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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

I am looking for ways to catch one of three employees stealing from the company. We know that it must be one of the three. We are a small business and we are trying to decide how to go about doing this without their knowledge that they are being watched. I am in hopes that none of my employees are stealing, but over $10,000 worth of equipment has gone out of our store in less than 6 months. It's not the bugs taking it home and the size of this equipment is too large for the customers to be taking it.

Thanks,
Catherine

Answer from our Guest Expert Allison Gaea Jucha of Yes!Coaching

You're standing in one of the toughest spots an employer can face. You hire out of trust. You pay fairly, maybe even very competitively. Yet, you're at risk at any time for employee unreliability, which can be expressed in many ways, such as employee theft.

Even though I'm not a who-dun-it expert, I do have a couple of suggestions to possibly help you solve your dilemma.

Get help from security agencies who specialize in personal or electronic surveillance. These professionals might be able to suggest some quick-fix ways to figuring out this mystery. But be prepared to put out some bucks for the services.

Get advice from your insurance agent. I'm sure your biz insurance agent has seen your claims on the stolen items and will have some tips on what to do. She's probably had clients in the past with your same problem. See if your insurance company offers any free literature on dealing with employee theft or see if they offer any seminars or workshops on the topic.

Call your local police department. Most likely you've reported your theft to the police, but go a step further and ask the officers if there is someone in the department who specializes in helping biz owners with trying to catch employees who are suspects. What about crime prevention on this issue? Possibly the department has suggestions and tips for you.

Continue to ask other biz owners for advice. You did the right thing posting your plea on Cyber Schmooz. Asking others who've been there, done that is a great way to get solid advice and suggestions. At the next chamber meeting, ask the question around the buffet table. Rub elbows with your vendors and suppliers and see if they've had to deal with a similar situation.

In addition to these suggestions, I also wonder if an ounce of prevention may be worth the pound of cure?

What conditions make it possible for employee theft to occur? This is an important question to ask yourself. This isn't a blame question as it is impossible for an owner/manager to be in all places at all times. This is simply an exercise in deductive reasoning. When are employees alone with the equipment? Opening, closing, lunch coverage? Are they alone responsible for inventory or check-in? One way to at least temporarily stop the theft is to plug those holes by changing shifts or providing additional coverage. This may provide insight as to whether or not this is being accomplished from the inside.

What conditions are creating a dedicated company culture? Are your employees really on board with this business or are they just collecting a paycheck? Do your employees know the company's mission statement? Do you? What incentive is there for being one of the many who make this venture wildly successful? Incentives aren't always cash bonuses: Do employees get to improve their marketable skills? Do they have an opportunity to learn new skills? Is there room for advancement? Even small things such as new titles can go a long way. A sales associate may be a community liason. The window dresser may be a director of design at heart. Everyone loves to be recognized AND appreciated for his unique contributions to the whole.

Are you willing to be honest with your staff? You may want to call a staff meeting. Talk about your dreams for the business, what you want out of it, how you want your community to benefit from it. Ask them how they feel they fit into the big picture. Once you feel they know you respect their part in the success of the business, tell them the truth. Let them know that equipment is disappearing, that you are concerned about the trust culture in your company. Unless you have proof, you may have to settle for the guilty party getting away with it by never coming forward and never doing it again, or a near-future resignation. It's also just as likely that one employee who is committed to your company may turn in another employee.

Whatever you do, be very careful not to make any legal mistakes by accusing a potentially innocent party. Check with local police or a criminal lawyer as to how to handle this situation.

Remember, what you want is a successful business with loyal employees. Ask yourself what you want to do to help your employees continue to develop their business skills. And make sure they know what you expect of them. Any short-term solutions will be greatly enhanced by a long-term dedication to everyone's success.

Have a biz question of your own? Go post it in CyberSchmooz

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