Startup Therapy Podcast

Episode #25

Ryan Rutan: Yeah. We all know the value of having a star player on our team or an amazing partner co founder. But what about the opposite? What's the true cost of having someone on the team who drives negativity. Who creates a toxic environment? The rest of the team must then survive on today's Startup therapy podcast. We'll discuss how to identify and handle toxic teammates before their impact spreads across the organization. This is Ryan Rutan from startups dot com back again for another episode of startup Therapy, joined as usual by my partner in crime ceo of startups dot com. Wil Schroder will today, we're going to have a chat about something we both faced in our careers. I'm sure everybody's faces in their careers, but something that we've spent a lot of time thinking about and and and solving for I think we've done a great job with it. But let's dig in on what it's like to have toxicity within the teams in particular, toxic team members and what to do about them. What do you think? What do you think in your mind, what's what's a toxic employee look like?

Wil Schroter: Well, I I think at a lot of levels, it's one of those things where you know it when you see it, but if we were to define it simply, I'd say it's it's someone who's in the organization that just wants to bitch all the time, right? There's there's there's no like there may or may not even be a legitimate complaint. They just like to stir the pot. They can't wait to have an opportunity to gossip, right? And there's nothing about their contribution like this that's helpful or useful to pushing the organization forward. It just makes everything kind of shitty. You know what I mean?

Ryan Rutan: Yeah, Yeah. And we're not talking about like legit complaints, We're not talking about, you know, things that need to be addressed with an organization. This is just the type of person who, regardless of the situation, you know, they're not even like the glass half full person. They're like the glasses stupid there. You just don't want them around, right? And and we've we've had to deal with some of this. But I do.

Wil Schroter: So I was gonna say, yeah, we had to deal with with with plenty. But um, you know, again, but just before we get into this, because the folks that are listening to this, they know exactly what we're talking about, right? And I I don't think there's a lot to unpack. They're probably listening because they have someone in the organization that they're dealing with, that's toxic as hell. And they're trying to figure out, you know what to do about it. And we've dealt with plenty of it. I think we've done a pretty good job with it over the years and so we'll talk about it, but you know, I think we should probably start off with some delimit ear's here to say what we think, You know, where we draw the line between a toxic employee versus just somebody that doesn't agree with us because I don't want this to sound like, you know, we're stamping out dissenters kind of thing because that's not really what we're talking about here, right? What we're talking about is someone that can't wait to find the problems in the organization. And it's like, dude, we're a startup. We're nothing but problems.

Ryan Rutan: That's right. We are we are a collection of problems without the problems we have. We lack definition entirely.

Wil Schroter: Like how could we not have a ton of problems in being a startup? We're creating something out of nothing, right? At which point our team members are complaining that comp isn't high enough, no shit. Of course it's not high enough, right? Or if we're talking about, you know, hey, we don't have these benefits that another company has. Look, maybe we'd love to have those benefits. Maybe we can't. Right? I mean, the list goes

Ryan Rutan: on, right? It's

Wil Schroter: right. We're constantly picking apart management's flaws, which somehow is always proportionate to people who have the most amount of flaws themselves. Sometimes. That's actually why they're doing it to kind of, you know, to dissuade from their own attack, attack to defend, attack to defend, right? And the thing is when we have these folks in our organization, it's not like we don't know it, right, Right? Right? At first, I first like we have enough problems to deal with externally like trying to like build a problem or build a product and take it to market and deal with competition, etcetera. Now we've got this weird kind of battle brewing internally

Ryan Rutan: inside

Wil Schroter: for no freaking reason. Right? Right. That's the thing. That's the thing with that

