My husband and I left our 10-year-old daughter at home alone for the first time so we could take an exercise class. Before we left, we gave her all the typical rules: don’t open the door, don’t answer the phone unless it’s us, and call us if there is an emergency.
Five minutes before the class ended, my cell phone rang.
“Mom, there’s no fire,” my daughter said, “but there’s a lot of smoke in the house.”
I started to panic, but asked her as calmly as I could: “Are you okay? What happened?”
She had tried to defrost a small brownie in a hard plastic bowl in the microwave. After two minutes, the brownie liquefied and the plastic melted and cracked.
Fortunately, all was well when we got home. The house reeked of burnt plastic, but she was fine. In discussing what happened — and how to prevent similar accidents in the future — my husband and I came to a few realizations:
- She never uses the microwave when we’re at home. She decided to cook something while we weren’t there so she could impress us with her ability to be independent.
- She didn’t know how to properly use the microwave other than to boil water in a glass cup.
- I failed to remind her not to cook anything while we were out.
This made me think about the employee who, like my daughter, attempts to be proactive and impress the boss — but fails.
Who’s at fault? Is it the employee who tries, fails and gets blamed for doing something wrong? Or is it the business owner who fails to set expectations and does not provide clear direction?
If leaders want their employees to work independently and demonstrate good judgment, then expectations, rules, processes and procedures must be clear. Employees must be rewarded when they succeed and held accountable when they don’t.
Here are three tips I learned from my daughter that will help ensure employees perform at their best:
Document processes, procedures and best practices
If something must be done a specific way, think about the process and clearly document each step in the task. Some processes may seem obvious but they probably aren’t to some employees. Also, some employees may decide to complete a task differently than their manager might. Clarify this in writing and make it available to employees. A documented process can be as simple as a checklist but, whatever form it takes, needs to be accurate, current and easy to follow. If the process is long or complex, break it into smaller processes. Creating a spreadsheet of my daughter’s favorite microwavable foods, including prep and cooking times, would have saved us all from that trouble.
Some processes are self-explanatory: “Turn off the lights and lock up before you leave.” Other tasks are more complex and require training. Spending a few minutes with employees to review documented processes helps them understand the value and importance of doing something a certain way. An excellent way to facilitate training is to have employees get together and document a process as a group. This way they will learn from each other, have insight into what is involved, gain ownership of it, and their manager can see if there are any gaps in their understanding of the expectations.
Reward employees — and hold them accountable
Once a manager has set clear expectations with employees, trained them, and provided the tools and processes to do their job, don’t forget to reward them. Stopping by for five minutes and saying, “Great job on getting that task done,” goes a long way — especially if you complement them in front of their peers. For many people, recognition in small, frequent and meaningful ways is more important than a financial reward.
Likewise, if employees fail to meet clearly defined expectations, hold them accountable. Ask what they need to do to rectify the problem. Be very careful not to blame them, though. It’s much more productive to identify why the employee made a poor decision. Was it their lack of skills or some factor in the business environment? Get to the root, and find a solution to prevent it from happening again.
Every entrepreneur should measure her own performance, too, because employee performance starts at the top: your passion, your vision for your business, and — most importantly — your ability to clearly communicate that vision to employees while providing them with the tools and resources they need for success.
You’re not in this alone. To help you focus on what’s important and lead by example by meeting your own high standards, make sure the right team surrounds you and that they are properly prepared.
Now, please excuse me so I can start a cooking class for my daughter.