes open in 1900 could have seen it too: They could have just gone back to 1800 or 1700, listed the major changes, e.g., steel, steam, rails, electric power, …, from back then to 1900, and discovered that on average had 1-5 such major (depending on how “major”) disruptions per decade. BUSINESS wasn’t standing still in 1900 either.Still, the attitude is common: If have a business, then bring in a BUSINESS executive to run the BUSINESS and ignore innovation and change. Gee, maybe that business guy does well getting all the HQ potted plants appropriately watered!

    4. ShanaC

      if I could hire you, I would. I like working around people like you

      1. Asim Aslam

        That’s so kind. Thanks very much 🙂

  58. iamjohnstokes

    I would counsel the same Fred, but in order to help the reflection I often share a thought adapted from something Brad Feld shared with me ….Ask yourself, can I see myself working with this person 12 months from now. I’ve seen that simple question often helps provide you enough perspective to know whether to act or not.

  59. leigh

    I never take firing lightly. Some things can be fixed and some things can’t. But the one thing that I know for sure, if someone isn’t told very clearly, and explicitly what the problem is, they will never be able to fix it and they will feel cheated when you fire them. My philosophy on this subject is:1. Do a 360 Review. Sit down. Be explicit. Be tough. BUT give them hope. Ensure they know you are on their side. You WANT them to succeed.2. Give them a time frame. During that time frame, you will be frank. You will show them the way. But they have to know, I have two months to improve.3. If it doesn’t work out – be fair. Encourage them to figure out what they could be great doing elsewhere. Support them emotionally.When i’ve done that – I’ve only had great experiences whether they have stayed with us or not.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      This is honest and respectful of the person’s dignity.Coddling is disrespectful.

  60. george

    The firing process is a bit of a paradox, on one side, it’s the last lever you want to pull but on the other side, it’s your responsibility to the broader organization when expectations have not been met over a reasonable period of time. I think culture plays a very important role in the decision-making process but you have to be careful (being too tolerable) and avoid building a welfare state. When’s the right time to bite the bullet? When there’s no apparent fix nor measurable improvement in plain site…change is necessary.

  61. Mark Essel

    Better to make a call, and move on, and do so respectfully. There’s only so much doubt in decision making a nascent company can stomach.

  62. Matthew Zadrozny

    Sometimes I envy VCs for the chance you get to refine your judgment about people. To invest or not? Hit or miss? What a neat quadrant.I have always trusted my instincts about people, and the few times I’ve been burned, it was usually because love was involved. That said, I’ve been slightly bothered by another thought, namely, that I may be setting the bar unrealistically high and missing a lot of good opportunities. In other words, to borrow from information retrieval, that my false negative or miss rate is actually quite high.Unlike VCs, I don’t get to see this as explicitly, in the form of competitors making a fortune off my passes. But then again, who knows whether the investments you pass on would have been as successful with you? Chemistry matters.In the context of this post, I suppose the question is more, to hire or not to hire / to fire or not to fire.Maybe you can refine this process / your judgment by tracking such decisions (if you aren’t doing so already).

  63. John

    I think you’re advice is good. The key is your phrase “make a call”. Making a call takes into account your friend’s advice.Side Note: I wish that disqus had a filter option that would just show me the comments you make (or the comment threads where you reply). I often find myself scrolling the comments to see when and how you reply to commenters. That’s always insightful.

  64. Chris Butler

    If someone says their gut has always eventually been right, they have survivorship bias. When a person isn’t hired due to their gut feeling, they are not able to judge if they would have been a fit later because the candidate didn’t do the job.

  65. ron pastore

    i think making the call is right but only if the employee has had a real chance to change ie: letting them know how much time they have to fix a, b, c, etc… startup rockiness can make it easy for someone to miss the full message that their performance or approach isn’t working. and agree, it can be harmful to culture if people are abruptly outed or feel blind-sided.

  66. pointsnfigures

    BTW, a great software company to help you with HR is JuvodHR.com. Works tremendously to set up feedback loops and set/manage expectations.

