They say you always remember the first time. And this was true in my case. Firing someone. There is a unique flavor to terminations in start ups. Unlike corporate where you have a lot of processes that can make it easy to depersonalize and you have a large organization around you, start ups are a lot more unstructured and personal. And that's because typically people especially in an early stage start-up aren’t paid and they join for the passion and mission.
Wrong fits/bad hires are commonplace. Finding good people to work in a start-up is very tough. And it’s a myth that you won’t have problems if you pay someone. The worse part about paying someone is you’ve lost money AND didn’t get work done. One the things you learn is to cut bait fast when things aren’t working out. It’s pretty easy to identify when a person is doing really well or really poor. But what happens when they fall in the middle? How much time do you give them? How much do you put up with a bad attitude? How much support do you give v.s. being a hardnose? What happens when their life circumstances change and they can’t give you the time they committed?
That first one is traumatic. You work long hours together driving towards goals, making progress, and sharing disappointments. Along the way you start to build a personal rapport. It’s that rapport that can make it difficult when performance starts to slip. In my case, the employee was banking on our personal repore to cover for the lack of performance.
So what do you do? Leadership styles vary - some of my fellow CEOs keep all the interactions focused on work and that’s it. Others have forged strong personal connections and built teams who ended bonding cohesively and helped each other through difficult times.
The points to keep in mind are:
- Have an approach you can live with and aligns with the culture you want to create.
- Regardless of style you chose - be clear and upfront and communicate immediately when expectations aren’t being met. If and when it comes to the point you have to part ways, both parties have a clear understanding of why.
- Ultimately the buck stops with you so you have to make the call that’s right for your business.
Swatee Surve is founder & CEO of Litesprite, a company that builds game to help people manage chronic health conditions. Prior to starting Litesprite, she worked at Microsoft, Nike, T-Mobile, Premera Blue Cross, and Kodak building technology-based business that disrupted healthcare. These efforts led to several commercialization efforts and patents including Nike's first wearable technology patents.