(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

 

If you live in Las Vegas…Check!

Have an interest in management and business issues… Check!

And know a number of people in the Downtown / Zappos / entrepreneur community… Check!

Then you can’t help but have heard of Holacracy.

Normally the tones of conversations about Holacracy, and in particular of Zappos’s ’embrace it or leave’ offer to their staff, mix wonder and an unbelieving shake of the head normally reserved for parents of teenagers. This new book by Brian J. Robertson aims to change all that.

The funny thing is that it actually does a pretty good job.

The first real hint that there is more here than just a new business book, is in that the author has been involved in Lean software development and it is almost a throwaway comment- which is unfortunate. Lean is becoming a highly respected way of changing how companies work (please see my review of Lean Hospitals for a better explanation) and there are some interesting commonalities that someone, better versed in both than myself, needs to explore.

At its core, Holacracy is the deconstruction of work into roles, accountabilities, domains, and polices and giving employees the freedom, and the structure, to make modifications when “tensions” arise without the formal structure of supervisors and management. Interestingly, a lot of the housekeeping of Holacracy is in preserving the integrity of the process rather than the comfort of the employees. “It is difficult to hide from empowerment when the organizational process around you continually shines a light on your hiding place.”

Of course, if you are looking for things to turn you off such as parody worthy jargon; “In Tactical Meetings circle members use a fast-paced forum to deal with their ongoing operations, synchronize team members, and triage any difficulties that are preventing progress.” then you will find it. However, it is worth embracing one of the key conceits of the author when describing the adoption or even understanding of a system such as Holacracy: The rules of any game fade into the background when everyone knows what they are doing and how they should do it. It is only when someone breaks the rules, or does not know them well enough, that the rules come into sharp relief.

For those of us who are constantly looking to upgrade our management tool box, there is a lot you will recognize from other areas and other ideas what are worth re-purposing if a complete adoption of Holacracy is never even on your mind. The structured checkins at the beginning of meetings, for example, I am already planning on adopting along with the book’s strategy definition.

Of course, a book of this length (it is a short 200 pages that I read in a morning) can be nothing more than a appetizer or introduction to the world of Holacracy. I would have liked to have seen a few more diagrams and a decent FAQ section: The idea that the CEO of a company unadopt Holacracy at any time but is not above the rules is great to know; but would have been nicer to hear on page 10 rather than page 152!

My main criticism of the book, however, is in the field of Human Resources. What does the disciplinary process look like in a Holacracy? What does termination look like? How does that jive with legal and privacy issues? There is mention of compensation models, but these are brief and experimental at best.

There is something really interesting going on here with Holacracy and it deserves a more positive press that it currently seems to be receiving; hopefully this book will help change that.

But it is not a panacea – at least not yet.

But is is worth your time to find out why!

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Talk about feeling conflicted…

For my American non-car fetish readers, Jeremy Clarkson is larger than life public figure and journalist from the UK who is known world-wide for the BBC motoring television show Top Gear.

When I say larger than life, a serious aspect of Jeremy Clarkson’s public persona is his often outrageous and politically incorrect statements in private and on Television. Some might say that everything has come to a head with the presenter multiple times in the past; however, for most the head was reached today when Clarkson was fired for punching a producer during an argument over food following a days filming.

The personal conflict comes from my love of Top Gear and Clarkson as a broadcaster. As a person, I am sure he is not someone I would like to spend much time with (I’m not a fan of his writing or politics.) However, the deeper conflict is how the media in the UK has essentially manufactured and over blown any number of remarks into career damaging scandals. The culture of bullying by majority over remarks or misunderstood events, by the major media and the social media hordes has to stop. We risk complete disengagement by future generations due to the risks of getting involved – it is just not worth it.

Finally, the human resource and management side of me applauds the BBC for having the courage to fire a key employee for completely unacceptable behavior in any workplace. Sorry Jeremy – but to needed to be fired for that.

