Episode 0065 · August 15, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Little Firings Everywhere

[Unedited Transcript]

Rich Ziade: Hi Paul.

Paul Ford: Hi Rich, how’s it going?

Rich Ziade: It’s going well. Can I ask you a few awkward questions?

Paul Ford: Absolutely.

Rich Ziade: Have you ever let anyone go from their job?

Paul Ford: Yes. And I hate it.

Rich Ziade: Why do you hate it?

Paul Ford: Because you look into their eyes and you realize, and you know what’s funny, I’ll tell you, there’s a thing that always happens in this situation. And we’re not in this situation right now, which is why I feel comfortable talking about it. Uh, where, Everyone, as you’re getting lined up to let someone go, everybody looks at each other and is like, Well, they won’t be surprised.

You know, they had their warning. They know this is coming.

Rich Ziade: They’re always surprised.

Paul Ford: It doesn’t matter if you said yesterday, if you do not… Uh, put the purple square on the yellow [00:01:00] card. You will be fired. And they, they don’t do it and you go in the next day and you say, we’re letting you go and they’re like, why?

Like, it doesn’t, there is no way to prepare someone for that event and improvement plans and everything. It just doesn’t matter.

Rich Ziade: My guess is there are a lot of podcasts about being on the other side of this. Uh, and not many people talk about, uh, Being the person letting people

Paul Ford: Oh, everybody, everybody, uh, wants that more empathy for their bosses in 2023. That’s,

Rich Ziade: and that’s what we’re here

Paul Ford: yeah, building boss empathy.

Rich Ziade: I will This isn’t about firing people This is about how It is one of the single biggest threats to it just about anything you’re doing It could be a project inside of a team inside of a big company. It could be a startup. It could be anywhere if You’ve got a bad situation [00:02:00] If you have any, any sort of empathy or sympathy, frankly, it’s not going to happen in a timely fashion because it’s terrible.

It sucks.

Paul Ford: Well, there’s two things, actually. You know, the other, the flip side of that is no one ever quits on, on time either. Everybody, it’s like, it’s, no, no, this is real. And it’s sort of, it’s actually, it’s a human dynamic that we’re going to explore, right? So this is the human dynamic. Um, relationships and human relationships mean that tactical decisions get delayed.


Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: and strategic decisions, because there’s value in those relationships. And I, I think like, we have to be careful, because

Rich Ziade: as in like personal value, friendships are forming. Like what kind of value are you

Paul Ford: it’s all of that, it’s really money. It doesn’t have clearly defined lines. That’s why big organizations just are like, hey, you’re in the top, you know, 15%, good for you, you’re safe. You’re in the bottom 25%, bad for you. Uh, we’re, we’re probably gonna let you go, because they, they just like, [00:03:00] unless the spreadsheet checks out, no, everyone will defend somebody else.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I do want to share a story, uh, speaking of quitting, of, and obviously we will not name this person, this happened years ago, where the person sat us down and we knew there were issues. We weren’t close enough, the org was bigger, but we knew that people were not excited about this. Like it was, it was, the sharks were circling, right?

And the person sat us down and said, I think I have to go.

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: And they’re like, what’s going on? And they said, well, I just think, I think what I think I’m good at isn’t recognized here. And I think there are a lot of people who aren’t happy with me and I probably should just go.

Paul Ford: That was a moment of the most shocking maturity of self awareness I had.

Rich Ziade: It’s happened once. I’ve hired maybe 400 people in my career.

Paul Ford: It was actually also, it was kind of early in our company. Like, we weren’t ready for it. We were like, whoa, okay.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. [00:04:00] Um, going back to, I have a theory. My theory is this. Is that humans. Never really fully understand or embrace. or internalize the idea of this artificial construct of an org chart or a team or a company of a collection of individuals that come together under a common capitalist cause or non profit cause. It’s alien. And so the only template they have is like School and family, like it’s kind of all they have.

Everyone has the knucklehead uncle who comes to the party, to the, to the holiday dinner, right? Everyone has it. You’re not going to fire the uncle. You’re kind of going to deal with it. You sort of keep the scotch away. You let him have two, but then that, you got to cut it off.

Paul Ford: but you, it’s Sorry, only bill or light?

Rich Ziade: only Miller Lite.

Paul Ford: Oh, we ran out of the scotch. I think

Rich Ziade: as [00:05:00] humans, we have, we understand how utterly flawed we are, and we kind of have to live with it.

