Firing ‘A’ Players in a Startup

Jason Evanish’s tweet tonight prompted this blog post:

http://twitter.com/#!/Evanish/statuses/72013770720935936

One of the hardest things to do in a startup or regular company is to fire an ‘A’ player. I’ve had to do it a couple times and it is extremely painful. Jack Welch says that if you have a high performer that doesn’t buy into the corporate culture you should do a public hanging.

The better you hire the less you fire. We’ve continued to improve our hiring process over the years and are in a good spot now. Do we still make mistakes? Yes, definitely. The good news is that we’re strict, and we’ve trained many of our team members in the process — the results speak for themselves.

When we started to ramp up our hiring 12 months ago team members, being really nice people, would say ‘yes’ to most candidates because the candidates were nice people — not because they fit our core values. As the candidates that reached me got turned down, each one provided a good training session to explain to my team members which core value(s) weren’t met and how that was revealed. The end result was much better screening of candidates.

Firing ‘A’ players is a necessary part of a startup, and should not be taken lightly. It is one of the hardest things to do as an entrepreneur and leader, but also a great learning experience for the team members on the bus.

What else? What other thoughts do you have about firing ‘A’ players in a startup?

5 thoughts on “Firing ‘A’ Players in a Startup

  1. Can you mention some specific “core values” you think are important in your organization? What do people not buy in on that causes them to be fired?

    1. Our core values: positive, self-starting, and supportive. People most often self-select out with the first two values.

      1. Thanks for the answer. I guess I’d consider those as being part of being an “A” player, but I get your point. People who are the opposite of what you’ve listed are poison to an organization.

  2. David,

    You post generated many thoughts. Having participated in several corporate cultures as well as start-up cultures, I can understand how you as the “business architect” (entrepreneur) would want your organization to have a certain “feel” in order to support the “brand” that you want to offer your target audience, as well as support the internal ‘family”. So, I’d offer that there are internal as well as external effects to core values. What separates a GE culture (generalist management) from an Apple culture (highly specialized). If you were to rebuild each company from scratch to grow up to be what it is today, What would it look like with 3 people? With 10 people? With 20 people? Etc. How would you move people into and out of the company to support that growth in the right direction? (Aside from the obvious personalities of poison people.)

    If your exit strategy is to sell yourself to a Fortune 500 company, do you adopt the core values of that target company and manage people in and out of the company based on that cultural fit?

    How do you develop core values that beget a culture that you are trying to create?

  3. I think it’s also important that the “A” player also shares the vision as to the future path of the company. Instead of being just a clog in the machine, every team member in a startup team contributes enormously to the development of the company. If one member’s vision is too different from the whole team, the smooth operation of the lean machine would be affected.

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