Home
Imagine a manager who is excellent at identifying and hiring talent but not so good at firing the people who need it. Compare that situation to a manager who does an average job of hiring but is spectacular at weeding out the bad apples in the group. All other things being equal, which manager will do better?

Here's the summary:

Manager 1: Great at hiring, average at firing

Manager 2: Great at firing, average at hiring

I'm going to cast my vote for the manager who does a better job of firing than hiring. My reasoning is that one can never know for sure who will be a good hire because people are skilled at concealing their personality flaws during interviews. Once hired, people feel free to let their inner assholes out. So hiring is an extraordinarily imprecise process.

Firing, on the other hand, is far more objective. Ask any group of employees who among them needs to be fired and most people will turn and point to the same guy. While it's hard to know who you should hire, it can be easy to know who to fire. The manager who is good at firing only needs the cold-hearted resolve to do it in a timely manner. There generally isn't much doubt about who should be fired.

I also wonder if one person can have the skill to be good at hiring and also good at firing. I would think that knowing who to hire requires a high degree of social empathy. The skilled interviewer makes a connection through conversation and eye contact and "feels" the other person. A manager who is socially talented might pick up little clues from an applicant that others would miss, such as arrogance or deceptiveness or moral flexibility.

On the other hand, a manager who is good at firing might be high on the sociopath scale. Where the socially talented manager would find it intolerably painful to look someone in the eye and fire them, the sociopath sees it as just another Tuesday. Common sense tells us the sociopath would pull the trigger sooner and get rid of the bad apples.

In my corporate experience, which included perhaps a dozen or more work groups, I never thought to myself that we could do better if only we could hire some superstars. Instead, I always thought we needed to get rid of a few obvious duds and trouble-makers and everything would flow smoothly after that.

Keep in mind that I never worked in a group that was inventing the next smartphone or doing anything sexy. We didn't need geniuses. We just needed to get the work done.

Over time, the manager who fires best will end up with top talent through a survival-of-the-fittest process.

Obviously I've oversimplified things. But if you accept that firing is more critical than hiring, I will move on to my point.

Given that firing might be more important than hiring, and given that employees are well-aware of who among them needs to be fired, it suggests a better system. As with most of my ideas, it is entirely impractical but fun to think about.

Imagine that instead of managers making firing decisions, only the employees themselves make those decisions as a group. And let's say the job of managers is to set targets for the number of people in the group who need to be fired by what deadline. For example, if you have a hundred employees in a group, and the group hasn't performed well, the manager might say 10% have to be voted out of the group by year end. If the group is performing well, the manager might set the target at 5%.

In my corporate days I learned that coworkers don't have much reason to be nice to one another. But you would be nice to anyone who had a vote on your future. You might even be proactive in doing well by your coworkers because that's the sort of thing that gets remembered at voting time.

I realize that managers already take input from employees on what they think of coworkers, but that turns into a lot of he-said, she-said. And coworkers generally don't say a coworker is toxic even if that is the only word that describes it. Instead, you tell your manager that Bob is spreading rumors, or not returning phone calls, or whatever is the specific crime, and your boss treats it as isolated cases that can surely be managed. A manager will usually give both sides the benefit of the doubt. But if employees make their own collective firing decisions, no manager would be involved to water-down, distort, or delay the process. You simply vote the toxic guy out.

There are already a number of companies who set firing targets. But managers are still in charge of execution. And those systems tend to be draconian because the level of firing is independent of the group's performance.

Under my proposed system, in which the manager sets firing targets based on performance, and employees make firing decisions, you create an interesting new dynamic. Under the old system, if my coworker does bad work it is mostly his problem so long as my manager sees me as a good worker. I'll get my raise even if the other guy doesn't. Under my system, the group has a collective goal of convincing the manager that the firing level should be set as zero. Employees have a common enemy of sorts in the manager. I would think that would be good for teamwork.

What do you think of a system in which managers set firing targets and employees decide who goes?

 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +54
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:

Comments

Sort By:
May 31, 2013
Here's a bit of reality for you: 10% of your employees will always steal from you , no matter what you do FOR them. 10% of your employees will never steal from you, no matter what you do TO them. It's the other 80% you have to watch.
Creating a toxic work environment will affect the 80%.
Hatchet men think they are helping the company by culling the 'deadwood'. In reality, what they are really doing is cutting the salaries and bonuses, on behalf of their corporate masters.
 
 
May 31, 2013
The logic isn't bad, except that it contradicts your own earlier statements about the fact that most people are idiots and it is idiots that can, in fact, produce great things under right !$%*!$%*!$%*!$ So the great manager is still the hiring one, when they can predict, who will perform in the environment they are to create.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2013
@whtllnew:

I'm the guy that fires people - this isn't new to me. It's nothing to be afraid of.