  67. Naman Kumar

    Depends on the business. If the iteration cycles are long, ponder. If cycles are short, hire-fire fast.

  68. sfrancis

    I think we all value decisiveness. However, as with all decisions, there is a time to collect data, a time to coach, and a time to make the decision. Hopefully data collection and coaching have already happened when decision-time arrives.If we posit that most executives attempt to coach their team, and focus on those key moments, then there are two corner cases I observe colleagues overlooking:1. Being honest with yourself, and recognizing when you’ve already made the decision in your own mind. If you’ve reached that point, you owe it to the other party to make the change and move forward. 2. Realizing that you will terminate someone who would have worked out. That you’re not infallible on this score. Some of those you terminate will go on to be wildly successful in their next stop. If you live long enough, some of them will be much more successful than you are.As in all things, I think a balance is in order: decisiveness has value, but so does humanity.

  69. Pete Bonee

    Of course it’s true that execs usually take too long to fix people problems. That said, I think we’re also usually remiss early-on when signs of the problems first start to pop up. You won’t be able to fix all problems through feedback and coaching, but sometimes you can, and the chances are best if you level with people about issues early… and often. This kind of proactive leveling is an important skill for founders and execs.Good leaders have strong rapports with their people. It should be a partnership. If you bring constructive feedback to a partner, you expect them to listen. You need to listen to their views, too. If they don’t listen and the problems persist, then sure, you need to be decisive and pull the trigger. That’s an easy decision. The harder decisions will be in cases where genuine effort is being made, but there is still a skills/style/culture issue. Then it ends up being a judgment call how quickly you act and what you do.Let’s not forget that firing and replacing people also carries risks. This needs to be balanced against the risks of taking too long before taking action on people issues.

  70. falicon


  71. JLM

    .A reasonable voice of experience and wisdom from the Sage of Lancaster.REVISED in accordance with the guidance of Brother Lawrence.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  72. LE

    Really great thoughts. I think what you are saying echoes my theory of operating in life with people on a very short leash. [1] Works in all sorts of situations (kids and relationships as only one example. [2][1] The short leash can be thought of as clear expectations, 100% consistency and swift action in response to any deviation. Certainty for the person on the other end.[2] And those are sometimes near impossible to get out of there is no “you’re fired” safety net typically unless you get divorced which is a life changing process.

  73. ShanaC

    Yes. So great.Are there such things as intuitive measures? Like minor gut twinge that is “I’m being silly” vs major ones to be taken seriously. How do you know. How do you get feedback on gut things from the organization at large

  74. Twain Twain

    There are frameworks for talent assessment and development like the one attached.People dynamics and values are so complex, though, that putting people into boxes and formulas and “taking action based on those supposedly objective data points” like these matrices can be counter-productive.One analyst we let go of in the bank is now CEO of a Private Equity firm — proving he had something we weren’t able to bring out, at the time.I’d tried to make the case we provide more training / mentoring and was the person who stayed in touch with him.How leaders make those tough decisions and maintain integrity and consideration towards others shows+tells a lot about their personal character, and whether people will PROACTIVELY WANT TO WORK with them on projects in the future.

  75. cavepainting

    I would add that it is very important to be thoughtful and self-aware about our own expectations when we bring on board some one, and be clear about what we want to see happen over 30,60,90 days and beyond.And be as explicit and open as possible about what success and progress means. If things do not work out, it should be no surprise to the employee as to why, and the conversation shifts to how to facilitate a dignified exit.But when expectations are not clear, there has been poor to no communication, and the team has dysfunctional relationships, the only person to blame is the CEO or the leader. It is the #1 job of the CEO to ensure that he hires the right people, communicates clearly and often, and nurture an environment of openness and truth.

  76. Donna Brewington White

    You’ve still got it Charlie.Thanks, guy.

  77. Mark Essel

    Good stuff Charlie.A framework to guide and inform gut instinct. Dig it.

