The Right Person

Why Am I Doing Your Job For You?

Have you ever thought, “What the fxck?! Why can’t you do a simple task?” when an employee or contractor, or hell, even a business partner comes to you having messed up a task or just doesn’t quite seem to “get it”?

Maybe you don’t think as rude of thoughts as me, but if you’ve got a team then someone has screwed up at least once. What’s worse is if they have to come to you to solve issues they were hired to handle.

How often do you have to deal with tasks that your team is working on? Is it just one person or most everyone that has to come to you for a solution?

If you’re dealing with multiple team members bringing you their responsibilities then you have a structural problem in your business, which is outside the scope of this article.

If you’ve got to deal with one or two people regularly bringing you their responsibilities, then you’ve got the wrong person for the job.

Here’s four questions that let you know the wrong person is in the job.

  • Have you overloaded the person with work or you’re setting unreasonable deadlines?
  • If not, then does the person have the right tools and systems to do the job?
  • If so, then is the person properly trained to do the job?
  • If the person has all that and still isn’t getting the job done without your input then you’ve got the wrong person for the job.
  • Bonus question: does the person come to you because you’ve set an expectation that your approval is necessary before a task is complete? If so, then you are the wrong person in your employee’s job.

Getting The Right Person For The Job

Let’s deal with the bonus question first. I’ve watched many founders set themselves up as the bottleneck in their company. Originally this is out of necessity. They are involved with every aspect of the startup because there just aren’t enough people to do everything that needs to be done.

But what happens is this “do everything” attitude becomes a habit that they don’t break when they start building teams. Even if the don’t do the labor of that job anymore, they keep themselves integrated into the workflow to ensure the job is done ‘right.’ They think proper management of a team requires them to be involved in the team’s work instead of making sure the team has what it needs to function properly — including autonomy.

Fire Yourself First

So the first thing founders need to do is remove themselves from the employee’s job. They are the wrong person for the job and they shouldn’t be interfering with the job’s workflow. Founders have to let team members stand on their own merit otherwise they’ll never know if that person is the right one. There’s no way to evaluate an employee’s performance if the founder is always interfering or requires the employee to get approval to finish tasks.

Before you fire employees, make sure you fire yourself from their job first. After you fire yourself as the bottleneck (micromanager) in your employee’s job you can use the evaluation questions to determine if you’ve got the right person doing the right tasks.

Next Look At Your Systems and Training

Go back to the four evaluation questions and determine whether you’ve done your job in helping your team do their jobs. If your company is under 5 years old and under $5 million in revenue then I can say with great certainty that your team is overloaded/unreasonable deadlines, lacking the tools or systems to properly do their job, and/or don’t have formal training in the tools, systems and practices.

“Hold on a minute there, Timbo! You can’t be saying to not fire anyone unless I have all those things perfect, right?”

Uh, sort of?

I’m not going to cover hiring practices in this article, but if you have to fire someone that is being micromanaged by you, overloaded, under-trained, etc. then you set your company and the new hire up for failure. Some people (we tend to call them ‘A’ players) can overcome the chaos in your startup/small biz and be great or at least competent. That’s not a win on your part. You got lucky that that hire could overcome the barriers you had set in place. Most other people can’t or won’t overcome the barriers.

Some hires are not a fit and you probably guessed it during the hiring process, but you thought you could make them into a good team member and culture fit. Do yourself and the hire a favor and let them go. One of my clients is in this same situation. I recommended they give the employee two weeks severance pay and an offer of a good recommendation when they interview at other companies.

But I will say that part of the reason they have to let him go is that they don’t have the systems nor the training to have someone so green in that position. With better systems and training they could hire less experienced people for the tasks being performed. However, they have a small business and limited resources, so to compensate for the lack of resources they must find an ‘A’ player to put in that job.

80% Capacity

If an employee is coming to you about a task to get more time or to let you know other tasks must be deprioritized so this one can be completed on time, then look to see if that employee is working at greater than 80% capacity.

I have a rule I use with my founder clients: look for greater efficiency or hire when an employee is consistently working at more than 80% of their capacity. Every team member needs about 20% slack to handle periods of rapid growth, new projects and to prevent burnout. Employees might handle 87% workload for years without burnout if there aren’t periods of intense work added to their schedule. But we all know in startups and fast growing companies that this is never the case. There are frequent periods of intense work. Many times exceeding 100% of capacity when they have to work until oh-dark-thirty several days in a row.

When you review your employees’ responsibilities and they are consistently working at greater than 80% capacity you need to either hire a full time person or get them an assistant. With a recent client, we uncovered that he needed another part time assistant to offload some tasks he, as the CEO, shouldn’t be doing. I then asked him if he had ever asked his top performers if they needed an assistant. He had never even thought about it. After talking to his top performers he found that he could hire one full time assistant to take tasks away from him and his four hardest working team members. This resulted in saving nearly 40 hours of time across five mission critical positions.

