Archives for category: Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without that, meetings are all talk.

We all have asked ourselves at some time, or wondered out loud, how would we react in a disaster situation. Would we freeze? Would we pretend that everything was alright? Would we heroically jump in while others watched? Would we panic?

Ms. Ripley’s remarkable, and impeccably researched book; “The Unthinkable: Who Survives when Disaster Strikes – and why,” attempts to answer these questions. It does so by looking at how others have responded in extraordinary circumstances, but it also gives the reader pointers on how to better prepare oneself for potential emergency situations and how managers may produce better emergency protocols and procedures.

The book manages the rather remarkable feat of being both a gripping read when discussing the highly personal stories of people during the worst day of their lives; September 11th, The Virginia Tech Shooting, Hurricane Katrina, and numerous plane crashes, but also highly intellectual when looking at the social, evolutionary, and cultural reasons why people behave as they do.

A fundamental issue that “The Unthinkable” explores, is that the public is more often than not given either no information or the wrong information. With the wrong information, or a lack of information, we cannot evaluate risk. This is importantly because our minds will often, from an evolutionary impulse try to get more data, or try to make the facts fit an existing pattern if the brain does not have previous experience of the particular situation. Fire drills, and safety briefings on planes, are important not merely for the information they impart, but they give our brains a pattern to follow. We behave differently in emergency situations; “superheroes with learning difficulties” as Ms. Ripley so eloquently puts it. Another fascinating aspect of this need for better information to evaluate risk is that our brains do much better at properly evaluating how information affects us when we read the information as opposed to watching the same information on a format such as television.

The structure of “The Unthinkable,” is based around “The Survival Arc” of Denial, Deliberation, and the Decisive Moment. That people can go through these three phases multiple times in an emergency, but also respond differently, is another feature that keeps the book constantly engaging.

It is rare to read a book that could actually save your life, and also shake you out of complicacy. But “The Unthinkable” is just such a book. It is also most intriguing to read a multi- disciplinary book such as this that looks at personal history, culture, and up brining, but also delves into psychology, evolution, and group behavior. For those that are responsible for others “The Unthinkable” teaches us that we need to be thinking about the unthinkable, if for no other reason to help mold how we may respond and how we may protect those in our charge. As an individual, “The Unthinkable” is a road map to survival and to understand our reactions to extreme events.

It could save our lives.  

Whether in personal life or professional life, when toxicity rears it’s head, how we react defines toxicity’s power over us.

The revenge of “why should I bother when nobody else does,”  or “if they are going to speak to me that way then I’m going to speak to them that way,” becomes a race to to the bottom where everyone loses. A race where the most awful person wins a price nobody wants. It defines an toxic environment. To state that this is a vicious circle is to state the obvious. However, to do the opposite does not automatically create a virtuous circle. 

Being positive is never the easy choice. Toxicity is always easier. As Yoda would say of the dark side; “…easier, more seductive.” Revenge feels good. But that feeling is fleeting. Like in math, a positive number and a negative number added together can give a positive or a negative result. But two negative numbers always results in a negative result.

2 + -1 = 1

-2 + 1 = -1

-2 + -1 = -3

2 + 1 = 3

We all have a responsibility for not contributing to a toxic environment. We won’t always succeed, but if our positives outweigh our negatives, the chances are that we will have positive results. If we engage in negative behavior, particularly in an already toxic environment or as a response to toxic or negative behavior, we are guaranteed to have negative results. 

Real life is not simple math, but it is an example of how relationships between people, particularly groups of people, actually work.

Nobody said it would be easy. It might not even be fair. Or enjoyable. But rejecting toxicity, and not allowing it to contaminate you and therefore others, is the only way to behave that makes any sense. 

Not words to deliver enlightenment, but hopefully words to reassure that there really only is one path.

This is the hardest book review that I have ever undertaken to write.

There are books that I do not feel I have the intellectual rigor to do justice too, The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt for example, which was one of my favorite books of 2018, and there are books that I can’t say much more about other than “read it,” Traction by Gino Wickman falls into this category. White Fragility is both; however, it also shook me to my core, and I felt I had no choice but to try and do it justice. I can count on one hand the books that have upended my beliefs, as White fragility has done, during my life.

