This blog has now been running in its present form for 10 years. Its previous iteration ran for a couple of years and then there was a six-year gap. All of the old content, such as it was, is archived somewhere, but for now the past ten years is it.

What does ten years of writing a blog post every few weeks get you? Well, it is certainly not fame and riches. I’ve definitely grown as a writer. Grown to become a better writer – whether I’m a good writer is up for debate. My own self-copy-editing skills have most definitely improved.

Having a body of work, even one as unfocused as mine, I have found useful over the past 10 years. After finding myself answering the same questions online a lot, I wrote a number of posts to definitively answer those questions from my point of view. That’s has been a useful practice for me. It has also been a great way to harvest content ideas when I am in the mood to write, but don’t have a topic.

Blogging has also taught me a number of things:

1: Practice makes better, never perfect.

I certainly always feel I am growing as a writer. My punctuation gets better, for example, a bit like my vocabulary. I’m overly fond of complicated sentences; but I’m getting better at spotting them. For example, the last one very nearly turned into a monster in a fit of irony.

2: Consistency is great, but its either a job or a hobby.

There is nothing worse than the feeling of having to write creatively, but not being in the mood to do so. I found that out the hard way when I was a writer full time. To paraphrase the great Scott Stratten; Write when you have something to say. That’s a lesson I have really taken to heart and if you follow my blog, dear long-suffering reader, that is why I am so inconsistent.

3: Don’t be afraid to revisit topics.

Retreading over the same territory is boring if you have nothing new to say. However, I have found that I often have a lot more to say, and I sometimes contradict what I have said in the past about topics – particularly reviews and specifically Yelp.

4: What you think will be great is often ignored.

I think all writers think this way. You have your pet pieces. Perhaps the ones that stretch you with their subject matter or your approach. They may work out pretty well from your perspective, but not always for the reader. I also have a weakness for gimmicks, which readers, well my readers anyway, do not.  

5: The great discoveries will surprise you.

For me its poetry. In the last 15 months or so I’ve found that while I enjoy writing, and get a lot of personal satisfaction from it, I love writing poetry. Whether I am any good at it is not for me to say. But while I find that Mikefalconer.net is a way for me to process my thoughts and ideas about work and books, I find that wordoutlet.net is a way for me to process emotions. I’ve never been a particularly emotional person, but they are still there. I also find the process on concentrating on a few lines, or even just a few words, unlike an article like this which is 548 words and counting, is much more satisfying to the creative side of me. This side of me loves the language of writing, but can get bored by facts, figures, and descriptions. 

The bottom line (see, still not above using clichés!) for me is that writing a blog has been a voyage of self-discovery and improvement. It has become part of who I am. I’ve been writing on mikefalconer.net longer than I have ever held a job for. The site has become an extension of my personality; for good and bad. I’m proud of having the body of work. I think it says a lot about who I am by how diverse the topics I deal with on here have been.

I have no intention of stopping, and I don’t know if I could if I tried.

Books that have a simple premise that sounds clever, often push that premise to breaking point and turn into a cluttered mess. Thankfully, The Content Fuel Framework is not one of them.

Its simple premise, that story ideas for marketing purposes can be generated by using a 10 x 10 matrix of focuses and formats, is the kind of thing that marketers tend to do by instinct. Where Ms. Deziel scores is in the simple and obvious idea of writing this all down in a matrix to see what unusual and interesting ideas, that would normally never get thought of, develop.   

By deconstructing the steps which most marketers take when creating story ideas, Ms. Deziel demystifies the whole process and allows it to become accessible for all. This is not a book about the nuts and bolts of marketing, but more about how to stress test your ideas to find out what are the best ways for them to be handled – particularly when working as part of a team.

I hesitate to write down the 10 focuses and formats here in a review, as without the context that the book provides, I suspect that using the matrix will initially problematic. However, the context that is provided in The Content Fuel Framework allows the reader to not only see these ideas applied in the real world, but also to recognize from the marketing that we consume every day, the same applied concepts.

A short book, The Content Fuel Framework is a book that has made me do something that no other marketing book has done before; and this is to copy the 10 Focuses and 10 Formats and pin them to my wall as a reminder. Ultimately, that has to be the main indication of where a book as merit or not – does it make the reader think, or does it change something about the readers behavior?

By solidifying into a formal structure, the internal processes that a lot of marketers go through; The Content Fuel Network gives both validation and new life into marketing storytelling.

It should be on every marketer’s bookshelf.

…or pinned to the wall.   

I love this book.

It’s easily the best thing I have read this year.

I’m writing this review to try and condense some of my thoughts about what it is saying and how it applies to my work and to my life. The connection to work may be tenuous, but the need to download and conceptualize what has in occupying my mind for the last week is real.

The subtitle to this book is “Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past.” How will the historians, and the general public, of the future view us; our history, and more particularly our culture, and society in the future – decades or even centuries hence? This is a serious book, that makes serious points about life and the remembrance of cultures and culture. It is also extremely funny and irreverent.

Whether it be books, music, film or television, it is impossible for us to be able to predict what will be considered a classic and why. What the book makes clear is that it will not be the things that we hold in high esteem today, mostly due to their value being on how relevant they interpret our world today from today’s perspective, even when that is not immediately obvious. What seems certain from past history is that major political and cultural events will have a direct effect on how we see and interpret cultural artifacts. For example, given on how we view cultural materials from the 1940s through a prism of the Second World War, we can assume that most of the early years of the 21st century’s culture will be viewed through the prism of the 9/11 attacks. What that cultural touchstone will be, of course, is unknowable.

However, cultural touchstones from our recent history can now be hinted at that would never have been dreamed of at the time of their initial impact. The Matrix, when it came out in the late nighties, was seen as a great action movie, with a clever script and innovative visuals. However, in the past 20+ years there has been dramatic changes in the visibility of, and how society views and accepts, transgender individuals. This includes the directors of The Matrix movie, the Wachowski Brothers, both of who transitioned during this time period. Lana in 2008 and Lily in 2016. It is hard to watch the Matrix today without seeing it as a metaphor for transitioning. A metaphor that was never even considered, or hinted at, when the movie was released.      

How future generations will view our world, which of course will be through our culture which is what we leave behind, will depend partly on what that future culture itself will look like. This is of course is impossible to predict, but there are fascinating clues. The rise of video games and what that means for teams and team sports; changes, or lack of them in the world of science; democracy and how we view written constitutions, the very nature of reality or possible realties.

Whole musical genres are summed up by single proponents when we look back over long periods of time. Marching band music, for example, is represented in the minds of most of us today by John Philip Sousa. However, he was just one on many composers of marching band music. How would our view of Rock Music change when viewed through the prism of Elvis Presley versus Bob Dylan?    

“But What if We’re Wrong?” tackles all of these and a lot more with insight and wit. This is book to think about and ponder. A book to return to and revaluate, much as it suggests we do with the culture of the past and we are bound to do with our own present.   

Ted Talks are ubiquitous, almost to the point of self parody. The great Ted Talks, and there are many, are internet classics. But what makes Ted different? And what makes a good Ted Talk? And what’s the difference between a good Ted Talk and a great one? More to the point, what can we learn from past Ted talks to improve our own talks and presentations?

I should start out by stating that Talk Like Ted does all of the above and more; however, it is quite possible that you would never get that far as it has an extremely crass and hyperbolic introduction in the stereotypical style of an old fashioned business self help book.

And that is a shame.

Because the rest if the book is not like that at all. What Talk Like Ted actually does is to deconstruct what makes, not only the most popular Ted Talks work online and in person, but also what makes the format work as a whole. With engaging stories about the talks themselves, and the people behind them, it connects the dots between seemingly dispersant topics and styles of talk.

A constant theme that Mr. Gallo makes in the book, is that creativity flourishes with constraints. Ted’s 18 minute limit on talks not only makes the talks ideal for consuming during a coffee break, and therefore increasing their viral potential, but also makes speakers clarify and simplify their ideas – much as Twitter does with its 140 character limit. In fact, a great take away from the book is to make your talk title fit into 140 characters and still be able to communicate the idea behind your presentation.

