My Library and Courses
Last Update: Wednesday June 23, 2021

Key Idea: Hire Slow Fire Fast

It is always better to take time to find the right people than waste energy on the wrong people.

Key Question:


Take plenty of time to find the right person in the first place and get rid of the wrong person quickly.  This is so hard. We want to hire fast because we've decided we need someone and we need them now. And, we want to fire slow because we don't want to go through the pain of finding a new person and teaching the new person. David says he doesn't want to, "give up on somebody." He sees letting a person go as his own personal failure. We also keep a person because we think that the person we hire to replace the bad apple might cause all kinds of problems we've never had before! Our imaginations run wild so we keep the person we know we should fire.

Q: How do we overcome procrastination when it is time to fire someone?

A: Think of the person causing problems as a cancer. Imagine their bad habits spreading through the entire organization. This is not over dramatizing what is actually going on. Bad habits are contagious and you can't afford to contaminate your company. The most popular technique for firing fast is not to hire until a person has made it through a probabtion period. David does this and many other small business owners use this strategy.

Q: How does David find good people?

A: He invites the finest from his competition to consider a little TLC. He can only do this because his company has one of the best reputations in his industry. Most often, he has seen the candidate on the job and has heard about the individual's personality and work habits. He always flies the candidate into Huntsville. This means the recruiting can cost big bucks but David says in the long run, it is money well-spent.

Q: Why do you think people enjoy working at Theatrical Lighting?

A: David and Janet create a family feeling. This is the standard at strong small companies and we heard Janet say, "when an employee gets in trouble, they come to you." She feels it is both an honor and an obligation to help the employees. She knows if she helps with their car insurance or makes them a quick loan, it is a win-win for everyone. In the mid 90s, to help every employee become more computer literate, Theatrical Lighting made computers available for employees to take home.

Think about it

What changes can you make in your recruiting strategy to slow the process and increase your odds of success? Who needs to be fired now?

Clip from: Theatrical Lighting

Huntsville, Alabama: Meet David Milly.  When he was a student at University of Alabama at Huntsville, he earned money booking entertainment and dances for his school. From his first booking, Earl Scruggs Review, a country-bluegrass band (of Deliverance fame), he knew this was what he wanted to do.

To book the lighting package for the show, he engaged Luna Tech, a sole proprietor, and they struck up a friendship. By the time he graduated in 1975 they had a partnership and then they formed a corporation to protect themselves from the liability involved with manufacturing and creating pyrotechnic special effects. David was initially a 25% stockholder in the business, yet by 1981 he negotiated a buyout of just the lighting division to be on his own.  That's a story, but this one just gets better.

At that time there was no trade association for the lighting industry. In 1987 a few of the fellows started one, Theatrical Dealers Association, and David was quick to join and serve on the board. He initiated a Small Business Development Committee. Today this national association is known as ESTA or the Entertainment Services and Technology Association. 

David has also been an active member of the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau for three decades. In this episode of the show you will meet all kinds of people who love Huntsville, who love Janet and David Milly, and love the stuff of making their community a great place to live.

Go to all the Key Ideas and videos of this episode...
Go to the homepage for this episode...

Theatrical Lighting Systems

David Milly, CEP / founder

1221 Jordon Lane
P.O. Box 2646
Huntsville, AL 35804

Visit our web site:

Office: 256-533-7025

Business Classification:
Lighting Supplies

Year Founded: 1981

Hire Slow Fire Fast

HATTIE: For years, you've been managing what I call remote employees, meaning they're not here. They're on the road and they have your equipment. Give some advice to people on how to make this happen because a lot of folks now because of the Internet and because of telecommuting are hiring people and managing them from a distance.

DAVID: Well, the key, and I said it just a second ago, is hire the right person.

HATTIE: OK. But what does that look like? Who is that right person for you?

DAVID: The person that's done it before, may be unhappy with the work environment that they were in before. You know, stealing employees to me has been pretty successful. And we'll just go out and sit down and say, `Can I steal you away from the company you're working?'

HATTIE: You steal them?

DAVID: `Are you happy with what you're doing? If you're not, what are you making? If I pay you more, will you move to Huntsville?' You know, we've done it that way. We've advertised nationally in trade magazines and taken in resumes and read them and, you know, flown a guy in to interview. You waste a few airplane tickets that way, but it's cheaper to waste airplane tickets than make a mistake. Somebody told me, `Hire slow, fire fast.' But it has been incredibly difficult for me to give up on somebody. And, you know, to answer your question, anything that I can think that it would take to make that person succeed, training, talks, written goals, you know, critiquing things, everything, but at some point, if they're not going to do it, they can succeed only if they want to. And if they don't want to, it's my job to figure it out and end the relationship. Running a business is--the hardest part of it is the people side of it. That selling the product or stocking the product or coming up with the thing to sell, that's the easy part. It's the people and motivating people, hiring the right people and keeping them pumped up all the time, that's the hardest part of being in business.

JANET: We spend practically 24 hours a day together. So that can be a problem on occasion.

HATTIE: Do you just jump in the car and go eat lunch with a girlfriend or something?

JANET: We never eat lunch together.

HATTIE: Oh. Maybe that's a good thing.

JANET: It's our break time. He reads the paper. It's not any fun having lunch with him. `Why don't you read the paper? I read the paper, as well,' so--and that's when I kind of--I take it to unwind and come back refreshed.

HATTIE: OK. What piece of advice would you give people about what--to describe to them what running a business is like?

JANET: Well, it's like having a family, like I said earlier, because, I mean, the employees are like your family. And when they get in trouble, they come to you. If they have a wreck, it affects your insurance. It's a constant thing.

HATTIE: They need money, you have to go to the bank. JANET: And, of course, we feel an obligation, also, to make sure that they have--they can make a living and they can support their families. That's important to us.


Not a member yet? Learn!  Be empowered! Join us!