Yammer’s Cindy Alvarez: Five Types of People I Should Have Fired Sooner

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Cindy Alvarez directs user experience at Yammer. At the Failcon conference this week she did an insightful if uncomfortable talk about the five types of people she should have fired sooner.

She did not name the people she fired. Instead, she classified them according to five different categories:

The Early Hire: These are the people who begin working at a startup in its early days before the company knows what it will become. Over time, the business changes and suddenly that early hire does not quite fit in. It’s a tough situation for both parties but if the person is not the right fit anymore then it is even worse to put off the inevitable.

The Artist: The artists are common in startups. They are passionate and enthusiastic. They have great ideas. But when things don’t go their way, they drag their feet. They stop turning work in on time. The passion is not there. They will say:  “This is just not interesting to me.”  They argue a lot if their idea does not get adopted. Their strong views tend to impact the team who tend to tiptoe around them due to their unbending views. At some point you can’t keep them around.

The Structured One: These are not startup people. They may have the experience and built product like what the startup is developing. But they are not flexible enough to adapt to the ever-changing need to pivot, to do something that may not fit with their rigid views.

The Hand-Me-Down: The hand-me-down is desperate to get away from their boss and the boss wants to get away from them. They are not incompetent but they consistently make little mistakes that add up. Those mistakes have a deep impact on the rest of the team.

The Failed Promotion: This is the person who delivered value in previous roles but in their new job they are just not cutting it. A sign of the problem: the new hire is getting up to speed faster than the person who received the promotion. The person, the new role and the point in time of the startup may all contribute to the poor fit. It’s a step backward for the person to go back to their old job. Let them go and they may find a better role with a new company that better fits their skill sets.

Alvarez makes it clear that to survive you need to cut people out who don’t work and cut them out fast. It’s better for them, for the founder and the overall organization.

While, to me, there seems like a lot of room for politics in the scenarios she put forward, her views do show how intense a startup can be. Most important, I suppose is to ask yourself if the reason you’re unhappy – or unhappy with an employee – is because something is going on within those five molds.