Learn to Know Whether Your Employee is a Kite or an Airplane

Brett Huff

Former Head of Engineering at BillionToOne



I hired an employee at the end of August who seemed to be very smart and who made some very insightful comments. I thought that since he was very smart, he would work well when given leeway, just like my other high performers. However, I realized that in spite of him being intelligent, he did not produce anything. In December, he had made no progress on the small to medium tasks I had given him in September.

Actions taken

We scheduled a performance improvement plan, and together we decided on six tasks that were already on his plate, which he would either have to accomplish within three weeks, or we would have to let him go. As soon as we set written goals with strict deadlines, he became more efficient. Unfortunately, only two of his objectives were accomplished at the end of the performance improvement plan, so I had to let him go.

Lessons learned

I have come to the conclusion that there are two extremes of personalities to manage, with a spectrum of personalities in between. Some people are airplanes. They only need their manager to show them the landing point and they will manage their tactic and their time to reach that point. Other people are kites, and their managers must have a hold on them in order for them to work well, or at all. In this specific case, I could either have spent months trying to turn this person into a plane, which is what the company culture required him to be, or I could pick one of the several great applicants waiting to work at Trello. After this episode, I've changed the way I interview so that I can better identify how much guidance people will need.

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Brett Huff

Former Head of Engineering at BillionToOne

Performance ReviewsLeadership Roles

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