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National Association of Counties • Washington, D.C.      Vol. 34, No. 11 • June 3, 2002

The H.R. Doctor Is In

Mirror, Mirror In the Desk

An important part of the job of every manager is to keep a mirror in a drawer and regularly take it out and use it for two very important public administration and human resource management purposes. Both are based on the elementary school teacher’s maxim that “the biggest room is the room for improvement.”
The first use of the mirror is to see your own reflection. The second use of the powerful mirror tool is to turn it 180 degrees and use it as an effective supervisory counseling tool in helping other employees or clients improve their behavior or performance at work. This concept of regular self-evaluation and assessment can literally change the direction of a manager’s career as well as personal life.

At least annually, the HR Doctor applies this technique to have an honest, candid conversation with himself about what kind of person and what kind of professional he has been in the past year. Hopefully, when I do this, my lips don’t move and I don’t talk to myself too loudly so that others are disturbed.

I ask what I have learned about myself in the course of interacting with thousands of people each year. I ask how I have been doing in my relationships with the people I love most, such as the beautiful HR spouse, Charlotte, and the incredible HR daughters, Elyse and Rachel. I ask if I have been a caring and pleasant colleague to those around me at work and in my community.

I also ask what I could have done better, and what I have learned from mistakes and failures. Have I made a positive difference in the lives of others? Have I done enough work in the community through organizations such as United Way and working with kids in schools? Have I networked enough within my own profession to learn from others, and hopefully, to contribute to the success of other people in Human Resources and elsewhere in the organization?

Finally, I ask that balding and slightly chubby-faced man looking back in the mirror whether I am doing enough to celebrate, have fun, take care of my own health and invest in joy!

Turning the mirror 180 degrees, I can reflect on counseling and supervision. The best managers, the best elected officials and, in fact, the best healthcare professionals such as physicians, employee assistance professionals and others, become masters at the use of the mirror.

A great amount of my professional time in human resources is spent helping others see, perhaps for the first time, candidly and professionally, how they are projecting themselves and their attitudes to others. We all deliver messages about ourselves in our interactions with other people by our body language, the words we use, and in our level of caring, innovating and willingness to be part of a team.

Even silence delivers powerful, loud messages to others about what kind of colleagues we are at work. An HR professional — remember, that means every manager and every elected and appointed official — should become a master of the use of this technique. It is part of effective supervisory practices, which include performance evaluation, corrective action when behavior or performances are slipping, recognition, appreciation, and creating a professional development plan for an even brighter future for an effective employee.

As the HR Doctor has written (read, You Have Spinach Between Your Teeth at the HR Doctor’s Web site, it takes honesty and openness to tell another colleague or friend something that may be hard for them to hear. In reality, some people are open to constructive criticism but others see it as antagonistic. As with other human resources issues, the key catalyst ingredient in dealing with others is R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as taught to us by the great HR director, Aretha Franklin.

The mirror evaluation technique can apply in your personal life as well. Ask for positive and constructively critical feedback from your family and encourage them to look at themselves in the mirror of improvement regularly. The technique even works in my relationship with Kamala, the HR dog. However, in order to get a clear reflection in your analytical mirror, or for that matter, in the Hubble Space Telescope, the surface of the mirror must be cleaned and must be kept polished. Otherwise, reflections are distorted and the result of using the mirror will not be accurate.

In fact, applying this mirror analysis concept with inappropriate motives, such as to hurt someone’s feelings, or belittle them or to pressure them into some behavior unrelated to the workplace, is a great danger to ethical supervisory practices. Don’t do it. Use the concept for helpful, candid improvement and positive recognition. It can be a great help.

To borrow a quote from another great HR professional, Humphrey Bogart, “Here’s looking at you, Kid!”

All the best,
Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •