Tag archive for "workforce"

by Bill, Leadership, Management

A Leadership (and Life) Lesson from Frank Lautenberg

No Comments 04 June 2013

With the passing of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D–NJ) this week, some very large shoes have opened up in our national government. I will leave it to others to speculate on how NJ Governor Chris Christie might temporarily fill those shoes, preferring instead to recall a powerful lesson I learned from Mr. Lautenberg early in my career, when we both worked at ADP. It’s a lesson worth passing on, so here goes.

Approximately six months after graduating the University of Miami school of business, I took an HR manager job with Automatic Data Processing (ADP) in Miami, and enjoyed a five year run that also included assignments in Chicago and at the company’s New Jersey headquarters. Shortly after appointment to the NJ position, I went to New Jersey for an orientation of sorts.

On the evening after my first day in NJ, my wife and I made our maiden voyage into New York City.  Driving into the city, we got stuck in an accident-induced monster traffic jam at the bottom of the Lincoln Tunnel. We sat there for about 90 minutes, breathing noxious fumes being spewed from the buses and trucks around us. After a short visit to the city, we made it back to our hotel in Clifton, NJ where we both spent a very unpleasant night being sick to our stomachs from having ingested so much foul air.

The next morning, I probably should have stayed put in the hotel, but I wasn’t about to make a bad first impression with my new bosses and co-workers, or so I thought. At the beginning of each meeting in the morning, I told my host about my little problem and asked the location of the nearest restroom. In one case, in a meeting on the executive wing (I’ll never forget the purple carpet), my host pointed to an unmarked door about twenty yards away, and said, “There’s the closest one, but since it’s Mr. Lautenberg’s private facility, you probably should use the regular men’s room unless you just can’t get there.”

My worst fears were realized about twenty minutes into our discussion when I was startled by a loud noise and suddenly the urge to hurl was immediate. I bolted down the purple covered hall, through the door, and nearly flattened the President and CEO of ADP as I made my way to the porcelain facility. As I was slinking out of the bathroom, Mr. Lautenberg’s assistant, Ellie Popeck looked up from her desk and said, “Mr. Lautenberg wants to see you for a minute.” That was about the last thing in the world that I wanted to hear right then.

She ushered me into his office, and I’ll never forget that he stopped what he was doing, got up, smiled (yes), shook my hand and said, “Well, we’ve already met, why don’t we get introduced?” As I resumed breathing, we probably spent fifteen to twenty minutes in which he wanted to know all about me, what I had done in my earlier ADP assignments and what I hoped to do in my new one. We also discovered that we shared a common birthday and heritages that involved lots of work but little money. This guy was listening, really listening, and he didn’t have to. After all, we were separated by two very large rungs on the org chart. But listen he did.

Later on, as I got the chance to observe him in action, it was clear that Frank leveraged his listening skill in lots of ways. He had been ADP’s first salesman, and remained quite active in selling our payroll and accounting services – a process that starts not with talking, but listening. In 1982 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and quickly earned a reputation as a legislator who could get things done, again from a willingness to listen and consider the views of others. Indeed, he was able to work across the aisle to sponsor and help pass a great deal of legislation having to do with public safety and national security. As but one example, when you travel on commercial aircraft today you can thank Senator Lautenberg for the fact that you are not seated in a cabin filled with cigarette smoke.

Let’s all take a lesson from Mr. Lautenberg and realize that no matter how big and important we get (or think we are), none of us is too big to listen to and be informed by others.

*******

A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Management

Six Steps for Climbing the Management Ladder

No Comments 28 May 2013

A few days ago I received a short note containing the following question from one of our readers: “I am just a simple, low-level manager, so I do not always have the chance to put all of your techniques into place.  I have read your first book and I actually believe and try to internalize what you put forth.  How do I use your tools to make the jump to the next level of management?”

While preparing a personal response to this fellow, it dawned on me that this is likely a matter that a lot of others are chewing on as well, particularly now that the job market seems to be warming a bit. Ergo, here is my now repurposed response:

First things first, I’d like to react just a bit to your statement that you are “just a simple, low-level manager.” Truth be known, as a front line leader, you have the most difficult job in any organization. You’re in a spot where you have pressure from above AND below, you aren’t senior enough to call a time out in the action, and in all likelihood, haven’t received the kind of training your position warrants. So, give yourself some credit.

