Let’s Stop Being Afraid of Language – Communication and Freedom Lessons From Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Broken RobotCommunication presentation is the careful and concise logic behind selecting words to communicate an idea—the rules of grammar and punctuation aid in communicating correctly to enhance the sense and communicate the vision.  Language is a grand and glorious tool for sharing ideas, empowering motivation, and building ideas into action items.  Yet, for some reason, words have become cheapened by political positions, and I would see this trend cease forthwith.  Presenting the first and second principles of language and communication:

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The best of a book is not the thought which it contains, but the thought which it suggests; just as the charm of music dwells not in the tones but in the echoes of our hearts.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Consider two emails; the content is identical, the first is titled:

How To Learn and Master Things Faster – Five Tips

The second email was received later in the day and is titled:

How To Learn and Excel At Things Faster – Five Tips

The second email also came with an apology:

Apologies for churn. The original email today used a non-inclusive word in the header. We apologize for this error and are re-sending with the corrected content.

The content of the email did not change at all, only the titles changed, and the apology suggests that there is a “non-inclusive” word in the original title.  Some people will erroneously claim that the term master is automatically a negative term and base that assumption upon slavery, especially with Juneteenth celebrations abounding this weekend.  Except, master and mastery are not negative terms.

Knowledge Check!As a point of reference, a male teacher is a master.  There are master degrees; master also appears in religious texts as an honorific.  A master can be a highly accomplished person in a trade or craft, or a role model from history.  One having authority over another to force compulsion is much lower in the definition lists.  Hence, the wordsmithing for “inclusion” is a myth; yet the fear of potentially appearing to be exclusive forced the title change in this email and was 100% wrong!

We must never forget the following:

My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. [emphasis mine].

The fear of thought police drives a lot of other problems in society.  Choose the wrong word on an advertisement, and college children (thought terrorists) have been known to storm the business, ruin patronage, anger the entire community, and force the business closure.  All because they presume the mantle of “Master of Thought Police.”  Who gave them this authority?  Where are their charter, endowment, and power originating from?  Who granted permission; this last one is easy; the license to become a terrorist was self-assumed!  Necessitating the following principle:

The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily also deprives others of the right to listen to those views.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.Social Justice Warrior

Please note, I am not against wordsmithing to increase the potential power of communication to reach an audience.  Nor am I against the careful selection of words to provide clear context and empower a collective message through editing.  I will certainly not be upset because someone chooses one word in a message that I might not have used had I been in their shoes.  Why have we, the adults in society, allowed the children in the community to act like spoiled brats and create fear and division over word selection and placement in a message?

The following two quotes contain more than simple support for the principles of communicating but reflect how those principles of freedom and communication operate in society.

If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Certitude leads to violence. This is a proposition that has an easy application and a difficult one. The easy application is to ideologues, dogmatists, and bullies–people who think that their rightness justifies them in imposing on anyone who does not happen to subscribe to their particular ideology, dogma, or notion of turf. If the conviction of rightness is powerful enough, resistance to it will be met, sooner or later by force. There are people like this in every sphere of life, and it is natural to feel that the world would be a better place without them!” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. [emphasis mine]

QuestionIs the fear of the mob so significant that even without a mob, fear is spread, risks must be avoided proactively, and thoughts curtailed?  I say NO!  I defy the entire argument that word selection can cause exclusion.  Why; because understanding is a choice!  The only person who can choose to be insulted over a word is you!  You own the emotions of the moment, and your emotional choices are not my concern!  Do we understand this concept?

Audience selection is the first job in designing communication.  Identifying the primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences is the job of the communication initiator.  After drafting that message and sending the ideas out, the audience is left to choose what they do moving forward.  How you choose is your power, and I am not responsible for your choices.  The communication initiator is not accountable for your preferences and selections.

Andragogy - LEARNBut what about those messages specifically designed to inflame, insult, denigrate, and deride?  What changed?  Nothing!  The communication initiator desired to rile the primary audience, deny them this power over you, choose different emotions, and retain the moral high ground.  The best response to a communication initiator who wants to rule your emotions is to deny them that power, and then that person goes away as irrelevant.

Opposing thoughts expand our minds with both experience and the force to make a decision.  If all we ever experienced were ideas and thoughts we agreed with, change, growth, opinion, all the spice of life would be lost.  Worse, envy would overcome logic, and the world would undoubtedly be a more violent place as a result.

I have no respect for the passion of equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy – I don’t disparage envy, but I don’t accept it as legitimately my master.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.Social Justice Warrior 3

Is the ability to choose emotional reasoning supported sufficiently to empower you?  One of the great tragedies of life, since the 1960s, has been the call for “equality” when the worship of envy was the actual message.  Worse, these ideas have been planted and carefully tended, and the fruit is poison.  When I moved to the western US as a kid, I was introduced to cedar trees for the first time.  A cedar tree is the place of choice for pregnant animals to have their offspring, as the cedar slowly transforms the ground under it into a sterile environment.  The air is affected, the earth is involved, and the grove of cedar trees holds tremendous power for generations inside the forest of cedar trees.  The cedar tree is an excellent example of the power of envy worship.  Call envy equality if you prefer, but the fruit will kill and poison the minds of those choosing to plant the seeds for generations.

Taking the concepts into the final thought:

Liberty is often a heavy burden on a man. It involves the necessity for perpetual choice, which is the kind of labor men have always dreaded.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. [emphasis mine].

