Trusting Your Employees & Their Expertise

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Anyone that knows me knows that I “get around”…at least when it comes to work. A quick glance at my LinkedIn profile will give you an idea of how much I’ve “bounced around” from place to place in my 20+ years in the industry. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve built up a great network of friends, co-workers, and peers that trust me and continue to seek me out. This is what has allowed me to move around so much and still be able to get a job without too much difficulty. Well, I guess it doesn’t hurt that I love what I do and have always done my best to be an exemplary employee, professional, transparent, fun, and keep my skills up to date.

That being said, though, I still occasionally ran into cases that seemed to not make much sense at all. That is, in a couple of instances, when I joined a new company I felt like they were hiring me because I had proven myself to be competent, driven, hard-working and passionate about my work everywhere else but soon after being hired, I was asked not to be that employee for them. It was almost like they were saying “I hired you because you are awesome, I just don’t want you to be awesome here.”

I hired you because you are awesome, I just don’t want you to be awesome here.

I remember one company, in particular, where this happened on the first day I started. After being courted for several weeks as “exactly the person they needed to come in and fix things,” I had a meeting with the CEO of the company to talk about my plan for the first 60-90 days. I listed what I believed were some “low hanging fruit” that could be addressed rather easily within that time period to help make the team, and the product, better. This conversation quickly took a wrong turn. My first observation was that their 9, or 10, 70 inch TVs that were displaying their unit/integration test results we covered in RED. They had more than 400 tests that were failing! I, of course, suggested that this is a problem that should be addressed. His response was that he would rather have errors reported by his users in production than fix tests and make sure the application worked properly before being deployed. To him, that was a waste of time and money. I spent some time trying to convince him that every time a user encounters an error in your product they make a decision, “is the product worth paying for or not?” With over 400 failing tests, my estimation was that a lot of those users were probably deciding that they would rather not continue using his service. This back and forth went on for several hours over each one of my suggestions. In the end, the sales pitch of being “exactly the person they needed to come in and fix things” was exactly that, just a sales pitch. What he wanted was for me to just come in to build new features for him, without tests, as quickly and cheaply as possible. Needless to say, that engagement didn’t last very long.

…every time a user encounters an error in your product they make a decision, “is the product worth paying for or not?”

As is the case with most experiences, good and bad, I’ve learned something from the cases where I’ve run into this type of scenario. That is, that if you truly believe that someone is awesome, you should let them be awesome and trust that they will do the right thing for you, your company, and your clients. Of course, I’m not advocating for letting folks just do whatever they want without any checks in place to make sure that they continue to be awesome, ensure a quality product is being produced, and that the appropriate processes and procedures are being followed (wherever necessary).

…if you truly believe that someone is awesome, you should let them be awesome and trust that they will do the right thing for you, your company, and your clients.

The key is that we should trust but verify. This hinges on the premise that we’re hiring people for the right reasons. We’re not just hiring folks to fill a seat. We’re hiring them because they are a cultural fit, they are passionate about what they do, they are competent, and they are the right person for that particular position. Given these criteria, we should be able to loosen the reigns and let people be themselves. Usually, they will make you look like a genius for having hired them and let them spread their proven awesomeness in your organization.

The key is that we should trust but verify.

But what if someone takes advantage of your trust and just coasts, or worse yet, underperforms after you hire them? Well, that’s where the awesomeness of their superior should shine through and mitigate the issue. Ideally, you’ve used the same criteria and process to hire their direct supervisor and because that person is awesome, and always doing the right thing you’ll be OK. If this is the case, he/she is having regular touch points with the employee in question and has been able to identify, address and correct the issue before it becomes a problem. Makes perfect sense, right?

This might all sound like a super idealistic view of the world that is not realistic or too difficult to implement. It could be, but I’ve seen it work. I’ve been on both sides of the coin and experience has taught me that it is far better for all parties involved to be trustful and trusted than it is to micromanage and potentially handcuff amazing people that could otherwise be doing amazing things for themselves, your company and your clients.

I’ve been on both sides of the coin and experience has taught me that it is far better for all parties involved to be trustful and trusted…

I have been lucky in the past several years to be able to validate this because of my involvement in several different businesses as an owner and/or managing partner. I’ve both validated the positive and negative cases that I have presented in this article. In the cases where I have hired someone because I felt like I had to, even though he/she wasn’t a cultural fit or wasn’t the right person for the position for whatever reason, I have ended up having to part ways with that person. That’s on me, and I’ve learned from it and am trying to be better about it. On the other hand, I have also seen the amazing results that come from trusting people to be their awesome selves without holding them back in any significant way. We have been very lucky at Inventive in that we’ve been able to hire some pretty amazing people, that are great culture fits, great employees, and have proven track records of being awesome throughout their careers. These folks have been amazing to work with. My partners and I often comment that it’s pretty great that the only time we talk about these team members is when we’re singing their praises! They just continue to do the right thing in every case because it is in their DNA to do it, not because they are being asked to, or worse yet, forced to act a certain way. They are just being themselves…awesome.

We have been very lucky at Inventive in that we’ve been able to hire some pretty amazing people, that are great culture fits, great employees, and have proven track records of being awesome throughout their careers.

So, yes, we hired you because you’re oozing gallons of super-mega-awesome-sauce….and we’d love you to continue being awesome here with us. That is how we will all win. That is how we will all succeed. That is how we will all grow. That is how we will all get better. Instead of micromanaging by default and expecting people to “prove themselves” before we loosen the reigns, let’s try starting with a “trust but verify” policy. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results. Amazing people have a way of surprising you with their ability to do way more than you would expect them to be able to. Who would’ve thunk it?!!!

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