And so when you apply that to a business, or a young business or a startup, it can actually be devastating. It can actually be deeply, deeply harmful. Why? Because. the data shows that this is wrong and is actually bringing risk in. But gosh, it’s painful not to have the uncle at the holiday dinner. We can’t tell him not to come, right?

And so, what we end up doing, we shift into this like weird sort of alternate rationalization mode where we kind of don’t want to deal. There’s that. Like I just don’t want to deal with this.

Paul Ford: Well,

Rich Ziade: They’re somewhat productive. They’re not utterly unproductive. It’s hard. It’s hard and I consider myself a hard hitting executive

Paul Ford: It always takes everybody too long and you feel terrible. I’ve never, even when I’m not the [00:06:00] one doing the dismissal, I’ve never been able to, I’ve always stayed up the night before. Just drives me crazy. I hate it.

Rich Ziade: and even if you know It’s right for the company or

Paul Ford: it’s right for the company because you don’t do it, you always do it six months too late.

Everybody always tells you like, ah, you know, you gotta, the minute somebody like, you know, if they itch their arm wrong, send them out. That’s not how it works.

Rich Ziade: never how it works. Look, I want to check one box here. That’s not what this podcast is about. Obviously, communication and most HR orgs have a protocol around telling someone where there are issues, telling them how they can improve, giving them guidance on the opportunity to improve. This way, it is utterly unfair, no matter how bad a performer someone is, to just blindside them with, ah, you suck, get out.

And, and there’s no, there’s no heads up and no opportunity to fix it.

Paul Ford: This way,

Rich Ziade: So, putting that aside, that is a process that’s in place. There are legal protections for. So that they [00:07:00] don’t get blindsided and don’t get wrongfully terminated frankly, but for a lot of companies and for a lot of Managers, um, it goes too long.

It goes too long and it does terrible damage. I

Paul Ford: What actually does damage to the employee as well. We’re in a very funny and very blessed industry, where even now as the economy isn’t quite what it was three four years ago, uh, we’ve never, firstly, no one we let go didn’t get a job within like two weeks.

Rich Ziade: mean, yeah

Paul Ford: So there’s

Rich Ziade: seen people thrive elsewhere. It just didn’t work out in

Paul Ford: yeah, so there is that, right?

Which is a little bit of a security blanket, but you know, you’re not throwing them to the wolves. You’re really not.

Paul Ford: I hate this subject. I hate it. Yeah, I do.

Rich Ziade: Okay, so then let me ask you for some

Paul Ford: I never wanted to be the person who fires people. I hate that part of my life.

Rich Ziade: I’m going to ask you for advice that I could actually genuinely use because this happens to me way too many times. [00:08:00] I can tell if it isn’t working, but there are layers between me and the person.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: And this is something that naturally happens. A manager who decided to hire someone often stands behind their decision.

Often wants to protect their team. Often has built somewhat of a social relationship with that person. I know two levels down that there is a person that is actually… Not working out,

Paul Ford: I’ve seen this, it’s horrible.

Rich Ziade: and then you talk to the boss of that person the manager of the person and the manager Goes into a defensive mode, which I frankly respect they’re trying to protect their

Paul Ford: Of course you respect it, but here’s what actually happens. They’re the only person we have on staff who can tame Sparrows. And you’re like,

Rich Ziade: We’ve got no one

Paul Ford: And you’re like, well, we make websites. And they’re like, yes. But when we need to tape sparrows, they’re amazing.

Rich Ziade: Okay, so they [00:09:00] rationalize they stay justify like yes, it’s not going great, but we don’t have any other

Paul Ford: there’s a reason why you don’t see their value. It’s because you’re not in the tarot, the sparrow taping meetings.

Rich Ziade: I know but I’ve been

Paul Ford: Yeah,

Rich Ziade: I’ve been at the

Paul Ford: that’s, that’s what’s going on. Well, you know, it’s horrible. It’s horrible. Yeah.

Rich Ziade: and the infection is spreading, right? And I want to cut it. I want to, I want to mitigate. I want to stop the bleeding. What do I do?

Paul Ford: What do I do? Well, in many organizations, that person just gets promoted. Or moved somewhere else. They move them over to Grackles. They’re like, oh, you know, we’re going to the Grackle division. Ah, dude, this is, this is the nightmare, right? This is the problem. The problem is when you, you can’t change it. I don’t think.