Calvin & Hobbes - EnmityLike the expanded mind, choice leads to decisions, decision spurs action, and action will result in consequences.  How you perceive the effects will drive the next series of choices, decisions, activities, and consequences.  Liberty and freedom allow us the glory and the horror of choice and consequence.  Thus, I plead with you, stop allowing your emotional decisions to be controlled by others!  Cease the turmoil over language, speak simply, communicate clearly, and then rest knowing you have not intentionally caused harm.  The audience is left to choose, and if they choose to be offended, those are not your consequences to suffer!

Reason may be the lever, but sentiment gives you the fulcrum and the place to stand on if you want to move the world.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Employee Engagement

Knowledge Check!Recently this topic was raised in a town hall style meeting, and the comments from the leadership raised several concerns.  It appears that employee engagement is attempting to become a “buzzword” instead of an action item, and this bothers me greatly.  Worse, many people lead teams with vague ideas about what employee engagement means and then shape their own biases into the employee engagement program, making a pogrom of inanity and suffering out of a tool for benefiting and improving employee relations.

When discussing employee engagement, we must first begin with a fundamental truth; employees do not work for a company, do not work for a brand; they work for a manager.  An employee might like a company; they might enjoy having their professional brand aligned with a known branded organization. The employee might feel pride in associating with other employees under that brand.  When the road gets difficult at the end of the day, an employee works for a manager.  The relationship between a manager and an employee is one of trust operationalized and honed through shared experiences.

Employee Engagement – Defined

ProblemsAccording to several online sources, the definition of employee engagement is, “Employee engagement is a fundamental concept in the effort to understand and describe, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees.”  If you believe this definition, you will miss the forest for the bark you are fixated upon!  Employee engagement is fundamental; it is not a concept, a theory, or a buzzword.  Employee engagement is a relationship between organizational leaders and the employees, but employee engagement is not about collecting qualitative or quantitative data for decision-making policy-based relationship guidance.  At the most basic level, employee engagement is the impetus an employee chooses to onboard because of the motivational actions of the manager they report to.

Employees must choose to engage; when they choose not to engage, there is no enthusiasm in the employee, and this can be heard in every action taken by the employees on the company’s behalf.  Is this clear; employee engagement is an individual action, where impetus leads to motivated and enthused action.  While organizational leaders can and do influence motivation, they cannot force the employee to engage!  Thus, revealing another aspect of why the definition found online is NOT acceptable for use in any employee engagement effort!Leadership Cartoon

Employee engagement is the actions an employee is willing to take, indicating their motivation to perform their duties and extra-duties for a manager they like.  Employee engagement is the epitome of operational trust realized in daily attitudes, behaviors, and mannerisms of employees who choose to be engaged in solving problems for their employer.  While incentive programs can improve employee engagement, if the employee does not first choose to enjoy the incentive, the incentive program is wasted leadership efforts.  The same can be said for every single “employee benefit.”  If an employee cannot afford the employer’s benefits, those benefits are wasted money the employer needs elsewhere.  Hence, the final point in defining employee engagement is the individualization of incentives and the individual relationship between managers and employees.  Stop the one-size-fits-most offerings, and let’s get back to talking to people.Anton Ego 4

Reflective Listening

Listening has four distinct levels; currently, these are:

      • Inactive listening – Hearing words, seeing written communication, zero impact mentally. Mainly because your internal voices drown out the possibility of communication.
      • Selective listening – Hearing only that which confirms your own voices, opinions, and biases. While others are speaking, you are already forming your response.
      • Active listening – Show the other person you are paying attention to, engage with meaning in a reply. You are focused on removing barriers to get your point across.
      • Reflective listening – Paying attention to intent and content, reducing emotion, two-directional as both parties are engaged in achieving mutual understanding.

Chinese CrisisInactive and selective listening can be heard through phone lines, instant messaging, text messaging, and easily observed during face-to-face communication.  Worse, active listening launches trust, and when faked, destroys credibility, ruining relationships.  Reflective listening can only achieve mutual understanding when both parties are choosing to listen intently and with the purpose of reaching mutual understanding.  The most powerful tool in an organizational leader’s toolbox for quickly rectifying employee engagement is reflectively listening.

Communication occurs in two different modalities, verbal and non-verbal.  Good communicators adapt their message to the audience using reflective listening and careful observation.  Adapting the message requires first choosing, determining who the primary and secondary audience is, and then focusing the message on the primary audience.  Next, adaptation requires prior planning, which includes mental preparation, practice, and channels for feedback.  Finally, adaptation requires listening to achieve mutual understanding, careful observation, asking questions designed to lead to mutual understanding, and clarifying what is being said to achieve mutual understanding.  The pattern described can be the tool that begins employee engagement but is not an end-all solution all by itself.Anton Ego

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that what a business organization needs, they already have enough of, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tell leaders who want to know and change their organization and how and where to begin.  Appreciative inquiry-based leadership is 6-continuous steps that start small and cycle to more significant problems as momentum for excellence permeates through an organization.  But the first step, just like in defeating a disabling addiction, is admitting there is a problem.

Here are the six operational steps for appreciative inquiry:

      1. Admit there is a problem and commit to change.
      2. Define the problem.
      3. Discover the variables and stay focused on the positive.
      4. Dream BIG!
      5. Design the future and outline the steps to that future.
      6. Destiny, create the destination you desire.