Ryan Rutan: with no intended outcome either. And this is, this is one of the things that I always key in on when I start to see these types of behaviors manifest, There's a few, there's a little bit of calculus that I go through, one. Has this person ever worked in a startup before? Or is this just a bit of an adjustment period? Is this the goldfish just got dumped into salt water? And they're like, what the ship is going on here? And so they just start to complain by contrast to what they've done before, right? This is different, This is different. I don't like this, I don't like that. So I try to I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and say like, are they just adjusting? Right? Is this just uncomfortable for them right now? And something that, as they understand why it is the way it is and that everybody else seems to have adjusted that they start to adjust as well? The other end of that is do they seem to have any type of an outcome in mind any type of resolution in mind with the complaints or the complaining that the noise that they're making, Are they actually trying to achieve anything, right? Because sometimes you get somebody who's just like, maybe and maybe it can be aggravating, but maybe you've got somebody who's a constant devil's advocate, right? Which can be useful. It can be super annoying, but it can be useful, right? But they typically are doing that because they're trying to achieve something that they're trying to make sure that things are tested, right? Everything's gone through uh you know, proper scrutiny. But if there isn't any type of outcome in mind, when you're asking, like, okay, so how would you like to see this resolved? And they're like, I don't know, that tells me most of what I need to know, right? They haven't thought to that part of the problem. It means that they're just thinking about problems. They're literally just on an easter egg hunt for ship to complain about

Wil Schroter: in this building that and it's in the problem is, and this is, it starts to become the core of what we're talking about. They're not keeping it to themselves, nor are they addressing it with the people that can actually fix it, right. Exactly. What they want to do is they want to be at lunch or out for drinks or whatever, and they just want this to be a bit fest, right. They cannot wait to gossip about this. One problem to complain about this one thing to kind of get a little sewing circle going, so they can just rage on this one issue, right? Because at the end of the day it makes them feel good, right? And I don't think we can overlook that, right? Because it's not like if we solve this one problem, that behavior goes away, right? That that one problem will just get supplanted with another problem. It almost doesn't matter what the problem is. That's they're not looking for resolution. They're looking for an issue. They're looking for friction. They're looking for a reason to be that center of attention and

Ryan Rutan: that they want something to post to their, their company level social media feed right? In real life, right? That's what they're looking for. Like what can I post that'll get some likes, right? What can I use as some social currency amongst my colleagues to garner some support garner some attention. And that's another behavior that I think, you know, it's important to watch out for because that one I have had personal experience with heading that off at the pass. There are times where for whatever reasons and often it's not created within the organization, but people have some level of insecurity about something that they don't feel like they've, they've jelled, they don't feel like, you know, things are going well, they don't feel like they're getting the recognition that they need. And so they start to act out, right? You and I both have kids, we know how Children do this. Well it turns out, we carry some of those behaviors right through to adulthood. Hey dad, if you won't look at my picture, I'll bet you look at it. If I draw it on the wall in permanent marker. Yes, I will. So one of the things that I've had some success with is when I see that seems to be attention seeking behavior, I look for a couple of quick hit opportunities to give those folks positive attention and for for something that I want them to garner attention for right. And so you do that a couple of times and if you start to see the behavior shift towards ah, if I do these good things, I also get some attention, but the reality is sometimes there's just some bad seed, right? And and maybe not necessarily bad person but wrong fit for the organization at a bare minimum.

Wil Schroter: Well, it didn't stick with that. I think that most often you'll see this pattern behavior across all aspects of their life, write a bit about their last job, the job before that they're gonna bitch about their next job there bitching about their situation at home. They're bitching about their friends. There's always something to complain about. There's always this kind of moment where this friction has to happen and it doesn't matter if they're here or at another company. The behavior is going to be the same, right? It's just going to have a different company name attached to it and, and I've yet to see and think about this for a minute. I've yet to see a case where we had one of these ultra toxic level folks come through the organization yet they were happy go lucky in every other aspect of their lives.

Ryan Rutan: Yeah, that's not been the case.

Wil Schroter: It was consistently a reflection of everything else. It was either, you know, their, their personality disposition or it was where they were, where they were in life and it's no different. I mean, we see this behavior say on facebook, right? We all have someone in our feed that's constantly bitching, right? Like they're literally taking time to post it on facebook, right? Yeah, well you get it right? And, and I think at some level, what we have to be smart about as managers is we have to start to distinguish between what is a true organizational problem where this gripe absolutely does need attention and what is the problem where this person needs the attention, right? Where, where it's, it's just there. The problem is just a conduit, yep. Yeah,

Ryan Rutan: the problem is just a conduit to attention. Um, then generally speaking, not really a real problem for the organization other than that individual.