The scandal is not the punch, the scandal is not incidents over number plates, or ill chosen remarks. The scandal is that television personalities and programing will be a little more bland and a little less interesting because we can’t just dismiss a personality as an idiot and not watch them if we disapprove.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

“Scott, we have a problem with social media. People keep going on there and complaining about our products. We just don’t know what to do!”

“Well, for starters, how about you make a better product?”

Unselling is about sales and how the rules of selling have fundamentally changed.

After two fun books (that I reviewed here and here) on the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media and customer service, Scott Stratton and Alison Kramer have given us a great and insightful book on taking the pulse of our customers and where our businesses should be aiming. These concepts of pulse and aim (you’ll have to buy the book for the definitions) tie together a lot of what Scott has been talking about online and on the Unpodcast for the last couple of years.

What Unselling manages to achieve is to create a structure and understanding of why certain methods work and why others don’t. It is one of the frustrations, for example, to here about customer service failures and successes that can seem to contradict each other. Unselling provides keys to unlocking these mysteries. It also debunks a lot of nonsense that other marketers and marketing books talk about.

An extremely easy read, with short chapters, this is not Scott Stratten the borderline stand-up comic and keynote speaker, this is Scott Stratten the insightful and intelligent marketer who had risen to the top of his profession (the jokes almost get in the way). While the previous books concentrated on the how and the what, Unselling is very much about the why.

This is not a book for sales people, or a book for marketing people, it is a book for business people, and people in businesses, because we are all sales and marketing people now.

By Mike Falconer

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

“Lean” is a way of thinking about business and business operations based on the Toyota Production Method. Often linked with Six Sigma much trumpeted by GE, Lean focuses more on employee engagement than the statistical analysis of Six Sigma.

A full description of the benefits of Lean, or even Lean Vs. Six Sigma, or Lean Six Sigma are out side the scope of this blog post (for that you can check out the author’s own excellent blog post on the subject of Lean Sigma and Lean plus Six Sigma here.) However, I should probably give some background on why I want to read this book and my interest in lean.

The simple answer is that I had become aware of the short comings of much of the veterinary specific continuing education when it comes to larger hospitals – particularly when it comes to employee engagement and communication. I’ll never forget sitting in on a not very good seminar on internal communication at a veterinary conference and then finding out that the speaker’s hospital had less than ten employees. There is nothing wrong with practices of that size, but the ideas were not scalable – I have supervisor meetings larger than ten people! Because of these issues I started to look to the human healthcare world for ideas and inspiration.

I did this with some trepidation.

Human healthcare has some serous issues and in many ways could learn a lot from the veterinary world – not lease in the use of resources and customer service which seems at times to be virtually non-existent. Having said that, lots of others have similar feelings about human healthcare and there are a number of people trying to make major changes hospital wide.

One of those people that I came across was Mark Graban, the author of Lean Hospitals.

I had been communicating back and forth with Mark over Twitter about healthcare and process issues that interested us both and so I decided to give “Lean” a serious look.

I should make clear, that Lean Hospitals is very much a human healthcare book. For those in the veterinary profession, a significant amount of translation and out right rejection will need to take place. However, for those with large facilities to run and with hopefully a mandate to improve, there is a lot to learn from Lean and the Lean Hospitals volume that I am imperfectly reviewing here.

Lean is about reducing waste. Not just physical waste, but the waste of your employees and your patients / clients time and resources. The general principle is that by harnessing the knowledge of your employees about what they do, and by actually looking at and standardizing how your employees work you can create internal systems that not only save time and money but that are safer for patients and employees. Coupled with this is the idea of a culture of continuous improvement and error proofing of the workplace.

A lot of these ideas will be familiar to anyone who has attended a management seminar in recent years. What seems to make lean and Lean Hospitals different is how it is all held together and that is has real processes and tools for implementation and analysis.

