Owner’s View: Fire early and quit often

Nov 28, 2017 by Peter Herm

Owner’s View: by Peter Herm

I am old, fat and have high mileage. Like a used car, it is not the age, it is the experience. With my 300,000-plus miles, I should know better. In theory, I have learned many things through multiple ventures and thousands of employees over the past 30 years. But damn if I don’t make some of the same mistakes over and over and over again. While this article is primarily for captains and crew who hire and fire people, I hope there is a life message in it for everyone, beyond employment.

Today, I finally got around to firing someone who I should have fired months ago. I believe you will know in 30 days whether an employee is right for the position, and conversely, whether you as an employee are right for the job you have been hired to do. Today’s belated termination is merely another confirmation of that theory.

Today’s winner, we will call her Sheila, started in a unique position here at the Herm empire that  required almost 100 percent self-management and motivation. It was up to her to make or break her position. After interviewing a dozen candidates, she seemed to be the right fit. Alas, by the end of 30 days, I knew in my heart that she did not have what it takes to be successful in the position. The personal drive and motivation level will show itself early on. You would guess a person in a new position would be their most motivated in the first weeks. Oops. No.

Within less than 30 days on the job, I knew she was not going to work out. I owed it to the company and to her to give her the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere (my euphemism for firing someone). I should have let her go then, not today, 90 days later. Her motivation and performance fizzled and I procrastinated and hoped. As we all know, hope is not a strategy. As all employers do, I hoped that miraculously that Sheila would change and grow into the position. It did not happen and rarely does.

Think about it. Go back over all of your hires and fires. I guarantee you will never think of a single situation where you now say, “Gee, I sure wish I had not fired that person.” Instead, you will find that in almost every instance, you will say, as I am today, “Why didn’t I give that person the opportunity to find a career path that was right for them when I knew? Why didn’t I let them go when I knew in my heart many months ago it was not going to work?”

The flip side of this coin is the employee. There is, of course, a difference – the employee is collecting a check every two weeks. Their motivation to quit and then seek employment elsewhere is not quite the same. But if you are employed in a position that you know is not the right fit for you, are you not better off to go to your employer, tell them the reality and resign gracefully? I think this would result in a great reference. It would from me. It would be a classy move and ethically the right thing to do.

Instead, what normally happens is that when an employee knows they need to move on, they schedule clandestine interviews and spend their time thinking about how to get their next job, instead of focusing on what they are being paid to do every day. Is this really the right moral behavior? I realize it is not easy to forgo a paycheck, but in your heart of hearts, isn’t it more fair to the employer and to your career to quit early and quit often? I think getting a head start on the next job would be beneficial for you, just as it would be fair to your current employer.

Bow west and high tide only.

Peter Herm is the pen name of a veteran yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. Comments are welcome below.