A few thoughts on getting to the next rung on the ladder:

  1. Look and act the part. Without putting on airs, it is important to project an image which suggests that you’re able to move comfortably to a more responsible role.
  2. Put up the numbers. If, as we advocate, you’ve hired, communicated, and coached well, your team should be focused, fired up, and putting up the numbers to confirm that you are a high performance manager.  If they aren’t yet firing on all cylinders, take steps to improve before someone tells you to.
  3. Take on tough assignments. Show what you can do by volunteering (sensibly) for tough projects. 
  4. Ask for feedback, and use it. Ask your boss for candid feedback and coaching, and make it easy for them to give it to you. When they tell you something you don’t especially enjoy hearing, thank them, rather than making them regret having said it. In the same vein, tell them about your career aspirations and seek their support. If your boss lacks the interest or ability to do this, get a coach who will.
  5. Do what you can to pick your next boss. In most situations, particularly early in your career, who you work for is more important than the exact job you’re doing, or the organization you are working for.
  6. Do everything you can to stay sharp and prepared. This is a bit selfish on my part, but folks in your situation are the ONLY reason we wrote our 3rd book, Rebooting Leadership. Get it and read it. I think you will find it helpful. It is chock full of prescriptive advice for 1st line managers. If after reading it you have remaining questions, feel free to reach out to us again.

*******

A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

 

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by Bill, Leadership

The Ding Dongs Wore Suits – How Hostess Lost Its Buns

No Comments 02 December 2012

A couple weeks ago, a good friend asked my opinion on the expected failure of Hostess Brands Inc., the 85 year-old maker of Wonder Bread, Twinkies, Hostess CupCakes, Ho Hos, and Ding Dongs. His question prompted a flashback to regular visits my college buddies and I made decades ago to the 24-hour lunch counter at the Hostess bakery in South Miami after some, ah-hem… late night studies.

Without putting too fine a point on it, I suggested to my friend that the company was probably doomed on at least two basis:

  1. They found themselves trapped in an ultra-competitive industry, making products that fewer and fewer people were willing to buy and eat.
  2. It is clear that, for quite some time, Hostess customers, employees, and owners had been failed by an under-performing management.

Many have suggested that the straw that broke Hostess’s back came in the form of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union’s  refusal to accept the pay cuts contained in the company’s final contract offer. The union’s recalcitrance didn’t help matters, but as much as we might like to put the lion’s share of blame on them, this unfortunate saga didn’t begin, or end, with the unions.

Hostess was like a cow that was being milked every day, with no thought whatsoever given by dairymen to the condition of the pasture or feed lot, the need for veterinary treatment, milk production technology, or even the market for their products. Whenever management got in a pinch, they sold the cow, renamed her, or filed bankruptcy. The end result in this case, after three changes of ownership since the 1980’s and two bankruptcies, is that some 18,000 people got the ultimate pay cut, the “turn-around” managers get court approved bonuses, and the bakery will be liquidated, one slice at a time.

Are there lessons in this sad affair for the rest of us? Sure. Here are but two of them:

  1. Stay away from any organization that is bereft of a cogent, convincing long term strategy, and is being run instead purely for near term financial gain. If management can’t credibly explain with something as simple as a crayon, what their business stands for and where it’s going for the long pull, run.
  2. Have the courage to say no, when it matters, not after the fact… to employees, to unions, and bankers. Otherwise, you end up like GM and Chrysler, circa 2008, and yes, Hostess.

*****

A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Leadership, Management

How You Treat Dinged Up Workers is a Big, Dot Deal

No Comments 28 November 2012

Once again, the sports world is abuzz over the treatment of an injured player who, at least so far, has been kept on the bench despite being cleared to play. The player in this case is Alex Smith, quarterback of the San Francisco 49’ers. Since being cleared to return to play following a concussion injury, Smith has been kept on the bench by 49’ers coach, Jim Harbaugh, in favor of Colin Kaepernick, a rising star who has performed well in game situations. Nevertheless, tensions are rising.

Over the years, the default position of most coaches has been that injured players ought not lose their position due to injury. When medically cleared to return to play, they are returned to the lineup, and then it is up to their level of play to keep them on the field. If a better player emerges, all bets are off.

Good managers, like good coaches take this view also, because they know that one of the chief reasons their team-members suffer corporate “injuries” (i.e., failed projects, missed deadlines, etc.) is because they have extended themselves a bit too far for the team. They get going a little too fast, take on a bit too much (or both), and hit the proverbial wall.

Good leaders realize that the absolute last thing they want to do is to suggest that those who go all out for the team are taking that risk all on their own. They also know that it’s not just a personal decision, because as with the Alex Smith case, everybody else is watching. If people see a teammate treated in an inconsiderate manner after giving it up for the team or the coach, they will think long and hard before putting themselves in that position. They throttle back because they are afraid of what might happen to them.

