Hire people who will quit. It is okay.

In April 2012, I was drafted to head the incubation center at IIIT Hyderabad. One of the first things I had to do was to recruit a team. This was a bit of a challenge because I had no network in India, no plug into the ecosystem and no big brand to attract employees. Nevertheless I set out to build a team with just one rule – to hire people who will quit.

This flew in the face of many an opinion that employees should be recruited for the long haul. Despite all the raised eyebrows, I think I got it right.

Our team was tasked with inspiring thousands of young minds to give up modern day blue collar work (IT offshoring) and to believe in themselves enough to build their own companies. I believed (and continue to do so) that such dramatic inspiration cannot be delivered by a team that had decided to “settle down with a job”. We needed to be a team full of ambition ourselves, and hope that some of our enthusiasm would spill over onto the impressionable young minds that couldn’t think beyond a job at Facebook (or worse, Infosys).

Two years hence I was running my own tech company and I was advised to follow the (absolutely disgusting) best practice in corporate India to “sign a 1-year bond”. This evil bond allows a company to demand a fee if a recruit quits before one year. Now, I admit that a lot of effort goes into training employees and it is a financial and logistical tragedy if they quit prematurely, but I also believe that this is the cost of doing business – the onus is on the company to retain the employee (and bonded labor is not a legitimate retention policy). Needless to say, our company doesn’t have that policy.

So quit if you must, we’ll be okay.

Lest I oversimplify, there are some caveats.
1. The entering team member should be “able and willing” – able to fulfil the job and willing to go the extra mile. If the recruits do a great job while employed, there will be no ill-feelings when they quit.
2. This logic might be more applicable to high-pressure jobs (such as product development or growth marketing) than to sustenance jobs (such as an accountant or a receptionist).

While I might have been skeptical of my own beliefs a few years ago, I have now completely bought into them. I don’t talk about a leaving employee in hush-hush tones. Instead I bring it up unabashedly while the entire team is out for tea and have everyone joke about it and wish them well. I can sense the relief in the team when they see that quitting is not a bad thing. And inspires them to stay on!

When the door is open, nobody leaves (my dog is an exception).


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