As a book, Lean hospitals takes the form of a workbook, with each chapter giving not only a formal conclusion and lesson points but also a list of questions for group discussion. Although, Mark primarily works in the human healthcare world now, Lean Hospitals is written almost from a lay persons perspective and so the use of human medical terminology or assumption of knowledge of those processes is kept to the bare minimum.

On the downside, Lean as a process, is replete with jargon which mostly takes the form of Japanese words or phrases originally inherited from the Toyota Production method. Although there seems to be no real reason to have to use these terms, other than that some of the ideas need a name of some type, they can be a little off putting and require a certain amount of referring to the glossary (which is excellent!)

Lean Hospitals is also a little expensive for a business book, although cheap by text book standards, but makes up for this by being an excellent read throughout.

The most insightful passage in the book relates that healthcare is full of brilliant dedicated people that daily have to battle with broken systems and goes on to quote Fujio Cho, the Chairman of Toyota Motors: “We get brilliant results from average people managing brilliant systems. Our competitors get average results from brilliant people working around broken systems.”

For those looking for an introduction to the world of Lean, or even just a set of interesting ideas from progressive human healthcare to cherry pick, Lean Hospitals is an excellent starting point.

In this ongoing, and occasional, series I discuss the process of learning to be a manager. Since my background is for the most part in the veterinary field we will mostly focus on the peculiarities of that industry; however, the majority of points made here are transferable to other professions / industries.

In the previous post, we looked at the initial steps in becoming a new manager. In this post we look at potential areas of responsibility.

New managers, or rather managers who are new to managing, can face a couple of dilemmas in their first few days in the job. The unlucky ones face both!

The first is being overwhelmed by all the areas of responsibility that have now landed squarely upon your shoulders. The second is not knowing what your responsibilities actually are, and therefore, not really knowing what your job is.

Take a deep breath and relax.

The first is easy – you will be overwhelmed, you will always be overwhelmed. It is the middle name of all managers. Split your days up, as much as you can, by focusing on different areas each day (see below), and prioritize.

The second is also easy – the buck stops with you. If it doesn’t, then you need to act like it does unless instructed to by your owner, or a more senior manager. You may not know anything about Information Technology (I.T.) other than it is a fancy term for computers. But if the computers are not working then you are the one responsible and in all likelihood fixing them or calling the person who can.

I have identified a number of areas that managers may, or may not, be responsible for. Depending on your particular circumstance, some of these will not apply, or you may share the responsibility with another person. If nobody is looking after that area then guess what? That area is now your responsibility.

We will look some of these areas in more depth in future posts, but for now, welcome to your new world…

The Building

I have worked in buildings that are over 100 years old and in buildings that are brand new and they all had one thing in common: things always break down, never worked properly, or need upgrading. In other words buildings, and the equipment inside them, need looking after. Few things can grind a business to a halt as quickly as a building problem. Having no water, no electricity, or no access to your building, means that in very short order you are closed. This does not mean that you have to understand plumbing, electricity, how quickly concrete sets, or the basics of I.T. (however a little knowledge is very useful) but it does mean you need to work closely with those that do and ensure that you trust them. You do also have to listen to them, and not just hear what you want to hear. They know nothing about veterinary medicine, for example, so they know more about their field than you do.

Staff

We are going to cover managing people in a future post; however, it is important to note that the staff look to you to be there for them. Remember the only stupid question is the one not asked and communication can never be a bad thing. So encourage the staff to talk to you.

H.R.

Human Resources (or H.R.) is the general catchall term given to the hiring, firing, benefits, coaching, and disciplining of employees. It is usually a job that requires a lot of paperwork and attention to detail. Depending on your circumstances, H.R. can make up a significant proportion of your time and it can also land you in hot water if handled incorrectly. I consult colleagues regarding H.R. issues more than any other subject.

Payroll can also sometimes fall under H.R. although this may be more of a support roll to either an outside company or in-house accountant. If you do find yourself handling payroll in its entirety and you do not know what you are doing – STOP! There are computer programs, companies, and accountants who can all help with this. Nothing will undermine you quicker than getting payroll disastrously wrong. 

