Hire Slow and Fire Slow!
A few years ago I had a really interesting experience. I was interviewing candidates for a junior marketing manager’s position in my organization, a pre-IPO company. A bright young man came along with technical experience and wanted to get into marketing. After completing the first round of interviews successfully, I asked him to come back. After talking for almost 45 minutes, I suddenly asked him, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
He answered immediately, “I will either be on the beaches of Maui celebrating our success or struggling to start a new company.” I said, “You are hired!” We had fun taking our company public, and years later that person went on become a successful executive.
A common belief that exists is to hire fast and fire fast. In today’s global workplace, it is extremely important that managers take the time to hire and take even longer to fire—unless, of course, there is misconduct or a blatant reason for firing. Not just you, but everyone around the employee has to invest a lot of time and energy to work with the employee.
For example, I had a case where a business development manager insisted that we receive payment from a large strategic customer before their software licenses were renewed. He brought that to my attention and told me that this delay had happened four times in the past six months and that we will face an issue in revenue recognition. My manager immediately asked me to fire that employee for mistreating the customer. However, I stuck with the employee. I escalated the matter of delay in payment to the customer’s management team. We never faced any problems with timely payments from that customer going forward. So, as you can see, sometimes even customers need to be put in their place. That employee now runs the business development group—and does so very successfully, I might add.
Tooth Paste Principle to Motivate, Nurture, and Recognize
A few years ago, I was managing business development for Japan and the entire Asia-Pacific region. We were engaged in a pretty competitive proof-of-concept stage in negotiations with a very influential customer in Japan. As some of you might know, in Japan nobody wants to be the first, but nobody wants to be the third either!
So, to get a strategic customer who is willing to be the first to use and endorse your product, this was an important deal at our end. The application engineer I was working with took technology from the customer’s R&D team, developed code, tested it and then made it work in the customer’s environment. He had worked round the clock over the weekend and finally made the demonstration successful. So, after we got the purchase order from the customer, I asked the customer to write a small note to me about that application engineer. I recognized him during our company’s all-hands meeting, and then I took him to Japan with me. He went on to head the Applications Engineering group and in later years became a serial entrepreneur.
I call this, “the toothpaste principle.” When you want to brush your teeth in the morning, you don’t press at the mouth of the toothpaste, you press somewhere below that and the toothpaste comes out at the mouth. Recognizing employees for their hard work is one of the most important responsibilities of a people manager, because, it has to be carried out all the time, irrespective of whether you have one employee or many. As human beings we have short term memory. And most managers fall in the trap of writing performance reviews in February based on what happened in January. We tend to forget that the review is for the entire past year.
Once a marketing manager was working on a project in the first half of the year. When it could not be finished on time, she blew up during a conference call since one of the deliverables was not completed. I heard about this from someone else. I realized that she had been extremely worried that it would reflect on her performance review that was due in a few weeks. I calmed her down and told her that it would not—because it did not happen the previous year, it will only show up on her performance review for the following year. She had time to make changes to the plan to deliver. Needless to say, she delivered the project and I recognized her in the company all-hands meeting the following month for her passion.
Bottom-line: Hire for attitude. Hire slow and fire slow! Motivate with the toothpaste principle. And most importantly—recognize at the right time.
Nitin Deo is a high-tech industry executive with vast international business experience. He is in charge of product management for Aster Analytics Platform at Teradata. He has helped set up sales channels for emerging software products and services.