I really don't get the stigma associated with it.

People who are not performing in their current role aren't bad people. But they haven't found the right match either.

In my experience, it's best for both parties involved. I mean this quite seriously. NOT firing someone is just prolonging the misery for them, and the people they work with.

I've also seen people that have been fired from one job that perform well in the next. But they still needed to be fired to get there.

People seem to think being fired is this life and death deal. It's not. But it's necessary, and I'm not afraid to step up to the plate and do the right thing.
 
 
May 30, 2013
Hi Scott. Do you watch TV? I think I saw a commercial for a TV show like this. (I didn't read any of the comments, so this may have been mentioned 20 times already.) But if you don't watch TV, here's a good topic for tomorrows blog: Write about an island where the castaways can vote off, or fire one member each week.
 
 
May 30, 2013
@happy

[BTW - I really never could empathize with all these cry-baby-whining-little-kids who are afraid of firing someone who does a bad job. Why is the guy who fires them the bad guy? Don't those people need to take some personal accountability and do a better job? I sure think so.]

How many people have you had to fire? That is partly a rebuttal, partly a serious question. If the answer is noone I would say try it a few times then tell me its nothing to be afraid of.
 
 
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2013
"Average" is always the largest group, otherwise it wouldn't be called average. If you only have superstars, your average will be at superstar level. Majority groups will always converge and defend the common interests, so they will always win.

Furthermore, it completely sets the wrong precedence. You mention people are skilled at selling themselves during job interviews. What do you think happens when the need to be perceived well by all you coworkers becomes a day-to-day focus? Politics, that's what happens.

On a personal note, I work in a huge corperation. I have a reputation to be the no-nonsense rational guy. I cut through all layers of management and politics to tell decision makers the real truth. In the process, one steps on a lot of toes, yet it is needed for the sake of the company. I would definitely be one of the first to be voted out by employee vote, most likely by people that prefer politics, personal kingdoms and other corporate bs over real progress.

Popularity is a very poor rating for performance, attitude, and usefulness.
 
 
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2013

All it would take to game this system is a few old-timers forming a clique and voting the others out.

There would be a constant churn amongst the newbies who would contribute their bit and then be asked to leave after some time (probably around bonus time or at the first sign of trouble), leaving the members of the clique to be repeatedly promoted by virtue of having the most experience, showing their loyalty to the firm, etc.

I saw something similar happening in a large financial services firm where I used to work a few years ago. The top management itself played this game. Their genius was in the fact that they did not fire anybody. They politely asked him/her to find another job before resigning, never mind if it took a few months. People used to find another job and then submit their resignation themselves. So while there was a constant turnover of personnel, the top-management constantly trumpeted the fact that the company had not fired anybody in years.

The Chairman and Board of Directors were told that people were packing up and leaving on their own accord, purportedly because they got better offers elsewhere. To match these "better offers" and prevent further exodus of personnel, the top-management wrangled better salaries/bonuses for themselves.

After a slew of pay-increases, the company became one of the best pay-masters in the industry - but people were still "voluntarily leaving" in droves. The con-job worked so well that a desperate BoD ordered the management to hire a management consultancy to conduct a survey to find out "why good people are constantly leaving the organisation?" Not much came out of that either - no points for guessing why.

 
 
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2013
There is another option that needs to be added to the choices.

Changing the jobs. In many cases where a person interviews
well and then doesn't perform, the problem is not just the person,
but a job mismatch. A great manager will look at the situation
before deciding to fire someone to explore the possibility that
the employee is being mismanaged. I've seen a number of
cases where an employee was given a different job or
a different work environment and then they became a
spectacular employee. This can happen in many ways.
Two extremes I've seen or heard about were:

1 Person who could not make decisions and got flustered
if interrupted. Then were moved to a solo job with lots
of filing/data entry/checking that all the boxes are filled in/etc.
and was very productive/accurate.

2 Creative person who messes up repetitive tasks,
forgets important things, and gets bored.
Put them on a troubleshooting team instead of inspection/testing.

 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2013
> Ask any group of employees who among them needs to be fired and most people will turn and point to the same guy.

hmmm .. they will probably not have the same motive for deciding who should be fired.

eg. for the sake of a comfortable work environment, anyone who stands out above everyone else in ability/clarity/productivity/etc is a clear target for culling.
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2013
This is an easy one.

I've never met someone who was happy they didn't fire so-and-so. It's always the regret that they didn't fire them sooner. It takes Kahoona's to do it, but firing people early and often is best for all parties involved. Including the guy who went and got himself fired.