Not unlike the job of a parent whose kid falls off their bike, our job as leaders is to help our teammates get up, keep them from getting run over, dust them off, and get them back in the game. Hut, hut.

*****

A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Leadership, Management

Health Care – It’s Time to Move On

No Comments 30 June 2012

In the days since the U.S. Supreme Court’s legal affirmation of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), we have witnessed a cacophany of celebratory victory laps and ongoing bloviating about impending doom, loss of freedom, and death panels. Whether you are an employer, an individual citizen, legislator, or health care worker we would offer two words of advice that can usually be found this time of year on signs carried by course marshals at the FedEx St. Jude Golf Tournament – Hush Y’all! It is time to stop our national food fight on this issue.

Simply put, we have neither the time nor economic margin for grandstanding or political theater. We’ve got important work to do. Health care spending amounts to 17% of the nation’s GDP, and is growing at an unaffordable rate. Health outcomes are increasingly second rate, and certainly don’t match the expenditure, or our stature on the world stage. Too many of our fellow citizens are being marginalized because they lack access to quality care, take too little responsibility for their own wellness, or both. Our businesses are being rendered less competitive in world markets because of the cost overhang of a job-based funding model. It is only a matter of time before the relative health of our workforce becomes yet another competitive headwind.

As proposed in our new book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, those of us who are leaders and employers have important considerations to make right now, and “right now” means just that.

  1. We must decide thoughtfully whether to begin (or continue) participating in an employer-provided health insurance plan.  Some might posit that this decision comes down to simply choosing between employer and employee interests, or the least costly option. We would submit that it’s not that simple.
  2. Each of us should be taking steps to become informed (really informed) about the finer points of health care services and economics. It’s time to turn off the TV and do your own homework.
  3. Let’s use our influence wisely, rather than getting into yet one more “Tastes Great vs. Less Filling” debate. One good place to start would be in encouraging tort reform as pertains to health care. For so long as health care professionals are required to practice defensive medicine to prevent unnecessary lawsuits, our system will never be as efficient or effective as it needs to be. Second, we must proceed apace with implementation of a robust, integrated electronic health record (EHR). We’re told that the Veteran’s Administration already has such a system in place. It’s paid for. Why don’t we use it?
  4. It is past time to initiate an ongoing grown-up conversation with our employees about health care – its costs, complexities, options, and responsibilities. And that’s not an easy conversation to have because, for openers, our workforce is anything but monolithic. And, let’s face it, most of us couldn’t care less about health insurance until there is a serious diagnosis pending, or we’re staring down the barrel of a big fat hospital bill.

Our hope is that we can use this challenge as a vehicle to move the nation forward in a positive direction, and perhaps regain some of the credibility and trust that we, as business leaders, have lost over the last decade.

*****

A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, the newest edition of which is now on sale. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

 

 

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by Bill, Management

Talent Acquisition is More Than Putting Butts in Seats

No Comments 21 May 2012

For some time I’ve resisted the urge to excoriate a term that has been taking more prominent space in the lexicon of HR professionals. I’ve done so largely on the basis that there didn’t seem to be much harm in the emergence of new-agey alternative vocabulary among knowing professionals. I’ve resisted until now, that is. The term – “talent acquisition.”

Oh, I understand perfectly why some might prefer putting some distance between what they do for a living and the functional title that has long been associated with it… recruiting. Recruiting, after all is about as sexy as dirt, or maybe something that is done with dirt, like farming, or agribusiness as it’s now known. Have you ever noticed that the replacement titles never get shorter?

Like farming and selling, recruiting is hard work, because whereas you can exercise some control over the process, the outcome is much less controllable. In this respect, it matters not whether you are operating from a grimy, dog-eared Rolodex or an iPad. As with farming and selling, recruiting is vital work, and still today is a profession where you do a lot of groundwork, unearth a few leads, experience regular headwinds (e.g., withdrawn reqs, failed drug screens), and at the end of the day are glad if you can hit a bunch of singles, a few doubles, an occasional home run, and bat 300 over the long haul. Yet, one can make a compelling argument that the decision whether or not to put someone on an organization’s payroll is one of the most important decisions that can be made. So, if we want to sex up the title a bit to give ourselves some psychic income (or perhaps a higher pay grade), I’m down with that, but let’s use a little caution.

