The most important staffing advice any business owner can receive -- "Hire slow and fire fast" -- is simple in theory but surprisingly difficult in practice. Inexperienced business owners struggle with both sides of this useful advice.
When you're understaffed and business is growing, it's tempting to hire the first seemingly competent person you find. You want so much for them to be perfect for the position that you start to believe it without first having proven it. It's not until weeks or months later that you realize the full impact of the unfortunate hire.
And then when the time comes to let someone go, you probably tend to drag that decision out unnecessarily, giving that person ample extra time to damage morale, exploit resources, and upset customers. You've developed a relationship with this employee, maybe even consider them a friend, and now you're putting the rest of the company at risk by not dealing with a situation that probably seems obvious to everyone else. It’s rare for a leader to say, “I wish I’d waited longer to fire that person.”
When I found myself confronted with those same issues as an inexperienced CEO, I knew I had to find a healthier way to think about these situations. I couldn't keep falling into those same patterns. That's when I came up with the Zombie HR.
Zombie HR is based on the principle that your team is the last surviving band of humans in a city overrun by zombies. You've barricaded yourselves in an abandoned apartment building, struggling against all odds to keep humanity alive during this undead apocalypse.
Then, one day, you hear a knock at the door.
You ask them to identify themselves.
“It's okay,” a voice responds from the other side of the door. “I'm not a zombie. I'm one of you. Let me in! I can help!”
Do you trust them? Do you unbolt the six locks on the door and allow them to enter the one pocket of humanity left in this ruined city?
Not without some proof you don't.
You ask questions. You test them. You throw everything you've got at them until you're sure you can let them in without compromising the safety of the people for whom you're already responsible. Only then do you open the door and welcome them in.
Later, when you notice someone on your crew has a sickly pallor, lurches around the barricaded apartment strangely, and seems preoccupied with brains, you can't wait around for your next one-on-one with them and hope it works itself out. If they’re turning, there's really only one course of action available to you: you take them out.
Not everyone has the intestinal fortitude to make these kinds of decisions, but you do. That’s why you’re in charge.
It's uncomfortable, messy, and emotionally difficult -- survival often is -- but it beats having some zombie sucking on your head. If you're a 10-person firm, and two of those people are brainivores, that means a full fifth of your company is working against you. Those are pretty big odds to overcome. Every moment counts, and failure to take action could set off a chain of events resulting in irreparable damage to your company.
So, if you find yourself struggling with the old "hire slow and fire fast" advice, just put yourself into that zombie apocalypse mindset, and ask, what would the last band of humans during the zombie apocalypse do?