I was initially skeptical of Ms. DiAngelo’s New York Times bestseller. I was uncomfortable with a white author discussing race for a primarily white audience. Considering myself a reasonably “woke” individual, but never as pretentious to use such a term, what can I, as a reasonably well read and liberal individual be taught through a third party’s experience of racism?

That I am part of the problem.

Ms. DiAngelo’s book is a tour de force and a wakeup call for those that consider themselves allies, but all too often support racist structures and prejudiced behavior.

“Our simplistic definition of racism as intentional acts of immoral individuals engenders a confidence that we are not part of the problem and thus our learning is complete.”  – From White Fragility

White Fragility changes, some may say clarifies, our definitions of words that have melded into, as Ms. DiAngleo would probably agree, a binary good and bad. I cannot be those things because I, or they, am a good person. By not being to get past this logjam, true discussions of racism are impossible.

As quoted in White Fragility; “Racism is a structure not an event. A structure of oppression that goes beyond individual prejudice and discrimination.” In other words, racism is tied to societal power. Only whites can be racist because only whites, in the United States, hold societal power. That whites cannot help but be racist, is partially explained by being brought up in a racist society.

These are powerful and disturbing words for most white people to hear, let alone believe. It is helped by defining other terms, not just in their racism framework but in anthropologic one.  Prejudice is prejudging someone based on the social groups that the person belongs to and based on little or no additional information. “All humans have prejudices,” writes Ms. DiAngelo. Discrimination is action that is based on prejudice. It is therefore possible to be racist, because one comes from a racist society, but not be prejudice or practice discrimination.

In a devastating section of White Fragility, Ms. Diangelo shows us how “whiteness” has become the norm for “human” and challenges us to think about the patterns of friendship, culture, and society in general that we grew up in and continue observe today that reinforce a racist society. That believing we are in a post racial society, or that by our uniqueness of experience or background, means that we are immune to group messages and “white solidarity,” is expertly dismantled by Ms. DiAngelo’s totally logical arguments.  That “good schools” has become a metaphor for a “more white neighborhood,” is the most obvious example of this.

“The way I see the world, drives my actions in the world.” – White Fragility

White Fragility is not an easy read. This is not because of Ms. Diangelo’s prose, which are excellent, but because this is a book that you will disagree with. That is its purpose, to challenge your basic assumptions about the society we live in. To see the world in a different way. To understand the world as people of color understand the world. And hopefully understand the strictures that are in place that make it so hard for white people to have discussions about race, in any meaningful form.

White fragility is a starting point to allow our world view to be changed, and perhaps to make us more open to hearing feedback on when the society we grew up in, and live in today, intrudes on our interactions and friendships with people of color.

Read this book.

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I know this is difficult
Because it is difficult for me too.

I know you are scared
Because we are all scared.

I know you are tired
Because everything is harder.

I know you are frustrated
Because what should be simple is fiendishly complex.

I know you are wanting this to end
Because the end is not in sight.

I know you want to get back to normal
Because normal was awesome.

I know you are glad to be busy
Because the alternative sucks far worse.

I know you value your teams
Because we all feel the same way.

I know we can do this
Because we kick ass on a daily basis.

 

Written as the introduction to a staff meeting.  

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The Vice President, Mike Pence, toured the Mayo Clinic, without a mask, in the middle of a pandemic.

When questioned by reporters as to why he was not wearing a mask in line with hospital policy, a policy that the Mayo Clinic stated that Mr. Pence was aware of in advance in a now deleted tweet, the Vice President stated that he is tested regularly as are those around him and he wanted to be able to “look people in the eye.”

Footage of Mr. Pence’s visit can be seen below.

Later that same day, a question was posed on Quora (where I spend an inordinate amount of time) that got me thinking.

Why didn’t someone in authority at the Mayo Clinic stand up and tell Mike Pence, “If you don’t wear a mask, you are not entering this hospital.” Should that person who was in charge on that day be fired for failing to protect the patients?

A fair question, but one of the reasons the question gave me pause for thought, was that I had faced a similar dilemma a couple of days earlier.

