My last post generated a bit of harsh comment (a few on the site, but many more in private e-mail and on a few other sites that picked up the theme). Apparently I came off as pretty insensitive (perhaps ‘jerk’ would be an appropriate description) in how I described my approach to some of the “can I get 30 minutes of your time?” meetings that I seem to have a difficult time saying no to (note to commenters: I do see value in the meetings and as a general rule spending time getting to know as many people as possible. Hey – at least I TAKE the meetings . . .). Trying to roll with that theme, I’ve been thinking recently about how companies get rid of non-performers. I have a lot of visibility into the performance of most of the executive teams of the companies I work with and some visibility down the ranks. One thing I’ve observed over and over and over again is that companies tend not to fire fast enough. I understand that US employment law can make this difficult (I am NOT giving legal advice here, so don’t take this as such in any way shape or form), but regardless, companies tend to hold on to people too long. This is true both in terms of mass lay-offs and more disturbingly in the case of non-performers. This is true almost 100% of the time and often in the face of extraordinarily clear evidence that supports the decision to ask someone to leave.
I’m not trivializing firing people – it is and should be hard (I vividly remember the first person I let go crying in my office; it was extremely uncomfortable and I felt terrible for this person who was a great employee, but whose position was being eliminated). But if you really care about running an effective organization, own up to making a bad hiring decision and take out the red pen. Keeping people around too long ultimately only damages an organization (particularly when their lack of performance is obvious to all around them) and delays the inevitable.