Michael Abbott On The Fine Art Of Firing

6S3A2487This is part 2 of a 3 part series on hiring and firing wisdom gleaned from Michael Abbott. Find part 1 here.

Firing people is one of the most difficult things that an employer has to do. You are dealing with real human beings who have families and lives that are going to be affected by the decision that you make. However, it is an unavoidable part of building a successful business and maintaining a team of top quality employees who operate with skill and efficiency.

A small group of up and coming industry directors recently had the pleasure of attending a fireside chat with Michael Abbott, an expert on enterprise infrastructure. Abbott is well known for scaling Twitter’s engineering talent team by a factor of five, to over 200 engineers in two years’ time. They discussed a variety of topics, including some of the pitfalls that can beset companies when it comes time to clean house.

One of the most interesting points that came up was how difficult it is to get rid of employees who are almost good enough to keep their job. If someone never shows up or does generally lousy work then it’s a lot easier to let them go, because the reasons are obvious. The quandary lies in firing people who are doing alright, but aren’t excelling.

The problem that many companies have is that they hold on to employees who are doing moderately well, tying up positions that could be held by super stars. This can be due to a sense of loyalty, or a fear of being unable to replace talent, but it leads to the creation of a B team that can’t work with the kind of efficiency that a company needs to succeed.

The consensus that the group came to is that the process of firing can be just as important as the process of hiring. Of course, these are real people, and you can’t help but have empathy for these team members. However, if they aren’t reaching their full potential in the position then your company and the employee will never reach its full potential, and nobody is doing anyone a service there.

Alaina Percival is Head of Developer Outreach for Riviera Partners, a leading technical recruiting firm in Silicon Valley.

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