Is the 'Hire Slow, Fire Fast' Theory Total Crap?
Getting rid of subpar performers quickly is indeed a great idea, he acknowledges, but for start-ups, 'hire slow' is unworkable advice. He writes:
No matter how you spin it, as a startup we have between 6 and 12 months to live… For an early-stage startup founder, doing anything slowly is simply not an option… You should, however, identify the key roles you absolutely need filled for successful product iteration and then hire great people to fill them fast. Too much wringing of hands and holding out for the perfect hire for a role is just as devastating as hiring the wrong person--potentially even more so.
Don't bloat your staff, Boice concludes, but don't even dream of being a hiring perfectionist. But is that what 'hire slow' really means? If a recent post by Matthew Stibbe, the founder of Turbine, is any thing to go by, Boice may have missed the essential point some folks are trying to make when they advise founders to 'hire slow'.
In his post, Stibbe lays out eight lessons of project management that he's learned through hard experience. Among them is exactly the expression Boice so dislikes. But when Stibbe lays out what he means by 'hire slow, fire fast,' the idea doesn't sound much like the heel-dragging hiring philosophy that annoys Boice:
My first boss advised me not hire one person until I needed two of them. I ignored that advice at IG and probably hired too many people too quickly. Some were amazing but a few were amazingly awful. My experience was that the handful of underperforming staff took up more time and energy than the vast majority of good people. The big lesson is to spend more time developing the good people than correcting the bad ones. If necessary, this means firing poor performers who can’t or won’t improve.
In my case, after I sold the games company, I kept things small using contractors, freelancers, and outsourcing and only recently have I begun to hire full-time employees again. I’ve made more money, and I’ve been far happier with the new, slow-but-steady approach. My first boss was right.
Rather than suggesting start-up founders wait around twiddling their thumbs for the perfect hire, Stibbe's 'hire slow' sounds more like an exhortation to get creative to avoid dragging down your team with permanent but middling staff. It's less 'hold out for perfection' and more 'work smarter, use independent pros, and develop the people you already have' so you can avoid saddling your company with less than stellar talent.
It's not that Boice's point that perfectionism in hiring is counterproductive is wrong. "Too much wringing of hands and holding out for the perfect hire for a role" does indeed sound "as devastating as hiring the wrong person," just as he writes. But this advice kind of misses the point—at least the point made by Stibbe, who definitely isn't advocating sitting around waiting for perfection.
What's your take – is 'hire slow' good advice, and if so, what exactly do you mean by that?