Another feature of Talk Like Ted, that sets its self apart just being a study of what makes Ted talks great, is its understanding that speakers often have no choice but to make their presentations longer than 18 minutes due to the expectations of conferences and audiences. By giving speakers the structure of successful talks, Mr. Gallo also presents ways to enhance and elongate without undermining the fundamentals already established. It would have been all to easy to just say “talk less.”

Well written and impeccably researched, Talk Like Ted, is both dissection of a cultural phenomenon and a self help guide for those that speak in front of others, or want to. This is book to refer back to, so I do encourage readers to get a physical copy. While I have an audio copy I know I will be referring back to it for my next talk and so a physical copy is on the way.

A two copy recommendation – a very Ted idea.

How does one review an iconic work of one’s chosen profession? A series of books, that have been adapted multiple times over the years as TV shows and movies? A collection that are probably cited more often than anything else as having sparked the interest of a young person in becoming a veterinarian? One reviews it gingerly; one supposes.

It helps when the book is great.

I’m not sure what I expected when I started reading the series – I’m currently on the 3rd book, although this review will focus on the first, and most famous, of the memoirs of the Yorkshire Vet. My knowledge of the books came from the BBC / PBS series from the 80s which, of course, was a long time before veterinary medicine became my career.

The book, set in the late 30s in the Yorkshire Dales, follows the misadventures of Alf Wight – writing under the pseudonym of James Herriot – as a newly graduated veterinary surgeon as he takes up a position as an “assistant vet” in a small mixed animal practice. One of the things about the book that is fascinating is that it covers a period of change in the veterinary profession. While set in the 30s, the memoir itself was originally published in a slightly different form in the late 60s and there are frequent mentions of how the treatment of animals has changed in those 30+ years. Of course, things have also changed even more dramatically since them. Which makes the book an interesting period piece in two different periods.  

Pharmaceuticals are practically unknown in the 30s, and the author has little time for concoctions of his own dispensary. It is also a time when as a newly graduated vet, Herriot had been trained extensively on horses, and to a lesser extent on farm animals. While he and the other students were interested the rapidly growing field of small companion animal medicine – particularly dogs and cats. It is interesting to see the discussion of growing the practice into companion animal medicine. It is also interesting to reflect on the legal position of veterinarians at the time, and that they had to compete with non-licensed practitioners.   

I have, as I’m sure others in the profession have, been bludgeoned by pet owners with “what happened to the days of James Herriot,” when asking a client to pay for services. It came as a pleasant surprise to find that in the first few chapters there is a forthright and frank discussion on the difficulty of getting clients to pay, and the penury of the practice is a common theme.

What is surprising is the “smoke and mirrors” that some of the vets feel they have to engage in due to the lack of medications and the be seen to be “doing something.” While Herriot has little time for this approach, it is not seen as a particular problem to others.

This is a book of its time. The 30s and 40s. Societal attitudes, and things such as drunk driving, are a little jarring to modern ears. In the second, book there are even couple of related tales that total would be clear breaches of medical ethics today, along with tales of bill padding which one would consider a breach of business ethics, and the “doing things for free” which haunts the profession to this day. These tales are told for comic effect, but they can make the modern veterinary professional cringe.      

 All Creatures Great and Small is depressingly familiar in some ways, with advice from strangers and faith in folk remedies, taken more seriously than the entreaties of “this young vet,” the strains of being on call, and the ever-present financial elephant in the room. But while some of the issues that the profession faces are still the same almost 90 years later, what is also apparent is the love of this vet for his patients and his clients. His willingness to go above and beyond, and his heartache at the loss of a patient, or the diagnosis seemingly out of reach.

For over 50 years, All Creatures Great and Small has been a gateway to the profession. With a new TV adaption, which I have not seen, already with us, the book remains a pretty faithful and relevant piece of literature. A book to be read, and understood, for the picture it paints of a different time, but a very recognizable profession. A beautiful and fun tales of the profession, out of time, but still veterinary medicine.     