Belonging to an organization such as your local SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management) chapter is also a great way to get tips, C.E. and to build a support network in what in itself can be an overwhelming area of the manager’s responsibilities.

 Financial

You don’t need to be an accountant to have a significant interest and impact on the financial management of your business. The days takings need to be reconciled and deposited with the bank. Credit cards need to reconciled both daily and monthly when the statements come in. If they are not already in place, controls need to be developed so that nobody, including you, has too much access and unsupervised control over any financial area. Bills need paid, money put aside for taxes and payroll, but an eye also need to be kept on how the business is doing. Are we doing better than last year or worse? Not are we busier, but is more money coming in the door?

Marketing

I’ve covered starting a marketing program in this series of posts; however it is important to remember that marketing can be as simple as making sure that your opening hours are correct on the front door and, for a veterinary hospital, that your vaccine and appointment reminders are going out.

Inventory

Supplies need to be ordered, expired stock needs to be removed / returned, and checks and balances need to be put in place so that pilfering can be noticed and stopped.

Safety

Safety is more than making sure that all of OSHA’s boxes are ticked. Although this in itself can be a monumental task depending on where you are starting from. Being responsible of the safety of the employees, and your clients, means that you have to be the bad guy. It is not enough to tell staff to wear the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) you are now responsible for ensuring that they do.

San Juan College have a great presentation on OSHA and the veterinary practice that forms part of their Veterinary Technician program – well worth checking out.

Scheduling

Even if you do not handle the mechanics of your hospital’s schedule, you may well have to give guidance as to staffing levels and when is a good time to give vacation time and when is not – for example. It may not be your fault that you do not have enough staff on a busy day or time of year but it is your responsibility.

Regulatory Compliance

Taking a critical eye to a practice, or any business for that matter, and ensuring that things are being done in a correct and legal way can be a seriously challenging task. This is particularly true when you may be asking people to change how they have done things for a significant period of time. However, it is part of the job and is one of the areas where getting it wrong can have significant consequences for both the business and you personally.

State Veterinary and Pharmacy boards vary widely in how helpful they are in response to questions about interpretation, but as a rule it never hurts to ask.  Certainly reading the practice acts that govern your state is a great start and reaching out to other managers through a local organization as we discussed in the last post will also be extremely useful.

Clients

All businesses are ultimately about clients. You can have the best veterinary practice in the world but without client’s you’ll close. Ensuring that they are looked after and that they have a great experience at your facility is outside the remit of this post; however, it is part of yours as manager. If you want a starting point take a look at this earlier post of mine about getting the basics right.

Managers can have an extremely wide, and challenging, portfolio of responsibilities. The most challenging ones; however, are the ones you don’t know about.

Remember, the buck stops with you. 

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

For those looking for more on being an existing manager and starting a new position, this may be for you.

Additional Resources:

Be Safe! Manager's Guide to Veterinary Safety by Philip J. Seibert, Jr. CVT

Click on the image to take you to the AAHA Press page for this book.

It is hard to beat Philip J. Seibert, Jr. CVT when it comes to putting together an OSHA program and this single volume, Be Safe! Manager’s Guide to Veterinary Safety which I reviewed here, although pricey is a great place to start your program.

Just like Phil is hard to beat when it comes to safety, it is hard to beat Scott Stratten when it comes to customer service. I strongly suggest seeking Scott out on YouTube; but for those of you who might like the written word The Book of Business Awesome / The Book of Business UnAwesome is for you and my review is here.  

As always, clicking on the pictures will take you to Amazon and where Amazon may give me a tiny percentage to help my book buying habit.

This year’s Western Veterinary Conference, in my adopted home town of Las Vegas, is a great time to catch up with old friends, former colleagues, and new friends who I had only met online.

One of the conversations that I had over a very nice dinner, was with a former colleague wanting to know about my world – the world of practice management – and how to start down that path.