Bait & SwitchFollow the instructions on a shampoo bottle, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.”  The appreciative inquiry model can be scaled, repeated, implemented into small or large teams, and produce motivated members who become the force to create change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

Of all the steps in appreciative inquiry, it must be stressed that focusing on the positive is the only way to improve people.  Even if you must make careful observations to catch people doing good, do it!  Focusing on the positive provides the proper culture for engaging as many people as possible.  Criticism, negativity, aspersions, and insults all feed a culture of “Not my problem,” and when the employee claims, “not my problem,” they will never engage until the culture changes.

Organization

Andragogy - LEARNEmployee engagement requires structural changes to the organizational design.  Employee engagement is going to bring immediate change to the organization.  If the leaders, directors, managers, supervisors, team leaders, etc., are not prepared for and willing to change, employee engagement will die as an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.  As a business consultant, I have witnessed the death of employee engagement, and the death is long, protracted, and disastrous to the entire business.  Worse, individuals refusing to change stand out like red dots on a white cloth as employee engagement dies.

Thus, the first step in employee engagement belongs not to the employee, but the employer, who must answer this question: “Are we a learning organization willing to change, or are we a knowing organization who does not need to change?”  How the leadership answers this question will speak volumes to the employees closely observing and making their decisions accordingly.  Depending upon how that question is answered will depend upon whether the business can move onto the second step or remain stuck on the first step.

Andragogy - The PuzzleThe second step in employee engagement is training the organization to accept change and failure as tools for learning, growing, and developing.  A toddler learning to walk will fall more than they stay up before they can run.  The same is true when initiating employee engagement.  Guess what; you are going to fail; can you as an organizational leader accept failing?  Are you willing to admit you failed, made a mistake, and publicly acknowledge the blame and consequences?  Are you willing to allow others to accept the praise for doing the right thing?  Will you as an organizational leader accept change?  How you answer these questions also speaks volumes to the employees you are trying to engage.  Depending upon how you individually and collectively as a team answer these leadership questions will decide if you fall back to step one or advance to step three.

The third step in organizing employee engagement is total commitment.  Are you onboard?  Are all the leaders onboard?  Being onboard means 100% commitment to the organization dreamed in the operational steps to appreciative inquiry.  If not, do not launch an employee engagement program, for it will fail spectacularly!  Never forget the cartoons where a character has one foot on a boat leaving the pier and one foot on the dock; they get wet and left behind!

Have FUN!

Semper GumbyEngaging with employees should be fun, it should be an enjoyable experience, and it should bring out the best in you!  All because you want to see others engage, grow professionally, learn, develop, and become.  Your efforts to teach engagement lead you to learn how to engage better.  Seize these learning opportunities, choose to grow, but never forget to have fun.  My best tool for engaging with employees, dad jokes!  Really, really, really, bad dad jokes!  For example, when Forrest Gump came to Amazon, what was his computer password?

1F@rr3st1

When you get that joke, laugh; but wait for others to get it as well!  Employee engagement is fun, exciting, and can be the best job you ever had as a professional.  Just believe in yourself, believe in and invest the time in appreciative inquiry, organize yourself and your business, and always reflectively listen.Never Give Up!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

NO MORE BS: Information Security Report – VA Administration is STILL Failing!

VA 3Since the first time the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lost my identity, e.g., the unencrypted hard drive incident, I have monitored the VA’s data security practices.  Let’s say I have a vested interest in data security, having lost thousands of dollars to identity thieves and having been bankrupted twice!  Thus, imagine my surprise when today, the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) released the annual audit results of the VA’s information security practices as required by the “Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA)” and saw the VA remains out of compliance!  Not just a little out of compliance, but so far out of compliance that they have aged issues that are almost old enough to drink.

ApathyThe annual audit is conducted by a third-party, “CliftonLarsonAllen LLP,” who audited 48 major applications and general support systems hosted at 24 VA sites that support the VBA, VHA, and National Cemetery administrations.  The VA-OIG reports the following:

The firm concluded that VA continues to face significant challenges meeting FISMA requirements and made 26 recommendations for improving VA’s information security program. Specifically, VA should address security-related issues that contributed to the information technology material weakness reported in the FY 2020 audit of VA’s consolidated financial statements, improve deployment of security patches, system upgrades, and system configurations that will mitigate significant security vulnerabilities and enforce a consistent process across all field offices. The firm also recommended VA improve performance monitoring to ensure controls are operating as intended at all facilities and communicate identified security deficiencies so the appropriate personnel can mitigate significant risks” [emphasis mine].

Is the connection between application and administration clear?  The security deficiencies cannot even get assigned to the right people because organizational communication is ineffective, unclear, and atrociously designed to create designed incompetence or a ready-made excuse for failure!  Material weaknesses have been carried forward from one fiscal year (FY) to another since the first breach of data security, e.g., the unencrypted hard drive episode.  The administration has a second built-in designed incompetence issue, material deficiencies, even though since 1995, the VA has been “upgrading its IT infrastructure to meet the needs of today’s veterans!”  The VA has bragged about how technically up to date they are, but the audit continues to find material weaknesses leading to data insecurity!

Police and Government Lines of CongruenceWhile the VA deserves congratulations on closing two antique audit items, they were expected to close ALL aged items during the 2020 FY.  Yet, the administrators were still able to skate responsibility, skirt accountability, and act like Sonja Henie at Oslo.  Tell me, if your boss expected you to complete a bunch of items, gave you a full year to complete these items, would you be fired for only completing two items?  I know I would!  As a project manager, if I didn’t have a plan in writing, showing completion dates, inter-relationships, and explicit action items set up within 30-days of being assigned the tasks, I would have been fired!  Yet, somehow these VA Administrators, hired to perform these functions by the Government, cannot even communicate, let alone accomplish tasks assigned!  Who were the project managers, contract officers, and program managers, and their respective administration officials, line them up and fire them!