Wil Schroter: Sure. And what tends to happen is to your point of we sit down with someone and say, hey, you know what I understood, there's something you've been frustrated with, You know, let's work through it. And let's say you work through the problem and then like whack a mole a week later. it's another problem. You resolve that a week later. It's another problem and you're scratching your head going like, man, either I'm the worst manager of all time, which possible, right? Or this person is just dying for another problem. Like I can't put out this fire, right? Yeah. That person that archetype absolutely exists. And you know what, they're not an uncommon thing to find, particularly in a startup where the organization itself is shifting all the time. It's tough to find commensurate personalities.

Ryan Rutan: That's true. It's absolutely true. And I think that, you know, because of that shifting nature of the organization, it gives them no shortage of simple, low hanging fruit to pick off to complain about,

Wil Schroter: right. And if we don't do anything about it, let's talk about the cost of doing nothing, right? Because our first reaction for some folks for us, Ryan you and I and our organization um is okay. Let's let's not get too reactionary, right? You know, Again, yeah, they're right, compensation isn't high enough. They're right. You know, we did have to work longer hours that week or whatever. Like, okay, I don't do. Their complaints aren't totally off base. I, you know, I kind of get that. And to be fair, everyone complains about work at some level. You know, we go home and complain about the people that we work with, to, you know, as the partners in the business. So it's it's not unique to to any one person, it's, you know, part of life. However, if we find that there's this one person in the organization that is particularly toxic and again, I don't even think you need to look that hard. I think this person becomes really obvious, right? And we let that fester, we let every event where they're again, they're going to lunch or having drinks or whatever, where they just turn into sewing circle of bitching. We are almost implicitly agreeing to it right by saying, oh yeah, I guess we're just gonna let that happen right? By not addressing it, by not getting in front of it. It gets it, it becomes an expensive thing to not address and it blows up.

Ryan Rutan: Oh, it grows it grows faster than Dengue fever in a nudist colony in an amazon rainforest, right? Like it sh it just spreads like wildfire. And it's really unfortunate because we've we've seen this even when startups dot com, where you'll have one person who is truly the bad actor and then they they spend this social currency, right? This complaining currency where they're throwing other people under the bus, Maybe people that they know that other person has some small minor issue with it and they exploit that stuff, right? They exploit these little issues and they create camps and they create followings and also you've got people who otherwise wouldn't have had any issues buying into this ship to and then it becomes a lot harder to unwind because now, rather than having a bad actor, it starts to get woven into the fabric of the organization,

Wil Schroter: we'll stick with that for a sec because you're talking about folks getting kind of infected by this behavior and that's definitely what we're talking about. Imagine for a second, the old school version where you've got Angel on one shoulder and you've got devil on the other shoulder, right? At some point, the angel which represents the good things that are happening in the organization, the product when you got, you know, the um, the new benefit that got added, you know, maybe a funding round that came around, it doesn't really have much of a mouthpiece because angels too busy trying to get work done, right? Devil on the other hand, makes it their job daily to just bitch incessantly about every possible problem that's going wrong, taking things that don't require a lot of time and attention to complain about in making it an all day slack chat, right? Yeah. If we let that fester, if we let that devil on the shoulder do their thing over a long enough period of time, the average person on the team who was happy a minute ago is going to start to hear more from the devil than they ever hear from the angel now, mind you, the angel stuff to the organization could be truly impactful, important, long term stuff doesn't matter if all they're constantly getting access to is devil on the other shoulder, constantly bitching, that's what's going to fill their head space, right? And so now we've got this this perfectly otherwise happy employee now kind of getting a shitty attitude because that's all they're hearing all day, right? Yeah.

Ryan Rutan: And we know bad news travels fast, right? So the more sensational, the, the, the gossip is the end of the higher up the food chain, it attacks, the more interesting it becomes to everybody else. And again, even if they don't necessarily buy into it, even just by actively listening to it, they're they're starting to give it some some legs and some credence right there empowering that person to do more of this and just kind of fanning the flames. Sure does.

Wil Schroter: And so you get a whole bunch of people, let's see at lunch, you have four people sitting at lunch, you've got the one toxic employee and then three other employees that, you know, weren't that toxic a couple months ago, but they've been listening to this. What happens when one person starts to complain is other people just feel like they need to pile on, right? It's really difficult as a person in the organization, a person this conversation while everyone else's bitch bitching about comp going, I don't know what you guys talking about, Michael's great, like he was going to say

Ryan Rutan: that super popular

Wil Schroter: guy right there. Exactly. And so instead they're going to say, well, you know, you're you're probably right. You know, camp is a little bit too low in this case. What an easy argument to get on top of. But it's so easy to jump in on that conversation and to feel included by being part of that toxicity,

Ryan Rutan: that it gets into your point to your point about the, you know, like the camp thing. It's also in addition to being really easy to jump on pile on, add to it takes serious steel to go against that conversation.