Any book that tries to deal with a subject that is as current as the COVID 19 pandemic is going to face an uphill battle. It will be out of date as soon as it is written, never mind published.


With that in mind, Nicholas A. Christakis has done a remarkable job. An epidemiologist, Dr. Christakis in Apollo’s Arrow places the COVID 19 pandemic into is historical context as a plague and also provides a definitive account of how this pandemic played out and where mistakes were made – spoiler alert; there is plenty of blame to go around. Where Apollo’s Arrow really shines, however, is in its examination of the social impact, both positive and negative of COVID 19 on individuals, countries, and our culture.


Due to his background, Dr. Christakis is able to not only make sense of the confusing early decisions made by multiple parties, but also in understanding the motivations behind those decisions. There is also no coddling of the reader in Apollo’s Arrow. In a time when most people’s expertise in epidemics comes from the movie “Contagion” – and I have to include myself in those numbers – it is refreshing to gain an understanding of why more well know terms are problematic, such as R-0, and others that are less well known such as NPI (non-pharmaceutical interventions) are used and why.


While it is impossible the remove the politics of the response to COVID 19, particularly in the United States, Dr. Christakis does try his best and it is noticeable that in his initial timeline he tries to keep politicians out of the picture. That’s is not to say that there is any mincing of words; “If the United States had been a student in my class, I would have failed them,” is an early example.
The debunking of wrongheaded ideas from politicians is also a key element of Apollo’s Arrow. The Swedish solution – “herd immunity” as soon as possible, is an example. Sweden has small healthy population, universal health care, and low levels of poverty; all of which make it distinctly different from the United States. Testing and the approach to testing is also examined in depth. If you only test those with symptoms, the ratio of positives to negatives will be high. If you only test those that are worried, the ratio will below. Randomized samples are the only way to know levels of infection.


As mentioned above, it is in the social science arena that Apollo’s Arrow really shines. That “fear has its own epidemiology, its own spreading dynamics,” is one such revelatory idea. Dr. Christakis does not spare the conspiracy theorists; “There is a feeling that we can change our reality if we change the words or images – the virus is real. Reality matters.” A surprising part of Apollo’s Arrow is how positive it is, with a recognition of the successes we have had and also that our species is capable of extreme examples of altruism. We probably do not hear enough about that.


Where Apollo’s Arrow fails is in relationship to the vaccine. It points out that while there is hope, the quickest previously created vaccine as for Ebola; and that took five years. That a significant proportion of the population of the United States, and several other countries, has been vaccinated for COVID 19 by early 2021 is an almost impossible hope by the vantage point of the author at the time of writing. This is a very welcome shortcoming; however, and given the variants that now exist and the unknown levels of protection that the various vaccines may provide to these variants, we should probably not be so smug.


For anyone who wants to stand back and view the early days of the COVID 19 pandemic, and its effects on our society, it hard to imagine a better book; written without the benefit of hindsight, to read on the subject than Apollo’s Arrow. I can’t recommend it enough.

Pet Nation is a very curious book.

The central tenant of the book is that the United States, in the last 10 – 15 years, has become a nation of highly involved, some might obsessed, pet owners; and that those pets live extremely comfortable lives. There is a fairly convincing argument that pets are a symptom of a dysfunctional society. People are seeking connection, but increasingly lonely. Pets, through social media sites like Facebook, and because of them providing a positive subject for interactions, are both providing that connection and acting as a catalyst for human-to-human connections. My favorite line for the book is “Dogs are knitting society together.”  

If you want a friend, get a dog.  

There is also some interesting research in Pet Nation, and facts are for the mostly part cited. The occasional “scientists say” is infuriating, but these shortcuts are few and far between. One of the more surprising focuses of the book is the looming shortage of dogs in the United States. This is an idea that has been percolating for a little while now, but had not really been on my radar until reading Pet Nation. Mr. Cushing lays the blame for the shortage of dogs on the overwhelming success of spay and neuter programs and the failure to regulate, and thereby approve, commercial breeding operations. These are controversial assertions, but he does make a good case.     

