Fresh hires vs old hands: Why companies let the latter leave
It was not such much that the new hires had stopped performing but the old hands were preventing the new hires from performing.
Recently I ran into a mentee of mine from Guwahati. I had mentored her seven years ago to build a chillie processing and export business. Over the years she built a hugely profitable business from the famous and dangerous chillie of the north-east, bhoot jhalokiya. Dangerous because one teeny weeny bite into it is enough to singe your palate and throat!
She was my mentee for three years, having renewed every year. So I had pretty much known all the management hires of those early days. I always thought she struck lucky with her team because talent is hard to come by anywhere in the north-east.
So this time when I ran into her, I asked about each one of them. I named names and in a typical fashion I said things like: Does Sri still wear garish stoles around his neck? Does Pau still drum his fingers on his laptop when he is talking to customers? Did Vari marry that girlfriend of his at all? And much to my chagrin I realized that not one of them was in the company any more. Even more surprising was the fact that out of the 6 mid-management hires we had made in the first year, four of them had been let go and two of them had quit under pressure. All the attritions had happened in the fifth year of the company when they went in for the kill.
Stemming the rot
So I asked her the next logical question. Had they stopped performing? Her answer hit me between my brows. She said it was not such much that they had stopped performing but they were preventing the new hires from performing!
So the story goes like this. As long as it was a small team of under 10 in the first two years of operation, things were hunky dory. Year III is when they hit a huge growth trajectory and they hired thrice that number. The original team initially took the new ones under their wings, told them stories of how the company had first started in a shack, how they had built the business and how they took a lot of pride in being part of this growth story. All of which was fine.
The problem started when the new team wanted things to be done differently. They wanted to explore newer markets, they wanted to use newer business tools to improve efficiency of operation, they wanted real-time in everything. The old team not only resisted, not only said it can't be done but even pronounced that no one can do it. So my mentee said, it is not just that the old team were cynical in their attitude, they were resigned too.
When she noticed that some of the new team members were beginning to imbibe that cynicism, she had to take a call on letting the old team go. She said it was a hard call because all said and done, they were her first hires, they had helped her grow the company and she felt a sense of loyalty to them. But when their cynicism started to corrupt the whole resource pool, she had to make a ruthless decision.
Bane of cynicism
This story took me back to a few decades when I had just started my career. One of the companies I worked for was Network India Limited, which used to sell electronic typewriters and they were the largest in the market. Their hiring policy was simple, yet smart. They would hire fresh sassy graduates from good colleges in the metros, ragdo them for two years in their territory. They would get the best out of them in those two years as there was raw hunger for success there. By the end of two years of successfully over-achieving targets, a sense of invincibility would begin to edge its way in. This would be visible in their tall talk, confidence-turned-into-cockiness and over-arched demeanor.
That's when the management would drop hints of other office automation companies looking for territory manager. It would be done subtly and casually over tea, and these youngsters never realised they were being set up. They would act upon it and the fast moving among them would get lapped up by the competitors.
The company would then hire freshers in their place. This was a huge win-win because the company ensured that that raw hunger remained in circulation in the sales team. And the good guys moved upwards elsewhere. And I believe this is what made Network a nimble, agile company.
Forever doesn't seem to be a good thing, right?
Nandini Vaidyanathan teaches entrepreneurship, mentors entrepreneurs [www.carmaconnect.in] and has authored the bestseller, Entrepedia.
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