  78. LE

    And this is 100% a “it depends” even within the rules anyway. So many factors go into making a decision (in all parts of life). Reminds me a bit of HBS case studies in school “Harry in the midwest region is falling behind Joe in the West” (and you never had enough data you actually have IRL a lot more at your fingertips to take a guess on..)Having experience is great but all it allows you to do is simply have a better chance of guessing the best out come when considering the upside vs. the downside of any particular business decision (employee or otherwise) base upon your own personal past experience (which is really what the gut is).

  79. LE

    Well if you read my comment reply about consistency to Charlie, you will see that that is exactly what Trump does. Everyone knows (and fears) what happens when you attack the man. The media talks about it. He has a “published framework” so to speak. He reacts predictably because he keeps everyone on a short leash. I didn’t want to mention that in my comment so thanks for giving me the opportunity to say that. Noting that Trump is also very loyal with people (as the hatchet job in the NYT buried as a “to be sure”).

  80. Lawrence Brass

    We were Trump free this morning until you entered the bar.I wish I had the option to “flag this post as Trumpian” :)The topic today made me recall the friendly warning and self assesment story you told recently, that would be my response today.

  81. Lawrence Brass

    I did’t mean to limit your free speech brother Jeff, I am just sick about seeing brother Donald popping in every place I visit. Now take my hand and sing..https://www.youtube.com/wat

  82. JLM

    .In your honor, friend, i will edit out the reference to “he who shall not be named”.I will then retreat to my safeplace and play with chalk.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  83. Lawrence Brass

    No, don’t do that, I stashed yesterday’s bottles in your safeplace closet, so its taken. Hope the bartender don’t have concerns about that.Please tell us the story again.

  84. JLM

    .Don’t worry, Lawrence. I haven’t been roped and branded in about half a century. I do think that “he who shall not be named” has defined himself by those who oppose him.I wrote about that very thing this AM.http://themusingsofthebigre…I was, likely, channeling you, no?Be well. Watch out, I bought a fresh box of chalk.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  85. Lawrence Brass

    I do visit BRC’s garage, even with the new campaign posters. The Boss is on fire.

  86. JLM

    .I believe we, the US, are at a defining moment in the history of the world. I think we are at the brink of war with China over those shitty islands in the South China Sea.The Russians and the Chinese intend to test us before Obama leaves office. Mark my words.I am not in favor of a world war to safeguard Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania — Moldava either.We are just about out of the spirit that made us great. Our Founding Fathers would be on the ramparts storming the District of Corruption — and, yet, we are still able to be a great nation if only we get back to basics.Why has nobody said they will cure cancer and balance the freakin’ budget? Why does an American worker have to fear the offshoring of his job by the people who represent him in Washington? Why are we under the spell of the race baiters?I have to stop.Is this an interesting time to be alive or what?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  87. sigmaalgebra