In fairness, cautious branding doesn’t sound like something that would be advocated by someone who for fourteen years has serially referred to workers, in writing no less, as “contented cows.” Thankfully for us, the cow metaphor is simple and very tight; so much so that on July 3, John Wiley & Sons will release our third book in the Contented Cows leadership series (more on that later). But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t taken some serious guff over it. I will never forget an afternoon spent on Clark Howard’s WSB Radio Show when an otherwise wonderful experience was chilled by a caller who got pretty irate over my “comparing people to animals.”

My concern with the expression, talent acquisition is this: Both words miss the mark. Although talent is important, it is secondary to finding people who, by virtue of pace, preference, temperament, and values happen to fit your particular organization. In the vast majority of cases, there are more available people with the talent to perform a given job than those who “fit” the organization. Marriott International, one of our newly minted Contented Cows, learned long ago that mixing grumpy, self-absorbed employees (no matter how talented) with travel-weary guests is not a combination that yields good business outcomes. In similar fashion, talented or not, most people (repeat, most people) would not be happy, productive, or successful working at your place. So, if we myopically get too hung up on the talent side of the equation, we run a very real risk of overlooking some extremely important factors.

Second, I’m more than a little bothered by the term, “acquisition” when it comes to the employment process. You might be able to borrow talent for a while, but you certainly don’t acquire it. Indeed, acquisition is entirely the wrong term if our aim is to do more than merely complete a transaction. I don’t know about you, but when I ran the organization that was responsible for much of the initial high growth staffing of FedEx, starting a relationship with people who would be today’s couriers and tomorrow’s managers was a hell of a lot more than merely putting butts in seats. No, we were trying to capture hearts, minds, and yes, talents, in large numbers, but still one at a time, because eagles don’t flock. Our aim then, and now is to productively engage with people who want to join our team and do important work.

Our hope is that however you choose to brand your organization’s people functions, you will do so thoughtfully.

*****

A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, the next edition of which will be released in July 2012 by John Wiley & Sons. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Richard, Leadership, Management

4 Steps to Avoid Playing Favorites

No Comments 14 December 2011

Managing employees is, in some ways, like parenting children. Every parent with more than one offspring has probably been fairly accused of playing favorites at one time or another. At home and at work, inadvertent or not, favoritism creates problems, and it’s something managers (and parents) would do well to be aware of, and guard against. Since this is a management and leadership site, and not a parenting one we’ll just talk about favoritism at work.

Bound in part by human nature (but not powerless against it), it’s relatively easy for a manager to step into the favoritism trap. Most of us, perhaps in response to the tough business climate, are running pretty lean, with little room for error. As a result, we rely heavily, maybe too heavily, on our stars. We give them the toughest, most important assignments, and most ridiculous deadlines. The most hours. The best schedules. More training. Cooler opportunities. And because they’re going above and beyond, maybe we grant them some privileges not afforded to all. We cut them a little more slack, and overlook the odd transgression that would surely be pointed out with lesser performers.

The average and poorer performers see this and cry favoritism, while the workhorse wonders, “Why am I the one carrying all the water?” Come to think of it, this is sounding more like parenting all the time.

If we’re really honest, we might admit that we just like some people better than we do others, for reasons not remotely related to job performance, and that we let that preference bleed through, even though we know that’s a lousy way to lead a group. Once we’ve gained control over that tendency, we’re left with the problem of favoring some over others for what we’d like to think are legitimate, performance-based reasons.

So what’s the difference, you might ask, between favoritism and performance management?  Isn’t it only fair to reward based on results? And, doesn’t it make sense to use your best players for the toughest plays?

Well, yes, but there are better ways to reward the strong performers on your team, and strengthen the others, than playing the favorites game.

Favoritism almost always produces unwanted results. It rarely motivates the lackluster towards stardom, and can breed a sense of entitlement in the favored. And you can bet that, in a doomed attempt to prevent it, some bureaucrat or lawyer will devise a scheme of rules, the imposition of which will serve only to tie your hands, kill creativity, and squash good tries by the best on your team.

It forms the basis for too many labor grievances, and a protracted pattern of favoritism helps cultivate an interested audience for union organizers. In short, it’s a practice we want to avoid with the same fervor and determination as we do those difficult conversations about declining performance, hygeine, and the questionable wisdom of dating a direct report.

Here are some better alternatives to playing favorites.

