The Founder’s dilemma – What do you do with the Hardworking but Incompetent Employee

Source | Aniruddha Malpani |

The hardest thing about running a startup is dealing with people. Even though coding and designing your product maybe much more technically challenging, most founders usually do not find this a hassle, because it’s something which they enjoy because they are good at doing it.

It’s usually mastering the softer skills – dealing with people (your investors, co-founders and your employees) – which is what makes running a startup so hard. While some people are naturally good at it, most of us aren’t, and while we all have some people skills, we often make a big mess of this.

This is especially true when you need to hire and fire employees.

Running A Startup Is About Human Resource Management

In startups, you have a small team, each of whom has a critically important role to play. Because this is usually the first time you need to manage someone else, you don’t have much experience in deciding whom to employ and what criteria to use.

Time is usually a huge constraint, because there is so much work to do, and because you have a limited budget, you are quite happy to take anyone who is willing to work with you. Most founders take the approach that beggars can’t be choosers, and if they find someone who is happy to join them, they welcome him with open arms. The hope is that let’s just go ahead and get him on the team, and we’ll teach him on the job.

Why Founders Hire In Haste And Repent At Leisure

Most founders are fed up of dealing with people who apply for the job and never bother to turn up ; or who leave after a few weeks simply because someone else gives them a marginally higher salary that they are happy to hang on to anyone who agrees to sign up.

Most founders think, “All I need is warm bodies in order to get my startup up and running.” They often end up employing people out of a sense of desperation, but this can come back to haunt them later on. Thus, not having a head of sales can be frustrating, because you have to do the job yourself, and this sucks up a lot of your time and energy.

However, having the wrong person in that role can be far more expensive! This is wisdom which dawns on you slowly.

You may not even realise he is a misfit, because your employee will always have a ready excuse for why he has failed to deliver as promised. He will blame the limited budget or the competition, but when you finally do figure out that he is the wrong person for the job, you are reluctant to fire him, because terminating someone is very hard to do.

No one likes unpleasantness and therefore you try to put it off. You hope that with training and guidance he will improve, but when this doesn’t happen, you are in a quandary. Your first response is to try to push him into an alternative role – one which is more suited for him.

Because you don’t have the courage to fire him, sometimes you create a role in the company for him , but this ends up becoming a drain on your limited resources. It can be heart-breaking to let someone go, but you don’t have the luxury of trying to fit square pegs in round holes.

When An Incompetent Employee Must Be Let Go

Sometimes it’s kinder to fire him – not just for the company, but for him as well. After all, if you are not happy with him, imagine how miserable he must be, knowing that he is unable to deliver.

This can be emotionally traumatic, especially when you can see that he is doing his best to perform, but just doesn’t have the skills to deliver. He may be very hard-working but is so incompetent that you cannot continue to ignore his limitations.

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