There are no guarantees in life – except for death and taxes of course. Do I have a foolproof formula that is guaranteed to protect you from employee lawsuits? Nope! But I can say that there are two steps you can take early in the employee life cycle that will help prevent costly employee lawsuits in the future – and help your team reap other rewards!
I am sharing this because another potential client has come to me to get them out of a sticky situation that could have been avoided with these two simple steps. I get calls like this frequently from owners or managers who have been sued, or are worried that they may be sued, for harassment, discrimination, and more. Unfortunately by that point, the proverbial horse has left the barn. It’s usually too late. I won’t go into grisly detail, but the legal fees, impact on productivity, and the damaged reputation of the company, can be huge. Instead let’s focus on two steps you can take to reduce your risk of having this situation in the first place.
To help prevent employee lawsuits you need to 1) hire well and 2) on board effectively. These two steps aren’t rocket science, but you would be amazed how many managers don’t take the time to do them from the start. When done well, you can avoid lawsuits and have a more productive organization.
Action 1: Hire Well
I often get called into situations where a ‘bad hire’ was made. When I dig in, I find there are usually two reasons: The first is time and energy. Managers looked for short cuts during hiring. Second is lack of an effective process. Often, managers choose candidates based on first impressions that are misleading, instead of using a proven process to get the relevant information on which to base their decision.
So How Do You Hire Well?
If you put in the work and define your process, you will not just get good employees and peace of mind, but you will get great employees who will help propel you to success. I advocate a performance-based hiring process as developed by Lou Adler. Here are four key steps in the process:
Step 1: Define the role with a strong performance profile.
The performance profile describes what the new employee needs to accomplish. This is different than the traditional job description, which describes the desired attributes for the position. The profile should outline 6-8 goals that define success over 6 and 12 months. Be very explicit – think SMARTe goals that are specific, measurable, action-oriented, results defined, time-bound and environment-specific. This foundational piece should describe both what will be achieved, and how it will be achieved.
Step 2: Bring in excellent candidates.
Look for top achievers through personal, second, or even third level connections. These are ‘passive’ candidates who are probably not actively seeking a different job. If that route doesn’t yield top candidates, then advertise creatively, and leverage the great performance profile that you wrote in Step 1. Be specific in your descriptions so that job seekers are either highly attracted to the role, or move on because they know that they won’t be successful or happy in the role.
Step 3: Conduct performance-based interviews with the top 2-3 candidates.
Do not be swayed by initial impressions! Review their work history in terms of achievements and specific results. Describe the top goals that the person will need to accomplish, and ask them to describe similar accomplishments. Ask for specifics regarding how much, by when, processes or tools used, others involved, issues that arose, impact to others, the role of the manager, and so forth. It will be very difficult for a candidate to B.S. their way through those questions! You should get an idea of whether you have a top performer, and how they will fit into your organization. This process also gives the candidate a good sense of what is expected in the job and the challenges they will face. There should be no surprises on either side when this process is complete.
Step 4: Make a reasoned decision.
First impressions are extremely powerful. But, rarely do first impressions give you good information on which to make your decisions. Having others involved in the interview process, and asking them to follow the same process will help in finding solid evidence that a candidate can be a top performer. When you meet to make the final decision, require solid information to use in your decision.
Action 2: On Board Effectively
Congratulations! You have made a great hire. The next action you should take is to on board them and begin to lay a foundation of trust. Trust isn’t built immediately. It takes time. It’s like building up your bank account. Lots of deposits (trust building actions) over time will build a solid foundation that can withstand withdrawals of occasional interpersonal issues, and minor economic setbacks, over time. If employees trust you, they won’t be looking to sue you. They will also be more willing to look out for you, and be engaged in making the business successful.
Employees have basic needs including the need to trust and be trusted, having control over their work, feeling aligned to the purpose of the organization, establishing positive relationships and feeling valued. If your work environment supports those needs, your employees will trust you and engage more effectively. Here are easy strategies you can use to start building that foundation of trust with a new employee:
Review your company’s mission statement, vision, values and long term goals for your team.
Encourage questions to help them understand how they ‘fit’ into the organization.
Pull out that performance profile and review it together.
Discuss how their performance will drive the larger organization. Revise it as necessary so that the employee clearly understands what needs to be accomplished.
Invest the time to discuss communications.
Consider leveraging a tool like the DiSC profile to facilitate the discussion of personality and preferences. Be explicit about your own personality and communication style. For example, share that you have a D or dominant style, are very results-oriented, and tend to be very direct.
If possible, provide the employee with a mentor.
While you will provide most of their guidance, a mentor can help socialize them into the new team, and answer questions that a new employee might not yet want to ask their manager. (If you do assign a mentor, be explicit with the mentor’s responsibilities. There are great on-line resources to assist.)
During the first week on the job, have the new employee develop their ‘game plan’ to accomplish their goals.
This should involve documenting who they will be working with, such as key partners, customers, peers, and also any roadblocks, dependencies, etc. that will help or hinder their success. They should document their personal development goals as part of this process.
Meet with them on a 1:1 basis frequently.
I’d even suggest meeting daily if possible during the first week, to review their progress and provide feedback. Focus on positive feedback and redirect if necessary. Track your feedback – a ratio of 3:1 positive to negative feedback is desirable. You can reduce the frequency of your 1:1 meetings as they successfully engage in the job, but don’t just stop them. Often, it’s when someone gets into the job that real obstacles and issues surface. They still need your guidance and positive connection to continue to grow in their role and to build trust.
You may be thinking that you don’t have time to take these two actions – hire well and onboard effectively. Do you have time and money to manage out a bad hire or deal with an employee who is floundering in their role? If you take these two actions, you won’t need to. And, you’ll be on your way to creating a high performing team that will drive your success!