I don’t, you can’t swoop in. If you swoop in as manager, Uh, and say that, that’s going to be a bad situation for [00:10:00] you, then you are, uh, not delegating. You’re not giving power away. You’re staying as the manager, essentially. It’s the most fundamental relationship is the one between the manager and the direct report.

Rich Ziade: So, so, but you’ve got a bad employee.

Paul Ford: this is why organizations stack rank, man. This is how this works.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I, I have.

Paul Ford: Because, no, because stack ranking is a way to mechanize that power, that power

Rich Ziade: Yeah, um, but I, I’ve, I’ve sidestepped that manager a few times

Paul Ford: Oh, yeah, really? People who work with you would be really shocked to hear that you sidestepped

Rich Ziade: A board is hiring, a board’s our startup, we’d love for you to come work with us. Um,

Paul Ford: And then when we lay you off, it’ll be very humane. Unless you

Rich Ziade: here’s I think fundamentally what’s going on. It’s one of the hardest things to, uh, to convey to managers, to leaders, to team leaders and whatnot. Um, Humans are not, unless you started the [00:11:00] company, like you’re the founder of Campbell’s Soup.

Humors, humans are more inclined to be advocates for other humans than to be advocates towards a corporate entity.

Paul Ford: Oh, this was, uh… This is the struggle. This is, in fact, of all the management things I did in previous incarnations, the one that was the most successful, what do I as a manager? I’m not an operational leader.

I simply repeat things until people are exhausted of me, and then they start saying them back to me, and then I leave them alone. Okay? That’s

Rich Ziade: This is the truth. Say it illegal? You’re training, training a parrot,

Paul Ford: Yeah, or it’s like an AI large language model, whatever. But the, uh, yeah, no, it’s… And it’s, the things are really simple. And so, let’s say I work at a company called XYZ.

The number one question that matters is what’s good for XYZ? Did you ask that question? Did you ask what’s good for XYZ? Because what people say is like, oof, boy, you know, Susie, uh, you know, she’s, she’s, uh, got her collection of Hubble figurines. That’s very important to her. So she’s going to that conference and where she’s going to miss the big [00:12:00] presentation of the client.

You go like, cool, get it? Is that what’s good for XYZ? And the answer is no, it’s not. Okay, well that’s okay. Now we’re going to decide what compromise we’re going to make. But let’s be clear.

Rich Ziade: use. And literally, there’s like,

Paul Ford: and literally what you need to do, and this is where, what does an executive actually do in a big organization?

Most people don’t know. They consistently ask that question about other humans.

Rich Ziade: Well, it’s

Paul Ford: So it’s like, is this good, you know, okay, I heard you, I get it, it’s interesting. Is this good for XYZ? How do they know what question to ask of a giant organization? Because they have very specific revenue goals that they have to hit. Or they get fired. Well, they get fired. as you get up the chain. You’re at war with your peers. You literally fight like gladiators in front of the CEO. And there is no organization at scale that I’ve seen [00:13:00] where there isn’t at least some of that.

Rich Ziade: I Think that’s right. And and I think One of the things I’ve learned, and this is kind of a non answer, is that it’s nearly impossible to get people to shift their advocacy from people to a company.

Paul Ford: You know,

Rich Ziade: It’s nearly impossible to

Paul Ford: the advice you’re asking me for. I’m gonna give it back to you. You’re saying, how do we change human nature? And I’m gonna tell you, you can’t. What you can do, if you’re an organization that’s scaling, is you can essentially analyze it, commoditize it, and mechanize it. And say like, Yep, that’s all this is.

And now the bureaucracy comes in, which now it’s not a startup anymore. But you know that you are a level yellow and that you can get to level gold over a 2. 5 year period. And that level gold makes 32, 000 a year more than level yellow. Okay, so that’s going to, now you’re going to align your goals with that.

You know who does this perfectly? Salesforce.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: you’re a trailblazer. Come on in. Yeah. [00:14:00] Everything. It’s very, it’s transparent, it’s personable, and so on. You are aware that you are a cog in the machine ’cause it’s sales culture.

Rich Ziade: Scout medals again and again, right?

Paul Ford: and you get money, and you get praise and you do pick up skills.

And they, they basically fan out into hundreds of thousands of individuals,

Rich Ziade: yeah,

Paul Ford: uh, using, using that approach. They mechanized all. They gamified everything.

Rich Ziade: yeah, I think it’s funny. This started off like very like business advice y and ended up really fundamentally around how humans work and interact with each other and the fact that we need, I mean, sales. You know, the sales figures and the big gong when you close a deal and, you know, the, the, the stats of who closed the most and whatnot.

