The Art of Firing

If you look for advice on how to hire in startups, you’ll find plenty. For example, for the specific challenge of hiring your first sales persons, you’ll find:

Now – do any of these three blogs have posts dedicated to how to fire someone? As a matter of fact yes – both Mark Suster and Jason Lemkin dedicated blog posts to firing people (why it’s important, how to do it, etc.) which is why I listed them. OnStartups.com did not. I actually scanned more blogs (Google magic) and noticed that only a portion of them dedicate posts to firing, while almost all dedicate posts to hiring.

Firing is painful. It’s the activity I detest the most. No, scratch that, I would hate to lose an important business deal, miss our targets or fail at something important because I did not fire someone I should have.

However, no one prepares you for this. I have directly fired seven people in my role as CEO of indeni, so far. Each and every time I showed up to the event with my hands shaking, my blood pumping and my mind at 200%. “You are about to tell someone you prefer that the company continues its journey without them. However, it’s good for them – if they are not a fit here they better find somewhere they DO fit as they are just wasting their time with us.”.

Rationalizing this is bull. You are breaking up with someone who believed in you, who thought you will lead them to prosperity. And instead, you’re telling them they should find prosperity elsewhere. We’re human beings, we have feelings and we were raised to dislike inflicting pain, even emotional, on others.

Don’t take me the wrong way, I’m sure the event was far more painful for the fired than the firer (yes, that’s a word). However, I can only share my personal experience, not others’.

Some of the firings were a lot more painful than others. One of them blew up in my face in a way I did not anticipate. In hindsight, I should have. That little blow up, though, helped underscore the importance of the action I took. It was the right time to take an uncomfortable action. To this day (and even last night, which spurred this post), I still dream of that specific individual and how bad the process went. Funny how these things don’t leave you.

There’s a silver lining to all this, though. I’m not afraid of firing anyone anymore. I realize that it is my duty to protect the company that I lead, and part of that is by identifying those we are better off without and removing them. I tolerate poor performance a lot less now as I realize the damage it causes, to everyone.

The funny thing is, the more successful you are, the more people you’ll need to fire. All you can do is accept it and focus on doing the hiring right – after all, there are over 1M webpages and blogs posts available to help you hire correctly.

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