Hire and Fire

In the past 18 months I interviewed hundreds of developers and engineers and ultimately you can only do so much to figure out if a person fits into the team, values and skillset during an interviewing process— at some point there will be a person that’s challenging you as a Senior or Lead.

Now let’s ignore the possibilities of handling this during the hiring phase. What do you do if there is a negative and/or unproductive person on your team? Let’s call this person Steve for now.
Understandably, most team members will get frustrated with Steve. The teams drive is being slowed, the high standard for the team was lowered and performance goes down. Earlier in my career I thought that’s exactly what the probation period is for. 6 months — not convinced by then? Ciao Steve!
In Germany though, it’s not that easy.

The bigger the company the harder it is to let someone go. An US-style hire-and-fire culture doesn’t exist and there are lots of laws that protect Steve, which is a good thing. So before you go handing out dismissal letters like Tic Tacs you should reconsider: the ideal outcome of your actions with Steve should be that he becomes a valuable, performant and happy member of the team. So swallow down your frustration and — by now — negative attitude towards him and think about what you can do to make Steve more productive.

As with bugs in your application, you have to find the root cause first. Is Steve on a project he’s not passionate about? Will he fare better working from home? Is it a tooling problem or a workflow issue? Misunderstandings in communication or a lack of understanding regarding the teams expectations of Steves work? Are there temporary private matters to consider? Try to find out the core issue that causes Steve to miss your expectations.

Think of it like being a soccer team coach. Maybe you’ve put your Striker in as a Goalkeeper? That’s your fault, coach.

Getting a better picture of Steves situation can be as easy as asking him. Talk with him about the situation and your expectations in an honest, motivated way without blame. Any blame. You’re not here to rally against Steve, you’re here to find a solution together. And once you find out, you can do something about it. After conversations like this and your effort to make Steve more part of the team you will both feel much better about each other.

In my opinion, any Senior or Lead Developer should act a little more as a coach, help to find the sweet spots where your team members feel comfortable and where they can contribute to the team in a way that benefits everyone.


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