Dealing with non-performers in startups about expectations

Handling non-performers in startups is a challenge for many new entrepreneurs. Some advice from veterans include valuing attitude more than competence, and identifying if problems are caused by lack of skill or will.
Written by Srinivas Kulkarni, Contributor

Performance is measured by many factors and it is important to set expectations right from the get go. Also equally important is to provide adequate training to develop a great culture within the startup that of course rewards performers and grooms non-performers to become performing employees.

"The starting point is to understand the reason for non-performance," said Hareesh Tibrewala, joint-CEO of Social Wavelength, a social media agency, and a startup headquartered in Mumbai, India, which has scaled from 10 to 150 people within four years.

According to him, some of the reasons could be a lack of a well-defined role, expectations mismatch, or even lack of adequate training. "It is important that having taken someone on-board, person is trained well and provided adequate resources necessary for a successfully fulfilling a job role. If issue is account of skill set, one should try to move the resource to a job role that matches the available skills," he added.

However Tibrewala also noted that if it was an attitude issue, it is best to have a chat with the concerned person and plan an amicable parting. A wrong person in the wrong job role benefits neither the individual concerned not the organization.

As he rightly mentioned, in my opinion, it's a good idea to break down non-performance into whether it's a skill or a will issue and then probably deal with them accordingly. It's a key thing for the entrepreneurs to figure out right from the time they hire the employees. 

According to Vijay Sharma, founder of Exotel, a cloud telephony startup in India, its hiring process is what helps them focus on trying to see if there is hunger in someone, and if the employee has a willingness to learn. He admits that sometimes they go wrong, but they do get it right many times, and it's less about skill and more about attitude especially at an early stage startup like theirs. 

"We try to keep the possible non-performers out in that barricade, but if that does not work, I think we need to think about why someone is not performing." Understanding employees reasons for performance, analyzing why they aren't working, talking to them individually, providing them the resources needed and hopefully over some logical discussions figuring out how to improve the situation helps a great deal, he added. 

Vijay added: "Even if then it does not work, we do consider whether their talent and attributes could be used in another role in the company or not, and whether a change of work or targets might help him orher."

As one of the challenges for startups is to find the right model, correct style of work, resources and a lot of difficulties, especially early on, it's important that expectation setting is done accordingly. Yes, many startups have a lean approach and there'll be an element of frugal thinking, sometimes lack of resources and even a burden of work that cannot be just simply be penned down in a job description. 

As Prajakt Raut, founder of The Hub for Startups and vice president of Indian Angel Network, mentioned, it's important to give hiring the right perspective. He said: "Do remember however, that for startups, where the right model is yet to be discovered, it is important to hire people for their attitude and drive rather than for their competence on a particular aspect. Hire people with passion and enthusiasm. Hire people who are responsible and self-driven."

"Do remember however, that for startups, where the right model is yet to be discovered, it is important to hire people for their attitude and drive rather than for their competence on a particular aspect."
Prajakt Raut,
Founder of The Hub for Startups.
Another interesting point highlighted by Pravin Jadhav, founder of Wishberg, is that of the amount of resources being used up by the time you realize the non-performance impacting your startup. He said: "By the time you realize a hiring mistake, you already have lost on a lot of time and resources. It puts you on the backseat. As founders who work closely with a small team, we realize performance issues much sooner there are signs of discomfort that are very evident." He said that they sit together with the team, make the team member realize their need to move fast since everyone is dependent on everyone else. Have discussions with the member and give them time to see improvement. 

Indeed, as important as it is to cultivate a culture that allows for people to be self-driven, it's imperative as entrepreneurs, that you groom them and give them the freedom to be self-starters in order to function as effectively as they can. A sense of empowerement is needed for everyone to believe that the startup they are working for is their own startup. Inspiring such behavior and attitude isn't that easy and it also requires hiring people with the right maturity and at the same time striking a balance between culture and roles that you define within your startup. What do you think?

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