It’s a little slimy and a little mathematical, but frankly, it’s objective. It kind of shuns away all of the biases, right? And it’s,

Paul Ford: you know what, you know what I [00:15:00] hate about business culture over the last 10 years? The concept of the peer manager.

Rich Ziade: what is that?

Paul Ford: It’s the peer leader. It’s the person. We’re all right here. The level is flat.

Rich Ziade: that’s a trap.

Paul Ford: It’s extremely dangerous. It’s dangerous in the same way that like unlimited vacation is dangerous, right?

You just like.

Rich Ziade: it gets weaponized. Humans are very political.

Paul Ford: Look Rich, I always had the fantasy I’d be like a peer leader and I’d be a mentor and so forth. You can’t do it because there’s power differential You and I are the only people in our current company where there’s no power differential between us. The people who are in the company with us, I like them.

I really respect them. I want them to do well. I want them to succeed financially. I want them to have healthy relationships with their families and their children. Uh, but there is no way to truly be their friend.

Rich Ziade: It’s very difficult. Every so often you meet a mature person who kind of gets it and embraces the dynamics. The military is like this, right? Like, there’s a very strict set of rules around respecting the hierarchy. [00:16:00] Do you become buddies? You can respect each other. I mean,

Paul Ford: you can, you can show care.

Rich Ziade: you can show care.

Paul Ford: help people

you know, stuff like this.

Rich Ziade: yeah. Um, uh, this is hard. Uh, I’ve… Often…

Paul Ford: you want to go down this path today? Because there’s nothing like this in the company. That’s not what we’re worried about.

Rich Ziade: No, no, there’s nothing like this in the company. Um, uh, it was a Sam Altman quote.

Paul Ford: Oh, Sam Altman from OpenAI.

Rich Ziade: So they asked him, What’s the number one piece of advice you would give founders of startups? And he said this. Every first time founder waits too long. Everyone hopes that an employee will turn around, but the right answer is to fire fast.

Paul Ford: Yeah, it’s real.

Rich Ziade: I mean, I think when you, when you look at it through the lens of a founder, like, you can kind of hide

Paul Ford: Oh. Yes.

Rich Ziade: MasterCard in a cubicle for months and it’s not gonna affect the company. It is existential for a young business that has [00:17:00] three people in it or five people in it. And you thought you had the winner because you just hit it off at drinks to convince them to come on.

Uh, and it’s not the right person. That’s existential. It’s like, that’s 20% of your company is, or 25 or 30,

Paul Ford: now drag and they might argue that they’re not drag, but you perceive them as drag and that’s the worst part

Rich Ziade: That’s the worst part. And it’s not easy. It’s not easy. And also, let me tell you. There is a formal process. When it’s a very big company, when it’s like four people,

Paul Ford: oh well

Rich Ziade: it’s rough. It’s hard.

Paul Ford: thing I said about not being friends like you’ve been to their kids christening at that point

Rich Ziade: It’s, it’s, it’s real hard. It’s real hard. It’s very intimate. It’s family like. It’s actually what makes a lot of startups great.

Paul Ford: is going to destroy their relationship. That’s what you were saying. You know, maybe, I hope we can get past this. You cannot.

Rich Ziade: Yes, and to clarify for anyone listening, Sam Altman is heads up the Y Combinator.

Paul Ford: used to. He now runs

Rich Ziade: He now runs OpenAI. [00:18:00] So he’s seen a million startups. So he’s seen the patterns of what

Paul Ford: of, kind of a strange guy, but he’s right.

Rich Ziade: He’s right. Um,

Paul Ford: Alright.

Rich Ziade: you know what, sometimes it’s tough advice, Paul. Speaking

Paul Ford: I’m congested,

Rich Ziade: Let’s turn it around and talk about Aboard at Aboard.

com A wonderful way

Paul Ford: Can a board help me be less congested?

Rich Ziade: No, but you could file away as many decongestant medicines as you like in one board, Paul.

Paul Ford: we’ll call it sinuses.

Rich Ziade: Check it out at Aboard. com. We’re going live real soon. We’ve got a mobile app taking shape. Very excited to share with everyone.

Paul Ford: Check us out at Ziade Ford on X. Jeez. And hello at ZiadeFord. com.

Rich Ziade: Have a lovely

Paul Ford: Talk to you all in a less congested way. Bye. [00:19:00]

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