Wil Schroter: That's such a good

Ryan Rutan: right there. Almost no benefit to that individual for doing that. Yeah, at least you get isolated. You do. It buys you nothing. And honestly, he doesn't buy the organization anything either, right? Because that one, that one dissenting vote tends to, if anything else, it's kind of like, you know, that you look at, you know, go to your facebook feed and pick any one of the sort of highly charged issues of the day and look at the one dissenter and then look what happens to that individual and the rest of that thread they get eviscerated and and nobody nobody needs or wants to do that. And, you know, to your to your question at the top of this particular segment, which is what's the cost of doing nothing alright? The cost of doing something can be, can be extremely high for the employees. The cost of doing nothing at the management team at the founder level is extremely high and that's why it's so important that we take action. These types of issues do not have a way of working themselves out, right? Some issues do right. You know, these little like interpersonal spats, sometimes you're better off to let the people sort them out themselves. But when you really do come across one of these toxic nuts, you've got to get involved and you have to start to take some action

Wil Schroter: and you've got to be serious about what's actually happening, right? You can't just be, hey, I understand you have a problem in the organization, that's part of it and we have to be able to embrace problems in the organization and when I have conversations with people on the team, I said, look, I'm not here to tell you problems don't exist. I'm not even here to tell you that they're gonna get fixed anytime soon. I want to talk about why you feel compelled to spin everybody up over this problem when we know we can't solve it yet. What are you getting out of that? Right.

Ryan Rutan: Have you presented 15 solutions to us that we just haven't acted on that? We actually have the ability to act on. Never. Never. The answer is to that has never been yes.

Wil Schroter: And when, when you don't have any other opinion coming at you. So if you're sitting at lunch and you're the bad actor in this case and you're just getting on your soapbox about how management is this bad and conveniently no one from management is there to defend themselves or offer a reason why this is happening, then you are infinitely right, right. In that standpoint, you can go on forever about how smart and validated you are, because you've identified the problem without having to defend whatsoever, why you don't have a solution. Yeah, exactly. And so I think part of the, the disarming tactic when sitting across from one of these folks and trying to address this issue is first explaining that I do understand what your problem is, right. Um, it's

Ryan Rutan: you have to validate it,

Wil Schroter: you do. And, and even if I don't necessarily agree with it, I have to at least let somebody understand that. I see where they're coming from. I've thought about things from their side of the table, I'm not blindly overlooking the problem. What I've found to be most effective. Uh, and again, this is just the start. I mean, this is us trying to resolve it before we have to kind of take it to another level. What I've found is that sitting across them and saying, here's how I've been trying to attack the problem. Like, like here here, basically the the options that I have in front of me and here's how I'm evaluating each of them,

Ryan Rutan: how would you feel

Wil Schroter: powerful?

Ryan Rutan: Because even even just even just letting them know that you've already proactively thought about the problem and tried to address it takes away a lot of the steam I found, right, just saying like here's what I've already done, it hasn't worked yet and so we can talk about that next, but I have made attempts to fix this problem, we're not ignoring it, right? And that should take some of the steam out of the, some of the wind out of the sails,

Wil Schroter: right? So good, good option would be to sit across from the person say I understand your concerns, I share your concerns, so it's not like we're on opposite sides of the table here are the three multiple choice items, A, B and C that I have to work toward On this problem. Which one would you pick and why? nine times out of 10 the response will be something. Well, I don't know blob, I mean you seem to have a pretty strong opinion on this problem without having to spend any time with a solution and it's not just so much trying to paint somebody in the corner, make them feel bad. That's not my goal. My goal is if you understand the problem the way I understand it, you'll treat it differently, right? It's really difficult to openly say ah here's the problem when you damn well there's not a viable solution. We see this a lot. When you look at really big problems in the world that people don't really know what the solution might be, it could be universal health care, it could be global warming where people like, well it should just be fixed and I'm complaining like dude, do you have any idea how complicated this problem is? Doesn't mean you're wrong about Yeah, man, it doesn't mean you're wrong about the problem, you're trying to solve it just means you have to understand the complexity of the solution, right? And I don't think a lot of people take it to that level, but I think Ryan, you and I are very empathetic people. So our our first reaction when we start to see this is what could we be doing differently to kind of make this problem go away and I'm not taking ourselves off the hook, but I think there's a threshold at which we start actually point, we start to realize we're not the problem.

