We’ve all heard it a million times: “Your employees are your most important asset.” Many of us actually believe it. Some companies even use that concept as a selling point for their business. In past posts I’ve talked about the importance of making sure you have the right people on the “business bus.” Ah, but now comes the hard part: What makes someone the right employee?
The thing is, it’s not just new hires that need to be evaluated. As a business leader, you’ve got to take a look at the people that are currently in place as well. And that can be tough when someone has been around a while. Longevity, however, doesn’t necessarily translate into qualification.
So how do you evaluate key employees? There are all kinds of tests and personality profiles you can use—and some are really helpful. Here are five character traits that can be extremely helpful indicators whether you have the right person in place—or not.
1. Do they dare to disagree? There’s no question that loyalty is an important character trait in an employee. But there’s a big difference between someone who is loyal and someone who is a lap dog. Do your key employees dare to disagree with you (or other leaders) when it really matters? One of the key things to look at is why they disagree. Are they simply being contrary? Do they just want to be right? Or are they disagreeing because they think they can make a product, a service—or the whole company—better?
2. Do they see the “elephant in the room?” Most companies (whether they admit or not) have issues that they’d rather not discuss. Unfortunately, those issues can often cripple a company. Do you have people in key positions who aren’t afraid to address the “elephant in the room” in order to make a breakthrough that will launch your business forward? This kind of boldness is a form of integrity—and absolutely critical characteristic for key employees.
3. How do they talk about the company “beyond the walls?” We’ve all known employees who always say the right thing—as long as the boss is listening. But what do your employees say when they venture outside of your walls? Expressing frustration or even voicing criticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But you don’t want a key employee running the business down in the marketplace just to make himself look better. It’s OK to admit problems, but you want an employee who talks about how the business is working to be better.
4. How do employees talk about other employees? Some companies spend a lot of time, money, and effort on team-building exercises. That can be a great thing, but nothing eats away at team spirit faster (or more harshly) than unjustified criticism. What are you doing to help your key players understand and appreciate the vital roles that others play in advancing the company? You may need to remind employees that the task before them is bigger than one person (or department) can tackle. Employee appreciation starts at the top.
5. Do your employees know when it’s time to go? Once upon a time, employees planned to stay with their company for a lifetime. Businesses today generally don’t operate that way. They have to adapt and change to meet the changing needs and demands of the marketplace. And sometimes that means that a person’s skill set no longer fits the need. A really good employee—one who has the best interests of the business in mind—can recognize when his or her role has shifted and is no longer a good fit. Sometimes that requires a shift in responsibility. Sometimes it may necessitate leaving. And sometimes they need to leave because they’ve simply outgrown the role they currently have. Do you have the kind of employee who can grow and develop to the point that the job just doesn’t challenge her? It may be painful to let someone like that go, but it may be best for her and for the company. Of course, you may want to enlist her help in finding and training her replacement—someone just like her.
What other character traits do you look for in your employees? And how do you encourage them in your existing employees?