Don't fire the underperformers yet

Soon or later, every company ends hiring underperformers. Often unnoticed in large corporations, they can be fatal to small businesses where everyone counts in large amount.

The main problem with underperformers is that they sometimes take months to detect. No one can join an existing company and go full steam on day one. You need to learn the company’s culture, the tools, how to work with your colleagues, and the job you’ve been hired for. In tech department, it takes up to 3 months before you realise you’ve hired an underperformer, in a sales team, sometimes more, depending on how long your sales cycle lasts.


The obvious solution you get is to fire them. But not yet. You might need them somewhere else in the company.

I’ve been an underperformer myself. When I graduated, I decided I wanted to be a Web project manager. I didn’t know what it was actually about, but I bent before social pressure telling me being a tech was like being a factory worker during the 19th century. I learnt the job the hard way and hated it. I had to work twice much as my colleagues to do a poor job and switch companies often to hide my continuous failure.

Until the day I got fired after 5 months struggling in a small Parisian Web agency. I had good knowledge about Web development best practice, so the startup we were sharing our office with hired me as a quality manager. Once again, I was not made for that job but I had to pay the bills, so I went for it. I lived a nightmare during 2 years and half. 2 years and a half knowing I was on the verge to be fire if they needed a fuse to trigger. Until that day.

On August the first 2010, I went back from my yearly vacation a resignation letter in my pocket when my manager offered me to take over the infrastructure. The sysadmin left the day before and I had done sysadmin in the past. I accepted and we agreed to give myself a 3 months probation time. I accepted the job and started to overperform way beyond my boss expectations. At the end of the probation, I had a 20% raise and kept overperforming, becoming a key asset of the company.

If there’s one question to ask before firing underpeformers, it’s “how can they be useful somewhere else in the company?” After a few months, they know the company job, culture and products, and if they went through the whole hiring process, they might be useful somewhere. An average sales people can overperform as an account manager because he has everything but the teeth his jobs requires. A poor project manager can be a great product manager because he lacks the client facing skills his job requires but he’s great at managing and designing products. And a crappy quality assurance manager can becomes an overperforming sysadmin when given the right challenge.

And in the end, if there’s nothing else left, only should them be fired.

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