Ryan Rutan: Yeah. And I think it even, you know, it can that can often become clear just in the in the conversation that you just illustrated right, when you get to that point and you said you're not trying to paint that person into a corner, but they can often paint themselves as the problem in that moment, right? If there isn't a solution oriented, if they're if they're hearing what you're saying if they're now seeing the problem in the same way you are and they're still manifesting the same level of toxic behavior around that problem, There's not much you can do to fix that because again, you can fix that problem. Another one is going to crop up, right. This is just pointing out that this person has a serial issue with wanting to be wound up about something.

Wil Schroter: Yeah. And and and and sometimes too, I think we're sometimes giving too much credit or credence to the problem as if it's something justified. Sometimes it's just bullshit gossip

Ryan Rutan: and

Wil Schroter: quite

Ryan Rutan: literally bullshit gossip.

Wil Schroter: Well, right. And I think where this starts to become a really big meaningful concern to us as managers in the organization is the moment this thing starts to escalate the moment, it's not just this one person's problem, but now it's this infectious disease that starts to um, to infect other otherwise good kind of stable employees. What ends up happening is now this manifests it becomes this new problem that the whole organization must face right now, all of a sudden, all that energy we're trying to put externally, you know, to get customers and to beat competition and to do all the things we're trying to do. This becomes this big hairy mass that we have to deal with internally, which takes away super valuable resources by which we don't have many. And now this starts to get really bad as if we don't solve this problem, which is often a person internally, we're going to start to experience problems externally in growing the organization, You know what I mean? Yeah,

Ryan Rutan: yeah, for sure. Yeah. And I think that, you know, as founders, it's one of the most frustrating situations to be thrust into dealing with big problems is something that we expect as founders, right? I think we all enter into this knowing there are going to be major hurdles, gargantuan bosses that we have to beat to get this right and there is something so demoralizing, so draining if we go back to, you know, when it's just like the bullshit gossip stuff, I would much rather deal with like a solid competitive issue or a major technical flaw any day of the week rather than have to unwind these things because they're just so unnecessary, right? And I think that my strong sense of justice just doesn't allow for me to be okay with that. I look at and go like you're just creating a problem for the sake of creating a problem. And I think that like emotionally, this is one of the hardest things to handle and it's so hard to remain objective in that situation and try to carefully unwind it and deal with the issue when the issue isn't worth solving in the first place, right? When it's just like some bullshit gossiping, when you want the answer to be hey, how about this, how about you? Shut the funk up, grow up and let's move on, right? But you can never do that, right, That's

Wil Schroter: never want that.

Ryan Rutan: Yo man, that's option

Wil Schroter: a you always

Ryan Rutan: have to skip over that one. And I think it's so frustrating.

Wil Schroter: Well, I think about it, building a startup has got many analogies. One of them to me is like trying to paddle a leaky boat to shore, right? And now I've got someone in the back of the boat that's barely paddling, that's firing holes in the boat while trying to make this thing go forward and then bitching to me about why the boat's

Ryan Rutan: sinking, tapping you on the back of the head with their paddle the entire time.

Wil Schroter: Yeah. And all I can think to myself is this ship is hard enough as it is. If we had nobody spinning stuff up, this would be a really hard job, right? There's this concept that management must just have all these extra cycles, where, you know, my complaints must just be something they can absorb in addition to the nine million other things that they have to do. And again, if it's a legitimate complaint, Damn, dude, that's management's job

Ryan Rutan: to go for. That is our job, right? Right. And that those are the type of issues that we expect to tackle, we expect to encounter them. We're prepared to deal with them. We will gut it out and figure out solutions for him. It's the ones that don't deserve a solution that are so hard to solve.

