Small startups often walk a fine line between the need for talent retention, increasingly competitive industries, and employees not performing up to expectations. At some point, every manager will be faced with that decision: do I fire this person and lose a significant percentage of total output? The answer, ultimately, may be easier than you think.
The short answer is to have an open dialogue between managers and employees ahead of time. It’s easier to breach the subject of substandard performance when it’s part of a constant stream of feedback, both good and bad. Your first conversation probably doesn’t need to start out with “we’re thinking about firing you.” If you’ve gotten to that point without talking, it’s too late to start now. Instead, it can be as simple as asking an employee if their current goals are aligned with working at your startup. Most disagreements happen when two people want very different things from each other, so make sure to stay on the same page.
But when one employee or partner does decide it’s time to hit the road, there’s no use in lingering. In most cases, fire fast. Change the locks, disable remote access, and stop sharing private information with your former employee or partner the moment you decide that it’s time to separate. Start the process of breaking up who owns what — particularly if equity or a partnership is involved — and part ways amicably.
Firing early when things start going south is a good practice for preventing toxic employees from causing workplace disruptions. In small teams, it’s especially important to have everyone on board with the mission and vision of the company. Anyone who actively pursues a different direction at the cost of other employees’ or partners’ time or money is making a more serious mistake than it might be in a medium-sized business. Always nip the situation in the bud.
In most cases, other employees can fill the gap of the missing person for a while. In startups, the human capital element is more fluid and dynamic than in traditional workplaces. Understanding how you’ll replace the person you’re losing takes some time of reflection on your business and its human resources, but if the role isn’t truly critical to the organization, take your time in hiring a replacement. Vet new candidates with scrutiny and have plenty of opportunities to meet with new hires and look for red flags.