Get happy. Fire someone.

Looking back on my days as a lance-corporal of industry, my biggest regret is that I spent too much time dealing with crappy employees and not enough to honouring the good ones. I was CEO of Intelligent Games, a 65-person computer game developer in my twenties. I sometimes felt more like a social worker than a boss.

My inexperience then and my desire to be liked meant that I spent a lot of time trying to be fair, doing things to build good morale and generally treating the minority of miserable, grumpy and inefficient employees like the most important part of my business. Wrong!

The top ten percent of programmers massively outperforms the rest. For more on this, check out Peopleware. They solve big problems. Get more done. Whine less. Enjoy their work more. Make fewer mistakes. Same with graphic designers.

I should have spent my time helping them do their job and trying to develop the middle mass of developers improve so that they approached the top ten percent. Reading this article – The Secret to Having Happy Employees - in the New York Times, I realise my biggest mistake. Not firing the bad ones soon enough. D’oh!

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5 Responses to Get happy. Fire someone.

  1. Julia R April 4, 2010 at 2:20 am #

    Hi Matthew — oh, if managers learn only one thing in their career, I hope it’s this.

    As a higher performing employee, I feel disrespected and undervalued when so much time and energy goes to the bottom 10%. And it only gets worse when more incompetent managers call on the higher performing employees to help clean up the mess of the others.

    So thanks for sharing this article — I am filing it in my brain for future use!
    .-= Julia R´s last blog ..Prayer #107: Hair Shirt =-.

    • Matthew Stibbe April 4, 2010 at 7:36 am #

      Julia – you touched on another key point. If good employees see bad employees ‘getting away with it’ they can easily be demotivated. I’ve seen it happen myself. I just listened to a great episode of This American Life about the NUMMI motor plant which talks about this exact point.

  2. Alan Green April 6, 2010 at 9:20 pm #

    People are the real asset of any company.
    You can only pay a certain number of people.
    Hence keep only the best in order to have high value asset.

  3. Alexandra April 21, 2010 at 4:43 am #

    It works both ways: bad management (usually insecure, often antisocial people) will cut the wings off a good employee to enhance the inept manager’s own corporate rating. Read Stanford’s prof. R. Sutton’s book “The No Asshole Rule”, about bad management. A slowly growing number of companies are taking prof. Sutton’s advice to heart.

    • Matthew Stibbe April 21, 2010 at 6:04 am #

      Yes, that’s true. But coming from the management side of the table I assume that all managers are good guys! :) And, of course, employees get to fire their boss very easily by quitting at will. In the UK at least, firing an employee after the first year is pretty difficult.

      Seriously, though, I’ve always been a bit dubious of the theory that anyone in authority, managers or politicians, must automatically, ex-officio if you like, be a borderline psychopath.

      I think management and leadership are things that can be taught. It may be arguable that we don’t devote enough time and attention to these things and perhaps, as a society, we get the managers we deserve. I’d like to see better managers and happier companies and fewer assholes all round! :)

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