Wil Schroter: Well, right? And here's the thing for the folks in the back of the boat, in my little robot analogy here, who are just sitting there complaining versus picking up an oar and paddling little damn faster so we can make this thing to shore, we'd be better off without them. Let's wait on the boats. In my mind in order to be in a startup environment, in order to thrive in a startup environment, you have to have morale and you have to have optimism, right? You have to have optimism in the face of a ton of shit that you're going to deal with every single day, nonstop for years in order to feel like you're ever gonna be able to make it on the other side of this thing. This isn't an established company where our story is already told, right? We have to be able to believe that no matter how shitty things are, we're going to make it to shore. The last thing we need in this epic hell spawn of a journey is to have someone telling us what a ship had. We are the entire time doing the opposite of coaching us forward, right?

Ryan Rutan: No, it's not at all. A couple of weeks ago, we were dealing with like this horrible series of events as a family, right? Like the kids have gotten sick. Then my wife and I had gotten sick and we started to get a little better than one of the kids got sick. I stayed sick, like it was just all this stuff going on at once and then like we we had to deal with some Visa issues were just like a lot going on and I still had a pretty upbeat attitude and I was talking about something like oh you know well it'll be all right, we'll just and somebody who knew the situation pretty well was like dude like how where does the optimism come from? And without even thinking, I just turned to look to him, I was like man, lots of startups just like whistled my way out of the room, you know like but it's true right? Because we do run on that and we need it and when you got somebody who's in there just literally grabbing handfuls of optimism and throwing them off the side of the boat, it's a problem. It's a huge

Wil Schroter: problem. Let's talk about what we do about it. Alright let's let's talk about kind of like how we cut these toxic folks out of the system and really you know what the the net benefit is because often we're thinking about, okay this person is super toxic but you know, maybe they're good at their job or maybe we really need them because they fulfill a certain role. That's hard to replace. And so we're only Yeah, exactly. We're only thinking about that cost to losing them, right? We're not thinking about the cost to keeping them right? And so you know I just a little bit of background Ryan will use this as reference. We'll kind of talk about our own sandbox startups has been around a little over seven years startups dot com. Um, We've, we've got about 200 employees in that time we've hired, you know, hundreds of employees of, you know, some have gone on to other things, some of them have quit, some have been fired etc. What we found is that in that time there's been a handful of folks, not tons by the way, a handful of folks that were truly toxic players right now before we sound like we're putting the scarlet letter on these, these folks. I think there's an important caveat because people don't know us that well, they don't know the organization etcetera. Some of these are really good friends. These are, these are people who my kids play with, right? So these aren't necessarily people who I'm trying to, you know, put in this this one box like they're just some total evil people. Some of these folks are good folks otherwise, but in our organization, maybe for that time period or toxic as fuck, right? Yeah. Once the boat made it to shore, we wanted to go party with them on the beach. But until then they did not belong as part of this journey. That's right.

Ryan Rutan: The friend aspect of that I found can can be problematic, right? It can lead to write because they feel like they have that freedom. They've got that level of comfort and I've had to have that conversation a couple of times where it's like, look, we we are friends and I cherish the friendship. We are also colleagues. And I rely on that relationship

Wil Schroter: and

Ryan Rutan: to the extent that you know, you can't completely separate those things. That's fine. But I cannot become a one way dumping ground for all that's wrong when there really isn't that much wrong either right? Like it's just like when, when all of a sudden the relationship just becomes about that. Like when I realized like I am I am just a catcher for this person's problems, whether they're work related or something else that becomes an issue and I've had that happen where that friend colleague boundary has been a little more blurred