This was more difficult than I imagined – mostly because my own route into office management / practice management / hospital administration was so accidental. I therefore thought; “there is a good idea for a series of blog posts if ever I heard one,” and so here we are!

Because my world is the world of veterinary medicine and practice management this series will concentrate mostly there. However, it is my hope that this series, much like my blog in general, will also work for anyone in a relatively small business looking to move from the trenches into management.

A Brief Recap

Before entering the world of veterinary medicine I had a very successful career in the world of entertainment lighting (theater, television, events, etc.). Within that pretty specialized and small world I worked in London’s West End as an electrician, a Company Manager (someone who corals actors and worries about when the show is going to close), a touring production manager, a console programmer and operator, sales and technical support for lighting suppliers, marketing of lighting products, and ultimately an industry writer and commentator.

After being in the industry for almost 20 years I decided I wanted a compete change. I moved to Arizona and took a job in a tiny veterinary clinic to keep myself busy, feed my DVD habit, and allow me time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I really enjoyed working in a veterinary hospital and it seemed I was well liked there too by both the doctor and the other staff. When the office manager announced that she was moving, on a few months after I had arrived, my name was suggested as a possible replacement. The rest, as the very overused saying goes, is history.

I knew a little about veterinary medicine, some things about people management, not near as much as I would have liked about financial matters, and almost nothing about human resources. I did know about marketing and customer service, and I knew what I hated about going to the vet with my dogs. Mine in not a path I would recommend for everyone, and I made a lot of mistakes. However, I feel I have been at this long enough that I have some insights about getting to where I am and how others can get there too. If they want to!

Terminology

One of the things that is very annoying about my job, is that I am routinely described by titles other than the one on my business card and employment agreement.

Officer Manager

The generally accepted definition of an office manger is of a reception supervisor who also may handle scheduling and other areas such as accounts receivable. More than a lead receptionist in other words, but less than a practice manager.

Practice Manager

A Practice Manager oversees all the areas of hospital in addition to reception, may also handle payroll and other human resource functions.

Hospital Administrator

The job of a hospital administrator is one of having overall finacial and management responsibility for all areas of the the whole hospital, with the direction and supervision of the owners.It may also include all the functions of an office manager and practice manager. They will be involved in the hiring process for doctors and may also have supervisory responsibilities over them. There will also be a significant strategic and planning element to their function.

In all likelihood, managers start as office managers and then progress to practice management and then hospital administration. There is not right or wrong way, however, as long as the needed skills and / or experience are there. It should also be noted that all hospitals are different. I have effectively been a hospital administrator at three different practices and my job and responsibilities has been different at each.

Education

I am a big believer in education. That might sound strange coming from someone who hates actually taking classes themselves and does not have a degree. The bottom line is that your life will be easier with a degree and more doors will open with an MBA. Trust me I know from experience. It is not impossible to be successful without those things it is just harder. If you are planning on learning a lot of new skills, whether as DVM interested in practice ownership, or a technician or receptionist looking to get into managment, you may as well get some letters after your name for the effort.

Becoming a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM) is a qualification designed for the job at hand. Several times I have considered getting the qualification myself. If you are having problems as a new practice manager, or making the move from office management to practice management, this qualification is for you.

If formal education is not an option, or just not you, then CE, CE, CE. Continuing education wherever you can get it: online, locally or nationally. It all helps. Speaking of which…

Get Help

I would not be the Hospital Administrator I am now, and would not have the career that I have had, if it was not for my local hospital managers association whose meetings I attended every month while I was in Arizona. Being able to meet with other mangers, find common ground, and being able to talk issues out that you might be having was incredibly useful. If you don’t have a local managers group look for other business groups, including the chamber of commerce, that might be able to help support you. It is a cliche but still true – it really is lonely at the top.

Resources

Throughout this series I plan to give some reading suggestions. The two books below tackle the difficult issues of enthusing others about your ideas, and how to make things change. One of my current favorite sayings that keeps rattling around in my head is “As a manager it does not matter how good your ideas are; it is your ability to implement them that matters.”