Detective 4The VA-OIG reports, “Despite VA’s commitment that the recommendations would be closed, some of them have been repeated for multiple years [emphasis mine].”  Is the connection between the administration officials, their assigned workers, and the failures and designed incompetence clearly observed?  I ask because the VA-OIG closed this report with the most useless conclusion I have seen in years of reading these reports!  “The VA-OIG remains concerned that continuing delays in effectively addressing the recommendations could contribute to reporting a material weakness in VA’s information technology security controls during the FY 2021 audit of the department’s consolidated financial statements [emphasis mine].”

Of course, the continued foot-dragging, skating, and designed incompetence will lead to problems in information security, cost veterans their identities and thousands of dollars individually, and continue to make the veterans victims of identity theft!  How could you think this would not happen?  “Hello!!!  McFly, is anyone home?”

Angry Grizzly BearThat the VA administrators continue to hinder improvement at the VA should be grounds for immediate dismissal!  Yet, these administrators are allowed to retire with full benefits, cushy benefits packages, and the veteran is left with nothing!  Where is Congress in enacting legislation that enables the Government to reduce, remove, or refuse a retirement package for administration employees who cannot or will not act in a manner that reflects competence and ability in following congressional demands and meeting operational standards?  Where is Congress working with the VA Secretary on productivity problems caused by administrators who actively hinder improvements at the VA?  Why is designed incompetence even allowed as an excuse for failure?

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Moving Past Active Listening to Facilitate Communication: Shifting the Paradigm

GearsIn several previous professional positions, especially those in call centers, there has been considerable time spent training people to actively listen.  The problem; active listening can be faked, and fake active listening is as useful as a shower without soap or shampoo.  You might get wet, but you do not feel clean.

Listening has four distinct levels, these are:

  • Inactive listening – Hearing words, seeing written communication, zero impact mentally. Mostly because your internal voices drown out the possibility for communication.
  • Selective listening – Hearing only that which confirms your own voices, opinions, and biases. While others are speaking, you are already forming your response.
  • Active listening – Show the other person you are paying attention, engage with meaning in a reply. Focused upon removing barriers to get your point across.
  • Reflective listening – Paying attention to intent and content, reducing emotion, two-direction as both parties are engaged in achieving mutual understanding.

Tools for listening effectively, which for all intents and purposes, means listening reflectively, requires several tools, along with considerable experience in using these tools.  Customer service focus – not sales in disguise, not having a hidden agenda, and not covertly looking for opportunities to turn the conversation back to you.  The attitude of service – is all about what your intention is after listening.  Sales are all about attitude and winning over someone else; however, how many sales require first being able to reflectively listen; every single one.  Desire – desire determines your choices, your choices form decisions, and decisions determine destiny!

ElectionConsider the press conferences at the White House.  A room is full of people who would claim they are professional listeners, who then report what is being said.  Yet, how many times do you see questions asked with an agenda, personal opinions warping what is said into what they desired to hear, and then reporting what they erroneously heard to satisfy their desires politically; every single time.  Hence, the problems with active listening and how active listening can be faked.  Desire and attitude of service are not being applied to improve customer service focus.

Communication occurs in two different modalities, verbal and non-verbal.  Good communicators adapt their message to the audience.  Adapting the message requires first a choice, determining who the primary and secondary audience is, then focus the message onto the primary audience.  Next, adaptation requires prior planning, which includes mental preparation, practice, and channels for feedback.  Finally, adaptation requires listening to achieve mutual understanding, careful observation, asking questions designed to lead to mutual understanding, and clarifying what is being said to achieve mutual understanding.

Too often, those labeled as “good communicators” cannot listen reflectively.  They have never learned how to use the tools of desire and attitude of service, in a manner that builds customer service focus into reflectively listening.

Leadership CartoonConsider two people the media has proclaimed as great communicators, Presidents Reagan (R) and Obama (D).  President Reagan was listened reflectively, asked good questions, listened to the answers, asked more questions, and then listened some more.  In listening and asking questions, President Reagan built people (customer service focus) and was respected by enemies and friends for his ability to communicate (personal desire determined destiny).  President Obama has been labeled by the media as a good communicator; but by all accounts, he never listened, his questions showed he desired to be heard, and his focus was all on him as the smartest person in the room.  Desire builds an attitude of service, which then forms the customer service focus, which then reflects a desire to reflectively listen and achieve mutual understanding with those being communicated with.

One of the most despicable problems in customer service today is a theme established by Stephen Covey, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  On a recent issue, a letter was sent to Senator Martha McSally (D) of Arizona, the response has formed the epitome for not listening in written communication as the response had nothing of the original issue even discussed.  The response was a form letter, on a different topic, and lacked any response that the sender had been heard; but, the letter advertised Sen. Martha McSally and her commitment to listening to her constituents.  But, you might say, a Senator is too busy to respond to every communication delivered, a few other examples of both verbal and non-verbal communication failures.