Wil Schroter: you bet. And so again, I'm just kind of caveat, we're not talking about people who have totally demonized. We're talking about people in this case that we care a lot about but are still very toxic to the organization. And in each of those cases, this is over the past seven years, we've always come to the same cadence of events At first it was some bitching and again, we're pretty close to all the people in the organization. So we'd sit down with him and said, hey, you know, what are we missing? What are we missing? And we have some some friendly conversations, we'd hug it out. You know, everything was good for a minute. Then in short order weeks months later, same thing again. Try to the same thing, you know, try the same approach, etcetera, try to understand, etcetera, same thing happens over and over. And while that was happening, talking about this cost of doing nothing while that was happening, all of these otherwise good soldiers on the team were starting to turn bad right now. They were going to lunch with other people and kind of causing the same problem. And we're smart enough, I think as a management team to recognize some of these patterns fairly early in our career and start to say, we've got to take a hard stance right in our case, it was parting company with folks right now. Again, not as a first line of defense, but over kind of the maturation of this toxic relationship. We said, we've got to pull this person out of the organization, They could have been a manager, they could have been, you know, a team member somewhere, but we have to have them out of the or I don't think we ever did anything. I'd like to believe. We never did anything to like, you know, kind of like, like walk them out in this horrible fashion, right? We tried to be extra mindful of letting them kind of go out like a gentleman, gentleman or a lady or a gentleman, you know in the process and also make sure that, you know, it wasn't personal, etcetera, but I gotta say, and you tell me your version of this, I don't think anybody questioned why that person was gone.

Ryan Rutan: No, I don't I don't think so. I think the the only time we saw any any concern around the decisions, well, when there were people who were very close to them, who had also been behaving a lot like them get felt threatened by that, right? And and so, you know, and and sometimes not even threatened by it, but, you know, people develop relationships and so, you know, regardless of whether somebody deserves what they get or not, there's always going to be somebody who's there like, you know, well, it wasn't their fault or or maybe they bought into it or maybe they understood the decision in a different way or they understood that person's behavior in a different way, their personal details. We didn't have not that justified it or would have changed our decision, but that made that person feel differently about it, you know? And we've always done, I mean to, you know, to further illustrate what you were talking about when we've gone through this as an organization at startups dot com. We do a hell of a lot of analysis and we talk about these situations a lot as as as they start to come up what we've already done to address it. What can we continue to do to address it and we're doing a lot of analysis in the moment. The other thing that we've always done is a lot of postmortem on these things and I can tell you that in looking back at them, not even once was I like, gosh, we should not have, we should not have done that or we shouldn't have done it that way. The only thing I would have ever done differently in a couple of these cases would have been to take a harder stance sooner. Literally the only change and that's it, which makes me feel good. Alright. I'd rather air on the side of caution and gentility than than to have said like, you know, we might have pulled the trigger a little fast on that one because we were gun shy from something that happened with somebody else previously. I don't think we've ever allowed any past behaviors. We've certainly learned to watch for some of the signs, but we haven't ever allowed any of the past behaviors of another individual to color our thinking with, with the current situation.

Wil Schroter: And here's, here's what we've seen on the other side of this decision every single time and again for folks that are, that are considering this problem. If you're listening, if you listened this far into the podcast and my guess is you're definitely considering this problem, Here's what we've seen every single time. Number one, when the person's let go. Everyone knows why there's, there's like some, some shock. Oh my God, I can't believe it, but everyone knows exactly why. Right? I

Ryan Rutan: don't believe it took them

Wil Schroter: this long. Yeah, yeah. The second is, there's always at least a couple emails slack messengers discussions offline that where somebody says, why did it take you guys this long to do this? Like this person has been toxic forever and it looks so bad on your end that you weren't addressing this sooner, Right? Dude, that would've been useful information, this, but whatever. Right?

Ryan Rutan: There's another going against the grain thing. It's, it's such a painful situation to be put in to feel like the narc, right? Nobody wants to be that person.

Wil Schroter: Exactly. There's another group of folks that always come to the surface and say, thank you so much for finally addressing this, right? A little bit different than the folks are saying. Why didn't you do this sooner? Other folks that are like, man, if I had to go to one more lunch listening to her bitch incessantly about the organization, you know, my head was gonna explode, right? So like there's no one sitting around unless they're toxic themselves going, man, I really wish that we could get that toxic person who did nothing but gossip and say awful shit all day back. Like no one's wishing that back

Ryan Rutan: now. And that's, that's something we didn't really talk about. But like, even though we did talk about how it spreads and how it starts to involve other people. We didn't really talk about how it ends up impacting people who aren't behind it, it's just as aggravating for them right? Having to listen to it, having to Yeah, and that's the thing, right? If you don't go along with it then you're on the outside, which can be just as painful or more so alright, so it is such a challenge.

