At a Startup You Have to Know When to Hire, Fire, and Mentor

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Mar 8, 2017

Hiring the right people at a startup is one of the most important factors of a company’s success, right after “is the idea actually new and innovative?” A startup has to be lean and mean; every single person and position is critical to success. That’s why it’s just as crucial to know when to hire, as it is to fire or spend the time mentoring.

Unfortunately, the nature of growing a new company means that sometimes the strongest employees hired at the beginning stages are not the right fit as the company evolves. There comes a time for every founder and CEO where they will need to consider hiring, firing, or mentoring and often these are all the same team members.

When to Hire

If you’re a founder or CEO, you most likely feel equally passionate and responsible for the company you are building. You probably also feel like you want to be involved in every aspect of the business, but unfortunately being human means you also have human limits — you need a team. To determine when to hire, the first step is to accurately audit your current employees, including yourself. Is there a certain obvious area where you are not meeting determined goals? Perhaps hire an outside consultant to take a fresh look at answering this question.

I found that my focus is overseeing the product. While I’d like to do everything, focusing on the product means that areas like sales and marketing are ones I identified where I needed to hire strong team members. Determine what specifically within these job functions is needed; do you need a marketer who is an expert in SEO, or someone who specializes in branding? Most likely, you’ll need someone who is a jack-of-all-trades. Again, determining your needs is done by taking a good long look at the strengths and weaknesses of the employees you currently have, while mapping to long and short-term goals.

Hiring a person for a startup has additional challenges to a large company. Make sure employees understand the unique challenges and dynamics of working in a startup. The nature of the work is completely different to an established company. Work is 24/7 and things happen fast. You need a team that can not only respond, but are productive in this environment.

When to Fire

It may sound harsh, but a key learning of mine is: don’t wait too long to fire someone. When you’re building a startup and dealing with a small number of employees, it’s crucial that every person is dedicated to the growth of the company. Act quickly to get rid of team members who are not performing or a bad fit. The three main reasons to fire someone are non-competence or lack of interest, a personality or culture misfit, and ethical issues or dishonesty.

Other key indicators that it’s time to fire someone are that an employee is not meeting deadlines and poor at task management. If you find yourself consistently assigning this employee unimportant or secondary tasks because you can’t trust they’ll get things done, then it might be time to let them go. Lastly, if you have an employee who spends more time arguing about how they can’t do something than finding solutions or getting things done, they may not be a fit.

Quite frankly, a startup is not the right fit for everyone. It’s equally fast moving and high pressure.

When to Mentor

Saying goodbye to employees is not always the right route. There are times when you need to examine management styles, communication, and if you have set-up employees for success. If there are issues when there are 10 employees, the same issues will still be there at 100 employees, only magnified.

If you’ve really thought about your hiring process and you know you’ve brought on a great team member who is still self-motivated, driven, and excited, but for some reason, they are not meeting goals, it’s a key indicator that it’s time for mentorship. Most of the time, I’ve found that there is a miscommunication between goals that need to be met and what the employee is working toward. The team member may also feel that the goals being set are unrealistic or they do not have enough support. Having an open conversation with an employee can determine the best way to mentor and support in order to ensure they can excel at their job.

Building, maintaining, and growing the right team is crucial for startup success. Undoubtedly, there will come a time where you will have to say goodbye to some of your team members. The startup environment might not be a fit for everyone, so it’s critical for the company’s success to make sure the team as a whole works together and act swiftly to either hire, fire, or mentor.

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