  • Two lieutenants, representing the Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Police Service, stationed at the Phoenix VA Hospital. Engage a person not wearing a mask.  Body language clearly states they are the authority and will broker no resistance.  The officers spend 45-minutes haranguing the patient before cuffing and frog-marching the patient to a holding cell, where the patient who was seeking services in the emergency room, waits for an additional 60-minutes before being forced off Federal Property.  The patient informed the officers multiple times of their pre-existing condition and inability to physically wear a mask.  The hospital mask policy allowed for a face shield to be worn instead of a mask, and after the patient put the face shield on, the officers continued to verbally engage without listening, until the foregone conclusion of arresting the patient could be justified.  The patient was fined $360.00 (USD) for “disorderly conduct” by refusing to wear a mask.
  • Calling a major cellular phone provider (AT&T) with questions about the price plan. The representative answered every question but needed to make a sale, and their focus was on making that sale, not on assisting the customer.  Not the agent’s fault, the policy of the call center is to up-sale on every call.  If the agent does not up-sale, the call is automatically downgraded in quality assurance and the agent gets in trouble.  Hence policy dictates that the customer not be listened too reflectively as the sale must come before the customer.
  • Hotel check-in, online registration was made specifically for a particular sized bed, but due to late check-in, the customer is not provided what was asked for, and the attitude of the clerk is one of disgust at being bothered. Verbal and nonverbal cues are sending messages that the customer is the problem and is interrupting the life of the clerk.
  • A patient receives a call to make an urgent appointment with a VA medical provider in general surgery. The medical provider has demanded the patient be seen in the clinic, thus negating a phone or video styled appointment.  The patient’s record clearly states the patient has trouble complying with mandatory masking for patients seen in the clinic.  The provider arrives 20+ minutes late to the appointment, and because the patient is not wearing a mask immediately refuses to see the patient, wasting 90-minutes of the patient’s day.  The provider gets off in 10-minutes, and seeing the patient will make the provider late getting off.  Was the mask really the problem; not likely.

Social Justice Warrior 2Not listening is probably the largest social problem in the world today.  Everywhere fake active listening is observed, along with copious amounts of observable inactive, selective, and active refusals to listen.  Some of the problems in improving listening are policies and procedures that do not allow for individual adaptation or situational understanding.  However, too often, the individual choices to grab power, exercise authority, and pass along inconvenience are the real problems in not listening.  Harvey Mackay is reported to have said, “Easy listening is a style of music, not an attribute of communication.”  Proving again that listening is a choice, a personal choice, borne from desire, bred on attitude and reflected in verbal and non-verbal patterns of communication.

The following are some launch points for improving listening in society:

  1. Understand your desire.  Know that your desire choices are determining your destiny.  If your destiny is not one, you appreciate, return to the desire and make different choices.
  2. Practice mental preparation, based upon previous situations, to make different choices. Listening is a voyage of discovery to reach a mutual understanding, but mental preparation is key to safely reach the destination.  Prepare, use a mirror, practice until what currently feels alien becomes familiar.
  3. Reduce emotion. The principle of empathy and sympathy are destroying listening and only reflect the internal voices.  The volume of internal voices is silencing the ability to reflectively listen, necessitating the need to fake actively listening for employment’s sake.
  4. Listen as you would have others listen to you. This is an adaptation of the “Golden Rule” and remains applicable as a personal choice.  How you choose to listen will determine your destiny.
  5. Listening remains the number one tool you control and has application to written communication and verbal communication channels. Body language is a non-verbal communication channel that can be heard as well as seen.  How are you communicating non-verbally, which is interfering with your written and verbal communication attempts?

Listening is a choice.  Listening is hard.  Yet, many people have pointed out that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as often as we speak.  Choose to reflectively listen, choose to reach a mutual understanding, watch your destiny change.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Relieve the Suffering – I-CARE: Shifting the VA Paradigms

I-CareDuring my tenure as a medical support assistant (MSA) in the emergency room of the Albuquerque, NM VA Hospital, I took a class being offered on the new direction the VA customer service was going to embody called I-CARE.  I-CARE became my objective, as a customer service professional. As a dual-service/service-connected disabled veteran, I saw the abuses prevalent in the VA Hospital and wanted to change myself and provide mentoring to my co-workers in adapting I-CARE principles into their daily efforts.  Unfortunately, because of labor union interference, leadership failures, and supervisor efforts to counter I-CARE implementation, my efforts were discounted, denigrated, and derided until I was discharged from VA employment.  But, I-CARE remains a part of my commitment, my professional outlook, and personal commitment to customer service was forever changed by implementing the principles of I-CARE.

Leadership CartoonI write harshly about the crimes of the VA because I-CARE and deeply desire to see the VA bureaucracy changed, to witness the adoption of I-CARE into the daily efforts of every VA employee, and to see the VA leadership teams develop policies and procedures that will benefit the veterans, and relieve the suffering of veterans, their spouses and children, and live the VA mission of bearing up those who have born the pains of battle.

ProblemsI have seen veterans blithely refused prompt care because of the frequency that veteran had been seen, the lifestyle choices of that veteran, or simply because a charge nurse or doctor did not like the politics of the veteran as displayed by their clothing.  I have seen illegal actions taken to turn people away from care at a VA Hospital Emergency room by VA Police officers, charge nurses, and other nursing staff, and been powerless to stop these crimes because the hospital leadership refused to act, and became hostile to the employee’s reporting the problems.  I have witnessed leaders delete emails reporting problems as those emails were proof and evidence of crimes cannot be allowed to remain at the VA.  I-CARE about these issues; I report these problems, but because I-CARE I also provide solutions, easy fixes that could be applied and adapted for the relief of suffering and reduction of risk to the hospital.  My reports all were ignored while an employee, from the team leader to the director of Hospital Administration Services (HAS), to the hospital director’s suite, all sorts of deaf ears and crickets were in attendance.  I reported issues to the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) which is a geographic group of VA Medical Centers under common leadership; also, to no avail, crickets, and deaf ears.