    Looks like I need to mail Trump a tuition check:Preemptive DefenseYes, early on and continuing in his campaign, Trump emphasized in his rallies that the news media lied and were “disgusting”. Why? Hmm ….Short LeashThen, my initial guess at what Trump was doing to Megyn Kelly in the weeks after her first question to Trump in the first Republican primary debate was that he was keeping Kelly on a “short leash” and making her and her question an example for all the rest of the news media, as if he was saying, “I just want to be treated fairly. If you act toward me in unfair or disgusting ways, then I will hit back, “counter-punch”, and not give you interviews, and your career will suffer.”Checking ReferencesWell, yesterday I finally did a Google search on the claims in Kelly’s question about Trump’s words “fat pigs”, “disgusting animals”, etc. I didn’t look at all of Twitter, etc., but from what I found quickly was clear: Trump did say those words, but they were said in a context that was usually humorous, nearly stand-up comedy, and not misogynistic or disrespectful toward women in general or even in all cases in particular.Angry KellyNet: Kelly is angry at men in general for what she believes is unfair treatment of women by men, before the debate in particular was angry at Trump, and in her question was personally hitting at Trump from her personal anger.Trump Was CorrectIndeed, Trump’s fast response that she was angry — personally angry and deliberately trying to attack and not being an objective journalist seeking information, actually didn’t so much as ask a question but made a statement — enough that one could see blood running from her eyes, nose, ears, mouth was basically correct.Kelly ContinuingAs of just a few days ago, Kelly continued to throw out her claim that Trump calls women “fat pigs”. But, AFAIK Kelly never gave any quotes or references that showed that Trump’s statements were insulting and not just comedy or some such.Trump CorrectTrump’s claim, e.g., in Kelly’s interview yesterday, that maybe his statements were not politically correct (PC) but that he and our country don’t have time for PC anyway was basically correct. Also it appears that Trump’s claim in the Kelly interview yesterday that his “tone”, level of anger, and setting aside PC were important for his “message” seems correct.Trump’s ExamplesNet, it appears that Trump kept Kelly on a “short leash”, needed to, and was successful at it. And it appears that early on Trump saw such tactics with the media would be necessary since otherwise the “disgusting” media would have no end of fun lying about and being unfair to Trump, enough to ruin his campaign.Net. Trump was correct, in particular on the need and use of short leashes.Old VersionsAs we knowFamiliarity breeds contempt. One reason to act imperious is to insist on respect and deter insults and contempt.Hard Case KellyKelly is still spouting her unjustified and unfair but personal anger about “fat pigs”. Kelly seems to believe that any question that is tough is good journalism and does not understand that claims in her questions should be correct and, hopefully, documented and referenced. So, she still needs a “short leash”.LessonsApparently Trump’s early, preemptive assertion of lying and disgusting media and his use of a “short leash” were darned smart work.So, maybe others can begin to see that sometimes need to be preemptive about threats and use short leashes to hold back threats — not just in running for political office but also in business, some social situations, etc.Lesson learned. Where do I mail my tuition check?

  88. LE

    Well first let me compliment you on apparently reading my comment the other day about headers and organization (or it may have just been organization). The above was much easier to read [1] and scan as a result of the bold paragraph headers.Kelly realizes that the Trump insults are the best thing that ever happened to her. Her profile has been raised tremendously. In a way it is like a small no name company taking on IBM and actually getting IBM to fight back. Kelly didn’t know this of course (I will not give her credit for that) but you know she knows this is the case now.By the way for extra credit (good for nothing but fun) see if you can figure out the game Trump is playing with not releasing his tax returns. So far I haven’t seen a single pundit call it correctly. They all just say “must be pretty bad or he would release them”.[1] One of the reasons I use footnotes.

  89. Lawrence Brass

    Just drop it in the golden mailbox brother Sigma. 😉

  90. Lawrence Brass

    War would be crazy. Both the US and mother Russia had been testing their new weapons in Syria and that should be enough. Open war is not the solution.The public disenchantment with politics and politicians due to rigged systems and corruption is real in the US and in several other countries. Here in South America it has become an endless and alienating soap opera. Democracy is cracked and crumbling and it has to be overhauled under the light of the information age. I followed Larry Lessig last year and agreed with his analysis of the problem, it was a loss that he chose the wrong strategy to participate. In many ways he was denied the same as the GOPe is denying Trump today, as an unwanted outsider.Interesting times indeed. But my worries are practical as I am trying to build a business, a global business based in the US because of its powerful ecosystems. I am looking for stability and openess, not a revolution. In my view, if 2016 brings both Trump and Brexit, that would be a very bad sign of anglo-isolationism and believe me, that is holding me back now. I am just hoping for the best.

  91. Mark Essel

    In regards to eastern Europe and some smaller islands: My concern is that giving a bully an inch, is inviting them to take much much more.