How many times is the super-star in danger of being fired prematurely? Not bloody often.

Worse case, you fire someone who is AVERAGE? Big deal. Hire more.

If you assume, as I do, that the super-star talent is an order of magnitude better than the average, and it is, then let's say that super guy is worth 10 points.

An average guy is worth 1 point. And a bad guy is worth, let's say -2.

The guy who fires like crazy is fighting the battle of adding 1 and removing -2. Unless he's lucky, he's going to end up averaging 1 point in the team.

The guy who doesn't fire anybody only needs to hit once to beat the 1 point average. If he hits two big winners, he's so far ahead it's ridiculous.

BTW - I really never could empathize with all these cry-baby-whining-little-kids who are afraid of firing someone who does a bad job. Why is the guy who fires them the bad guy? Don't those people need to take some personal accountability and do a better job? I sure think so.

If I had to pick, I'd take the guy with the nose for talent.

But from my experience, the guy with the nose for talent is also smart enough to cut out the dead wood. Cheers!
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2013
Thank you for helping me to get in touch with my inner sociopath! Heads roll tomorrow...
 
 
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2013
"Manager 1: Great at hiring....

...one can never know for sure who will be a good hire..."

That means there's no such thing as being great at hiring.
 
 
+14 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2013
I love the starting premise -- I totally agree that groups need better (and more!) firing. You can bring in a great person, but for one reason or other they can become worse employees over time. And, for that matter, a weak hire can improve a lot.

However, having worked in a place (advertising) that operated under a high school popularity model, it's crystal clear to me how that is likely go wrong. You end up with a lot of predators and their sycophants, and your heads-down working talent rotates constantly -- not just because of the firing, but they quit because of the hostile cliques and alliances.

I would argue that it takes very intuitive, very capable leaders (we didn't have them) to make your proposal deliver on the idea. And if your leaders are capable and intuitive, the traditional method for managing talent already works well.
 
 
+20 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2013
Horrific.

Goodbye anyone who works part-time: "they're not pulling their weight".
Goodbye anyone from a minority.
Goodbye anyone who doesn't like to socialise after work.
Goodbye anyone who doesn't bring in cakes on their birthday.
Goodbye anyone who can't do the best PR job on bigging themselves up.

And do you REALLY think that a manager will take employees advice to fire the office brown-nose?

The system may - MAY - work well in a situation where you have 1 jerk and 10 good guys who are all rational about the process. But how often do we see that?

How long has it been since you worked in an office Scott? I think the distance is atarting to tell.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2013
"What do you think of a system in which managers set firing targets and employees decide who goes?"

Nothing. I'm a programmer, not an executioner.

I work with some pretty difficult people but I hate none of them so much that I'd try to get them fired.

If the boss sets the quote, he/she should have the balls/bobbles to choose the people and tell to their face that he/she has decided to fire them.
 
 
May 29, 2013
Why not put the people who are good at finding superstar talent in charge of that - and put the people who are good at weeding out bad apples in charge of that?
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2013
in my business, my motto is "I don't hire someone I can't fire".

In all the jobs I've had, and there have been a lot, I've only had one boss that I actually respected. He was really intelligent, asked the right questions and knew how to get the best out of you.

While you may not be able to hire someone with 100% assurance they'll work out, you can try to weed out the incompetant fools. During the interview process, the ability to listen to a question and respond with an actual answer is a big plus. Even if they don't seem to have everything you're looking for skill-wise. If they have the right attitude and personality, most things can get accomplished.
 
 
May 29, 2013
I would so love to implement this. Those who are worried about it turning into a popularity contest, or about the best performers being "voted off" because they make everyone else look bad, are barking up the wrong tree. Even when I actively dislike someone, I wouldn't get rid of them as long as they were doing their job.

[ Being good at firing doesn't mean you enjoy it or that you don't care. For me it's extremely unpleasant, but once it's clear that someone needs to be fired it's something that is best done quickly. ]

Yes yes a thousand times yes. I've even come to believe that, while it is good for the business, it is ALSO good for the fired employee, as they can find a different place where they will fit in better. At my company, low performers get NOTHING -- no stock, no bonuses, no raises. Personally such treatment would make me quit, but then again I'm not one of those in the low category. It always surprises me how long they are willing to hold on in the face of obvious disapproval. Go somewhere else that will appreciate you more.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2013
So when does this reality show air?
 
 
May 29, 2013
Jeez, I'm so fired, because you've just made employment a popularity contest. It's no longer about the quality/quantity of my work, but whether I feigned interest in my co-worker's latest 30m story about her cats!

 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog