Archives for category: Leadership

shattered

What can we learn about leadership, and management, from an insiders account of the 2016 Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton?

A surprising amount is the answer in the case of Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes’ excellent “Shattered.”

Subtitled:”Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed campaign,” Shattered is a surprisingly partisan look at one of the most dramatic election campaigns in memory. As is mentioned in the book’s introduction, if you are a Hillary Clinton supporter this book can make for painful reading and a reopening of recently scabbed over wounds. It is also noted that if you are not a Hillary Clinton supporter it may reenforce your views, but may also engender some sympathy.

The story spans Clinton’s early decision-making process of whether to get into the 2016 presidential campaign all the way to the days and weeks after the election of Donald Trump. It is really the story of an organization; and the failures of leadership, management, data, and strategy.

What makes the story so compelling is that the people at the heart of the campaign to elect Hillary Clinton, and Clinton herself, are painfully aware of the mistakes of the 2008 campaign for the democratic nomination against Barack Obama. The 2008 campaign was characterized by internal power struggles, leaks, and was generally drama filled, and the candidate and her team are hell-bent on not making those same mistakes again. While for the most part they succeed, there are numerous new mistakes which once again create a dysfunctional organization.

Prizing loyalty over everything else, Clinton cannot help but create an organization of fiefdoms which allows them to get top down decisions implemented; however, is then tone-deaf to bottom up feedback. It also creates a system where staff need to get multiple people need to sign off on decisions. This in turn, creates the need for others to get involved to help fix the organizational problems, but unintentionally make things worse. As is noted mid way through the book, leaking was a symptom of the dysfunction of the 2008 campaign rather than the cause. This is a failure of leadership by getting management structure wrong.

As the book progresses, through the democratic primaries it becomes obvious that while some lessons of 2008 had been learned by the 2016 campaign, for example focusing on delegates rather than votes, it blinds them to the fact that some of their underlying assumptions are wrong. They do not realize that they are losing the votes of working class whites who had formed their base in 2008 and for whom Bill Clinton had been a champion.

Other than the organizational issues, there is also the role of big data. Every campaign decision is based on analytics and is constantly looking for the least costly route of victory. However, analytics are being used as a strategy, and a decider, rather than as a tool. The underlying assumption is that is cheaper to persuade supporters to go to the polls, and register to vote, rather than change the minds of undecided voters. This does not take account that there are voters who are actively voting against Hillary Clinton, and they were not doing anything to change the minds of those voters.

The campaign was misreading the electorate, the analytics were wrong, but it was the organization that allowed it to happen. Having said that, as the book correctly notes, no reputable pollster was predicting a Donald Trump win, so the Hillary team is hardly alone.

This is an interesting book because these are people obviously working at the top of their game, repeating the issues made famous by the World War I book “The Guns of August” by Barbara W. Tuchman. That book explores the idea that the generals of World War I were not fighting the current war but the previous one and not realizing that the world had changed and thereby dramatically adding to the misery of The Great War.

Like Weapons of Math Destruction which I reviewed here, Shattered is also a warning of the potential limits of big data and predictive models. They are a tool, and should just be one of many. There are lots to learn from Shattered; it is an excellent tool as well.

As a manager, you are never going to please everyone.

Some might even argue that if you do, you are not doing your job correctly. You will be called upon to discipline and even terminate employees, some of whom you might consider friends if you no longer had to manage them, and who may already consider you a friend. That is until you fire them – no friendship survives that.  Moreover, a portion of your job is to stick your head above the parapet wall and take the pot shots that people send your way: customers and employees alike. You may well take the wrap for decisions that other stakeholders, and even the courts, have made and the people you work with will almost certainly never know about the arguments that you have won to protect their interests.

If you are someone who values internal culture, like I am, then you have the added concern of trying to make any piece of feedback positive. Gone are the days, for the most part, of managers losing their tempers and yelling at the people the work with. I won’t say that I have never lost my temper at a member of staff but I have made sure to apologize afterwards and I have always felt that loosing one’s temper is counterproductive: If it actually hurts what I’ve trying to achieve then what is the point? Management is hard, we are all over worked, underappreciated, our hands are often tied, and the goal posts are always shifting. However, the rewards make it worth it: financial, recognition of your peers, and the sense of achievement when you see both people and businesses grow.

And then there are things like this:

“I loved the actual job here. Worked here for almost a year. If you could rise above petty back-stabbing and the fact people would be super nice to your face, and cut you down in a heartbeat behind your back, then it was a great job. Hospital chief administrator suffered from Little Big Man syndrome and needed to be avoided at all costs – unless you wanted your day ruined, as he was always incapable of saying anything nice, and preferred to berate – even if praise was his intention! Some of the doctors were difficult, but most were really great to work with. Overall, if you have thick skin, this was a good place to work – but no benefits other than an employee discount for vet services.