I have reviewed both these books before and other than providing a very basic introduction I have just provided links to the reviews. As always, clicking on the pictures will take you to Amazon and where Amazon may give me a tiny percentage to help my book buying habit.

“Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip & Dan Heath

The title pretty much says it all: not all ideas are created equal and how we present things can have a dramatic impact on whether ideas take hold or not. You can read more here.

“Switch – How to Change Things when Change is Hard” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

You’ll note that both these books are written by the same pair of authors and therefore they work perfectly together as the two sides to the same coin. You can read more here. These books are, at their core, about the nature of communication. If you can’t communicate as a manager then you can’t manage.

For those who are looking to get into management I’d love to hear from you, and for those who are already there I’d love to hear how you got there. Comment away!

Next Time – Part 2: Time to Focus

For frequent and long suffering readers of my blog (there are some of you out there so my analytics tell me) may already know that I am a bit of a Scott Stratten fan boy. Last year I reviewed The Book of Business Awesome / Unawesome and wrote my own diatribe about kittens and QR codes which owes a lot to one of Scott’s talks. I am also a huge fan of the new “UnPodcast” and the “Vegas 30” podcast. The bottom line is  then, how could I not review Scott’s latest venture into the publishing world.

Subtitled “How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business into the Ground,” QR codes kill kittens is familiar territory for anyone who follows Scott on a Twitter or Facebook (and familiar content if we are being honest about it). Essentially a short picture book, if gives example after example of bad implementation, missteps, and general marketing / social media insanity which makes QR codes are an excellent meta fore.

It is not that QR codes themselves are bad, it is that on the whole the implementation sucks and we use them for the wrong reasons – it is not customers who want QR codes, but rather the companies that think using them says something about how “tech friendly” they are, when in truth it normally says the reverse due to bad implementation.

This is not a how-to guide by any stretch of the imagination (see his two previous books for that kind of experience), but rather an affirmation that you are doing things right (or wrong).

Funny, clever, and vintage Scott, QR Codes Kill Kittens is the perfect present for the marketing or business person in your life…

…Or just a great treat for yourself.

(Clicking on the cover above will take you to the book’s Amazon page and contribute to my book buying habit / problem.)

At first glance this book does not have a lot to do with management or marketing, and even less with the practice of veterinary medicine (the three focus areas do my blog. However, Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow, deals with how the subconscious mind influences us in everything from our daily interactions, teamwork, and hiring, to our business and product choices.

Although the book starts off slow and in a manor that one might expect of a research based science book. The revelations start coming about half way through and don’t really stop.

Using, and citing research, as well as history and personal experience, Mlodinow draws a compelling picture that we rely on our unconscious mind more than we realize. The book does assure us that we can overcome the influences of the subconscious mind; however, it is difficult, and on the whole we are far better off with its input than without it. The real insight of the book, however, is the window it opens into the behavior of others – particularly for managers about their staff and their customers.

Possibly one of the most startling revelations of book is the scientific experiments that prove that our expectations of others are self fulling. In other words, if you believe that an employee is going to underperform, the chances are that they will because of your non-verbal cues and unconscious actions, that as a manager, you give to that employee. Researchers gave two teams of research students two sets of mice. One set they were told were normal, the other set had been genetically modified to increase their intelligence.

Both sets of mice were given the same intelligence tests and the results proved that the genetically modified mice were indeed significantly more intelligent. But in reality the mice were not the subject of the experiment but the research students themselves – both sets of mice were normal. The only difference between the two groups was that one had been labeled “more intelligent.”

As humans, we are very good at showing our emotions, but hiding them takes great effort. As the book points out, great method actors are successful because they actually try to experience the emotions they are trying to portray. The subliminal mind controls muscles that the conscious mind cannot. That is why some politicians, and car sales men, can come over as “sleazy.” Non verbal communication forms a language more complex and nuanced than our verbal communication. In schools, a child’s popularity has been found to directly correlate with that child’s ability to read the non verbal cues of their peers.