Like most veterinarians, the animal hospital I am Hospital Administrator for is operating locked down – with clients being made to wait in their cars and only patients and staff allowed in the building. In addition, all staff have their temperature taken before entering the building and wear a mask for their whole shift. That policy worked just fine, until the day a client walked into the lobby and refused to leave when asked by staff members.

I was called into the lobby by one of my front desk supervisors. When I arrived, the unmasked client was defiant and refused to leave the lobby when asked multiple times. The client was upset that her dog was sick and currently hospitalized. She felt that it was too hot for her dog to be brought out to her in her car for her to visit with, and therefore was demanding entry to see her dog. I explained that I knew nothing of the situation, and that I would be more than happy to help in whatever way I could, but none of that was going to happen until she left our lobby and returned to her car.

I have had to ask clients to leave the premises in the past, and I have even had to call police to make it happen. As I was talking to this client it was running through my head that I might have to do this again, or at least threaten to, to protect the doctors and staff. However, it was also running through my head that we had a hospitalized patient who was in the middle of treatment. Could the forced removal of a client from the building be interpreted as denial of care? It is doubtful that the client is going to continue their pet’s treatment at our hospital if the relationship breaks down to this point. What happens to the pet? Is the pet well enough for an orderly discharge? What happens if the pet dies either directly, indirectly, or just shortly after being discharged?

All of this with raised voices in the lobby, out of the blue, with no time for refection or the advice of others.

Now, as it happens, the client did return to her car and a quiet chat with the doctor, car side, resolved the immediate issue. But what if we would have called the police and had the client removed from our property, her pet discharged before being even close to well, and things had continued to deteriorate? Review and social media warfare for sure. Local news and / or regulatory involvement? Quiet possibly.

Upon reflection, I would do the same thing again and I actually feel more than ever that even if I had ended up calling the police it would still have been the right call. But I’m sure others would have disagreed. And some of those may have been people that I report to – including the staff it was my aim to protect.

I don’t run an organization anything like the size, or complexity, of the Mayo Clinic and one can’t imagine what it must be like to hold that position, in human healthcare, in the middle of a pandemic. Having a dignitary like the Vice President means national news coverage. It is the kind of publicity that public relations departments were created for. It could mean government dollars, PPE, and access; all of which are sorely needed right now.

If, of course, it goes well.

If it goes wrong, all of that could be in jeopardy and a lot more; The reputation of the Mayo Clinic in the eyes of half of the electorate, for example. As Mike Pence has stated, the risk from him is probably minimal, given the protective bubble he currently finds himself in. The example that he sets, however, is awful. It is an example of “the rules don’t apply to me” because of XYZ – much like my lobby client.

I cannot condemn the administrators at the Mayo Clinic though. Standing up to people because it is the right thing to do, can have serious consequences. Embarrassing the Vice President of the United States would have had serious consequences for the hospital, the staff, and the administrators. Being right is not always a defense from consequence. To make that kind of decision in the heat moment, is an almost impossible. And it is certainly impossible to make it and to not double guess yourself.

The issue reminds me of the incident at University Hospital in Salt Lake City where nurse Alex Wubbels was arrested for not going against a policy agreed upon between the police and the hospital. She would not provide a blood sample without the consent of the patient. The clip below shows Nurse Wubbels on the phone with the hospital administrator, and the police officer concerned, right before her arrest. The arrest of Nurse Wubbels was national news.

All decisions have consequences. In the Alex Wubbels case, the arresting officer was fired, and his supervisor was demoted two ranks. The City of Salt Lake also settled a lawsuit for half a million dollars. But this took serious guts on the part of the hospital, and of course Nurse Wubbels. It would have been so easy to bend the rules for people who you work with routinely, want and need to have a good working relationship with, and even been seen as doing the right thing in many corners.

Being right can often be a balancing act. Second guessing decisions made in the heat of the moment, particularly when confronted by authority, or just someone who is confrontational, is often unhelpful. As managers, we have to fall back on integrity and the momentary weighing of risks.

But the balancing act is rarely black and white.

advice trap

When the nice people at MBS Works sent me a copy of The Advice Trap to review, I was intrigued by its premise: That we all have an inner advice monster that gets in the way of us getting better results from the people we manage, coach, or mentor, because we talk too much.