Ouch.

Other than the obvious of “what else would you expect a terminated employee to say?” What else can be learned from this from a management perspective? What can I learn from this since I feature so prominently?

Well yes, I am short – well spotted. Not much I can do about that. I guess you could argue that as someone of limited stature I have to be additionally careful to not appear angry so as to not play into the stereotype. As noted above, this is actually in my own interests anyway but a helpful reminder that I need to live up to my own standards.

If I am to be avoided, then that is actually pretty difficult. I try very hard to check in with every employee on both shifts every day and I am obviously sorry they felt this way. I think the comment of being “incapable of saying anything nice, and preferred to berate” is a little harsh. We, as an employer and I personally, have put a number of programs in place to improve and celebrate employee recognition. However, I will admit, that I do need to praise more in person than I currently do. Most managers do suffer from this and it is probably one of the more difficult aspects of the job. It is particularly hard when you have an employee who is not doing anything particularly wrong, but also not doing anything particularly exceptional. Since the above quote is from an anonymous post it is difficult to know for sure anything about this former employee, but as a general takeaway I think this rings true.

A “reading between the lines” insight, and backed up by some feedback from former employees who are now friends (see I’m not all bad) is that there is perhaps a lack of trust at times. A feeling that I did not have the employee’s “back.” This is probably a feature of trying to make customer service central to what we do. If a customer complains about an employee or the service they delivered, unless the claim is outrageous, I will probably try to make to client happy. This can certainly be interpreted as taking the side of the customer instead of the employee. It shouldn’t – I’m trying to protect the business and therefore indirectly the employee. If I feel there is an issue to be addressed with the employee, I will address it separately; however, it is easy to see how this issue arises and perhaps I need to do a better job of dealing with this unintended tension.    

As a final note, it is interesting that this former employee felt that discounted vet services was all the benefits that were on offer. I would take away from this that I needed to do a better job of explaining the other things that formed our benefits package.   

I don’t want a lot of reviews like this – nobody does. But the same rules apply to bad reviews about yourself as to bad reviews about your business. They are an opportunity to get feedback that you would not otherwise be able to receive. And while anonymous former employee reviews are even more unfair than anonymous customer reviews, due to the legal issues involved, a little self-examination is not a bad thing. If nothing else, it hopefully made for an interesting blog post.

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

 

 Zappos, Tony Hsieh, and the Downtown Project are controversial subjects in some quarters of Las Vegas – although I have always been a supporter. In my opinion, it is hard to not give credit to Mr. Hsieh for having the courage, faith, and energy, to move his company and sink millions into the depressed center of Las Vegas, a city I love living in and call home.

That makes Aimee Groth’s tell all book about living inside, or at least partially inside, the bubble of Tony Hsieh’s circle throughout the first five years of the Downtown Project all the more difficult, and fascinating to read. With Ms. Groth becoming part, if not the driving force, of the narrative this is very much a piece of Gonzo journalism which gives some first person perspective to the stresses and confusion that many in the story recall.

To give some background, Tony Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos, an online shoe retailer which is owned by Amazon. In 2013, Zappos moved its headquarters into the former city hall building of Downtown Las Vegas. Downtown Las Vegas, and in particular the area east of Las Vegas Boulevard, had been a rundown collection of tattoo parlors, pawn shops, seedy bars, and ultra-cheap motels. With the result, it had all the problems of a depressed city center, with homelessness, prostitution, and drug dealing on most street corners. With Zappos’s move to Downtown, Mr. Hsieh created the “Downtown Project” with $350 million of his own money. Almost half the money was earmarked for the purchasing of real-estate with the rest to be invested in businesses and startups centered in Downtown Las Vegas. The stated goals of the Downtown Project was not only the creation of a new business and a technology startup environment, but to make Downtown a place with a thriving innovation culture.

The story follows Ms. Groth’s intial conversations with Mr. Hsieh and other invited guests to the Downtown Project, through partying and becoming part of Mr. Hsiehs entourage, the first cracks appearing in the startup culture, to the major reorganization of the Downtown Project, and the internal strife at Zappos due to the move downtown and Holacracy. Holacracy is a new management system and communication tool that was adopted by Zappos. I reviewed Brian J. Robertson’s book on Holacracy here.

However, the main thrust of “The Kingdom of Happiness” is on Mr. Hsieh’s, and those around him’s, response to these events and to their motives in the first place. As the story is told there is almost a willful lack of support, and management, given to the early entrepreneurs, lured to Las Vegas with promises of financing to follow their dreams and the expectation of mentoring. With the result that many were essentially setup to fail, or at the very least felt that way.

