This is one post/chapter in a serialized book called Startup 101. For the introduction and table of contents, please click here.

We added this chapter after reading a recent comment:

“Can you/anyone help me to find the best reading on “Building an A-Team”? I have a friend who has a problem relating to this title and can’t wait for the chapter to be written.

This CEO has two partners who are more of a pair of lead bookends than contributors.

I’ve made recommendations, but he’s too timid to call them to task or, better still, hit the eject button on them.

Hate to see him sink.”

We just wrote about How to Hire an A-Team. But we did not address how to make room for A-Team-worthy players on the A-Team. If the positions are already filled with C-Team players, what do you do?

10 Tips for Firing Non-Performers

  1. Do it fast.

    Ask any seasoned entrepreneur about their biggest mistakes, and a frequent answer is something along the lines of, “I wish I had acted sooner when I knew that a key manager was not up to the job.” There are many reasons why we drag this kind of thing out, and most of them are bad reasons.
  2. Be authentic.

    You can be authentic only if you understand how your own emotions play into it and if you can be genuinely sympathetic to the non-performer’s situation. Are you delaying this because you feel sorry for the person? Or because you’re afraid of how they or others might perceive you? Once you have control of your own feelings, you can then empathize with them and the difficulty they will go through once you fire them. But that won’t stop you from doing what you need to do.
  3. Cover your legal bases, and be financially fair and reasonable.

    Your legal obligations (warnings, notices, etc.) will vary depending on the jurisdiction in which you reside and the contract (if one was signed). Stick to the letter of the law as a baseline, to protect the company. But then go beyond that to offer what you consider fair and reasonable. Ask one of your trusted managers what is fair. Ask your advisors. If the employee has done something legally or egregiously morally wrong, you can stick to the letter of the law only. In all other cases, remember that clearing space for the A-Team is a big investment in the future of your business, and that your company will be judged, internally and externally, by how well it handles this. If you don’t feel you can be generous because you dithered too long (see #1) and the manager has lost a lot of money for the company as a result, just recognize who made that error: you.
  4. Be binary.

    With key managers, you have to either believe in them 100% and support them in every possible way or fire them. There should be no gray area, which would be hugely damaging to everyone. Right up until you make the decision to fire them, your position should be, “This person is A-Team material but needs a bit of help with something specific, and I will do whatever I can to help.” If you are tentative, you will only make the situation worse and create morale problems for the rest of your team.
  5. Understand why your A-Team managers need you to do this.

    Everyone is in this together. Have you ever been on a rowing team and “caught a crab” (sticking your oar against the flow of water, like a destabilizing brake). That is what it’s like when a weak manager messes it up for everyone else. You owe it to the others to fire this person. This may help you feel better about doing something distasteful but necessary.
  6. Understand that the person you are firing could be an A-Team player somewhere else.

    This is a bit of a feel-good factor. But there is some truth to this. They may well thrive in a different environment. Part of your fair and reasonable support (see #3) may be to help this person figure out what to do next.
  7. Understand why the person under-performed, and make changes to ensure this type of person doesn’t make it on to your A-Team again.

    Firing an A-Team player because your processes are so messed up that they are not able to perform is a really bad decision. One other decision is worse, though: firing the only A-Team player on your team because that person annoys all of the C-Team players on your team. Think long and hard about this one. It does happen. The answer? Fire all of the C-Team players, and make the one A-Team player the core of your new team.
  8. Over-communicate to the rest of your team and other stakeholders.

    Firing a senior manager is always traumatic. The deed may be unavoidable, and you can make it quick, but it is still traumatic. So, you need to communicate why you are doing this, how you have thought it through, what the plan is, and anything else that would reassure the team that the ship has a calm and determined captain at the helm. But ask the other senior managers for help in making this transition, too.
  9. Have a transition plan.

    This includes planning for recruiting, training, and onboarding the replacement. But do you leave the former employee’s seat empty until you can find a replacement, or do you announce the replacement the day you announce the firing? The answer depends on your circumstances, but you should be clear on what you will be doing and why.
  10. Use this transition to make other critical changes.

    Don’t replace under-performers with other C-Team players. You’ll just get more of the same. Instead, take this as an opportunity to change your market positioning or an internal process — something that you have known has needed changing for a while but could not do with that C-Team player.