If Your Employee Won’t Admit the Truth, You Need To

Question: 

My partner and I hired “Keith” based on a great interview and glowing references. Keith didn’t have all the skills we needed, but his attitude wowed us. He had “all the right stuff.”

We figured we could provide him the training he needed and have since invested hundreds of hours training him.

The problem: We can’t trust him. He tells white lies. Last week, I asked him where an overdue report was. He answered, “No problem, got it covered already.”

I asked him to send it to me right away. He said he would. He didn’t. I stopped by his workstation at the end of the day. He was working on it. It was only half done.

I said, “I thought you’d finished it” and he gave me a big smile and said, “No, I was working on other priorities; you’ve got me buried.”

I asked, “What did ‘got it covered’ mean?” He said, “that meant I’d work on it right away.”

I said, “I asked you to send it to me right away. You said you would. Why didn’t you say you needed to finish it first?

He said, again with a big smile, that he didn’t want to disappoint me.

My partner and I talked. We wondered if we really had buried Keith in too much work. We remembered his references. That’s when we checked them out. We discovered what we hadn’t known at the time we hired Keith, that his former supervisors were his stepdad and his mom’s brother. Keith didn’t tell us he worked for a family business when he gave us his supervisors’ names as references.

We can’t afford to take the time to hire and train someone new. What do we do?

Answer: 

Keith tells you what he thinks you want to hear and what gets him what he wants. He covers his half-truths with a smile.

Lying either comes easily to him, or he’s desperately trying to stay afloat in a job for which he lacks the essential experience and bandwidth.

You have two options.

You can have a heart-to-heart conversation with Keith and find out why he shades the truth. If he says he does so to hang on to his job, and convinces you that you are burying him, let him know you expect truthful answers. Let him know he has one last chance, and another “cover up” answer will lead to his termination.  

Alternatively, you can admit you hired the wrong person. Keith does NOT have the “right stuff,” not if integrity matters to you. Although you’ve invested time and effort in him, and worry about the time it may take to hire and train a new person, can you afford to employ someone you can’t trust?

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR, is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, https://amzn.to/30V5JO6) and “Solutions”, https://amzn.to/2GYlnAN (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at https://workplacecoachblog.com/ask-a-coach/ or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10. www.workplacecoachblog.com.

6 thoughts on “If Your Employee Won’t Admit the Truth, You Need To

  1. How are his work products? Are they what you need our do you have to rework them a lot? If he does decent work he might be worth talking to about the misrepresentation. And provide some mentoring. He sounds young. If his work is not of good quality or way off the mark, it’s probably time to cut your losses. And next time make sure you’ve vetted your candidate.

  2. My biases were given new material to work from here. There are too many who give advice on interviewing and applying for job who say that attitude and a can-do spirit and finding ways to wow your interviewers can get you a job you aren’t fully qualified for–and then you can figure the rest of it out on the job. I’m not good at lying and don’t really feel comfortable with it, so this has never appealed to me. I guess I also think, then why have a job description and why have any expectations beyond “entertain me, entertain the customers.” This guy wasn’t and still isn’t qualified and tells what people want to hear. Unless that is a key part of how the organization does business, serious re-examination and following the rest of Lynne’s suggestions here is necessary.

  3. I once worked at a women’s resource center that hired a new director. Her entire first week on the job she did not show up for work. She did not do all her work because she handed it out to staff members. When another staffer and I decided to propose a structural change to the board of directors, the directory agreed at first, then forced the other staffer to make changes while I was out of the office. When I discovered the forced changes, I resigned. The other staffer resigned as well. The director had charisma and a big smile. The board believed her big smile and left our positions empty.

    The board discovered how little the director did. A year later, one of the board members told me that the other staffer and I had been right and the board had been wrong. I describe this kind of situation as performance over polish. The director’s smile was polish. She had little performance. This sounds like a similar situation.

  4. Regrettably, Boards can be fooled by ED’s with a resume and political finesse. A Board can cut through the smoke screen, whether from employees or the ED, by having a neutral person do interviews–of everyone. If the Board has a trusted volunteer, this costs little and is worth a lot because it finds the truth.

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