I’ve been fired twice in my career, so I can personally attest to the fact that it’s not pleasant. The first time was kind of a relief – the ship was sinking and I had survived six rounds of layoffs. But it still stung.
The second time was not a surprise, but two years later I still found myself wondering how I could have served the company better.
Now that I’m running my own company, I have to think about both sides of growing a great team. Hiring, of course, is awesome to think about – it’s always inspiring to meet great people and welcome them to the team. But we’ve got to fire too. It doesn’t do anyone any good to maintain an illusion that there’s a match between a company and a team member when there really isn’t.
There are lots of things to consider before firing someone – state and federal laws, policy guidelines, as well as internal cultural norms and processes. I won’t detail those here because they vary so much from place to place.
But I will talk about the five qualities we value at Yesware and the reasons we fire people who don’t exhibit them. I’ll also address another reason why we might have to fire someone (although we do everything we can to avoid it)—and the one reason no one should be terminated.
Our five qualities are personality traits that we value above all else. If team members don’t exhibit them, they will be fired in the most respectful way possible.
Every manager that needs to fire someone first needs to be able to give concrete examples of how the person didn’t live up to at least one of these five qualities:
1. High Performing: Yesware is not a family, it’s a high-performing team. We have to deliver results at a world-class level. People who don’t, in the words of Netflix's CEO Reed Hastings, should “Quickly get a generous severance package.”
2. Motivated: Everyone who gets through our interview process is excited for the opportunities ahead. But we all need to maintain, and even increase, our motivation in the months ahead. Bravery is required. We won’t all feel motivated and brave all the time. But we value people who are passionate about our work and motivated to lean in further.
3. Growing: Change is inevitable, especially at a fast-moving company. We need to be comfortable with change and eager to improve our abilities. We need to keep our skills growing at pace with the company. As fast as Yesware is growing these days, this is the quality that I personally have the biggest risk of getting fired for not exhibiting.
4. Honest and Clear: This quality encapsulates both the legal and ethical requirements of honesty. Clear means an absence of political agendas, duplicity, talking behind others’ back and so on. We are who we represent ourselves to be.
5. Kind: There is a lot of pressure at Yesware, and tensions can run high. We all have a lot at stake and our customers are demanding. We need to be kind to ourselves, to each other, and to our customers—even when the pressure is on. We do not tolerate racism, sexism or other types of inhumane and baseless discrimination.
Getting fired for any of those reasons is somewhat personal. The person who is leaving didn’t exhibit the traits that we hold in the highest regard. But in any company, there’s one other reason why someone might get fired – the venture is running out of money. I’ve had to let people go because my employer was in this situation, and there’s nothing harder for a manager to do to a great team member. But it’s really not personal.
We believe that one reason no one should get fired is as a result of a Stack Ranking or “Up/Out” policy. These approaches to firing treat a spot on the Yesware team in a zero-sum way. It forces managers to always be firing, and creates an internal competition for jobs that harms cooperation and collaboration. This is where Yesware is not like a sports team – they have a league-mandated limited number of members. We are limited only by our success. Stack Ranking and the politics it creates has been implicated in the stagnation of Microsoft, among other formerly great companies.
This isn’t an easy topic, but it’s an important one. People who join startups should know very clearly the situation that they are getting into. People who run startups should be honest and direct about the environment they are building. And when those two situations don’t mesh, it’s better to part ways respectfully than to prolong a dysfunctional situation.
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