How do I deal with a demanding & uncooperative engineer when my whole startup depends on him?

Naomi Kokubo

Naomi Kokubo

by Naomi Kokubo, Editor of Founders Space

Good question for Founders Space.

I know this is difficult.  I’ve been there before.  But you have to take action now.   First off, no one is indispensable.  You may believe you can’t live without this engineer, but you can.  You’ll be able to find someone else who can learn the code and get the job done.  My advice is to clearly let this engineer know that his behavior is unacceptable, and he either needs to work with you or you’ll have to find someone to replace him.

That said, I realize how difficult and exhausting this type of situation can be.   I was in a similar position, and it took us a long time to come to that conclusion.   Once we did, however, things got much better.  In fact, we wound up letting the person go and things improved.   It was not a big morale hit to the team, like we feared, and the other engineers, although less experienced, stepped in and did an excellent job.

Just don’t delay.  You’re only making a bad problem worse by waiting and hoping things will improve.  You must take decisive action.  The sooner you do this, the better for your business.

Comments & Advice:
  1. stevec stevecxyz says:

    Ugh! I've been there! All I can say is that this is great advice… The truth is that companies can't become great with such boat anchors hanging around. They suck the life out of the other people in the company and consume an inordinate amount of resources (useless worry) that is far better spent in other (constructive) ways. Get rid of him/her! You may end up completely rewriting all your code, but it'll be better than it ever would have been, you'll build respect and loyalty among the rest of your team, and your company will be better as a result. Bite the bullet.

  2. Kathleen says:

    I commiserate with the first party but there's two sides to every story with not enough information to determine what's going on here. I've had plenty of clients who could probably say the same thing about me but then, what they wanted was untenable and they wouldn't listen to the reasons why. It is a good idea to go to another party. If the problem is misplaced expectations, either the new hire will balk in the same fashion as the first engineer or they'll promise you the world but fail to deliver. That's a bad way to find out of course but you could just as easily discover your expectations were on target and you finally get a working site.

  3. DanLatch says:

    Yes, take decisive action – to identify alternative solutions to being bent over by one person who holds the power. Get an experienced coach from targetingchangeworks who will help you and your team, including this engineer, create a strategic action list of exactly what must be done to achieve the outcomes required for success in your primary objective. Your coach will guide a process that will empower you to train, coach, manage, and support this person and all others toward your goals at light speed. You will maximize employee engagement, strategic alignment, leadership development and acquire a resource that will ensure the smooth operation of your enterprise.

  4. Mat says:

    Thanks for the post – What is most often quoted reason for this behavior?

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