 Mr. Cushing is an attorney who has been working in the pet field for a significant period of time. The chapter on the legal issues surrounding pets is excellent; particularly, when it comes to efforts by Walmart and Online pharmacies to force veterinarians send their prescription business to them.

Where the book falls down is in addressing the dark side of “Pet Nation,” particularly in the challenges facing veterinary medicine. The epidemic of suicide amongst veterinarians, and veterinary staff, and one of its contributing factors; the online bullying of veterinary professionals, is not mentioned at all. Also ignored is the problem of clients being unable to afford veterinary care, but still considering pets family members and therefore being devastated, or looking for scapegoats, when they cannot afford treatment or surgery that their pet needs.

While insurance is mentioned in Pet Nation, it is only to remark on the lack of uptake, rather than the larger issues that this represents. To give credit where it is due, the failure of pet insurance companies to market their products effectively is highlighted. Likewise, the moves to create a national title of Veterinary Nurse, to replace the hodgepodge of LVT, CVT, RVT, et al., which Mr. Cushing is part of, is given a welcome spotlight; but it is hardly the central concern facing the Veterinary Technician community.     

The blame for the lack of veterinarians, in Pet Nation, is laid squarely at the door of the veterinary schools. Their small class sizes, and the lack of schools themselves are seen as the problem. Crippling school debt, and those leaving the profession, are not mentioned. The idea of creating a veterinary Nurse Practitioner designation, while it would be a welcome part of the solution, fails to address the lack of veterinary technicians in the profession and is hardly the panacea it is presented as.   

Veterinary professionals may well find the focus on Banfield and Blue Pearl grating, given the glowing treatment, with little thought given to the issues that corporate medicine and the significant consolidation are bringing to the veterinary space. The occasional factual mistakes, parvo is endemic in areas of the United States, it is not a disease that is solely brought in by imported pets, are not quite as annoying as the mistakes by omission. Pet food is mentioned multiple times but the fight that many veterinary nutritionists and veterinarians over “natural” products and inappropriate diets is an argument that is ignored.   

There is good information in Pet Nation, and its central ideas are interesting. It is a missed opportunity to not address the wider, and darker issues that are part of its themes.  

Being, effectively, a self-taught manager, there are things you come across that drive you crazy. One of those things is the insistence, from people with MBAs, to only look at data when it comes to decision making. While I am a great proponent of education; I have my career in spite of a lack of further education – not because of it, I find the constant insistence on relying on data to be frustratingly narrow minded and lacking in imagination.

Restoring the Soul of Business, Staying Human in the Age of Data by Rishad Tobaccowala is one of the few business books that actually supports the downplaying of data, and by god is it refreshing to hear.

I should make clear; this is not a “touchy feely” plea for businesses to be based on being nice to people; but the business case for giving equal weight to both “stories” and “spreadsheets.” That the best business decisions are often not data driven, but driven by the experiences and ideas of individuals.

There are points in the book, like with many books that argue for seemingly “too good be to true” ideas and concepts, that the reader can become frustrated and want to yell “Yes, but..” Mr. Tobaccowala; however, deftly sprinkles in touches of reality which gives context, and caveats, to benefits that seem to have no place in the business world of real people.

Restoring the Soul of Business is a plea for the middle ground. That data has its place, and is not an omnipotent modern god as pointed out by Cathy O’Neil in her excellent Weapons of Math Destruction that I reviewed here, and that people with ideas and intuition, stories in other words, can balance each other in the workplace. Over reliance on either the “story or the spreadsheet,” a phrase that does begin to grate after a while, is a trap to which we can all fall into; and many businesses already have.

It is the realism of Restoring the Soul of Business that makes it a book worth listening to. That data driven companies tend to have cold cultures and little innovation which in turn leads to poor customer service. The examples litter the headlines; Southwest Airlines vs. United Airlines for just one example.

While there are lots of books that ask us to take a better look at our data, I have reviewed a number of them, this is one of the few books making the case for balance.

And that makes it a fresh, and interesting read, and a book to take to heart.

