By Mike Falconer

In the very short history of live streaming with mobile devices through apps such as Periscope, and perhaps more importantly Facebook due to its ubiquity, there have been number of notable firsts. Some have been amazing, some have been funny, and lots have been horrific.

The shooting death during a traffic stop of Philando Castile by a Police Officer, quite apart from being an awful tragedy which is still under investigation, had its immediate aftermath streamed live over Facebook as you have undoubtably heard if not indeed actually seen.

The debate, the police response, and I am sure the entire investigation, surrounding this shooting has been framed by one of the witnessing participants and their actions. Not that fact that a video exists but that a video exists and a significant portion of the population of the country, if not the world, will have seen and even taken part in the immediate aftermath.

There may actually be a lot of good that comes from the instant live streaming of events, even when bad things happen; however, we live in a pretty unforgiving world. And so it was the Philando Castile shooting that started me thinking about the wider implications not just for race relations and policing, but for how people will deal with difficult, or even impossible situations, and how that will impact those on the other end of those situations.

Social media, and its close cousin the online review, has created a culture that embraces the shaming of mistakes and, for the most part, rejects the idea of context. All to often these tools are used as instruments of revenge rather than as a tool to achieve resolution or inform other consumers. We don’t put people in stocks in the town square any more, but we do ruin their lives for a bad joke in ill taste or a photograph that seems to mock our most cherished beliefs. As Jon Ronson writes in his excellent – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – “We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years, since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed we have the power to determine the severity of some punishments and so we have to think about what level of mercilessness we feel comfortable with.”

In business, we may yet yearn for the days when an unhappy client meant a vitriolic Yelp post at 2AM. All businesses prefer, or at least they should, clients to complain when they are unhappy for whatever reason. A complaint from a client is an opportunity to salvage a situation and gain a more loyal client at the end of it. However, when the complaint itself becomes an instrument of revenge and shaming how should, or indeed how can, businesses respond?

The nightmare scenario could take many forms, however in the veterinary world it could take the form of difficult conversation about quality of life, cost of treatment, and accusations of medical error live streaming across the Internet, with the client’s social circle providing encouragement and additional fuel to the fire. Add to that nightmare scenario that most people are nervous when on camera and that as a business you have little chance to respond due to social circles being closed and content being shared far and wide. Imagine your worst experience in an exam room and then add 10s, 100s, maybe even 1,000s of additional participants not as a moment on what happened, but actively participating.

In this situation, it will not be about customer service and it will not be about a complaint. It will be about damage control. This will be about the power of one person to control their environment, and those around them, by leveraging their social circle and social reach. This will no longer be a conversation with a client, it will become responding to a leader of an angry mob.

With power comes great responsibility, but also the potential for great irresponsibility.

As people who deal with the public at stressful times we all need to be comfortable with the fact that live streaming is here and what it could mean for all interactions. The time to be thinking about this is not as the person across from you says “by the way I’m streaming this on Facebook.”

I do not have great insights into how to deal with these situations other than the same insights as to how to deal with online reviews. Deal with them the same way as if the camera was not there. Easier said than done I know. Try and address your clients concerns, be accommodating, and try and deliver excellent customer service. Be the reasonable one – be the professional. It may mean that we all need to be comfortable on camera – how we sound, how we talk, and what to say and not to say.

Live streaming has huge potential and has already affected the world and how we view events. However, it’s greatest impact may be at the personal level and end, or a new appreciation for, personal privacy. Banning technology rarely works. Adapting and being prepared, however, is far better option that sticking ones head in the sand. Facebook will still see the rest of you if you do anyway.

A Very Fictional Exchange

By Mike Falconer

Dr. Try Ingtodomybest: Good afternoon Ms. Dis Satisfied what seems to be the problem?

Ms. Dis Satisfied: Problem? I’ll tell you what the problem is. I’ve been waiting to see you for 45 minutes and then when I do see you it is only for 10 minutes!

Dr. T: I’m sorry, we’ve been rather busy today and we we have had other cases that have taken longer than we would have liked – I’m so sorry for the delay.

Ms. D: You are just too busy, you don’t allow enough time for each appointment. You just try to pack us all in so you can charge as much as you can per hour. Oh and by the way you charge too much – been here 10 minutes and you want to charge me almost $200!

Dr. T: To be perfectly honest there is a certain amount of truth in what you say. We have to schedule based on the best use of our time with the most optimistic length of each visit. If we didn’t, your visit would be even more expensive.

Ms. D: Nonsense. My 10 minute visit should cost the same regardless of what else is going on in this hospital. I am only using 10 minutes of your and the staff’s time.

Dr. T: If only that were the case. You see you also pay for the down time; well actually to be more precise all clients do, just like you all pay for the overhead of the building.

Ms. D: Why should I pay for you doing nothing?

Dr. T: Believe me I don’t want you to, I want you to only pay for the time that you use, but in order for that to happen we need to keep as busy as possible. The busier we are the more efficient use of our labor which is 50% of our cost of your visit.

Ms. D: So what you are telling me is that your time is more valuable than mine?

Dr. T: Only in as much as you value it in that way. In order to make care for your pet accessible there is a balance to be struck between the average waiting time / length of appointment and the cost of that appointment. Let me put it this way, Would you be willing to pay more to guarentee less of a wait time and a longer, on average appointment?

Ms. D: That would be depend on the value of the appointment?

Dr. T: I am assuming that is value as you see it as opposed to how I see it?

Ms. D: Surely they are the same thing?

Dr. T: The value of a heartworm test to me is, other than it being good medicine and the best thing for your pet of course, is what you pay for it and the potential for finding other conditions. If we catch a condition early we can then treat with the better chance of a good outcome because we caught them early. The value for you of a heartworm test is piece of mind and it allows you to receive heartworm preventive which is what is the best thing for the health of your pet. Those points of view both have value, but if our view of value is too out of sync then you won’t get the heartworm test for your dog, neither of us has piece of mind and although your visit will be shorter and I can see another patient more quickly, I will not receive the fee for the test or the medication.

Ms. D: So what you are telling me is that if I want to have a longer appointment with you and less waiting time I would have to pay more?

Dr. T: Well of course. The basic rule of veterinary medicine as things currently stand is the whatever walks through the doors pays the bills. If not enough walks through the doors one of three things happens. We raise our prices, we lower our costs (wages are 50% of our costs remember), or we close.

Ms. D: You could always get more people to come through your doors?

Dr. T: Absolutely, but these are the other side of the coin of raising prices and lowering costs. Getting people through the door when they are not already coming in means lowering prices or raising costs – in other words marketing. If successful it solves the problem if it fails it, course just makes the problem worse.
Ms. D: But this just sounds like all you care about is the money?

Dr. T: The flip side of that is that all you care about is the money! Everyone in the building spends their days with pets and most have made it their career and for less money than they could get in other professions.

Ms. D: I’m tired of that argument – there is value in spending your day with pets most people would love a job like that.

Dr. T: Touche! However the reality does not always live up to the public perception. Hence the high burn out rate and other serious ills of the profession. I’ll give your visit today for free if you can name a television portrayal which matches what actually happens inside a real hospital.

Ms. D: ……

Dr. T: Do you like flying?

Ms. D: No I hate it, packed in like sardines, air travel used to be so stylish.

Dr. T: Why don’t you fly business class or first class?

Ms. D: Because I am not made of money – I come here too often.

Dr. T: A business class seat costs anywhere from 2 – 4 times the price of an economy priced seat because it uses the 2 – 4 times the resources of an economy seat. The most precious of which is, of course, space. Your hankering for the good old days of air travel was when all seats were business class. Lowering the barriers to air travel has meant we can now travel like never before; however, it also means that we do not value it in the same way.

Ms. D: So if I am understanding you correctly, you are telling me that as a Doctor you have to bring in a certain amount of money every hour like a quota. How can I trust you if you are doing this?

Dr. T: That is one way of looking at it. I would rather look at it as I have to carry my share of costs of having a facility like this so it can be open. As long as we charge appropriately the unwritten contract that we have where we charge based on our costs and in return we will make every effort to be cognizant of not taking you for granted and at the same time not letting you take us for granted, will mean that conversations like this will never have to happen in the real world.

Ms. D: Well thank you for your time and for your insights – can I get a payment plan for todays visit please?

– Uncovering the links between leadership and mental illness.

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

 

What makes a great leader?

Why do some leaders succeed in times of crisis and others in times of relative peace?

In Nassir Ghaemi’s impeccably researched book he puts forward the idea that leaders who have some form of mental illness, such as depression or bi-polar disorder, make excellent crisis leaders. To back up his claims he focuses on eight leaders from the world of politics, business, and war: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Junior, Mahatma Gandi, Ted Turner, Franklin D. Roosevelt, William tecumseh Sherman, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln.

All of these leaders, according to Ghaemi, meet the clinical definition of mental illness to some degree and it is this mental illness that allows them to empathize with those they lead and come into conflict with in the case of depression, and gives resilience and creativity to those with bi-polar disorder.

In other words, in times of crisis we are better off being lead by mentally ill leaders than mentally healthy ones. There are different kinds of leadership for different contexts.

Ghaemi also gives examples of leaders who do not meet the clinical definition of mental illness and who did not excel in times of crisis: Neville chamberlain, Richard Nixon, George McClellan, and perhaps controversially George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

However, perhaps the most controversial part of Ghaemi’s book is the rational that he gives to both Adolf Hitler and the Nazi high command. While not making any excuses for Nazis, Ghaemi does make a compelling case that Hilter suffered from bi-polar disorder that was then exacerbated by the mis-prescribing and abuse of drugs by his doctors. It is this insight that underlines the dangers of not understanding the relationship between leadership and mental illness: “Mental illness can produce great leaders but if the illness is too severe, or treated with the wrong drugs. It produces failure or evil.”

As Ghaemi defines it; “mental illness is the susceptibility of entering manic or depressive states not constantly being in those states. And leaders derive benefits from going into and coming out of those states.

The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal. The worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy. In times of peace mental health is useful. One meets the expectations of ones community and one is rewarded for doing so. In times of war or crisis it is the misfits who fit the bill.”

This hypothesis has dramatic implications for those who lead people, whether it be through politics or employment. At its most basic the concept is that different circumstances require, not just different leadership styles, but different leaders entirely. The leader that builds a company and struggles to build an ongoing concern, may not be the right leader to joy the fruits of their labor. Conversely, the leader who has provided excellent stewardship for years if not decades, may not be he right leader when a crisis envelopes a business.

Ghaemi is perhaps most insightful when analyzing mentally healthy people and the failings that go along with mental health. “The typical non crisis leader is idealistic, a bit too optimistic about the world and himself is insensitive to suffering having not suffered much himself. Often he comes from a privileged background who has not been tested by adversity. He thinks himself better than others and fails to see what he has in common with them. His past has served him well and he seeks to preserve it. He doesn’t acclimate well to novelty.”

A First Rate Madness is an important book for those who seek to understand leadership and what makes good and bad leaders. It is perhaps symptomatic of the stigma attached to mental illness that this book is not more well regarded and its theories more widespread. One cannot read it and not take some serious insights even if rejecting its central premiss.

In short, it is essential leadership reading.

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

 

A short book, Entangled Empathy puts forward the case that for upgrading our relationship with animals to one of responding to the “needs’ interests, desires, vulnerabilities, hopes, and unique perspectives” based on the context of their situation rather than focusing on animal “rights.”

What does context have to do with this subject? Gruen uses the example of man and his children entering a subway car where upon the man sits down and closes his eyes while the children proceed to become extremely disruptive. When eventually someone suggests to the man that he do something about the behavior of the children the man agrees, apologizes, and states that his wife had just died and they don’t seem to know how to deal with it anymore than he does.

Essentially, Entangled Empathy is a rallying cry to abandon ridged ethical principles when dealing with animals and move to a more empathic model. To do this we have to recognize that we already have complex relationships with animals and when it comes to their welfare a one size fits all solution can actually be harmful.

There is a lot of merit to what Gruen is talking about in Entangled Empathy; however, the execution leaves a little be desired. There are some rally quite interesting models used to prove ethical points (such as the man and the children on the subway); however these are not expanded upon with any great new insights. Rather they are broken down to component parts and never put back together again.

Gruen does use a couple of examples from her own life, and work, but they are never fully explored in any meaningful fashion. Anyone who reads the book and expects to finish with a set of tools to better handle animal welfare based on entangled empathy is going to be sorely disappointed.

While certainly interesting, and it gives some food for thought, there is little in the way of answers here which makes Entangled Empathy much more that a statement of principles bordering on “we can do better.”

Notes on Startups, or how to build the future – with Blake Masters.


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Some will know Peter Thiel (pronounced teal) as one of the founders of PayPal, or maybe even as an Silicon Valley investor. However, it is much more likely that you recognize his name from his brief portrayal in the movie: “The Social Network.” Wherever you know is name from, even if it is from my blog, he is a man worth listening to. Blake Masters certainly thought so when he attended a series of lectures that Theil gave at Stanford and took more copious notes than anyone else. These notes started to circulate to a much wider audience than the student body and so a book project was born.

Zero to One is a reference to the ability of a technology company to go from nothing to something and thereby change the world. Interestingly, Theil defines a technology company as any company with new ideas – doing more with less. This generally means software startups in the mold of Google, Apple, and Facebook, but he is at pains to stress it does not have to be.

Zero to One is interesting because the ideas it contains about business are quite contrarian to what we believe as outsiders about startups and Silicon Valley (and I’m sure to a number insiders as well). We have all been brought up to believe that competition is a good thing; however, Theil makes a convincing case for competition as a destructive force. “Monopoly is the condition of every successful business” and “Every business is successful to exactly to the extent that it does something that others cannot.”

He is on less firm ground when he tries to apply his startup thinking to the wider geo-political world. Although he is undoubtedly on to something with defining groups of people as “indefinite optimists” “indefinite pessimists” “definite optimists” and “definite pessimists” – particularly as it relates to politicians, and finance – it is hard to buy this as it relates to entire continents.

It is interesting to note that a lot of the ideas contained in Zero to One are self evident but are so against standard business thinking (it is a brave man who says Malcolm Gladwell needs to rethink his ideas) that they have the favor of heresy. Why should you expect any business to succeed without a plan? A business that cannot provide a ten fold improvement in technology over its competitors is doomed to competition death. Don’t disrupt – avoid competition. The history of progress is one of monopolistic innovation.

What helps sell these heresies is how Theil relates these to the high tech modern fables that we have all grown to know, but not understand: Google vs. Microsoft. Microsoft vs. the United States Government. The rise of Facebook. And the reemergence of Apple.

One thing that explains a lot of the success of the Silicon Valley startup is the focus and vision of founders. However, as Theil points out this comes with its own drawbacks and potential pitfalls – particularly as you try to apply his thinking to general business environments.

“…(the) strange way that new technology companies often resemble feudal monarchies rather than organizations that are supposedly more modern. A unique founder can make authoritative decisions. Inspire strong personal loyalty. And plan ahead for decades. Paradoxically, impersonal bureaucracies staffed by trained professionals can last longer than any lifetime but usually act on short time horizons.”

The cult of personality can come at a cost for both the founder and the companies they have created. Founders are important not because they are the only ones who’s work and add value but because they can bring out the best work in other people. Adulation of a founder has to be tempered by the fact that it can turn into demonization and notoriety at any point. Theil indeed makes a striking comparison between founders and the worshiping of scapegoats and sacrifices of ancient peoples.

Zero to One is that most rare of things, a business book that actually contains new and interesting ideas about companies and markets that you felt you already knew about. It also has some stark lessons for those who seek to emulate the success of the startup model, without understanding what makes it successful in the first place. Hint: it is not the perks!

This is less a manual for the modern startup, and more a cautionary tale about borrowing ideas without understanding context. Whatever you take from it, it is certainly a book worth reading and Theil is a thinker we should hear more from outside of Silicon Valley.

(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.

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