You fired your top talent. I hope you’re happy.
I just read You fired your top talent. I hope you’re happy by Tony Robinson on Medium. The article is a response to We fired our top talent. Best decision we ever made by Jhsolor.
They’re both worth reading. They explore the challenges of working in a field where expert knowledge is an essential weapon in the startup arms race and a potential poisoned chalice. The reality is the tech industry relies on coders. On people that understand software and can create it, bend it to their will. And I don’t mean that in a reductionist way. People that can code have a lot to bring beyond their skills there both in terms of business understanding and developing a company’s culture.
But when you rely on someone that much, it’s very easy to end up either enslaving them or being enslaved by them; and sometimes it’s a bit of both.
Having open communication with your developers, and everyone in your team, about their responsibilities and the impact they have on everyone else is important. Making sure those conversations are a two way street, that it’s not just on them to raise the alarms, is critical. As a manager, it can be really hard to know for sure how at risk you or your team is, but a great litmus test for this is time off. Have they taken time off? Do they feel they can? Does your team feel they can?
In the real world, people get sick at the drop of a hat and disappear for a week. Funerals, breakups – life gets in the way of your deadlines. If people aren’t taking regular time off, at least once every two months, then it’s a really good sign that something might be up. Have a chat and find out more.
One good way to experiment safely is to take them off a project at short notice. Get them to help with something else, but be clear that it’s instead of, not in addition to their existing responsibilities and a good, safe way to test criticality. Be tactical with who you share the intent with; sometimes it makes sense not to tell the person, sometimes it makes sense to only tell the person, use your judgement. They might be resistant and worry that everything will fall apart without them. Maybe that’s a warning sign and the start of the conversation that you need to have, or maybe they’re just passionate and committed to the thing they were working on. Again, use your judgement and apologise for the short notice. You might need to be a little insistent to get people to give it a shot.
Crucially, don’t just do this where there are problems, do it where there could be problems and where a potential problem would have a serious impact. Follow up the week with a discussion with all parties to find out what the impact was and if lasting changes need to be made. If done right, it will highlight things you don’t know and give comfort to individuals on that week long outing that it’s not them – it’s just something that happens sometimes.
In the scenarios described in the two posts above, no one really wins. If it’s bad management, then there are others suffering. If it’s a bad employee, then the company loses someone loyal with a huge amount of knowledge. Taking action early to identify and softly steer things back on track will help in a host of ways, and it’s never too soon to try.