I was asked this question by a CEO several years ago when we were talking about a strategic partnership and even a merger between our two companies.  I thought it was both an interesting and searching question to ask as he tried to get to know us better and understand whether we would be able to work together.  

The full employee lifecycle seemed like the right way to look at it. My sense is that we think allot about how we hire people. Probably still not enough but allot nevertheless. But it seems to me we don't think enough about the less comfortable second part.  

I can't remember exactly how I answered the question at the time but this is what I think you should say.

Hiring the best people is arguably the most important thing that we do as a company. It is the most important 'sell' you can make. We work hard on meeting and developing relationships with talented people in an on-going way and not just when we are looking to fill a role. We look at our talent pipeline in a similar way as we do our sales pipeline and want to ensure that it is well populated with people who may fill roles that are on the horizon as we grow. Finding talent is not transactional but core to the way the company operates day in day out.  

There are a few rules that we try to follow:

  1. Hire the very best and often people who are over-qualified for the role. The best talent will be in demand. It will be a competitive process and you should have to work hard to convince them to join your company. If you don't have to work hard they are probably not good enough.
  1. Reference the hell out of them. Follow up on their references and try to dig as much as you can. It’s often what’s not being said as much as what is being said that you can learn from. And we also try to take ’soft' references from people from inside our network who can give a more unvarnished and invaluable perspective.
  1. Ensure cultural alignment. We feel very strongly about this. We know who we are and what we stand for as a company and we want to ensure that a candidate is fully aligned with that.
  1. We try to have multiple people interview the candidate to get different perspectives and build internal buy-in. This might include a member of the team they will manage, a peer or an investor or subject matter expert from outside the business.
  1. Give them some homework. We will also give candidates an assignment to do which gives us the chance to see how they apply their mind to a specific and relevant task and also how they present to a group.

On the firing side our belief is that companies almost always take too long to do it. Of course you want to do it with dignity and try to have people leave on good terms. But that doesn't mean you have to delay making the tough decisions. It’s not healthy on either side when there is not a good fit and the person is not able to do the job they are being paid for.  

Everyone in company deserves to understand exactly the role they are being asked to do and how it will be measured. But when they fall short of this we believe that 'coach, coach, action' is the right approach to take. During a performance review we talk about the role, the targets and how they have measured up against this. We try to ensure the targets are realistic and that they have the necessary support and resources in place. We try to coach them through the challenges they are experiencing.  

We go through this exercise twice but if the under-performance continues we believe it is then time to take action. You have invested a reasonable amount of time in trying to make it work. But for whatever reason the fit is not there and the business cannot afford to held back by under-performance. Being in a role where you are unable to deliver on expectations is not a nice place to be for the person on the other side either.

We try to ensure that when we do take action we treat people with respect and dignity. If there is good cultural alignment but it’s more a misfit between the role and someone’s skills and experience we will see if there might be another role in the company. If not then we will still usually go beyond the terms of the contract and ensure that the person is able to retain their income for a period of time and support them with their next career move. We are big believers in karma, in doing the right thing and trying to part without too much acrimony. It is not always possible but we try.