Rookie Mistakes 101: Waiting Too Long to Transition a Team Member

One of the most difficult things any early founder has to deal with is transitioning a team member. I struggled with it and every founder I know struggled with it at some point. Early teams are close knit and can feel like family. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that may be helpful:

  • Everyone knows – When someone isn’t pulling their weight or they’re struggling to keep up, it’s not a secret. Especially on small teams. Most people won’t say anything to the founder, but they’re thinking about it. A players want to work with A players. A C player can pull down the productivity of the entire team. No one wants to give 100% if they know others give only 70%.
  • Company needs evolve – Companies go through growth stages just like people. What’s needed to be successful changes with each stage. Someone’s skills may be great at stage one but insufficient at stage two. It’s common for people to outgrow a company, and vice versa.
  • Trust your gut – With every person I’ve transitioned, I knew long before the day came that it would need to be done. Most founders say the same thing. I often waited quite a while to make the change, which was a mistake. It wasn’t good for the person or the company. It’s better to rip the bandage off and allow people to find a role (internally or externally) that sets them up for success than to allow them to continually fail.
  • One step ahead – Founders are captains of a ship. They should be looking far out and adjusting course to reach the destination while avoiding icebergs that might sink it. Staying a step ahead can give your people the opportunity to grow their skill set before they’re needed (if you tell them what skills they need to work on). Or it will give you time to find someone with the right skills for the role.

What I’ve said doesn’t apply just to non-founders, but to founders as well. Companies can outgrow the skills of their founder. Founders need to be self-aware and constantly working to make sure their skills match the company’s needs. When people see founders working to make themselves better, they tend to want to do the same.

People are critical to the success of any company and you should always treat everyone fairly and with dignity. Early founders need to realize that keeping someone on too long can harm them, not help them. It’s terrible for their confidence to continually fail. Transitioning them to a role they’re better suited for may be painful in the short term but it will set them and the company up for long-term success.