Fire or Rehabilitate?

June 15, 2010

Since my blog is targeted at the expansion stage software CEOs, I spend a bit of my time at Here’s a discussion that I commented on today that is worth re-posting.

I’ve had ongoing “problems” with a member of my management team. Although he performs certain aspects of his job adequately, there are other critical areas where he is subpar. Over the past 3 months, we’ve had discussions about these issues and I’ve put together a plan on how to improve; yet, I see little improvement. I am at the point where firing him seems to be my only option. I’ve spoken with my peers – many who seem to manage by firing immediately, while others try first to work with the employee on changing behavior. What about this group – try to first change behavior or fire right away? — Anonymous

Should you fire or rehabilitate a senior team member?

The question is not whether you’ve waited long enough. The question is whether you have identified the core of the problem. There are four core issues that need to be explored in figuring out how to get the best of senior management teams:

  • 1. Has the CEO established clear goals and gained commitment to these goals from the manager? I often find that senior manager performance is a two way street. Ultimately, it is the CEO that should be accountable for the performance of his senior team. It starts with establishing clear SMART goals; gaining the commitment of the managers to these goals; tracking progress of execution against the goals; and identifying and removing impediments facing the team.
  • 2. Is the manager delivering on the agreed upon goals? By being very goal driven, a CEO is able to revert back to very specific goals and expectations in identifying performance issues. With clearly articulated goals there’s no hiding poor performance.
  • 3. Is the manager in the right role? This is a particularly acute issue with early stage growth companies. As the company grows, the requirements per function may out-pace the skills/experiences of a senior manager. As the role becomes more complex, it is sometimes necessary to bring in a more experienced manager to take the leadership role.
  • 4. Is the manager still passionate about his role and the company? To get an honest answer to this question, the CEO must create the relationship of trust with the manager. Trust that the CEO will take care of the manager in case the latter has lost drive or wishes to transition.

Ultimately, CEOs must realize that the most effective competitive advantage comes from developing highly cohesive and focused senior management teams. I have written more about this topic here, including references to a couple of good books to read about the subject.

The Chief Executive Officer

Firas was previously a venture capitalist at Openview. He has returned to his operational roots and now works as The Chief Executive Officer of Everteam and is also the Founder of <a href="">nsquared advisory</a>. Previously, he helped launch a VC fund, start and grow a successful software company and also served time as an obscenely expensive consultant, where he helped multi-billion-dollar companies get their operations back on track.