I’ve been involved in many hirings, both getting hired myself, and hiring other developers. Unfortunately, I’ve also been around numerous layoffs, and had to watch great people be let go. I’ve also had a few contracts not renewed, and was even let go once myself. No doubt it’s a painful process for the person being let go. Throughout all these situations, one thing has stood out to me above all else: more time is spent on the hiring process than on the process to decide to let someone go.
If you’ve gone through the interview process for any major tech company, you know just how involved it can be. When I interviewed for GitHub, I had four video interviews, and was then flown out to San Francisco for a full day of interviews. During that day, I interviewed with seven different people. The policy at GitHub is the majority must agree the person is a fit before they are brought on.
Recently, I went through a very similar process with The Iron Yard. I had phone interviews with three of the four founders, and met with one instructor in Durham, before I was flown to Atlanta to meet the entire staff there. I was asked to speak in front of the two classes at that campus, and spent two whole days with the team. It was a wonderful experience, and to be honest, was one of the least stressful interview process I’ve ever been through. Note: I think that’s a good sign you’ve found a fit.
These are both examples of a very typical interview process for major tech companies these days, and the process itself can take several months, from first contact to offer. Companies want to be as sure as possible that you are a great fit before adding you to the team, and considering how important an employee is to a team, and how much one bad apple can effect the entire bunch, it makes perfect sense.
What troubles me is the very short process that goes into letting someone go who you previously thought was a great fit. No matter how hard you try as a company, you won’t always be right when you hire. Often, you will have been right to make the hire, based on what the candidate communicated to you, but it may simply be the candidate didn’t understand the situation enough to realize they weren’t a great fit. Or, out of desperation to be employed, they may have oversold themselves. As well, it may simply be a case of bad timing. I’ve seen great hires go bad because the employee is having personal troubles at the time and can’t focus and do what is necessary to become a productive member of the team.
If you, as a tech company, decide to hire someone to your team, and then go through another lengthy investment of time during the on boarding process, surely it’s worth it to nurture that employee and protect them at even more considerable cost. It sends an unhealthy message to the rest of the team, when a teammate is so quickly shown the door, with no obvious process to help them grow.
If you are planting a garden, and you spend all the time to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, feed and water them, surely you would not rip it out of the ground at the first sign of leaf damage or failure to grow as quickly as you had hoped. We don’t do that with students either. They struggle at times and grow at different rates, yet we don’t toss them out of the class at the first sign they aren’t a good fit. No, if we care about them, we work to get them to the point where they can be their best.
Unfortunately, that is not the case right now in most IT companies. Most are so protective of their culture they will pull a slow growing plant as if it were a filthy, virus laden weed. This is both cruel and short-sighted, and sends a message to the remaining teammates: no matter how much you feel like part of this company you are only a few struggles away from being tossed to the curb. In other words, though you might feel like a cherished part of our team, so did this person before we threw them out. This leads employees to live in fear. That mentality will crush your precious culture faster than anything else.
The lesson? You must be as protective of your employees as you are of your culture. Your culture is nothing without those people. Once you let them in, accept them for who they are, and understand that no two will be alike; no two will grow at the same pace; no two will contribute in exactly the same manner. Get to know each of them, and care more about helping them become a fit than you did in trying to determine the fit.
Yes, there will still be times when you need to let an employee go. Both because of lack of funds, and because they aren’t working out. But the latter should be determined only after just as many people worked to help them succeed as you had interview them in the beginning. If their spot on the team is worthy of ten personal interviews, then isn’t that person themselves worthy of more than one or two people deciding they aren’t working out? If it takes you three months to decide to hire someone, shouldn’t it take exponentially longer to decide they aren’t the fit you thought they were?
The next time you decide to hire someone to your team, be sure you’re ready to help the person succeed when you hire them. If you can’t commit to a lengthy process when things don’t seem to be working out, then don’t bother to bring them through a lengthy process in the beginning. To spend the time protecting your business and not spend the time protecting your employees demonstrates one simple principle: you care more about your culture and bottom line than you do about the humans who are making your business work.