I-CareYet, I-CARE; still, I-CARE drives me and motivates me to see change occur at the VA.  To right the wrongs, and rebuild the VA.  One of my early leaders at the NM VA Hospital said something very prescient, “If a civilian hospital did half-the things the VA Hospitals get away with, they (the civilian hospital) would have been shut down and the leaders imprisoned.”  Having witnessed a year of crimes personally, seeing the inability for change to occur due to leadership, watching talent wasted, and monitoring the revolving door of employees in the VA, I concur with that statement.  The leader who spoke had 25-years of civilian hospital administration experience, before coming to the VA, and the VA would only hire this well-educated, highly experienced person as a GS-7, an entry-level employee.

Image - Eagle & FlagIn the coming days and months, I will continue to write about the VA.  Using personal experience, patient experiences related to or personally witnessed, and the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General investigation reports, as the reasons for the solutions I propose.  I-CARE, enough to stand as a witness that the VA in its current form cannot, and should not, be allowed to thrive any longer.  Change must come to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including to the Veterans Health Administration (VHA; hospitals and clinics), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA; compensation and pension claims), and the National Cemeteries.  Thus, I witness my commitment to I-CARE and the VA.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Honest Praise – Catch Your People Doing Good!

My professional library has many books, from many authorities, regarding how to lead, leading in change, crisis leadership, and more.  Except that none of these books ever discusses the most critical tool in a leader’s toolbox, issuing honest, timely, and relevant praise.

I am one of those people who had to repeat a grade in school, and I am glad I did, for it provided an opportunity to meet Miss Murphy in the Governor Anderson Elementary School, Belfast, Maine.  Miss Murphy has a smiling face, but you know there is a stick hiding nearby if needed.  Miss Murphy laughed and smiled, and was the first principal I had witnessed behaving in this manner.  Miss Murphy had laser eyes that sparkled with mirth and could freeze rushing water.  Miss Murphy was a nun who went into the world to make the world better, especially for children.

As an energetic person, a person with problems with authority, and a guy, I spent an inordinate amount of time in the principal’s office in school.  Please note, I am not bragging here, just recognizing an “uncomfortable truth.”  Miss Murphy related a story to me, from her childhood, about how she had been called to be a student crossing guard, where she exercised her authority a little too much, and some kids cried, parents called the school, and complaints were issued.  Her school principal called her into his office, she could clearly see on his desk the complaint forms, but her principal spent more than 10-minutes praising her leadership ability, her genuine care for smaller kids, and other observations where her good personality had been witnessed.  Miss Murphy claimed she left his office forever changed.

The day Miss Murphy related this story to me, she praised me.  I knew that she knew, I had heckled a teacher mercilessly in an unwarranted manner.  I knew that she knew, I had committed several other offenses needing her judgment and punishment.  Yet, she provided honest praise, where she had observed quietly, and she concluded this visit to her office with the words, “From these observations, I know there is good inside you.”  I can honestly say, this was the worst chewing out I ever had in a school principal’s office.  I left her office that day, feeling small and insignificant like never before, but also feeling like a million bucks and dedicated to being caught more often doing good.  More to the point, I had discovered what a leader is and made a friend that I wanted, desired, and hoped I could receive more praise from.

To the leaders in business, I would make the plea, “Catch your people doing good.”  Catch them regularly, praise them honestly, issue the praise promptly, and you will shortly see new behaviors, attitudes, and cultures in your workplace.  I have published this plea previously and been asked some questions, below are the questions and some examples to get started.

  1. Isn’t all praise honest?
    • No, all praise is not honest. A pernicious lie has been passed around that criticism can be constructive; this fallacy needs squashed forever and cast upon the bad ideas from history.  You cannot build people by criticizing them.  There is never anything “constructive” in criticism!
    • Honest praise is precisely that, honest and sincere. You mean what you say, and say what you mean.  Hence, when you feel thank you is insufficient, leave a note in a distinctive color praising the efforts observed.
    • For example, I witnessed a leader who used praise to help ease the pain of failure. A subordinate had worked hard to make a satisfy a customer and fix a problem caused by the company.  The customer refused the apology and swore revenge, making the efforts of this customer agent useless.  The leader recognized the efforts and issued praise for trying, for being a generally successful customer advocate, and for going above and beyond.  The customer agent never realized someone beyond their team leader had observed their efforts, and the employee broke down in tears of gratitude for the honest praise issued.  I personally witnessed renewed dedication from this employee, and the impetus for change was the note of praise.
  2. Timely praise; why does praise need to be timely?
    • Timely praise is all about recognizing and issuing praise while the events are still fresh, and when the praise issued has a real chance at affecting an individual’s future efforts. Timely is all about being engaged in that exact moment and stopping to recognize, through praise, the efforts, trials, and experiences of others.
    • I worked at a company for three years, in what became my last quarter, I was issued praise for actions taken during my first month on the job. Honestly, that praise was useless to me, and while I didn’t fully spurn the efforts at recognition, I certainly was not swayed, inspired, or even influenced by the praise issued.  However, other incidents where praise was issued timelier has been more influential; thus, the need for timely praise.
    • The employee mentioned above, the effort expended occupied time Monday through the disastrous conclusion on Thursday. The employee came in to find praise and recognition on Friday Morning.  Timely, honest appreciation, proved to be what was needed and changed a life.
  3. Why should praise be offered regularly?
    • Let’s be honest, issuing praise adds work to your day. You have to make observations, then you have to issue praise, and this is a generally thankless effort; especially when you have to “Wash, Rinse, and Repeat” countless times to visualize a return on your time and effort investment.  I guarantee this effort will not last, no changes will be realized, and this attitude will be observed to cause more problems, not less.
    • Let’s be honest, issuing praise is fun. Witnessing a person who has been caught doing good provides excitement to replicate.  Catching a person doing good provides me a pleasure valve release from the stress of meetings, monthly and quarterly reports, and the hassles of leading an organization.  Issuing praise allows me to get out of my office, make human contact, and enjoy the people side of my job.  I guarantee this effort will last, that deep life-altering impact will be felt by those working for this leader, and employee problems will reduce to the lowest common denominator.
    • Regular praise issuance means you are fully committed to giving praise, and this effort will be reciprocated in a manner unexpected. Like the contagious smile, issuing honest, timely, regular praise, will catch fire and the contagion will spread and permeate throughout the office like wildfire.  Your customers will even catch the disease of issuing praise.
  4. Isn’t issuing praise just “puffery” or building snowflakes?
    • No! A thousand times; NO!  Honest praise, timely issued, and regularly provided is not “puffery,” but a direct extension of how you feel towards another person.  A child brings their mother a dandelion.  Does the mother squash the flower as just messy, or takes the flower and doesn’t issue thanks to the child; no.  Why should workplace praise and gratitude be any different than the child and their mother?
    • Issuing praise and showing gratitude is treating others how you prefer to be treated. Do you like seeing your efforts recognized; then recognize others.  Do you like being provided expressions of gratitude; then pass out gratitude.  People take cues from their leaders’ actions more than their words; issuing praise and recognition is an action with monumental power.
    • Myron Tribus asked a question about the purpose of a business essentially asking, “Is the purpose of your business to be a cash spigot or to improve the world?” If cash spigot, you would never issue praise or gratitude, and the money is the only focus.  In this scenario, expect high employee churn, higher employee stress, and poor employee morale.  If the purpose is to build the world, why not start by building the internal customer?  Do you issue thank you’s to your customers; why not issue gratitude first to your internal customer, the employee?
  5. Do adults, and working professionals really need all this praise?
    • Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Yes; working professionals do need to be praised.  However, because they are adults, false praise, criticism couched as praise, and fake praise is easily detected, and the resulting consequences are terrible to witness.
    • While serving in the US Navy, I experienced a Chief Engineering Officer who faked praise, criticized through praise thinking he was constructive, and his efforts turned the Engineering Department’s morale from high to depressing in less than seven days. The Engineering Department went from winning awards and recognition to absolute failure in inspections, drills, and daily activities in less than two-weeks.  The recovery of the Engineering Department’s morale never occurred in the remaining two-years I had in my US Navy contract and featured a big reason why I left the US Navy.
    • Thus, to reiterate; YES! Yes, adults need honest, timely, and regular praise.  Yes, praise is a tool that can be wielded to effect significant positive change or can be wielded to decimate and destroy.  Choose wisely!

 

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Defining Customer Service: Some Examples – Shifting the Paradigms

Gitomer’s, “Customer Service is Worthless: Customer Loyalty is Priceless (1998),” customer service has changed in ways that motivate me to investigate, cheer when found, and when negatives are experienced I want to help fix the problems. Several books and research papers in my library confirm every point Gitomer makes; thus, the following four interactions are compared to Gitomer’s text to supply solutions that can be benchmarked as Gitomer is much easier to read. The intent of this article is to power enthusiasm for change in how customer service is found and improved to inspire customer loyalty.

The Chase bank app delivered an error that made no sense. I called the “Mobile Banking Line,” and then was transferred to another department with “tech-savvy people who could assist me further.” Those representatives were not only unable to aid, but they also could not understand the problem as described, and offered a “local branch.” Upon learning that I lived 264 miles to the nearest Chase bank branch in El Paso, Texas, the representative had no other solution, offered no additional explanation, and for being a senior, tech-savvy representative, was less useful than the first representative I spoke with. Thus, I drove the four hours to El Paso, to be at the Chase Bank branch by opening. Not only was the teller having difficulty performing the transaction, the Chase Bank “Customer Service Star” desktop guide posted where I could see and evaluate performance. I was correctly greeted, in the standard big bank demanded-greeting that means nothing and has no humanity, good-job. Everything after that went downhill. When the teller was told that the El Paso branch is the “local” branch for Albuquerque, NM., there was no response. Eventually, the transaction was finally completed, and I was offered a big corporate bank, no humanity farewell, good-job. For a transaction that I can normally complete on my phone, to take 25-minutes in the branch, after a four-hour drive, you would think the teller would have cared, responded, or simply had humanity.

Gitomer offers several suggestions that a customer needs; I offer the most critical customer need, “Response!” When the customer begins a conversation about having to drive from another state to your location, respond. Show an attitude of gratitude, express amazement, ask about the trip, but to ignore the customer and only focus on the transaction, I could have stayed in Albuquerque and gotten that response from the telephone line. Gitomer claims the best customer variable is loyalty. Washington Mutual was my bank; I was loyal from the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, I told everyone to change to Washington Mutual. Chase acquired Washington Mutual during the banking crisis, and I have been provided a reason to be loyal to Chase to date. I have not been presented a reason to enjoy banking with Chase. Why; because every transaction is ruled by the corporate thinking and inflexibility of big banks who consider themselves “Too big to fail.” Well, lose some more customers, keep ignoring the customers you still have, and another merger to an even bigger corporate bank will be the future.