Non- verbal cues can also extend to surroundings, logos, and uniforms. Our subconscious mind takes these elements and if they resonate with our expectations of an business, for example, we will actually thinking better about that business than we would if these trappings are not there. It may not overcome a bad customer experience, but it could make the difference between a client returning not if the experience was neutral. The subconscious mind stets the stage for our interactions before they take place. Designers of lobbies and logos, as well as job seekers please take note! Presentation matters, even when we think it doesn’t or shouldn’t.

Another fascinating insight is the area of categorization and groups. As humans we automatically put ourselves into groups and categorize almost everything we see and interact with without being aware that we are doing it.

This explains why departments in a business that have a strong identity can actually harm wider team work. Examples of this abound where people spilt themselves into groups and then have issues with similar groups who should be working towards the same goal. With some fantastic examples from social research, that would now be considered unethical, as well as historical, and scientific examples, the author paints a picture of how we ignore the subconscious mind, and it’s influence at our detriment and peril.

That goes for mangers, employees, wives, husbands, children, parents and humans as a species.

(Clicking on the cover above will take you to the book’s Amazon page and contribute to my book buying habit / problem.)

I had been a big believer in Yelp and the review site model: treat your customers well and they will reward you. I have also had little time for the Yelp haters: “Stop complaining about Yelp and work on your business.”

Well that is what I used to think and then I saw the real, ugly side, of Yelp. Forbes, PBS, and the New York Times seem to agree.

As a rule, the larger the business, the more clients you have, and therefore the more chance that you are not going to be able to keep them all happy. That is not to say that you should not try, but there is always that reality.

In the veterinary world, there is a great product called Vsurv that allows for electronic surveys to be sent out to clients who visit your practice. It plugs straight into practice management software. The great thing out surveying every client for whom you have an email address, as Vsurv does, is that to gives you real data for client satisfaction. Data that you can track from month to month. Even with a 50% – 60% compliance rate you are still talking about hundreds of responses. If I have 30 online reviews 10 of which are filtered (more on that later) but I see 100 – 150 clients a day the online review numbers add up to the statistical error rate of direct surveying.

So a product like Vsurv is better than online review sites. Then what about Yelp?
Well the big problem with Yelp is its review filter. What’s Yelp’s review filter you ask? Well you wouldn’t be alone in not knowing much about it. Unless you run a Yelp page you probably don’t know about the filter, and many who do run pages don’t know about it until they get bitten by it.

Yelp’s review filter is supposed to protect the integrity of Yelps reviews by filtering out suspicious reviews: Overly positive reviews by users that have only one or a couple of business reviews or overly negative reviews by the same kind of user. A least that is the idea…

The problem is that the criteria that Yelp uses to filter it’s reviews is a closely guarded secret – supposedly to avoid businesses “gaming” the system. The filter is supposedly “automatic” and therefore is not influenced by petty concerns such as advertiser preference. However, individual users, and businesses have no recourse to un-filter filtered reviews.

To add to the problems, consistent reports exist of Yelp filtering only good reviews and leaving only bad reviews after the business concerned refuses to advertise with Yelp. I personally have seen a negative review get filtered and then miraculously become unfiltered – not sure how an automatic filter changes its mind but apparently it can.

You can even read the filtered reviews – and it is quite amazing how different a picture of most businesses you can gather by reading the filtered reviews. Yelp only allows access to filtered reviews via a Captcha – why? To make it more difficult to link to? It is quite an experience to see 15 filtered reviews 13 of which are positive that have basically the same user profile as the six recent negative reviews that have not been filtered.

Then, of course, are the online reputation management companies that promise to get bad online reviews removed from Google, Yelp, and other online review sites. All the major review sites say that the only way to remove reviews is with the same tools that everyone has access to – flagging in other words. There is, however, another way – the reviews themselves have been created by a reputation company which can work “miracles” by removing review that they themselves have posted. On a couple of occasions now, I have seen very odd reviews appear and then been approached by some of the more unscrupulous types of Online reputation managers who say that they can work “miracles.” This issue has been addressed by Yelp, but only in the broadest of sense.