This is me in a nutshell. And while I freely admit it, I find it difficult to do anything about it.

Mr. Bungay Stanier is also the author of The Coaching Habit which I have not read. This is unfortunate, because a failing of the Advice trap is to act as too much of a sequel / advertisement for Mr. Bungay’s other book. But if you can look past this, and its other main issue (see below) there is actually valuable and worthwhile advice for all those who are routinely asked their opinion. This is, of course, the central paradox behind the Advice Trap, it is a book about how giving advice is a trap and a monster, which can only relay this idea by… giving advice. To Mr. Bungay Stanier’s credit he does freely admit and deal with this irony.

A central theme of The Advice Trap is that giving advice is generally more about the person giving the advice and does not actually solve the issue at hand, never mind actually benefit the person who is doing the asking. What the Advice trap does is give the reader tools to help them stop immediately leaping to give their own take on what they have been asked, but to dig deeper, be more curious about the issue, and see if by working with the questioner that a better solution cannot be arrived at. It also makes the point that the best solution may very well not be arrived at by the yourself and how to be prepared for that.

These are powerful and useful tools and ideas. Framing them as “The Advice Monster” is actually close to genius. It also goes deep into why as leaders and managers we often fall back on giving advice when it does not work as well as we think it does, and rarely does anything for our team’s growth.

That managers need to be more empathetic and have humility is not new to anyone who has read a business book in the past twenty years. Where the Advice Trap succeeds is in actually giving practical advice (there’s that paradox again) on how to do that while in the middle of leading a team or coaching an employee.

This brings me to The Advice Trap’s main failing: it is so jargon heavy that it becomes overwhelming at a couple of points, and gets in the way of what the author is trying to achieve. That Mr. Bungay Stanier has created a useful toolbox is not in doubt, but that tool box can be very difficult to open and to remember which tool to use when is a problem.

This is a book to take ideas from and to adapt and use them for your work environment. Which indeed seems to be how the book was written in the first place given the references to other works. The Advice Trap is a good book for both new and experienced managers, because we are human and we all fall into the same trap – The Advice Trap. It makes for uncomfortable reading in places; its never nice to see one’s unconscious motivations laid bare, but The Advice Trap is important because business books so rarely challenge our own assumptions about ourselves.

This is a challenging book on multiple levels, but that should not let that stop you using it to tame your advice monster. Those monsters need taming and the Advice Trap has the tools to help.

 

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Routine.

We have routine.

“Good morning “while waiting for the thermometer all clear.

The snatched moments of laughter – less than before, but not gone altogether.

Some days are busy, some days less so.

But the days have less form than before, less shape. Less to keep them in memory. Less to measure them by.

We can measure time in policies and protocols that have come and gone. Some that we never used at all. And some that may still need to be dusted off.

Lets hope not.

Businesses that have a healthy culture see this culture bear fruit, and weather the storms, disagreement, and fear.

Businesses that have culture problems are finding that now it is too late to try and fix it.

Crises act like a magnifier. Just what you had before only more so.

Like all situations there are rarely heroes and villains, the world is more complicated than that. There are heroic acts and acts worthy of villains.

The fractures in teams, departments, and relationships are tested. How resilient we are, depends on the history we have; good or bad.

Managers and leaders, have a new appreciation of the J.K. Rowling’s Snape; doing wrong things for the right reasons; being perceived as the bad guy, and shouldering that burden silently, when so much is about survival and the greater good.

But all of this is fine. We are okay.

In that awful phrase, over used and misunderstood; this is the new normal.

This is us digging in for the long term.

Reassuring clients over misleading headlines.

Addressing customer service issues like the old days.

Accepting praise where we can get it.

Ignoring Yelp reviews – because.. really?

Creating a social life by computer.

Valuing connections like never before.

These are people I choose to go through a pandemic with.

These are the people I will get through a pandemic with.

 

*Apologies to Dr. Michael “The Harry Potter Vet” Miller for appropriating his Snape analogy. You can check out Michael’s work on Instagram: @harrypottervet

 

letters

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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