I have professed that people are as important to growing a profitable business as water is to a swimmer winning the 100 meter freestyle. You can’t succeed without them but if you don’t pay attention, you can drown.

I am embarrassed to admit how many employees I have hired in the past that I was so excited about that I overlooked dangerous characteristics just so I could expedite the training, close more sales or schedule that extra job. In all cases I thought I was making my life easier. In all cases I knew the “star” employee was causing some damage but felt the sales were worth it. In all cases, I was wrong.

Here are some examples of some of my poor choices. I had sales people who would sell me on why it was okay to have a low close ratio or why a 30% gross margin was okay. I would allow technicians in the homes of my customers even though the girls in my call center said the guy “gave them the creeps.” I would overlook an installer with a bad attitude and I have ignored a rude call taker. Wow. That was painful for me to admit but I will say that the lessons learned were worth it. My hope for you is that you can avoid the pain by paying attention to what I am about to say.

If you have an employee that your team is telling you is a problem, listen to them. Sometimes it may look like a witch hunt and it probably is but what triggered the witch hunt? As often as I wanted to think it was jealousy or a personal vendetta, it was almost always a loyal staff looking out for the business.

Working in other businesses I have observed other poisonous pills. They come in only a couple of different forms. They are either super charismatic or super talented. The charismatic are over looked because they are so likable that you downplay poor performance. Keeping this person too long will cause some long term damage. They lower the performance standards in your business and they disappoint customers that will never say a word. The customers that do say something are asking for money in the form of warranties that could have been avoided by better paperwork.

The other poisonous pill is the talented employee. The performer who gets a lot of work done but complains to everyone around them about their home life, your customers or you, causes damage that is often hard to see. A bad attitude should be called to the carpet right away because they are infectious and the damage caused by allowing a performer with a bad attitude to exist in your business can run deep. I have found that if you allow this person to become a long term employee or worse, if a long term employee sours… it make take months and the replacement of many other staff members to overcome.

Having the luxury of visiting many different businesses I get to see as many different cultures. What is amazing to me is the amount of work that can get done in a company with a fun easygoing culture that has strict accountability as opposed to a company that is strict but has relaxed accountability. The fastest growing most profitable businesses have fun and have small grey areas when it comes to what is right and wrong for the culture. They act fast. And because they are a good place to work, word gets out and they have more applicants to choose from.

I have written before about the need for urgency and accountability in your business. The most important area to have it in is replacing under-performers and bad attitudes.