The real issue with Yelp; however, is that is does not practice what it preaches. Concentrate on customer service and customers will give you great reviews. So what does is say when so many potential customers feel that the Yelp system is fundamentally flawed and refuses to engage them on the subject? Yelp encourages businesses to respond to negative reviews however provides no mechanism to challenge its filter. Yelps does provide a flagging system, but no feedback on why it does or does not agree with the business owner flagging the review in question. Yelp also refuses to engage with clients about the review side and will only engage about advertising.

I, for one, do not actually believe that Yelp is trying to extort business owners as some charge. I do, however, feel that the product and company is flawed.

The word from Yelp seems to be do what what say – not what we do.

I’m not a big believer in that.

There is a bad joke / semi serious statement amongst veterinary practice managers; “no good deed goes unpunished.” And while I see the reality in this, and have even said it few times, I ultimately do not subscribe to the point of view. What is wrong with being nice?

I get it, I really do, being nice is hard. But being polite and showing respect for your peers,  those you interact with, those who report to you and those you report to is not only the right thing to do, it is in your interest.

Since being a manager, and someone who hires and fires, I have always been shocked at those who felt that just not turning up for work, and refusing to communicate was an acceptable way to hand in one’s notice. Despite the obvious impoliteness and unprofessional behavior of leaving your co-workers in the lurch, there is the added inconsideration of those who feel at least partially responsibility for your well-being. Stories abound, and I have personal experience of, employees with limited family in serious trouble at home which is only discovered when an employer starts inquiring after their well-being after they fail to show up for work. I never even considered doing this, and I’ve seen this behavior from young and old so the generational clichés don’t offer any answers.

As I discussed in another post, the superstar employee who feels they are above the general rules of behavior in the workplace is another example of a failure to be nice. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this kind of behavior and generally find it to be counterproductive – the exceptions being just that and not proving anything.

And then there is the Dunkin Doughnuts Lady…

The following video is pretty offensive but it does prove a point. A customer feeling that they have been wronged videos herself claiming free food from the day shift of a Dunkin Doughnuts  after she feels her receipt was not given to her in a timely manner the night before. While all the time informing anyone who will listen that she is filming the encounter, and that she is going to post it on Facebook, she delivers an avalanche of racial slurs, abuse, and is generally obnoxious. The employees, to their extreme credit, keep their cool, try to make the customer happy, and are professional throughout despite extreme provocation.

(WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS VERY OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE )

The story of the video however, does not end with the video. After being posted online last week it went viral, but not in the way that the original poster had hoped. A tirade of negative comments about the behavior of the customer led her to delete her Facebook account and one can only imagine the personal repercussions – the least of which is finding out that the majority of people do not think the way she does.

This incident also shows of the worst side of social media, where someone tries to leverage it for their own ends and as a shield for their own bad behavior or sense of being wronged. This can also be called the Yelp Effect. I am not a Yelp hater, but I do think it is a flawed system and one that rewards bad behavior from both businesses and customers with little recourse. The Better Business Bureau had its flaws but at least there was an attempt a resolution.

In the veterinary world, an often heard phrase is “you don’t care about animals” often paired with “it is all about the money.” Although uttered by people in difficult circumstances, and born out of frustration, it is still extremely hurtful for anyone who has choose to make their career working with animals and has caused more than a few sleepless nights for a lot of deeply caring people.

We all have difficult customers, employees, and colleagues – it is how we deal with them that counts and makes a difference from one business or organization to the next.  The bottom line is that doing the right thing, being polite, professional and, I guess for want of a better word nice, is the only way to behave for your interest and for everyone else. It is the only way to guarantee that things will not get worse.

And you never know, it might rub off on to someone else.

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