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You Don't Have a Glass Head

October 17, 1999
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Related Topics: Behavioral Training, Performance Appraisals, Featured Article
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I have letters and certificates of which I’m very proud; I can cite landmark cases, or Titles, or Subsections with the flourish of an employment attorney.

An employee with a problem could not possibly care less. My employees are not packers, pickers, forklift drivers, or managers; they are Bob, Sally, Fred, and Marsha, who happen to be employed as packers, pickers, forklift drivers, and managers.

My position, as I see it, is to keep the "human" part intact. And that goes for me, also: Human Resource is what I do, and not who I am. When an employee needs to see me, he or she is seeing "me," not "Human Resource." If there’s a decision to be made, it won’t come from "Human Resources"; it comes from me, and will also come with why that decision was made. Not every employee leaves with the answer they wanted, but they leave with an answer. That kind of credibility is worth more to my employees, I feel, than anything I could possibly frame on a wall.

So, let me put a title on an approach to Human Resources that I call "You Don’t Have A Glass Head," or, for those who can’t live without another anacronym, YDHAGH. In order to completely understand YDHAGH, you need to be given the other half of the phrase: You Don’t Have A Glass Head - People Can’t See What Is On Your Mind.

Thus, the first sentence of this paragraph becomes the first example of what this approach entails: having enough information to understand what is being said and to respond or act accordingly. Especially in training, as we deal in circumstances that are all too familiar to us, some of the more obvious details are eliminated, or glossed over, because they are indeed obvious, albeit only to the trainer. You can tell immediately if you have been affected when you hear phrases such as: "No one ever told me I couldn’t"; "No one showed me that part," or responses similar.

To take it a step further, let us examine one of the elements of the employee-employer relationship: the performance review. Since many employers also attach a wage review to this particular event, for at least this one instance, your management people have their subordinates’ undivided attention.

They don't have to be solely negative. Communicated goals are a perfect opportunity to raise the bar on performance level.

We have all heard that goals are supposed to be specific, measurable, individual, realistic, and the rest of the litany of adjectives universally associated with goals. Let’s add one: goals need to be "communicated."

Many management people may assume that their employees understand that they are doing poorly, because, even though they’ve not spoken with their manager since the last review, they were told once sometime last year that they would need to improve.

This scenario could immediately be labeled as an "operational" problem, and not one in which Human Resource should be involved, since it pertains to performance. I submit to you that it has everything to do with Human Resource, since, as the Human Resource representative, you not only will have to handle a complaint or potentially defend the termination down the road, but will also be assigned the task of recruiting a replacement.

And chiefly because the expectations were not communicated, and then communicated so far removed from the unacceptable performance that the employee is dumbfounded at the poor review. Not every employee will agree with the subjective opinions of a supervisor, especially if the results are negative, but there is no argument with written, clearly communicated progress reports.

Not to be solely negative, communicated goals require additional communication when they are met; aside from the recognition of performing to level required level, it is a perfect opportunity to "raise the bar" on performance level, and reassign a loftier goal. Assuming that employees can see into that "glass head" is a missed opportunity for recognition and increased productivity, or for redirecting the efforts of an existing employee.

The "Glass Head" problem also goes well beyond performance assessments and training, and right to performance itself. It has been my experience that employees perform better when they know not only HOW to do something, but how fast, how many, how high, how "whatever" you’d like them to do it.

When an employee is told that he or she needs to improve speed, for example, and it is just left at that, any marginal improvement would fulfill the request, but still may not be acceptable. Well, you don’t have a glass head—no one can see what’s on your mind.

Employees need to be told what is expected, what the performance discrepancies are, and what would be considered acceptable. You have got to believe that employees do not come to work for the sole purpose of making their manager’s life miserable (although, I grant you, there are days when that is extremely hard to disprove).

There is no real magic here. Say what you mean, explain what you need, provide frequent feedback, avoid surprises, and, most importantly, keep in mind that there is no crime in taking the time to listen, because, unfortunately, employees don’t have a glass head, either.

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