Fire People 6 Months Before They Start Underperforming

Forget improvement plans and second second chances. When it comes to firing employees, you need to be proactive.

Chances are you’re not Donald Trump, so telling someone "you’re fired" is probably not the highlight of your job as a business owner. In fact, both basic human compassion and fear of lawsuits probably make it one of your most hated tasks.

As a result, you probably put it off. You have heart-to-hearts with your weaker employees. You try to help them. You give them improvement plans. And only if all these measures fail repeatedly, do you send them on their way. But that’s a mistake, according to Patty McCord, Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer from 1998 until 2012 and the author of its much celebrated slide deck on culture (which Sheryl Sandberg once called "the most important document ever to come out of the Valley").

In a wide-ranging talk she gave at a First Round Capital CEO Summit, McCord set the scene for her unconventional advice by describing how things usually go down with struggling employees: "I tell an employee, I’m going to put you on a performance improvement plan, but the truth is they don’t actually know how to do what I need someone in their job to do."

The result is agonizing weekly meetings where the employee doesn’t improve and both she and the manager leave feeling awful. When she’s finally fired, she leaves with resentment and no useful feedback. So what’s a better alternative? It might sound harsh, but like ripping off a Band-Aid, the quick and clean burst of pain of an early firing is often preferable, McCord insisted.

Think six months ahead, she told the audience. "If things are going to be amazing in six months, what does that look like? Who’s talking to who in what meetings? Is everyone excited? Is this person standing up and winning and is that person writing an algorithm that no one else could have put together?" she says.

Thinking this way you’ll probably easily see who hasn’t been keeping up and is unlikely to excel going forward. That person needs to go and they need to go now -- not after a lengthy process. McCord telling these soon to be underperforming team members: "here’s what I’m going to need six months from now, and here’s the talent and skills I’ll need.’ Then you tell her, ‘It’s not you. I don’t want you to fail. I don’t want to publicly humiliate you.’" Follow that bitter pill with some sweetness to help it go down, such as 60 to 90 days to find a new job and a glowing reference

"She may not like it, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the other way. People can take it if it’s the truth," McCord concludes.

Do you agree with her?

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