Can you afford to hire fast and cheap?
This is why hiring B players will kill your company. The work will be good, but not great. They will deliver on time most of the time, and hustle sometimes, but not always. This is, most often, hiring fast and cheap.
Let’s say you are in a startup, and you have a B player as your vice president of sales. The person will close a good account, but won’t consistently beat targets. If they go head-to-head against a competitor with better salespeople, this person (and potentially the whole startup) will lose. If you’re an early-stage startup, you are walking dead. Raising the next round will be like selling against a stronger competitor — you won’t ultimately win.
I helped smart people put together couple of engineering teams from the ground up, and I always started with an anchor rock star. The engineer that everyone wanted to work with, and whose work was so solid that he or she made everyone else more efficient and effective. I’ve been asked before how many engineers it would take to replace someone like that, and the correct answer is that there is no way to replace a person like this. Even if I could hire 10 B player engineers for the same price, I would never recommend you do it. Even if you’re an outsourcing company. The product quality would suffer, and the time-to-market would slow; you simply can’t replace skill with numbers.
My opinions on hiring and people haven’t come by accident. I’ve got scars from my career (and I’ve seen it from many angles — manager, recruiter, consultant, and even investor). I’ve made some pretty bad hires along the way. The really bad hires are the easy ones — it is obvious when someone fails or is clearly the wrong fit. You wonder what you were thinking, but at the end of the day, you can reverse these mistakes quickly and efficiently.
I and I alone put myself in the situation of having needed to fire people as well, and I will say this is one learning from my experience — I have never felt that I fired someone too soon.
The toughest ones are always the ones who are doing fine. Managers often blame themselves. Is the job not well-defined? Does the person have enough support? Maybe they just need more time, and they will improve. It isn’t easy to find great people, so why let the decent person go hoping to find someone better?
There is an opportunity cost to keeping someone when you could do better. At a startup, or any company for that matter, the opportunity cost may be the difference between success and failure. Do you give less than full effort to make your enterprise a success? As an entrepreneur, or newly appointed manager, you sweat blood to succeed. Shouldn’t you have a team that performs like you do?
Every person you hire who is not a top player is like having a leak in the hull. Eventually you will sink.