Building trust in an employee is very much like teaching someone to drive. You don't just hand him the keys on the first day and let him take the car for a spin while hoping for the best. You have to show him how the car works, what the rules of the road are, and how to handle emergency situations successfully. Only when he can drive you to a destination without incident can he be trusted to take the car out alone.

So how do you create that trust with an employee? 

1. Start everyone as a passenger. 

When a new employee joins our team, he spends a significant amount of time learning our products. He is taught our computer system and our order fulfillment process. Finally, he role-plays the correct way to help customers get what they need. Throughout this training period, he does not talk to live customers or touch actual orders; instead he is kept in a classroom-like environment, much like a student taking driver's ed. Only when he is able to pass a product exam, successfully enter a test order, and impress me with how he handles difficult sales obstacles is he able to move on the next level. 

2. Put the employee behind the wheel--in the parking lot.

Just because an employee has been successful on the written road test does not mean he is ready to drive. In phase two of our trust-building process, a new team member is given real responsibilities, but performs them in an off-road setting, still quarantined from customer contact. Whereas before, he was only allowed to enter test orders, he will now enter actual orders that come in via our website. Because the orders are real, he must enter them correctly, anticipate problems, and make sure they are handled in a timely manner. Essentially, he is given the chance to sit in the driver's seat, but can only drive around the parking lot, because another team member will be double-checking all of his orders for potential errors. When his orders are error-free, I trust him to take the next step.

3. Let the employee take a drive around the block.

Driving is difficult at first because it requires the use of many skills at once. At this level, the employee must put together all the product knowledge he has acquired, use our computer system accurately, and do both with a live customer on the line. In order to make it a little less frightening (for both the employee and me), a new employee practices by shadowing a senior rep on calls. The senior rep takes the order, while the new employee listens in, silently getting his cues from the customer, and using them to enter the order on his own computer. At the end of each call, he prints and compares his order to the order taken by the senior rep. Once he is successfully typing in the same thing as the senior rep, and several orders are done correctly, he can be trusted enough to go further. 

4. Time to try the open road.

You will never know if someone can actually drive until you let him do it. As a business owner, I find this is the hardest stage because there are real consequences. The employee is now in control of the order-taking situation, but a senior rep will be shadowing him to make sure the order is done right. Even if the new staffer makes a mistake, the customer will not suffer, and the mistake can be used to teach how to make a better choice the next time. This allows me to let the employee drive, but with the safety of my foot close to the brakes, just in case. Once the mistakes diminish, and the employee feels comfortable in most situations, he can be trusted to take the car out alone. 

5. Licensed and ready to roll. 

At this point, the employee trusts that he knows enough about our product, procedure, and mission to be able to drive without a problem from point A to point B. I also trust that he will be able to do that.

6. Send him on his way.

Once the new rep is out on the road, I fully expect he may have some minor fender benders along the way. Being okay with that is the final speed bump in the two-way street called trust.