Wil Schroter: We've also never seen a situation and you touched on this we've ever said to ourselves man that was a mistake, I hope we can get that person back right to your point every time, like, oh my God, I wish we did this six months ago because every single time we did it, every everything and it's a tough move and it's been brutal for us to do it. So I just want to be clear. It's not easy at all. But every time we've done it it was almost like the clouds pulled back and sunshine came through for the first time everyone was the whole time. Yeah, yeah. The whole

Ryan Rutan: time you were saying this, I was literally thinking like we, at this point in the podcast we could have just pushed play on louis Armstrong's wonderful world right? Like that would've just been like just let it go

Wil Schroter: and I don't think we appreciate how much overhead as managers were dealing with, right, when it was all this consternation leading up to separating from that employee, then they're gone. Then the next day we wake up and we're like holy sh it like I don't have to deal with this stuff anymore. Like now now think of all the people ourselves included that just got affected by that decision. Now think of how many cycles aren't being distracted by negative, useless internal ship that can now go to external stuff that actually grows the business and solves a lot of the problems were bitching bitching about to begin with, right? I think from from a manager standpoint, especially young manager standpoint. If you haven't been through this cycle before, if you haven't had the opportunity to see what it's like on the other side of this decision, then you can't, it's really hard to appreciate how important it is to make this move. We've seen it enough times that now when we see the pattern behavior come up, we know exactly how this story ends, right? And and we we know that we need to move on ship as fast as possible, both in rectifying behavior internally or you know, cutting bait if need be

Ryan Rutan: Yeah. And again, taking it stepwise and making sure that we're doing everything we can at each stage to head it off at the pass, but to make the right decision at each level, right? Not to let it fester not to let it carry on further than it needs to, but to make sure that we're doing our diligence at each stage and understanding whether we've done everything we can to address them, right? And uh like I said sometimes it's an adjustment period and sometimes it has a lot of the times, maybe even most of them, it has nothing to do with the organization. It's stuff that's going on in their lives, that's creating this negativity, this toxicity. Because we've also seen the inverse of the situation where somebody has a lot of issues in the personal life, right? They've got all sorts of negativity, but they show up at work and we're the type of organization that is very supportive. We're we're very in touch with with our team, we know what's going on their lives and we try to be there for them And with the right people with the nontoxic population, which again is like 97% of our people over time have have been on the right side of the equation, it becomes something really special and valuable for them, right? Rather than letting it becomes the opposite, it becomes that safe space, it becomes the place where the good things happen and and they can embrace that, right? That's what I always look towards. When I think about when we have to face one of these situations, I think about all the times, which is most of the time that we've been on the other side of this thing. And I take a lot of solace in that when we have to make the hard decisions, knowing that for the vast majority of people, they don't have an issue and for the ones that do even the majority of them, we become that positive point for them. And that feels really good as well.

Wil Schroter: It does when we go back to that analogy of the angel and the devil on both shoulders, the devil has a time and a place to your point of being devil's advocate. It's your point of saying, hey, sometimes there are legitimate problems, right? But That's not necessarily the person that's being truly helpful through the whole journey. If we were, if we were to give a percentage, yeah, maybe 10, of of of what's going through a team member's head should be the devil's side of it, right? And it may be 90-80%. If you're optimized in a healthy organization of positive things. Like how can we grow the organization? How can we solve problems, etc. But the moment those get flipped, we're fucked right. At which point all that's getting into everybody's ears is all this negative horrible shit. As an organization. It's so hard to come back from that. And as, as managers, if we let ourselves slip into that side of the organization, all of our resources, all of our time and attention is going to get focused internally and we're never going to be able to row the boat to shore.

Ryan Rutan: That's a wrap for this episode of the startup therapy podcast. This is Ryan Rutan on behalf of my partner Wil Schroder and all the startups dot com family thanking you for joining us and we hope you'll continue to join us. Be sure to subscribe rate and comment on ITunes or wherever you love to listen to startup therapy. You can find all of our episodes at startups dot com

Wil Schroter: slash podcast.

Ryan Rutan: If you're looking for more amazing resources to launch or grow your startup, be sure to head to startups dot com and check out startups unlimited. It's everything we have to offer from our online university to our amazing community of experts and founders and even all the tools we've built like biz plan, fungible and launch rock. It's everything a founder needs visit startups dot com slash begin that startups dot com slash b E G I N. You'll thank me later.

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