Donald Trump made it look so easy on his reality TV program The Apprentice. That is, repeatedly uttering what has to be one of the most dreaded two-word phrases in human history: “You’re fired.” Real life is hardly reality television. Anyone who has ever had to take away someone else’s job can relate to how difficult making that decision is. It’s even more excruciating when you’re a growing startup finding yourself in the position of axing employees for the very first time.
Part of the reason firing is so painful is because you can always find plenty of reasons for not doing so. Maybe it’s just a phase. Maybe he/she can change for the better. And then there’s the expanding startup’s number one objection: But he/she has been here from the start!
None of these arguments, however, should make you stay your hand if an employee is truly hurting your company. Here are 5 surefire signs that a problem employee should no longer be your problem.
They’ve crossed a moral or ethical boundary
In the words of the legendary Warren Buffett: “Lose money for my firm and I will be understanding. Lose a shred of reputation for the firm and I will be ruthless.” Anyone who’s willing to resort to unscrupulous means for profit needs to go, stat, even if they claim to be first-time offenders or doing it for the sake of the company. You don’t want to risk scandal or prosecution when the authorities eventually show up looking for the source of the bad smell.
Their performance shows no change even further after you’ve talked to them about it
Failure to address performance issues can usually be attributed to one of two reasons: Either they’re not willing to change (bad attitude), or they’re not equipped to make the relevant improvements (low ability). You might feel a lot more sympathetic towards those in the latter group, but that sympathy shouldn’t extend to allowing them to keep their jobs. That’s because…
They’re affecting other employees’ productivity and/or morale
Employees whose skills aren’t up to snuff will invariably seek help from more able colleagues, whose time will then be swallowed up by unproductive troubleshooting or supervision. It goes without saying that said colleagues will also experience considerable frustration at having to constantly pick up the pieces after the underperforming employee, thereby leading to morale issues.
Customers and/or vendors are complaining about them
When you’re a tech startup providing an intangible service, customer experience is perhaps the be-all and end-all to commercial success. If you’re an intermediary between customers and established offline brands, then the vendor relationship becomes equally crucial. This means you should have zero tolerance for employees who regularly jeopardize cordial relations with these two groups.
They’re no longer the best qualified for the job
This is an especially prickly issue for startups. In your early capital-scarce days, you may have roped in family, friends and other sources of discounted labor to help tide you along. Read: not exactly the most well-qualified candidates. Now that you’re expanding and have the resources to hire top-drawer talent, should you continue employing these old-timers even if new hires can very obviously do the job better? Phase them out gently, but phase them out regardless.
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