Failed at Mind Reading

A friend of mine just gave me a good example of this. She puts it this way:

"Say I hire someone to muck out stalls. He goes in there and picks apples, but what I really wanted was all the stalls stripped. At his last employer, he was told not to strip stalls because it wastes a lot of good bedding, so that's what he did in his new job. Can I fire him for not doing the job the way I wanted? No. I didn't tell him how I wanted it done."

That's a good point.

Let's add a few dynamics to the same sort of scenario. Say an employee is hired to do two different things, and after a few days, became pretty solid in both. One task is one the employee has a lot of experience in and finds the last person doing the task was not experienced at all, and it's a major mess. There is a lot of experience in the other task, but not in the particular style. At first, the new employee's product isn't perfect, but it was getting there. The employee was enthusiastic, willing to learn, takes material home to read to learn, and was flexible enough to roll with just about anything.

Those two things keep this employee pretty busy for 40 hours a week, so there are no lulls. The "hiring boss" takes a week off, and no sooner is she gone than this new employee was pulled from the two tasks by "big boss" and put on other things that made it impossible to do those original tasks at all. There is no time. And surprise, the employee turns out to be pretty dern good at the new tasks too. The hiring boss returns to wonder why original tasks weren't done, but says nothing.

Now, the wrinkle comes from the "little boss" who sits in the middle and adds in a few jabs of her own. She says 'don't do this until you are told to' but tells the other bosses she doesn't know why it isn't getting done. She also pulls the employee away from doing work assigned by the other two bosses, the employee can't complete the work by the "big boss'" unspoken, unknown deadline and is then chastised by big boss for working too slow.

The hiring boss takes more days off, only this time, she comes back to find the new employee gone from the office to work from home because the employee was too slow to do everything and can then "do your research on your own time." One employee, three bosses. But, the employee isn't fired, at least that's what was communicated. Instead, the employee is supposed to "freelance" to get paid per project instead of by the hour. The hiring boss doesn't know about this either.

What was expected wasn't communicated. Nothing was said to the employee about deadlines, timelines, expectations or even job title. When asked what the "freelance" position would pay, the answer was "oh, we'll work that out." It appears that there is little communication between the bosses either.

It sounds surreal, like a no-win situation. Perhaps the new employee was too enthusiastic? Or, was it that the employee was too flexible?

Whether hiring an experienced stable hand or hiring a person with no direct experience in mucking out stalls, what is expected has to be spoken out loud. It may even take several times. A person new to barn work may also be new to horses and will have to learn a lot more than just how much horse shit to take out of a stall.

But, that the person accepted the offer of employment and showed enthusiasm to learn says a lot. If the enthusiasm isn't killed by unfair criticism, the employer would have a trusted, loyal employee who is far more valuable than an experienced hand that changes jobs on a whim.

I wish colleges, even high schools, taught courses in mind reading.


  1. My high school taught a course in mind reading.....


    ok that was a lie...

  2. Darn! I was going to ask you for some tips!

  3. Here you have a typical case of TOO MANY Chiefs and not enough Indians. Mind reading ones anyway.
    You see a lot of this especially in family run business's. Often they cant get a grip on who has the authority and all try to control some of it creating a real nightmare for anyone whos trying to figure out whos really in charge and/or who they have to please.
    These operations always lose employees sooner or later from the high degree of frustration they are trying to cope with. Its NEVER a good idea to lose an employee thats dripping with enthusiasm, those kind of workers are few and far between and will literally knock themselves out trying to please if only they know who to please.
    Which brings me to the second point here. COMMUNICATION, of coarse if there was excellent communication you wouldnt have the first problem discussed here. So it too often seems one problem is often married with the other.
    Lack of communication is what causes a frustrated employee to wish for mind reading skills.
    i.e. No way a person can know if they are "fast enough" if a boss doesnt share what their defintion of "fast enough" is. Is it 5 stalls an hour? 10? 20? Does the number change according to which boss you are talking to? Are you still expected to clean stalls if one Chief pulls you off stall duty to break colts in the round pen? Are you supposed to stay over time to clean the stalls, or...is that a no no because of overtime pay?
    No way an employee can or should be expected to "read minds"
    Nor is it fair for an employer to "assume" an employee should know ESPECIALLY if they are not "old dogs" at stable work.
    If said employee is unfair in these ways you can just about guarantee they will be unfair in many others. Probably not a good outfit to work for. My advice to people who are unjustly "let go" is to take their skills and enthusiasm elsewhere. As an employer myself I can promise you there are plenty of us out there that are finding truely enthusiastic employees few and far between.
    Especially for those jobs that arent exactly the cream of the crop for pay.

  4. It may be that where you find oodles of intelligence and talent, common sense and people skills are iffy. Sometimes, those intelligent, talented people are the employees too, and their own lack of common sense may add to the difficulty they face in situations like this. Most of the time, employers, valuing that talent and intelligence above all else, will find the way to tap into it - not let them go.

    I heard it said all my life that musicians are strange, weird people, and I think I fit that description pretty well. So, I can live with strange and weird.

    But, I do have a hard time with unfairness.