So the quick rule is that if an employee is consistently at 80% capacity you should start your search for another team member. This might be as a part time assistant to the employee or possibly a full time person needs to be brought on if you have several people exceeding 80% workload.

A Fully Stocked Toolbox

Your employee toolbox — the software, processes and training, should be fully stocked. I know, dear reader, that yours is not. Don’t feel too badly that you’re not training and gearing up your employees properly. Almost no is.

Most of my clients are under $5 million in revenue as I specialize in helping founders become the CEO of their company. What this means is that they’re fairly small businesses with teams smaller than 25 people. They have limited financial resources to throw at training, software and such. They have much less time than money.

Researching, testing and implementing tools and training takes a lot of time. Time that small teams just don’t have available. They rely on brute force instead of leveraging a new process. They rely on “mirroring” to transfer knowledge and cultural DNA. Mirroring is having a new hire learn a tasks, expectations, policies and such from the person most knowledgeable in the job the new hire will be doing.

The new hire absorbs the company DNA through this single point with some reinforcement from other team members. Unfortunately, even if a new hire has multiple trainers, he gets very little time with each one and can only translate pieces of the company DNA into his behavior.

Oh, but it gets better…

The new hire becomes a seasoned employee and then is asked to train new hires. He then goes about sharing the pieces of company DNA that he absorbed with these new hires and they will only absorb pieces.

Two generations of hires past the founder(s) and this broken knowledge and culture transfer causes a lot of confusion and friction throughout the company.

To address the problem of the “always lacking” training toolbox with determining whether a team member is the right person for the job, a founder and team leads should look to see if there are glaring omissions from the employee’s training, work processes or tools.

Another tactic to use when hiring is to look for characteristics in applicants that match the characteristics of your other early employees who thrived in your company in spite inadequate training and resources.

When you’re a small company you need people who are very resourceful to make up for the lack of resources. This is doubly so with young companies that are growing rapidly. Each day brings all new challenges. And many times you just can’t afford to build a process for something that may be discarded in a few months.

Ask yourself if you hired someone who is better suited for a larger, more stable company. Ask yourself if your toolbox has major gaps. My guess if a team member isn’t working out then it is a combination of both.


Knowing that you don’t have enough resources to properly train and equip each new hire means you have to develop a rapid hire system. The military calls this bootcamp. New recruits get a haircut, uniforms and cultural indoctrination in just a few short weeks.

Creating your own new hire bootcamp will provide a structured opportunity for employees to gain a greater sense of their new job and of the company culture. I don’t have a perfect way to do this, but I have some suggestions that have helped a lot of entrepreneurs grow.

  • Put the new hire in close physical proximity to as many team members as possible. Offices are going away so this might prove difficult. Some of my clients have remote teams, but they make new hires come to them for at least 3 months to work alongside them and their team leaders. After that they can live wherever they wish. If you have an office this becomes a lot easier.
  • Founders and other executives need to spend at least a couple of hours with all new hires until the staff numbers get too big (typically around 75 or so).
  • Crosstrain new hires. Don’t just have the one who knows a job the best be the only trainer. You want to make sure that the company DNA is transferred in as complete a form as possible. This will add some inefficiency to the training process, but it will prevent future confusion and friction. Also, it will determine if a new hire is a good cultural and competent fit for the company faster than just putting them on a 6-month probation period.

Dealing With It

You’ve now gone through the major problem areas and have determined that a team member is the wrong person for the job.

You’ve made sure that you’re not interfering in their workflow and causing them to seem incompetent.

You’ve trained them or gave them additional training and possibly purchased software that fixes the problem they were having.

You’ve made sure that deadlines are appropriate and hired additional help to get them back to 80-85% productive capacity.

But they still aren’t working out.

Then be decisive. End their employment quickly, but fairly. If you can afford it, I recommend at least two weeks severance pay so they don’t land too hard after you’ve fired them. You have to remember that most people are living paycheck-to-paycheck. Even though this isn’t your fault, your employee will most likely be in dire financial straits without severance.

If they weren’t a complete and utter screw up, make sure to help them get a job elsewhere. Just because someone wasn’t a good fit at your company doesn’t mean they won’t be a good fit elsewhere.

I had a discussion just recently with a prospective client and they had two people in their company who aren’t working out. One isn’t working hard, but is competent enough (probably little ambition or maybe even just lazy). The other is a hell of a brand ambassador, but not so great at the job.

The quick advice I gave was essentially fire the lazy one and find a different job in the company for the other. I could be wrong on both counts. The lazy one could be really ambitious if removed from the pigeonhole of his current position. The other might love and promote the brand, but could still be mediocre in another position.

However, if they go through this article and evaluate their employees and themselves they will have a better idea whether to fire or retrain these employees.

There’s a lot packed into this article email me your questions and comments. tim (at) tim411 dot com

Let me know how you’re dealing with growing a team that has the responsibility and the authority to do their jobs.