  1. If someone’s not performing up to snuff, show some leadership, actively manage their performance, and don’t take the passive-aggressive route of ignoring them, mistreating them, and hoping they’ll get the hint and take a hike. Poorer performers deserve to be coached, and given the opportunity to improve, not left out in the cold, to figure it out themselves (amid shouts of favoritism).
  2. Establish clear standards for performance, and then be unambiguous in communicating those standards. Leave no doubt as to what behavior leads to which results. Clearly articulate the steps that lead to where they’d like to go. You wanna make more money? Work a better schedule? Do more of the fun stuff? Here’s what it takes. How can I help you?
  3. Build a culture of excellence, by making a clear connection between performance and rewards of all types. Above all, be consistent in providing a platform for visibility, and the opportunity to excel, but distinguish those who do their best work from those who are mailing it in. That’s anything but favoritism.
  4. Just as it can be difficult to see the spinach stuck to our front teeth without a mirror or a caring observer, favoritism is usually hard to self-recognize. Ask about it on your employee survey. (You are doing surveys, aren’t you? If not, we can help.) Or, give your peers permission to tell you when they see it. When you become aware that there’s a perception of favoritism on your part, seek to understand why. If you’re convinced it’s not really favoritism, make the case. Otherwise, make a change. In you.

There’s a big difference between rewarding the best, and playing favorites. Build a culture of excellence, and soon you’ll be leading a whole field full of stars, and that will be the favorite part of your job.

****

Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and business partner, Bill Catlette are the authors of the acclaimed business classic Contented Cows Give Better Milk, and Contented Cows MOOve Faster, and the new book Rebooting Leadership. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.

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by Bill, Think About It...

The TSA and “Don’t Touch My Junk”… a Little less Pontification, a Little More Communication and (maybe) Imagination

No Comments 21 November 2010

Anyone who has taken a knowing breath and been within reach of a portal to the outside world this week has heard the howls of outrage over the TSA’s stepped up body scans and searches. Purportedly in an effort to discover weapons and explosives secreted on the human body, the agency has recently deployed advanced imaging equipment together with more aggressive groping, ‘er pat down procedures.

When it comes to security measures, the flying public ‘gets it.’ We really do. What agency management fails to grasp is that we’re not stupid, and we still retain quite a bit of choice as to how cooperative we’ll be when “security measures” are visited upon us. Ironically, it’s not appreciably different from the way our employees react when new procedures are implemented in the workspace.

Rather than beating the TSA like a rented mule, let’s revisit a few practices that lend themselves to more successful outcomes, be it in the airport or our more pedestrian businesses:

  1. Selling trumps telling.  Rather than announcing new procedures at the “tip of the spear” e.g., when passengers are nearing a new screening device for the very first time, find ways to communicate ahead of time, what changes are being made, and why they are beneficial to the traveler, ‘er employee, ‘er customer. If you want me to buy into the change, tell me reliably and convincingly how the change is going to make my life better. Better yet, show me.  Telling someone to “Do it because I say so, or because I have the badge and you don’t” didn’t work a hundred years ago, and it sure doesn’t work today.
  2. Be authentic. Stop the canned responses and lame rationale for asking people to do obviously stupid things. Be quick to admit and remedy your mistakes. People really don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to be honest.
  3. Lighten up a little. In case you haven’t noticed, most of us are self-absorbed, nervous, and wrapped a bit too tightly these days. We don’t respond very well to having overly officious security officers, supervisors, senior vp’s  or spouses barking orders. Smiles help. So does “please and thank you.”

If you think about it, what’s going on in airports today is akin to behavior that I’m told exists in strip clubs, but for the fact that no one is making money or having any fun at it. Perhaps DHS Secretary, Janet Napolitano should consider hiring some younger, better looking screeners and giving them a daily stack of $1 bills to tip passengers for putting some skin in the game… or dancing while we’re in the AIT machine:-)

Your views as always are welcome.

*****
A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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by Bill, Think About It...

Health Care Reform… a Suggestion for Employers

No Comments 12 August 2009

Anyone who has spent even fifteen minutes genuinely listening to the current “debate” about health care reform can’t help but conclude that, as with most things insurance related, there is a whole lotta ignorance goin’ on. Sadly, most of us couldn’t find our insurance card with both hands in a full moon. We don’t really understand our own health care coverage (assuming we have it), and haven’t the faintest idea how the present health care business model, payment system, and having 47 million uninsured using the local hospital ER as their primary care physician impacts each and every one of us.

You’d think that, given the amount of money spent in this nation on health care (roughly $7000 per capita) we would be much better informed than we are about how the “system” works, and what the issues are. Sadly, we aren’t, and it’s beginning to appear that most would prefer to sit on the sidelines like deer in the headlights of an onrushing train while some of our even less informed neighbors scream “tastes great or less filling” into every open microphone.

