One of the most devastating things that can happen to a business owner is being disappointed by a trusted employee. What does this look like? Here’s one scenario:
A person whom the employer feels good about is hired. The usual steps are taken to verify that the employee is what the employer is looking for. The employee seems successful, often for a long time.
Then something changes. It could be in the employee’s personal life. Or the employee’s work load increases, typically incrementally, leaving the employee unable to keep up with the employer’s expectations. Or it could be both. The employee, eager to please and unable to do the work successfully, tells the employer that “it is taken care of” when nothing, in fact, is being handled effectively.
An incident that is not catastrophic brings to the employer’s attention the gap between what he was being told and what actually was happening. The employer starts looking at everything the employee was involved in—past projects are visited and clients are queried—and finds there is a lot of fix-it work needed. The scope of the rework items grows and grows. The employee is fired or decides to quit.
The company’s focus is now on doing the needed tune-up work, preventing the company from getting new business. The company spends a lot of money and man hours doing repairs. The owner is left feeling frustrated and depressed.
So, how can you prevent this?
Tighten Up Your Hiring Process
Look at what your company does to vet new employees. Check all references. Create interview questions that are based on the company’s past challenges. Ask open-ended questions, and ask follow-up questions after your prospective employee answers. Particularly with a key manager position, have as many employees as possible interview the prospective employee.
Trust and Verify
You (or the employee’s manager) should gradually transfer more responsibility to your new employee. The key word is “gradually.” Then check the work that your new employee is doing. Only by doing this can you verify that your trust in the employee is warranted. Yes, this takes time, but there’s no alternative that has a good outcome.
Early on, you and your new employee need to meet weekly. The agenda is the same for every meeting. You ask two questions: “What went well in the last week with your work at our company?” and “What in the last week could have gone better with your work?”
Your new employee provides specific examples of both good and not-so-good actions and outcomes, and you ask follow-up questions, to understand how the employee thinks. Then you answer the same two questions regarding the employee’s work. Again, specific examples are essential. Asking the employee what he or she thinks about what you’ve said will help you learn even more.
At the end of the interaction, you and the new employee agree on one thing that he or she will get better at in the coming week. Doing this for four to eight weeks helps you learn about how your new employee approaches working at your company.
Walk the Four Corners
This concept is from CEO Tools by Kraig Kramers: Simply walk around and check in with your employees, one by one. Be available and be interested in the work they are doing. Do this every couple of weeks, if not more frequently, being careful to avoid micro-managing. By doing this, you become more accessible and your employees will trust you more and be more likely to tell you something you need to know, before a situation becomes a big problem.
A version of this article originally appeared in Remodeling magazine.