When an employee stole from my restaurant it made me question my ability to lead a business. The financial loss was hard but the lack of self-confidence and doubt afterwards was worse.
I have had the unfortunate experience of firing a Manager in one of my restaurants for stealing. The employee in question was working in my business for over two years. This person was promoted twice, was adored by our customers and staff and showed all the traits of a great employee. This person was reliable, energetic and good at their job. Revenue was up, we were profitable and feedback from customers and staff was fantastic. When I discovered that more than $20,000 had been stolen over a six-month period I was shocked to the core and totally unprepared for the wave of emotions that followed.
Below are some of the lessons I learned from that experience.
Never ever lose sight of your numbers. I was in growth mode and building two new restaurants when I took my attention off the venue in question. I left the day-to-day management in the hands of someone I thought I could trust. Our tills balanced, we were profitable and I found myself lured into a false sense of security. I didn’t look at the numbers closely and as a result paid a high price. Advice: Regardless of performance always know your numbers.
Don’t invest in a great point of sale and not read the reports. We have a great point of sale system and access to many reports. I wasn’t running the right reports or reading them. Instead I was paying money for a great system but not using it to its full potential. Advice: Take the time to learn how your system can work for you, not just in day-to-day transactions but also at the back end for reporting.
Listen to your gut. In hindsight there was signs that something wasn’t right. There were lies and rumours that I heard but chose to ignore. I knew deep down that this person was not always truthful but didn’t listen to my gut instinct. Instead I focused on my other businesses and told myself that it was ok. Advice: If something doesn’t seem or feel right, listen and investigate. Don’t put off a difficult conversation or turn a blind eye.
It’s ok to ask for help. I was unprepared for the wave of emotions that followed this incident. I stopped communicating; I stopped trusting people and the stress made me angry. I grew distant from my husband and my team. The strain this put on my family was enormous. Advice: Seek help and talk about how you feel.
Don’t worry about what others think. Immediately I was embarrassed and ashamed that I let this happen to me. What were people saying? Was my reputation as a business leader now tarnished? Did people think I was stupid? I was paranoid and it was starting to eat at me. I had to stop and re-focus. Advice: Don’t worry about things you can’t control. Focus on what you can control. Learn from the mistake and use this energy to be a better business leader.
Don’t forget your team. I was so angry with this person that I didn’t stop to think how my team felt. They too were going through the emotions of betrayal and loss. I remember feeling frustrated when my team would speak of this person and how they missed their presence. Didn’t they know what this person did? Of course they did but they are human and just lost a Manager that they loved working with. Looking back I know I could have managed this much better. Advice: Communicate with your team and understand that they too are trying to deal with a loss.