However this turns out, it has made obvious the fact that those of us who run businesses have a lot of work to do in seeing to it that our people better understand the benefits we’re already providing them. Some would say that it’s not management’s job to educate people on their benefits. Let’s get real steely eyed and put our bean counter’s green eyeshade on for a moment. If you’re not going to see to it that people truly understand (make that appreciate) the significant investment you’re making in them, and thus forego any motivational tailwind from that investment, then why are you making it?

Here’s a suggestion, and a place to start. Just as many organizations are now requiring insured employees to complete an annual health questionnaire (the results are kept from the employer) as a condition of getting the most favorable coverage and rates, do the same thing with a benefits “test.” After reviewing some well crafted, idiot-proof material on how your benefit plans work, how plan participants can reduce waste while gaining the best coverage for themselves and their families, give them a test, the results of which influence their premiums. Then perhaps we’ll start moving the needle, and you’ll start getting some better ROI on your benefit dollars.

*****

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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Are You Being Waterboarded at Work?

by Bill, Leadership

Are You Being Waterboarded at Work?

No Comments 02 August 2009

Today’s managers go thru life feeling as if their lips are wrapped around an information fire hose, a condition we refer to as “Data Waterboarding.”  Indeed, various sources have suggested that email volume alone has now reached a level of 100 billion messages per day worldwide, a majority of which is, guess what… spam.

Having more information than you could ever possibly use, right at your fingertips, is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that, as we approach the decade of the 1’s, there simply aren’t many secrets any more. If you really want to find something out, you can do so, quickly and relatively inexpensively. The downsides? The very second you toggle the data switch into the open position or venture near an open web portal, you experience the digital equivalent of what radio host, Erich “Mancow” Muller felt when he volunteered to be waterboarded in his unsuccessful effort to prove that it didn’t constitute torture.

Even more so than the rest of us, managers experience this at some level every day, dealing with scores (hundreds?) of data impulses that come to them in digital, paper, telephonic, and human form, and many days it indeed feels like torture. “When will I have time to do MY work?” And just like what occurs everywhere else, a lot of this is spam, too. If you’re a part of a larger organization, the “switch” gets toggled for you, as others both inside and outside the organization have virtually limitless ability to dump things into your in-box, ‘er snorkle, and dump they do. Clearly, it’s not all stuff that you need or want.

To show how far we’ve come (notice I didn’t say progressed), my parents’ generation considered it very bad form not to examine and then respond personally to each and every incoming phone call or piece of written correspondence. In fact, my dad still gets annoyed whenever he hears that I’ve “rail dumped” an entire batch of email forwards from certain of his friends. Clearly, for the better part of three decades, we’ve been moving at a velocity and with volumes of input which make that totally unthinkable. So don’t try. Here’s what you CAN do though…

Get ruthless. Realize that, not unlike the function performed by a medical triage manager, you MUST sort thru this stuff, and become proficient at separating the vital (the ones that have stopped breathing) from the merely urgent (slow bleeders) and the folks who are just seeking attention or bloviating (hypochondriacs). Fail to do this, or do it poorly and you will drown. And, consistent with good triage, be clear that a lot of your inbound, a majority perhaps, doesn’t need to be opened or read EVER!

Triage derives from the French term, triagere, meaning to “sort”. The concept was first practiced by Napoleon’s battlefield surgeon, Baron Dominique Jean Larrey, who deduced that having some process by which to best allocate the needs of casualties to limited medical resources would yield much better outcomes. Triaging seems highly applicable to the process of optimizing data flow to the modern manager, as it depends on rapid assessment of need (relevance and quality of data in our case) and rationing of care (time and attention in our case). Managers must constantly bear in mind that, while data is useful to doing their job, it is not the job itself. Moreover, in most cases, having too much data is as debilitating as not having enough. No, it’s worse.

Gen. Colin Powell, one of the truly exemplary leaders of our time has long subscribed to a decision making theory that the optimum practical point to make a decision is when you have about 60% of the available information, AND you’ve expended no more than 60% of the available time. That’s the point at which you’ve likely got sufficient data to make a reasoned decision, and can still take advantage of being an early mover. General Powell’s advice is helpful for another reason as well. It reinforces the value of having not just the right amount of information, but getting it at the right time. Stale data is about as useful as stale bread.

To be continued in our upcoming book, Rebooting Leadership

*****

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

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