In my work with company owners I sometimes see recurring themes. One of them is the owner(s) of a younger company hiring an employee who seems too good to be true.

The owner does some things over the course of the working relationship that are detrimental to the success of the company:

Knowledge: The company owner assumes that the employee knows more than the owner does about what the employee has been hired to do. After all, the employee has more experience, has been in the industry longer, and often projects a greater sense of confidence than the owner does.

Responsibility: Because the employee knows so much, the owner abdicates responsibility. By this I mean that the owner does not carefully set up guidelines for success and check-in appointments with the employee to make sure the employee is accomplishing what he is being paid to do.

Accountability: The owner does not establish a clear way of holding the employee accountable for doing the job correctly. “Command and control” — systematic micro-managing — is the classic way this was handled in the past. The owner thinks that that style of managing is inconsistent with working with such a good employee. However, “trust and verify” is not even considered.

So what’s the outcome? Eventually there is a watershed moment when things go from looking like they are going well to the owner being frustrated with the employee’s working style or the lack of positive results the employee has been achieving, or both. There is a crucial confrontation with the employee, whose future has now been freed up, and then the company works to recover from the damage created by that employee. Such damage might include dangerously incomplete estimates prepared by the star estimator being used to sell work, or behavior on the part of a star lead carpenter that is inconsistent with the promises the company makes to all its employees and clients.

How to Avoid This

Interviewing: Before deciding to hire a star, interview the candidate with rigor and focus. Ask open-ended questions based on your actual experiences with other employees. Test the candidate with some real-world examples of the work the employee would be doing if hired. Accept no errors.

Screening: Check the employee’s references — again, with much rigor. Probe the references and listen closely for any hesitation. Go deeper when you sense there is something being unsaid.

Training: Have a training program to integrate the employee (any employee, for that matter, not just a star) into his or her position at the company. It helps to have a manual — a collection of expectations, processes, systems, and forms that encompass all aspects of the position) — to train to.

Checking in: Have a minimum of one weekly check-in with the employee where what is going well is acknowledged and what is not going well is addressed. Before ending each of these meetings always agree on one thing that the employee will work on between this meeting and the next meeting.

You can’t always be successful when hiring employees. However, you must commit to becoming better and better at it. After all, how much fun is it to have your star employee fall from their lofty heights and damage your company in the process of doing so?

Remember that pain of disappointment when you are tempted to take shortcuts in your hiring, onboarding, and training process. It will help you from repeating the same mistake again and again!

Paul Winans, a veteran remodeler, now works as a facilitator for Remodelers Advantage, and as a consultant to remodeling business owners. Contact him at paul@remodelersadvantage.com.

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