I recently installed a new VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) based phone system in two veterinary hospitals. I consider myself a reasonably technical person who had a grasp of the issues and drawbacks of such as system, as well as the benefits. I learned a lot during the process. While I am ultimately happy with our system, and how the installation process went, there were multiple things that I wish I had known before getting into the project. This is an attempt to pass on some of those lessons.

It should be noted that some of these lessons can also be applied to cloud-based mission critical software, such as cloud-based practice management software in the veterinary world; however, I do not have enough experience with such systems to make them a feature of this article.

First things first…

Are you the right person?

If you do not have a good understanding of how the business concerned works, at a process and protocol level, you are the wrong person to be purchasing a VOIP phone system for that business. It is very easy for people, even those who deal day in and day out with phones, to completely misunderstand the needs of a business and its phone system. Modern IP based phone systems can be very flexible and yet still have limitations. If you are the right person, don’t be afraid to get input from others; you are not perfect. You are about to radically affect how your colleagues work each and every day. Getting things right, and getting people on board, is critical.

Understanding Workflow

Map out exactly how the phone system is to work on paper with a schematic for call flow with all the relevant parties. For example, veterinary hospitals are very different from a lot of other businesses. They can have very high call volumes, few users will have dedicated extensions, and the way calls are answered can vary dramatically from other businesses.

Tackling Phone Trees

IP Phone system vendors love phone trees. They cover a multitude of sins. You may also love phone trees. Your business may also be right for using phone trees. Don’t, however, be bullied into using phone trees if you don’t want to use them. There is nothing to say that just because a phone system is capable of having a phone tree, that they have to be used.

Phone trees can work great if a business can guarantee that an employee will be a particular extension 90% of the time that it is rang, and is able to perform a particular function. If employees are constantly in flux, and rarely at a specific extension, phone trees may not be a good solution.     

Recruit Allies

Spend way more time figuring out who is installing and configuring the phone system, than the company that the phones are to be purchased from. Simply put, the installer will make or break a new phone system.

Yes, it is possible for you to configure your own system with phone based technical support.

Yes, this is a very bad idea and you will be miserable.    

In addition, get your IT vendor, or person who looks after business’s network, on board. You are about to make their lives much more complicated. They have to be on board or the installer and IT will be at locker heads from day one and setup will be hell.

Your Internet Sucks, You Just Don’t Know It

Obviously, internet speed is a potential issue with IP based phone system; however, reliability is often overlooked. When browsing the web, having the internet drop out, or have significant latency or packet loss, for 30 seconds to a couple of hours, does not often come to a user’s attention. With an IP based phone system, however, four minutes of internet down time, which will mean that a business will have no incoming or outgoing calls, can be an eternity.

The only way to find out if there are internet issues, with a current internet service, is to use a tool that looks for them. A tool such as Multi-Ping, can monitor the internet constantly for days and weeks, and send alerts about outages. This is not a complicated tool to use, or setup, however, getting some input from both your phone system installer and your IT vendor is probably sensible.

The solution to some internet issues may be to move from cable internet to having a dedicated fiber connection. This can be significantly more expensive, or may not even be available in your area. IP phone systems usually mean significant savings over traditional line-based telephones; however, the need for fiber can put a significant dent in those savings, or wipe them out entirely. It is worth looking at this issue during the initial planning stages rather than once you have an IP phone system and are dealing with multiple outages.

Choosing A System

Identify key new features that are needed in the new phone system, and features from the old system that need to be kept. Make the demonstration of new phone systems address each of these issues in detail – take nothing for granted. Have each potential vendor go through the training process on how the phones work before a purchase is made.  Don’t just settle for a demonstration. Irksome functionality, or lack of features, will only come up during training and are two easy to overlook during a sales demonstration.

Things to look out for:

  • How can a call be parked and picked up by other users?
  • How can multiple phones be paged so that users know a call is parked for them?
  • Are there different rings for internal or external calls?
  • What happens when a call is made to an extension that is in the process of dialing out?
  • How are incoming calls routed?
  • What happens when incoming calls are not answered?

