I hate to be a contrarian but, while everyone else seems to be focused on hiring the right people as soon as humanly possible, I feel obliged to mention that moving just as quickly to fire the right people right about now is equally critical if you want your business to succeed. With great talent so expensive and scarce today, it’s difficult to think about firing the people already on board who simply aren’t getting the job done. Yet starting out the new year (and the slow return to the “new” normal) with the best possible team in place is especially important in these complicated times. People who aren’t producing need to be not producing somewhere else.

Letting people go now when they’ve stuck with you over the last two very painful years seems harsh although - if you’re being honest with yourself - maybe that’s because they had nowhere else to go. The ones with serious alternatives have already “greatly” resigned and the ones who are just kidding themselves about their marketability are no great loss. And, just to be clear, I realize that now might not be a great moment to do some pruning, but the truth is that there’s never a good time to do hard things and - after the fact - you’ll almost instantly realize that you’re relieved and that you should have acted sooner. No entrepreneur I know would say that they’ve ever fired anyone too soon. Waiting and hoping things improve isn’t going to make things better.

It’s not the employees you fire that ultimately make you miserable, it’s the ones you don’t. These are the people that you should get rid of because they’re the ones whose actions and attitude can kill your culture and eventually cripple your company. These conversations aren’t going to be easy, but they are essential. A company’s ultimately only as good as its worst employee and chainsawing some dead wood at the bottom raises everyone’s game. As we used to say, our average employees now work elsewhere.

Taking care of the low-hanging fruit and bagging the bad actors is the first step. People who are just phoning it in and who aren’t trying or just don’t care about their work need to go as soon as possible.

Then you have to move on to the people who aren’t qualified or no longer capable of doing what their jobs demand. Some of these folks are too scared or too embarrassed to admit that they’ve fallen behind or lost a step or two. It’s not a sin not to know; it’s a sin not to ask. You can try some retraining, but with the accelerating rate at which core technologies keep changing and increasing in complexity, trying to teach old dogs new tricks is almost always a losing proposition. We’re all immigrants in this new digital-first world and the kids coming up are digital natives. This makes a huge difference in their attitude and understanding, which directly impacts their performance. There’s no digital “strategy” these days - it’s digital everything.

And finally, the entrepreneurial world is tough, bumpy, and even scary for many people who just aren’t cut out for the journey. They need a degree of stability, security and certainty and a lot more assurance and clarity than the vague, ever-changing, and ambiguous environment of a startup will ever offer. Your job description doesn’t include babysitting or comforting them; you’ve got a business to build.

But the hardest cases, and the ones where you’re going to really have to stick to your guns and just make the final call, are the ones who will also try your patience and your ability to manage what I call the “peanut gallery.” The peanut gallery is all those folks - investors, board members, other managers, customers, clients, congregants - who only see things from the outside and not the daily nitty gritty. These same characters are always pushing for new projects, more chances, additional “conversations,” polite warnings - basically anything to avoid overt conflict, ugliness, hurt feelings, and especially making a final decision. More CEOs go bald tearing their hair out following these kinds of touchy-feely meetings and healthy discussions than through the stress of their day-to-day jobs. Bystanders never seem to give you any credit for already trying a million times to make things work before you ever bring a personnel problem to their attention.

These particular problem employees fall into three basic buckets: (1) pleasant enough people who are just lazy; (2) crafty people who have checked out mentally - basically quit without leaving - who are happy to keep getting paid; and (3) passive-aggressive people who put on a great show when the grownups are around and looking, but who act like difficult assholes the rest of the time when the coast is clear.

Because their “sins” of omission and commission aren’t readily apparent to the people who don’t have to work with them, count on them, and cover for them when they drop the ball, making a convincing case for their departure is more challenging. Only you know exactly how many times you’ve already had heart-to-heart chats, how many second and third chances these folks have already burned through, and frankly how hard it is to push a rope - to motivate someone who just isn’t that interested in changing or improving.

And only you understand how aggravating, discouraging and debilitating it is to have to constantly pick up the pieces, do their jobs for them, and eventually end up just taking on far too many tasks yourself because you simply can’t bring yourself to ask them again. Only others who have been to this movie and understand the drill can appreciate what a horrible and soul-sucking situation it is. And believe me when I say that it will never get better by itself.

So when, not if, you inevitably find yourself in this sad situation, here are the three smartest things you can do.

First, there’s no cure for laziness or lack of energy and desire. This is purely a performance issue and the easiest to address. Simply tell the spectators that the individual isn’t getting the job done and needs to go and tell him or her the same thing. If you’re lazy or unreliable, the skills or other talents you may have don’t really matter.

Second, you’re actually doing people who aren’t with the program mentally a big favor to boot them because maybe they’ll find a better opportunity and a way to succeed somewhere else. These hangers-on present serious morale risks to the rest of the team, who always see what’s going on and either wait to see how quickly the problem will be addressed or start looking around themselves for a better place to be.

Finally, with respect to the nasty ones who are unhappy themselves and basically just daring you to do something, you’ll also be doing them and yourself a big favor to fire them quickly and put everyone involved out of their misery. These are usually the toughest cases and it’s helpful to get ahead of the inevitable “what just happened” questions by giving a heads-up to a few key folks on your side and making it clear that this was a practical and not an emotional decision.

Again, the bottom line in all these kinds of personnel situations, is to remember that only you are really in a position to make the case-by-case personnel decisions and the sooner and more swiftly you act, the better the results will be for you, your people, and your business.