  92. JLM

    .In the “one size doesn’t fit all” world in which we live, you likely did the right thing.I want to give you one thought — would your 81 year old employee have been better served having a purpose for which to live?This is a question of the rhetorical variety.Age is a funny thing. When my 97 year old father decided it was his time, he said to me, “I have outlived everyone.”In the last two months of his life, he would say to me, “I wish you wouldn’t come to visit me. It gives me a reason to live. I just want to die.”Those last two months were a period of time in which I was more alive than I usually was. It recalibrated my feelings and it jettisoned a lot of baloney in my life. It made me a better person, which is not such a great thing as I have enormous breadth and room for improvement.It was a poignant admission.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  93. JLM

    .I believe the Chinese will either sink an American warship or knock down a plane under the guise of US “freedom of navigation” meddling.If the US is able to rent a set of balls, we will obliterate one of the Chinese armed islands. It will be the one closest to the Philippines.This tit for tat encounter will be a prelude to the Chinese taking out a couple of our satellites to see how we react to a blind US Navy. Under this guise, they may decide to invade Taiwan.They may also tell the North Koreans to engage in a wholesale border incursion into South Korea.I think the Russians will try to provoke an American warship with their incessant game of chicken and there is a high likelihood that they will make official their amateur incursion into the Ukraine.I think they will both test the US while Obama is so weak.All the while they will provide assurances this is just a regional conflict, will not lead to a nuclear exchange, and blame it on hotheads in their military but they will be watching to see how we respond and what we do.Australia will turn out to be a very important ally and we will re-evaluate what we will allow Japan and the Philippines to do, militarily.Obama will crawl on his belly to the memorial at Hiroshima and kiss the Emperor’s representative’s feet.I am a fiction writer, I hope.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  94. sigmaalgebra

    Yes, the headers do help: Without them, the reader has to read the paragraph and get the point, hopefully the intended one. Further, sometimes a reader can get another point, not intended, and the result can be an unjustified disagreement.So, don’t just give the evidence of the claim but start with the claim itself, or the intended point, and then give the evidence.Yes, for the importance here at AVC, I got a big push from your feedback.

  95. ShanaC

    your footnote thing is awesome

  96. Twain Twain

    I disagree with blunt instruments like the MBA-y matrix above and the whole thumbs-up-thumbs-down voting mechanism (reminds us of Roman arenas and binary “Gladiator should die / not die” thing).We haven’t even begun to properly respect and model human complexity because of the inadequacy of the maths, computing code and business/economic models.Which is why … I’m working on it, LOL!

  97. Twain Twain

    Not quite. AI that doesn’t assume people are purely rational, logical, autistic and probabilistic in our behavior like dice.Scientific Rationalism arose because of the scientists’ fight against the superstitions of religions.We’re now at a timepoint where the rationality AND irrationality of the human mind and our behaviors will need to be better modeled.

  98. Twain Twain

    Cleverer people than me …(1.) John Von Neumann — a Father of Computing made the case for biological systems;(2.) Bertrand Russell made the case for Science not to be dogmatic; and(3.) Albert Einstein made the case against probability as a tool of measurement for us and our Universe.Somewhere between Scientific Rationalism, “superstition” (aka human intuition) and data coherency is … the truth …

  99. JLM

    .A critical element of the problem is that the US has become predictably soft. We backed down from a dubious and silly RED LINE threat in Syria.We publicly decry the use of force and when we do, we do it in thimblefuls rather than bushel baskets.Our enemies are on the move.People forget that China absorbed Hong Kong though they had been negotiating for decades indicating they intended to extend the British lease.The Russians’ only pain after taking the Crimea was — no Disney Land. No Mickey Mouse.Why would they not test us?In both instances, they are clearly expanding and acquisitive and have built resurgent military forces. They are willing to use them, particularly when their supply lines are short and ours are long.We have sent a signal that there is little we are willing to fight to defend and we have dramatically contracted our military forces — smallest Army than since the day before Pearl Harbor, WWI level of Navy, smaller Air Force (though the quality is superb, we are not maintaining the inventory).The big thing is Pres Obama. Both Russia and China have taken his measure, negotiated with him successfully, and do not think he will meet force with force.Perfect Storm.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…