Call the technical support line for the new phone system and ask some dumb questions. Do you like what you hear? How long does it take to get through?

Visit a business that has your potential new phone system already installed and has been using it for a while – even if that business is in different field to your own. It will provide valuable insight into the system working in the real world.

Signing the Contract

Get a guarantee about getting out of a new contract.

Usually, companies offer a 30-day money back guarantee. That is probably the minimum amount of time that it will take to setup and configure all but the simplest of systems. Try to get at least 60 days and agree with your installer and the phone vendor on date to go live within this period. That way, if major issues arise during the first month there are options, and leverage.

Phone Lines and Phone Numbers

In a traditional phone system, every incoming and outgoing call takes up a phone line. Each line has a phone number associated with it. With IP based phone systems there are no telephone lines and does your business want to keep these phone numbers? What will happen when a client calls one of these numbers when the new phone system is in place?

Moving numbers can take a significant amount of time and will almost certainly dictate the date and time of the new phone system going live. This is also a process that can go wrong. The disconnection of lines that are no longer needed invariably does go wrong. Ensuring that the correct lines have been disconnected, and the correct lines have been transferred is an important area to double check.

Ye Oldie Fax Machine

Faxes are pretty old school these days; however, here are plenty of businesses that continue to use them. If this is your business think long and hard before turning over this piece of phone technology to the IP phone system’s solution. There is a reason that your business has not moved away from the humble fax machine, and it is almost guaranteed that the new phone system’s fax solution is going to look a lot like email.

Consider keeping your fax machine as is until the new phone system is in place and settled. It is a change that can be made at a later date without too much trouble. In a worst-case scenario, it also gives you a backup form of communication should there be issues on day one of going live with the new system.

The Human Element

Have cheat sheets, extension lists, and phone maps ready before the system goes live. If users have to make their own it can be difficult to stop bad habits from developing. Give your team the tools to succeed.

Be prepared to make changes. Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, a 19th century Chief of Staff of the Prussian General Staff, is famously quoted as saying; “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.” This is often paraphrased as; “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”

Employees, and colleagues, are not the enemy, but the concept is the same. There will be things that have not been thought of in the planning stage, even if you have involved as many people as possible in the design of the phone system. Be prepared to make changes, and adapt to make a new phone system a success for everyone.

Preparing for Disaster

What happens in an emergency, such as a complete loss of internet, or power? It is easy to leave the planning for emergencies, until all the kinks have been resolved in the new system.

This is a mistake.

Have those plans already worked out, and the kinks in the emergency plans worked out, before the new system goes live. By making the emergency plan part of the main plan it will mean that you are not scrambling when there is an issue sooner than you had hoped.

Make testing your emergency solution part of the going live process. Also make sure that the emergency procedures are written down and easy to follow. Staff are going to absorbing a lot of new information when dealing with a new phone system. It is unlikely that they are going to remember how to switch over to the back plan, weeks or even months after it was explained to them.

All the Shiny New Toys

The aim of rolling out a new phone system should be to replace the existing phone system and address some of its shortcomings. Don’t be in too much of a rush to show off just how powerful and “cool” this new toy is. Get the basics sorted and stable. Adding new features to your workflow, and foisting large amounts of change all at once, while being unable to perform key functions of the business can easily back fire and cause hospitality. There is nothing wrong with rolling out features in stages to make managing change more, well, manageable.   

Final Notes   

VOIP phone systems are tools. They should not dictate how a business functions, unless that business considers the change a benefit. It is the job of the tool to change to suit the needs of the business. For this reason, VOIP phone systems can be complicated beasts. It is therefore to be expected that installing a new phone system is a collaborative effort. Stick to your guns about what you want from a phone system, because it will be you who will suffer if it does not work how you want it to.

It is a cliché, but an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.  

I’ve been holding staff meetings in veterinary hospitals since I started in veterinary Medicine in 2005.

That is a lot of monthly staff meetings. In 2017, it occurred to me perhaps others could use some of this information for their own meetings in the same way that I used this information from where ever I stole it from. You can find Part One on The Client Centered Practice herePart Two on Team Building Exercises and Games here, and Part Three on Communication Tools here. What I did not cover in these initial three articles was how to actually best hold staff meetings. This post is an attempt to rectify that oversight.  

Meetings get a bad rap, and it is usually because they are badly organized, and don’t obey some basic rules.

Meetings should not be about delivering information. Meetings should be for discussing things. If a lot of information is to be delivered, consider writing an email or a white paper and distributing the information beforehand.  

All meetings need an agenda. In an ideal world, this agenda is distributed to all attendees before the meeting to allow them to prepare or bring any supporting documentation they may need. Agenda items need to be given an allotted amount of time. This prevents over stuffed agendas that cannot be gotten through in the time allowed. Participants should be encouraged to submit items for the agenda ahead of time. Always leave time in the agenda for any other business, but keep to time limits (see below). Any other business, should be a last-minute catch all, not the method by which participants submit their agenda items.

Start on time. End on time. One of the reasons meetings get a bad rap is because we allow them to run on longer than they are scheduled for. Nobody will complain if a meeting ends early. Ending on time also provides other stakeholders the assurance that employees will return to their normal duties by a specific time. There are managers who lock the entrance to meeting rooms at the meeting start time to exclude a anyone who does not turn up on time. While this has a certain “shock value,” it does not trust employees to be adults, or recognize that things happen and that employees have other responsibilities particularly when we ask them to attend a meeting in the middle of their day.

Make attendance easy. If the COVID 19 pandemic has shown us nothing else it has shown us the benefits and the drawbacks of virtual meeting tools such as zoom. However, while tools such as Zoom do not provide a complete replacement for a person being at a meeting in person, they do provide a good enough presence to make them an option for employees who are not on site or who would have to travel into work only for the specific meeting.

Consider attendees days off and the hours of their shift when setting the date and time of meetings. If there is an employee who needs to leave at a certain time, try to adjust the agenda to allow the items most relevant to them to be addressed before they have to leave.

Pay employees for meetings. Meetings are work – therefore employees should be paid. If a meeting is held over lunch time, provide lunch. It is the least that an employer can do.  

Do not make meetings a vehicle for complaints, and negative opinions. Meeting should be able working together as a team to solve problems – ensure that the language of the meeting. This starts at the top. If the agenda is all negativity, and all the things that are wrong, that is the meeting that will result.     

Meetings should be limited in size if possible. Jeff Bazos, the CEO of Amazon, is famously quoted as saying that a meeting should be able to be fed by a single pizza. There is a lot to this.

I believe that once meetings get above 12 people, they become unwieldy, and back and forth discussion becomes either impossible or impossible to control. Of course, there will always be times when “all hands” or “town hall” type meetings need to be held, but understand their limitations and consider if your goals would not be better served by holding multiple smaller meetings. Departmental meetings, for example, may serve your business better and provide better opportunities for engagement.

Where town hall meetings can work very well is to provide context for an announcement, good or bad. These single-issue meetings, can act as a pressure value and allow concerns to be voiced, or addressed, in a relatively controlled environment.

If meetings are a routine affair, and they should be, keep the meeting’s agenda structured. A structure that I used when I used to hold townhall meetings was:

  • Performance results
  • Customer service metrics results
  • Small items
  • Team building exercise
  • Main theme

Examples of main themes can be found in parts one and three of this series, and examples of teaming building exercises can be found in part two.    

I continue to use structured agendas even in very small meetings to ensure that the continuity for one week / month to the next.

Minute Meetings where possible. Keeping a record of decisions, and things that are to be followed up on is essential if meetings are to become more than a group of people talking. Minutes hold people accountable because they do not rely on the memories of participants.   

I believe meetings are important, and that good meetings are a sign of a healthy culture. I also believe you get out of meetings what you put into them – and that does not mean a fancy PowerPoint deck. Just because meetings are held does not mean that they are useful or even needed. Meetings are expensive and time consuming. To make them work, and for them to be relevant, takes effort and energy. It also takes commitment from all involved.

Without that, meetings are all talk.

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