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On Firing

Hard things about hard things

Oswald YeoOswald Yeo

Firing is as important as hiring. It is impossible to build a company without letting go of people, as difficult as the decision is.

Those who have been in relationships will know that when there are problems, the right action is not give up on the relationship right away, but to communicate openly and work on changes together. However, if problems come up repeatedly, they may reveal a fundamental mismatch and…a bad fit is just a bad fit. 2 mismatching puzzle pieces can never fit together no matter how much you painstakingly sandpaper the edges. Once its clear that things are not working out, it is important to accept that as soon as possible to prevent further pain and to make room for better matches.

Likewise, as a company, we have to constantly give and work on feedback with each other. This smoothens out rough edges and ensures greater synergy. However, once its clear that there’s an unsuitable hire, it is is important to let the person go. When executed (pun not intended) professionally and fairly, it is better not just for the business, but also for the person, the manager, and also the rest of the team.

When the manager holds on to an unsuitable hire, it bears costs on the overall productivity and success of the company. The costs comes not only from the unfulfiled responsibilities and results by the individual in question, but also from the overall cultural impact. Allowing consistently underperforming employees to stay on may breed a culture of underperformance. This is lethal, especially for startups when resources are scarce and time is limited. Startups have to be hyper-productive to be successful.

It would also be unfair that some people are working really hard and putting in their best work to achieve results, while others are not.

Firing unsuitable hires is fairer to the employee as well rather than holding on to them. If the underperformance is caused by mismatch in skill sets and passions, then the dismissal will allow the person to search for and move on to more suitable jobs that he/she is passionate about and is great at. If the underperformance stems from a consistent lack of effort, then hopefully the loss of employment can serve as a reminder of the importance of hard work.

How then, do we execute dismissals fairly and effectively?

At Glints, as at most companies, we implement a 3 months probation period for any new hires to mutually assess for performance, culture and personality fit. If there are no red flags during of the probation period, permanent employment will be confirmed at the end. Otherwise, we will quickly let the person go, to ensure minimum impact. Most dismissals should happen here, as 3 months is usually a sufficient time for fit.

We will also always determine measurable expectations, so that the employee knows the progress and what to work on. He/she will also agree upon a minimum performance standard together with the manager. This standard will be made known to everyone in the team. The regular fortnightly one-on-ones will also be a platform for constant feedback to ensure the hire is on track to not only meet but also but excel on these performance standards.

Should the minimum perforance standard be missed, there will still be chances given. The manager will communicate the situation clearly, and give the employee a chance to turn things around with some measurable goals to be met within the next 2 – 4 weeks. They will also draft a Perfomance Improvement Plan (PIP) together. If this “probation” is up and if the employee still isnt up to the mark, then necessary dismissal will happen without any surprise.

This way, there’s a fair system to let people go. No manager will have the ability to fire people emotionally. Aside from cases of ethical or serious cultural violations, there should be no immediate and surprise dismissals.

What this means for you (Glintsters) 

You will be in steady control of your career here. With the measurable minimum performance standards and constant feedback, you will know how you are doing. We will not fire anyone abruptly and unfairly.

Do your best. As much as performance and KPIs are important, your attitude is even more critical. If you are doing your best and still not hitting the standards, your team lead will definitely do his/her best to help you and ensure you perform. As long as your put in your best effort and work on the feedback, you will excel, and your employment is secure.

Manage your team with this system. When you are a manager and lead your own team at Glints, it is important that you use this system of probation periods, minimum performance standards and regular feedback sessions. This ensures that both you and your team members receive fair treatment, and will also make any difficult conversations easier.

The best leaders are very much like garderners when it comes to building the team. They find and plant the seeds, nurture and grow them. But if there turns out to be a plant that doesn’t fit in well with the whole garden, then they got to remove it to somewhere else where it can blossom, so that the garden can flourish. This is a difficult and continuous process, but build and maintain the right garden, and it will bear fruits.

Oswald Yeo

Thanks to Qin En and Ying Cong for reading and editing drafts of this. 

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