How Do I Keep My Employees From Running Over Me?

There was a great question posted recently in a Facebook group that’s driven a lot of good discussion.  The gist of the question is how to handle employees who are basically running wild – without coming down on them with a lot of rules and oversight.  Here are some more details from the question:

“…as we grow I’m finding it harder and harder to keep employees from running over me.  …I want to treat everyone like adults and trust everyone but the bigger we get the tougher it is. Everything from not getting work done to showing up whenever they feel like it an then genuinely trying to make me feel guilty when I address it.  …We pay very high wages for our industry, offer an amazing benefits package including free food, a free personal trainer, medical/dental, families covered on all medical/dental, free therapist, unlimited vacation, etc. I think I would have loved to work here!”

Without knowing the details of this particular situation, it’s impossible to really know exactly what’s going on and how to fix it, but here are a couple of ideas that might help:

 People Challenges

#1 – You have to hire the right people…!

This seems like a really obvious point, but I guarantee that every business struggles with this problem and if you let this go too far, it will bury your business in the long run.  In this particular example, it’s a good bet that this owner has at least 1 or 2 ‘bad apples’ who are the source of this issue.  And to make it worse, often these ‘bad apples’ will be really talented – making it even more difficult to think about getting rid of them.

Who are the ‘Right People’?  For starters, the right people believe in the company’s (or the owner’s) core values.  What are the 3 to 5 really important things you believe in? The things that define who you are as a company?  How do you treat clients?  Other employees?  It’s easy to throw around a word like ‘Integrity’, but this should be something that’s more detailed and personal if possible.

The second aspect of the right people is more general – Patrick Lencioni’s latest book, The Ideal Team Player, does a fantastic job of simplifying the 3 key traits you should be looking for in your employees (this could overlap with your core values as well).  Bottom line, the people on your team should be Humble, Hungry and Smart.  The first two are fairly self-explanatory, humble is confident, but with a lack of ego, and hungry, meaning a burning desire to constantly improve and get things done.  Smart, in this case, actually refers to emotional intelligence – or the ability to communicate and handle the people around you in a positive way.  If all of your employees are strong in these 3 traits, you’re probably not having the kinds of challenges this business owner describes.


#2 – You have to actively manage people… even the right people!

As the owner of a business or the leader of a team, a HUGE part of your job is helping everyone on your team succeed.  There are a few rare people who you can just let loose and they’ll amaze you with their results.  But even then, unless it’s truly just a single-person effort, there’s a need to make sure everyone is on the same page and pulling in the same direction.  Your job as the leader is to help the team come up with clear and achievable objectives, find an easy way to measure progress, and then ultimately, hold them accountable for those outcomes.

If you have the right people on the team, they will help with the accountability piece – not only will they tend to hold themselves more accountable, they’ll be willing to speak up and challenge their teammates on accountability as well.  This requires regular meetings and clear, measurable objectives that get reviewed by the entire team, so everyone knows where things are falling short.  If someone isn’t living up to expectations, it’s obvious to the whole team and action must be taken right away.  It may take a few tries to implement this kind of structure, but when it’s done right, it’s an amazing thing to see how much a great team can get done.


Next Steps

For this particular business owner, I would suggest immediately doing a couple of big things.  The first one is an assessment of all of your employees – how well do they stack up when it comes to your top 3 to 5 core values?  Are they Humble, Hungry and Smart?  Are they in the right job?  If you’re honest with this process, it will be clear if you have employees that don’t fit.  And if that’s the case, you can give them a chance to fix it, but you need a tight timeline and a firm hand. If they can’t get there, then you need to let them go.

The second thing you need to do is make sure you’re being extremely clear on what’s expected from everyone and, as much as possible, you have a way to measure if they are being successful.  Everyone has a number.  Client projects have milestone deliverables and dates – are they hitting them?  Are their clients happy? (Have you asked them?).  Find a way to start getting the work out into the open where everyone can see it and that transparency will either start changing behaviors… or it will chase people away.  A lot of people don’t like to be held accountable – those aren’t the right people.

One warning – if you do these 2 things, you’ll almost certainly end up with employee turn-over.  But in the long run, that’s a good thing.  You’ve got to have the right people if you want to grow your business successfully.

What do you think? Is there a big idea that’s missing here?  Share your thoughts – we’d love to hear them.

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach