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Ten Days.

It’s been ten days since we stopped allowing clients into our building.

I could not believe it today when I made an updated client blog post, you can read it here if want, that it had been ten days since the last one.

It feels like three days ago.

The days have melded together.

We are getting into our stride, and everyone is adapting.

Some genius (not me) suggested numbering our parking spots and marking them out in chalk. Someone else suggested papering basic instructions and our phone number on our windows.

But at home it all melts into one.

Again, I’m still very lucky. I’m employed and well. I have a vaguely normal schedule. I’m not on the front lines, even in the veterinary world. Its more, so much more, than many.

But I can only decompress and try to relax, or go back to work.

I’m either on or off. There is no middle ground.

It’s grief.

That’s the only word I can find for it.

Grief for the dog park.

Grief for dinner with colleagues or friends.

Grief for home projects, for which I always have had boundless energy.

Grief for Hockey, I miss my Golden Knights.

Grief for meeting with my team, usually the highlight of my working week.

Grief for my town, everyone else’s playground that I call home.

Grief for how things used to be.

I am so spoiled.

My loss is measured in an unwillingness to do vaguely productive things with my free time.

Until my friends start to get sick, as one did today.

Until my friends tell me of clinic owners wanting to cut their losses and sell.

Until my 90-year-old Mom starts off our weekly transatlantic phone call with “I’m not sick.”

Until the worry, fear, anger, frustration, boil over into words.

It’s been ten days since we stopped allowing clients into our building.

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The worst week of my working life.

I’m sure it is the same for a lot of you.

I’m lucky.

We were prepared.

We had a plan.

We are open.

I have a job.

I am well (so far).

But I am pretty beaten.

The constant planning, changing of the plan, and then changing again.

Messaging to staff and clients, much of it contradictory, from day to day.

The difficult conversations; “it’s not enough” through to “it’s too much.”

The constant conversations, decisions, and monitoring of decisions.

Getting into work first, and leaving late.

Snapping at people who are just trying to keep things light and being their normal upbeat selves. Or whom are not as quick at checking their email as you would like.

Trying to enforce social distancing.

Seeing the town I love, and I’m proud to call my home, look like it is dying.

The constant, ever present, worry about colleagues, friends, and family.

I am not ashamed to say I cried at my desk yesterday.

But I did not cry because of all of the above. I cried because I as posted that we would be cutting our hours, not letting clients into our building, and fearing, as I have for weeks, for what is to come, a client responded:

“So typical of Craig Road, they care about their patients, and pet parents. ❤️”

And what I thought about is my colleagues.

The team I work with.

The ones who have done everything they can to help prepare, implement new policies, and new cleaning regiments. Who have been dedicated to ensuring we had the basic supplies we need to be there for our patients. Who accepted daily temperature checks like is was the most normal thing in the world. Those who have had really bad days and still are at work, and want to work, to look after our clients, and our patients.

My Team.

The internal culture of workplaces can be a fragile thing. But it can also be resilient. They can even thrive in adversity. People check in on other people. Making sure that their colleagues are OK.

Making sure that I’m OK.

The stuff of nightmares, does not have to be a nightmare.

Undoubtedly, the worst is yet to come.

We will get through it.

Things will be different.

We will have changed.

But we will also have grown, and we will have our teams with us.

Stay safe.

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Photo by Andreas Fickl on Unsplash

What is common sense?

Is common sense to a manager the same as common sense to a veterinarian? Or to a veterinary technician? Or to a customer service specialist? Or perhaps, most importantly of all, to a client?

Common sense should be knowledge that we all share; however, it is rarely used that way. It is often used as a bludgeon on people for not reading our minds. Common sense is short hand for “you don’t know what I know, and I think you should.” The problem is that we rarely recognize that our own common sense is more often than not a point of view with some additional specialized knowledge.

Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick, talk about the “curse of knowledge.” They outline a simple experiment conducted at Stanford, where by a number of “tappers” were given 120 well know songs to recite using just knocks on a table. “Listeners” would then have to guess which each song was. The Listeners were right only about three times out of 120. What was extraordinary; however, was that when the Tappers were asked whether the Listeners should be able to pick out the song, they replied that they should be able to 50% of the time! The Tappers felt they were being understood more than 47% more than they actually were. The Tappers were hearing the song play along in their heads while tapping it out on the table. The Tappers had knowledge that the listeners did not, and so dramatically over estimated the Listeners ability to recognize the song.

Common sense is a side effect of the curse of knowledge. A team member who may excel in looking after an unhappy customer, or preventing a customer from becoming upset in the first place, may not automatically understand the seriousness of a cat that is straining to pee. Likewise, a veterinarian may not understand the reason why their client is not being immediately shown to an exam room is because of the 12 other people that just walked through the door that the customer service representative is trying to deal with.

Now in both of the above examples, training, proper protocols and procedures, and a commitment to teamwork should solve all of these issues. But when we fall back on common sense, or a lack of it, we are doing a disservice to our team members and even to ourselves. If we replace “common sense” with the words “knowledge and experience” in the phrase “you have no common sense when it comes to dealing with clients” the person at fault switches from being who the phrase is directed to, to the person saying the phrase.

Give it a try – I’ll wait.

Common sense is an excuse for leaving training and continuing education to osmosis. It has no place in management, and really has no place at work at all. Employees are not going to place themselves in shoes of clients without being trained to do so, and they rarely have the knowledge to place themselves in the shoes of managers or veterinarians. Common sense is lazy, overly broad, and does a disservice to the person using it and the person whom it is directed against.

It is time to recognize it for the dysfunctional symptom that it is.

Did you dress up for Halloween while at work this year?

Did your team?

It is no secret. I love Halloween.

I’ve been managing veterinary hospitals since 2006, and every year except one (more on that later) I’ve dressed up and encouraged my colleagues to do the same. Particularly at my current practice our embracing of All Hallows’ Eve has become part of our identity.

Part of our culture.

My first Halloween at my current practice was only a couple of months after I had started. The staff and I were still getting to know each other. We did not know each other’s boundaries. I’m sure none of them expected for me to turn up as Scooby-Doo with an oversized head.

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Note the name badge still identifying me as the Hospital Administrator

While I was not the only person to be in costume that morning. There was a clear division between those who trusted that I was serious about dressing up and those that did not.

I really was serious that it was ok to go “all out” as long as they obeyed a couple of simple rules: Still be able to do your job, and don’t be inappropriate.

Something interesting happened that day as the first shift gave way to the mid-shift, and then to the second shift, and pictures were posted to our company Facebook page. The ratio of those dressing up to those who were not exponentially increased. Some of the costumes had obviously been hastily thrown together, but they were all fun and it culminated in a great group photograph.

2012 group croppedThe next year more people dressed up, this time evenly across all shifts and departments. The morning shift trusted that other were going to dressed up and they would not be alone.

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I’m in second row, on the left, in the wolf mask and dinner jacket.

The following year there were far more people dressed up than not. If you were not dressed up, you were the odd one. The year after that, forever known as the year of the squirrel (see below), even the practice owner, and the majority of the doctors, got in on the act. Halloween was entrenched in our culture. It was a day when we could all be a little silly, and still be the professionals that we were for the other 364 days of the year.

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Yes, the tail did make the day… “challenging.”

A couple of years later I screwed up, however. I booked myself on a business trip over Halloween. Halloween, went on without me, of course, but participation was down significantly, and traditions, such as our group photo, never happened.

The following year a majority were in costume again; but we were still down from the heady days of the “Year of the Squirrel.” By not being around the year before, to be the guarantee that there was going to be someone who was going to go all out.

To be silly.

To lead.

As a leader, one has to be prepared to stand up and take the initiative; to literally lead the way. Show others what and how to do things. To be prepared to look ridiculous, even to look ridiculous alone.

My colleagues do not dress up for Halloween for me – I’m not quite that that deluded. Dressing up for Halloween is fun, it’s a change in routine. But creating a safe space for your team is the job of a leader. To allow your team to make mistakes, look silly, and take risks takes the same set of skills as creating an awesome Halloween.

And if you are not dressing up, maybe its time that you start.

mike 2018

 

The Culture Code

It is easy to dismiss “The Culture Code, The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” by Daniel Coyle within the first few pages as I very nearly did.

This, however, would be a mistake.

There are two initial problems. The first is in the choice of companies, or organizations, that are used as case studies. In the time since the book was written, and even since its publication in January of 2018, two of these heavily featured companies have undergone significant cultural upheaval and it is hard not to see those case studies through the prism of hindsight. Pixar lost John Lasseter due to revelations in the wake of the #meetoo scandal. And Zappos, to add to the woes mentioned in the book regarding the Downtown Project, lost 18% of its workforce, including a significant proportion of management, due to its all or nothing adoption of Holacracy. To be fair to both companies, they both seem to have survived these events and continue to grow; but it does make the reader question the book from the start.

In addition, it is hard to shake the impression from the initial introduction and chapters, that The Culture Code and its talk of “belonging cues” is more about hacking interpersonal relationships and the manipulation of people through our actions and specific phraseology. Which just feels wrong.

This, however, is not the case.

What the Culture Code has unpicked is the remarkable reasons why teams of people work well together, and why they don’t work. We presume teams of skilled individuals will produce skilled results. And we are wrong as Mr. Coyle points out. Belonging cues, which can take the form of active listening, light touching, showing people where they fit into an organization, the closeness of employees’ desks, and the language we use, creates a continuous sense of safety. Even just simple “thank yous” from managers, and them picking up trash, can signal that “we are all in this together” and that they serve the group.

As with most culture research, The Culture Code repeatedly emphasizes that great cultures start at the top. One of the ways to create a safe space for the group is for leaders to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is a significant belonging cue. Vulnerability sparks cooperation and trust, and asking for help as a manager, or leader, sends a clear signal that you have vulnerabilities. Interestingly, vulnerability can be contagious with the obvious benefits to the group. Difficult and painful interactions can actually help create a more bonded team through shared vulnerability.

While creating a sense of safety and vulnerability in the group makes for a better team, Mr. Coyle turns to storytelling to give that team focus. Groups that have successful cultures repeatedly and consistently, often to the point of redundancy, tell their story. Simple beacons, such as slogans, phrases, or imagery, focus attention to the shared goal. “High purpose environments are filled with vivid signals” the Culture Code reveals referring to Pixar having images of Woody and Buzz Lightyear in their buildings or the Seals having a piece of the World Trade Center in their lobby.

“Build a language to build behavior.”

Do we really need to tell nurses and other staff that a particular surgery is better for the patent, and that they should speak up if they see a mistake, even by a doctor, being made? The answer the Culture Code gives us is a resounding yes.

“The value of signals is not in the information but that they orientate the team to the task and to one another. What seems like repetition is in fact navigation.”
The Culture is that most unique of books. A book arranged and filled with great ideas and real-world examples of those ideas in action. Impeccably researched, the march of time notwithstanding, and well written, The Culture Code is a leadership book about daily interactions and grand visions. It is a management book showing the pitfalls and routes to success.

I’m better for having read it, and I have no doubt that it will be a book I return to and recommend to other managers.

The Personality Brokers Cover

I’ve never been a particular fan of Myers-Briggs personality testing, and their ilk, that still permeate business and management culture to this day.

And if a takedown of Myers-Briggs by exposing the complete lack of any scientific basis for personality testing in general is what you are looking for there are perhaps better books. Although, it has to be said, the author does a pretty good job of debunking Myer-Briggs while telling its history anyway.

The Personality Brokers is an examination of how Myers-Briggs became the cultural phenomena that it is today. Its highly humble origins in child rearing of highly dubious quality and obsession with Carl Jung – both his work and the man himself. Through what should have been its repudiation; training spies in World War II and personality typing Nazis – badly. All the way to it being a possible solution searching for a problem and the attempt to automate the hiring process.

The Personality Brokers is a cautionary tale of how wanting something to be true because it would be so useful if it was, does not excuse ignoring the evidence. The fact the it is still a tool used by both business and government today is astounding given the history of the Myers-Briggs and, when pointed out, the obvious reasons why it cannot work as a tool in the workplace.

That it is tool that has cost people their jobs, and possibly their lives, over decades should be a scandal of the highest order. Myer-Briggs offers organizations a way of sorting the workforce without the sticky and inconvenient truth that people defy categorization. What Ms. Emre does in this illuminating volume is show that Myer-Briggs personality testing has always been a dangerous myth that people wanted to believe and therefore overlooked its flaws. That it is something that Jung would have found abhorrent, and perversion of his work.

One cannot help asking “why?” all the way through this book. Why did this idea go so far? Why has not been stopped? And why are business people so gullible when offered a solution that really is too good to be true. While there have undoubtedly been people who have found Myers-Briggs useful, both as managers and professionals, it holds little value over traditional goal setting or positive thinking.

This is a great book for arguing with your boss about.

feminist Fight club

Its not often that someone recommends a book for me to read and that they then warn me about the same book. Feminist Fight Club came with the warning: it is not for the “faint of heart” supporter of feminism.

Feminist Fight Club is not for everyone. In fact, I’m sure it will annoy a number of people. Not so much for its content, but for its tone. It sometimes feels like one is reading the Communist Manifesto. Make no mistake, this is a revolutionary guide for the repressed in both tone and content. As with my caveated recommendation; I agree that not everyone is going to agree with Feminist Flight Club’s view of the world.

I am not one of those people.

This is a handbook for women who find themselves sidelined, un-listened to, and the victims of idea theft, by oblivious and clueless male managers and colleagues. The book makes the assumption that the workplace has evolved beyond the blatant sexual harassment of the “Mad Men” era; but that there is still a long way to go. It is a book to dip in an out of rather than read in one sitting; which is where its tone may become wearing over an extended period of time.

However, there is some superb advice, and insight, dressed up as rhetoric in the book. While the section on meetings can be found from many other sources on meeting etiquette; the book has one of the best chapters I have ever read on holding salary negotiations with a manager – regardless of the sex of either party.

If there is a fundamental problem with the book; it is that in its zeal to evangelize one audience it risks alienating another. What is potentially lost due to this zeal is actually some excellent advice on office politics and the way interactions between colleagues should actually take place. That being said there are not a lot of books that are as “in your face” and confrontational as this one is and that makes it all the more interesting.

From this male view point, Feminist Fight Club did make me re-examine how I have interacted in particular circumstances, and made me more aware of subtle and institutional sexism on television, and one assumes in real life.

This is not a book to convert anyone, it is a book to hone one’s skills, to become a better feminist, a call to arms, or to just become a better person.

sick
When Letty Cottin Pogrebin was diagnosed with breast cancer it was a scary and uncertain time. But what did not help, or helped dramatically, was the response of her friends. Some of her friends knew exactly what to do and what to say. Other friends seemed to have no idea, or said or did completely the wrong things but felt they were being helpful. But worst of all, some friends disengaged completely, as if they could not deal with her illness on any level. “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick,” is the result of Ms. Cottin Pogrebin speaking to many of the people she met while undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments.

This is a book about sickness and death, but is also a book about friendship and casseroles. About gifts, and conversations. About children and the elderly. And it is about what is useful to most people who find themselves dealing with illness, and what is unhelpful.

Over the years of running a business with a significant number of employees, I have found myself in the position of having to interact with people who are sick, or have sick relatives, but without being able to fall back on deep personal friendships with the people concerned because they are employees. The feeling of wanting to help is tempered by not wanting to intrude, and not always knowing what to say, or what to offer to help. Or indeed how to say anything and not wanting to make things worse, or have one’s motives misunderstood.

“How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick,” is a book that helps navigate not just the feelings of those who are sick and their immediate relatives, but also of those who are acquaintances. Understanding how people can help if they want to, and how to not help if the wrong kind of help is actually harmful.

Almost like an etiquette book of old, “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick” is a book about dealing with taboo subjects. There are few right or wrong answers, but it does talk about the need for communication and for an understanding of how to listen to the answers that are given. An easy book to dip in and out of, and surprisingly funny in places, Ms. Cottin Pogrebin’s book is the kind of work that should be required reading for almost everyone, but particularly managers. Managers are often are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to illness, particularly serious illness, in a member of their team.

As Ms. Cottin Pogrebin states;

“Empathy plus action equals kindness.”

“How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick,” may be an odd choice for a business book blog, however, I would argue that it is books such as this that allow managers to show leadership. Management should always be about human connections. Knowing how to navigate some of the toughest interpersonal challenges any manager may face, and understanding the emotions of all involved, should earn “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick,” a place on every manager’s shelf.

It certainly has a place on mine.

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The Courage to be Disliked is an odd book.

It uses the literary device of a conversation between two people, which I have used myself and for which I now apologize. I can now see how annoying it can be. The conversation between a philosopher and a young man can at times feel patronizing and is not helped by the ham-fisted characterizations on the audio edition (which was what I was listened to.)

The title is a little misleading, but is really a reference to being comfortable in your own skin and not let what you perceive as the opinions of others dictate your happiness.
The Courage to be Disliked does bring up a number of interesting, and potentially controversial, ideas. The idea of compliments and praise being a form of manipulation, for example, while very interesting is also ripe for abuse.

What the book also does is to introduce the reader to the ideas of Alfred Adler and Alderian psychology. Alder, a contemporary of Freud and Jung, was arguably so far ahead of its time that it is only now that we are really realizing just how important his ideas are.

This is a book about personal development, how we perceive the world and how we feel about how the world perceives us. It has some significant short comings in execution; however, its mission is to bring complex psychological concepts to a wider audience is admirable and it certainly achieves its goals.

The Courage to be Disliked is perhaps hamstrung by the readers preconceptions, given its title and blurb. It does not live up to its press, but that does not mean that there are not valuable lessons to learn from Kishimi, Koga, and Adler.

moments

Any book by Chip and Dan Heath is worth reading and their latest, The Power of Moments, is no exception. For those who do not know the work of the brothers Heath you can check out my review of their first book “Made to Stick” here, and what I consider one of the best business books ever: “Switch” here.

Interestingly, The Power of Moments is very similar, and treads a lot of the same ground, as Scott Strattan does in his books Unmarketing and Unselling; they even use some of the same examples. What makes the Power of Moments seem new and fresh is that level to which it delves to understand moments, why they work, and how they work; as opposed to just focusing on how to create new moments of your own.

An early example of the Power of Moments is to focus on the lack of attention that companies pay to an employee’s first day. What the Heath Brothers point out is companies have a golden opportunity to create a truly memorable first day for new employees; but that more often than not new employees are treated as an impediment to the day’s business. They rightly point out what would a first date be like if we treated it the same way we treat an employee’s first day? Suffice to say we probably would not get a second.

Creating memorable moments is not about delivering the best of anything, or better value than your competitors. Moments are about when clients have expectations and we do something to exceed them. To create moments, we need to give employees license to break the script. To do something for our clients that is unexpected and that creates a memory for them.

The power of moments, however, is not just about business to clients. Moments also have value when motivating ourselves and our own internal dialogs and bargains when it comes to setting goals. What the Heath Brothers suggest is that rather than using the traditional SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely), or worse no real goal at all, that we borrow from the gaming world. In computer games, players advance from level to level, and in good games those levels are moments. For example, take the vague goal of wanting to learn play the violin. Even a SMART goal may just be to attend a lesson every week. However, with a level system, things look a little different:

Level 1: commit to one lesson a week
Level 2: Learn to read sheet music.
Level 3: Learn to play a particular song.
… Level 7 / Boss level: Play in a pub in Ireland.

By having an outsized end game, and then having manageable steps to achieving those level with rewards built in creates a sense of purpose. Purpose isn’t discovered, it is cultivated, and purpose trumps passion.

The Power of Moments is not a book about good businesses becoming great, but how to make any business extraordinary. Much like the book.

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