“…the young entrepreneurs who didn’t naturally seek out assistance or know how to navigate an ecosystem like this were left to fend for themselves.” – From The Kingdom of Happiness.

There is also a darker undercurrent that flows through the book, and that is the potential conflict of interest in the due roles of the Downtown Project as both landlord and investor to various new and startup businesses. At one point in the book an entrepreneur wonders at the oddness of trying to avoid their investor and business partner, because they are also their landlord. There are numerous mentions throughout the book by those in the Downtown Project, that a source of profits for the Downtown Project is the real estate rather than in the businesses they have investments in. An uncharitable reading might question the ethics, or morality, of this arrangement.

 What I feel is the main takeaway from the book, and makes it of particular interest to business people,  is the balance between Vision, Leadership, and Management, and how this seems to have gone awry at both Zappos and the Downtown Project. At one point Mr. Hsieh snaps at Ms. Groth that he is not a leader but a visionary and it is hard to argue with him. But if Mr. Hsieh is not leading then who is?

The move to Holacracy, a system that dispenses with traditional management structures, through the lens of Ms. Groth’s book, seems to be an imperfect answer to some difficult questions. There has been plenty of vision at Downtown Project and Zappos. There is also some merit in the argument that there has also been leadership at Zappos (you don’t undertake something like Holacracy without leadership pointing the way). But the cult of personality surrounding Mr. Tsieh, and Zappos’s focus on its non- traditional internal culture, maybe filling in for actual leadership.

What is clear, particularly at the Downtown Project, is that there has been a failure of leadership through a lack of management. In a drive to be different, focus on making things “happen,” and create a self-sustaining entrepreneurial culture, the basic structures and support networks have never been put in place that would seem to be a prerequisite for this type of project.

I, for one, am a supporter of the Downtown Project and Zappos – particularly for Zappos’s focus on internal culture. One only has to walk through downtown to see the enormous impact that Downtown Project and Zappos have had. However, there have been significant costs, and without examining the issues that The Kingdom of Happiness raises we are doomed to repeat them. In business, but particularly in the startup culture, there is a focus on leadership to the expense of everything else and an almost dismissal of management. What the story that Ms. Groth tells us is that visionaries abandon management at their peril and that leadership, while the key ingredient in all successful companies, cannot survive without good management.

 

I have been reviewing books for a number of years now; however, movies have always been my passion and on occasion I have used movies in staff meetings for the accessibility of the message. I decided that it was time to share some of these.

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

 

Moneyball, based on the excellent book by Michael Lewis of the same name, follows the real life story of the Oakland A’s baseball team. In particular, Moneyball documents the Oakland A’s struggles of trying to be successful with a budget a mere fraction of their competitors. The realization of their manger, Billy Beane – played by Brad Pitt, that they either have to “adapt or die” is one that many businesses can relate to. The solution that Oakland A’s adopted was to look at the data about players, which informs hiring and firing, objectively rather than emotionally.

Looking at a problem from outside the box and understanding what a problem actually is, not what you have always thought it was, is a huge lesson for most managers. It is also one that is difficult to teach. However, the lesson of being prepared to do what others will not is one that many from the business world will be familiar with – or at least should be. Overcoming the objections, and down right obstructionist behavior, of those who have not bought into your ideas should also be familiar territory for most managers. The movie treats these issues with respect, and although there is an obvious “good guy / bad guy” dynamic, it is easy to overlook this and see the issues being discussed from both sides.

Since the publication of the book, the statistical approach to fields that have previously been lacking such analysis has become know by the colloquialism “Moneyball.” And although the initially baseball was dramatically changed by Billy Beane and the Moneyball approach, there are signs of it falling out of favor.

However, it would be a mistake to dismiss the book, or the movie, because of this change in the idea’s fortunes. Indeed it actually signals a misunderstanding of the limitations of the approach and of statistics in general. As is stated in the movie: “The first person through the wall always gets bloody.”

The movie does break some of its own rules for dramatic effect; however, these are minor sins given how excellent the movie is as a whole. Interestingly, the movie also has two of the best scenes I have ever seen about terminating an employee. New managers could do a lot worse than follow Brad Pitt’s advice on the matter that can be found in Chapter 8 at the 1:00:00 mark explaining the right and wrong ways to go about a termination. Chapter 10 at the 1:18:00 mark actually shows Jonah Hill”s character putting that advice to use and it is a highly accurate and realistic portrayal of how a termination should be done.

As a management tool, Moneyball is a great business story cloaked in a sports jacket. Both the good and the bad of analytics are on display here, as well as the difficulty of being a pioneer and trying to overcome entrenched ideas whose only validity is “that’s the way we have always done things.”

You may not like baseball, but this is a smart story, based on a smart book, about smart people. It also has the added advantage of being highly entertaining.

You could do a lot worse.

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

I’ve never watched “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” “Scandal,” or “How to get Away with Murder.” So why read, let alone review, a book by the writer and creator of such successful, but ultimately not that interesting (to me) features of the television landscape?

Well, the recommendation by a good friend got me to read the blurb and then the audacity of the idea did the rest.
Shonda Rhimes is a busy, powerful, highly successful, African American single mother in Hollywood who realized after a conversation with her sister that she did not enjoy her life. In a bid to change her life she decided to spend a year saying yes to things she would normally say no to because she was “too busy.”Part memoir, part self help book, part treatise on creating balance between home and work lives, “Year of Yes” is a remarkable book. Funny, honest, deeply personal, and down to earth yet also intellectually satisfying Ms. Rhimes let’s the reader into her world and into her mind. It shows that success does not translate into happiness – but that it can if you’ll let it. The book also is a rallying cry for stretching one’s self and not becoming self limiting due to what scares you.

Where the book really scores for me is in figuring out how to have a successful career, and a balance that with having a fulfilling home life that works for both parent(s) and children. While this is not particularly relevant for me (I’m not a parent) it is interesting from an employer and manger perspective for those that do.

I will not attempt to distill several chapters into a paragraph but the importance of personal rules and creating boundaries is great advice for manager to give to employees struggling with the conundrum of the near mythical work life balance.
While there is plenty for the fans of Ms. Rhimes’s shows, working parents, and those interested in the world of Hollywood television production, there is also just a lot of great advice about personal heath, relationships, diversity, and dealing with stress.
This is one of the most surprising books I have read in a while and it is well worth your time – particularly if you like to say “no.”
Note on the Audio Edition: as I often do with books I listened to the audio version which is read by the author and includes actual audio recordings of speeches that she has makes as part of her journey. Shonda’s personality truly shines through with her performance and I highly recommend this version for adding an extra dimension to and already great book.

I have been reviewing books for a number of years now; however, movies have always been my passion and on occasion I have used movies in staff meetings for the accessibility of the message. I decided that it was time to share some of these.

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

 

Burnt is a great movie. Staring Bradley Cooper, it’s the story of a chef seeking redemption by opening a new restaurant in London and winning a 3rd Michelin star after imploding and ruining his mentor’s restaurant in Paris.

It’s use as a management tool comes from the relationships of running a team and of how not to treat employees. It does contain swearing, so if that is incompatible with your company culture this movie is not for you.

I feel there two ways to use this particular movie. In whole; individually, to help illuminate how abusive management is contagious and ultimately counterproductive and in a general staff meeting. As a tool in a meeting I found the best way was to isolate certain scenes.

Chapter 5: @ 26:30 through to Chapter 6: @ 36:20 – The preparation for the opening of the restaurant. The attention to detail. Staff working at the top of their game, working as a team, and watching that disintegrate due the the behavior of one employee and then the abuse that is untenable.

Chapter 7: @ 40:44 through Chapter 7: @ 43:45 – Again, the preparation and attention to detail and that things have recovered after the events of Chapter 5 and 6. Does this mean the behavior that was seen in chapter 5 and 6 was ok and worked?

Chapter 9: @ 50:58 through Chapter 9: @ 52:23 – Contagion. Demonstrated behavior turns into learned behavior.

Chapter 10 through Chapter 10: @ 56:03 – More contagion, and now it is difficult to control.

Chapter 12: @ 1:11:52 through Chapter 12: @ 1:16:00 – Appalling behavior has a price to pay – even years afterwards.

Chapter 15: working as a team, and working together, is more important than anything else.

It is unusual to see actual work environments, even though this is quite a dysfunctional one, with the real kind of relationships that employees have between each other in a mainstream movie. A thoughtful viewing of “Burnt” should give any leader pause for thought or something to aspire to. And even with taking scenes in isolation it should allow staff to see how bad behavior from anyone can spread and create a workplace where no one wants to work. It is also nice to see a movie where unacceptable behavior is shown for what it is: unacceptable, rather than celebrated.

– 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.

By Mike Falconer

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

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

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

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

I did this with some trepidation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a deep breath and relax.

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

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

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

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

The Building

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

Staff

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

H.R.

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

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

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

 Financial

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

Marketing

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

Inventory

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

Safety

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

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

Scheduling

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

Regulatory Compliance

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

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

Clients

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

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

Remember, the buck stops with you. 

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

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

Additional Resources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Brief Recap

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

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

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

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

Terminology

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

Officer Manager

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

Practice Manager

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

Hospital Administrator

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

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

Education

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

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

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

Get Help

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

Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time – Part 2: Time to Focus

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