AT&T, there are several issues in the following story of recent customer service. Frequent readers of my articles will see a common trend, training. Here is another matter where training wins customers. February, I called AT&T looking for a solution; I got a larger price plan and thought all is well. March, I am introduced to the mouse print and discover that “Unlimited Data” has several limits; who knew, obviously not the AT&T telephone representative, or the online Chat representative, I had to visit a local store for an explanation. April more calls to the telephone line, more guesses to close the call. Another visit to the local store for help. Like the shampoo bottle’s instructions, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat” May, June, July, and August will see me going into the local store again on Monday. I promise, my trips to the store are not because I am finding customer service, especially since I must keep dodging sales to get questions answered. AT&T, what is your company training philosophy, procedures, and strategical and tactical reasons for conducting employee training? The current results are not satisfactory, and that problem is not improving.

Gitomer discusses how converted employees become loyal employees. I was a converted and loyal customer to Cingular Wireless, which was bought by AT&T. I was a converted customer of Alltel, which was merged into Verizon and AT&T. I was converted to these companies for the service, clarity, and the lack of mouse-print conditions that the employees do not even know or can explain. Banking and Cellphones have something in common, the product is remarkably similar, and the service provided by employees is the only separating variable between your company and your competition. Chase, AT&T, where is the employee training on distinguishing service and building customer loyalty?

“#6 WOW! Variable: Truthful – Customers want the truth! The customer will find out eventually, so you may as well start with the truth – [especially] if [the truth] hurts” (Gitomer, 1998, p. 97; emphasis mine). AT&T, please heed! Chase, you might want to have the same conversation in your call center as well. When customers start with the telephone line looking for information and receive a lie, you are building a customer event that will cost your company customers! Lying loses customers; this equation should be the number one discussion with every employee. I have spent hours on the phone receiving one piece of information, only to walk into the AT&T store and get handed more mouse print. Thus, when training, emphasize the need for clear, concise, truth; served openly and with conviction.

Like many US Military Veterans, I am regularly stuck between two bureaucracies in dealing with the Veterans Administration. However, there is nothing more frustrating than getting the same issues in non-government health administrations. Corporate medicine began in the late 1980s in America, and since then community hospitals have become giant behemoths where bureaucracies reign.  These establishments have yet to understand they must pay attention to the customer/patient, not the insurance company, and indeed not the voices in their heads. Hospital directors, leaders, and providers, what do you do when a patient/customer walks in with cash and asks for service? I walked into the University of New Mexico, Orthopedics Department, plopped $2000.00 in cash down and asked for 60-minutes of time with any provider who was available for a letter I need. Records were available, x-rays, MRI’s, and a host of data. The letter would take less than 60-minutes, and I do not know anyone who would turn down cash and a payday of $2000.00 for an hour or less of work. Yet, not only was I turned away by the bureaucracy, I was informed I would have to travel an hour to another location instead of where I was, because I had been treated there two-years prior. But, I would still not be able to obtain the letter I needed as the other department is neurology. To receive treatment at the specialist demanded by the VA bureaucracy, I must first find a primary care provider who would refer me to a specific provider in orthopedics, before I could finally discuss the potential to fill my need.

Gitomer talks about this principle. The customer does not care about your processes, procedures, policies, and propaganda. The customer cares about what they need, what they offer, and how to obtain what they need. When I called AT&T this week, the third person I spoke with started every answer with “I apologize.” The UNM representative did the same thing in refusing my money and their services. The UNM representative also pulled the “Let me check” run out the office, reappear, helpless, act, to attempt actually to be helpful. The same act is done by telephone representatives who place a customer on hold to “check with a supervisor.” The customer knows what you are doing, and I, for one, am not impressed! Gitomer emphasizes on this point, and if the apology does not come with a solution that gets the customer to what they need, the apology is an excuse that is lame, weak, and useless.

03 August 2019 email messages were sent to three Federally elected representatives of New Mexico, Congresswoman Debra Haaland (D), Senator Tom Udall (D), Senator Martin Heinrich (D). I asked them if they were interested or cared about the veterans in their districts and what is occurring in the Albuquerque VA Medical Center. Their silence testifies to their disregard to their constituents. Unfortunately, this treatment or abuse of their constituents is not limited to the few representatives from New Mexico. Friday, I received a boilerplate email response from Senator Tom Udall’s staff, auto signed, with wording that clearly claims, I do not care about you or your issue, leave me alone, and stop bothering me. As the sole respondent in three elected officials, as the customer, voter, and citizen, I am not pleased!

Each of the above situations breeds a question; “Why should I remain a customer, patient, voter?”

The solutions are clear:

  1. Train employees. Encourage employees to walk customers through different solutions using the truth mentally. Apologize only when you have a solution and mean you are sorry. False apologies are as useful as a blunt needle, you might get the job done, but you are going to drive yourself and everyone else crazy doing the job. Show why training is occurring. State the strategy, so the tactical actions requested make sense to those being trained.
  2. Respond to the customer. Active listening is only half the communication effort, forming proper responses means building upon what the customer said with your response. Failure to respond appropriately, and the customer situation is worsened for the next person to communicate with this customer.
  3. Gitomer asks the following question, “What will it take to end measuring ‘[customer] satisfaction’ in your business” (Gitomer, 1998, p. 257)? I guarantee that the answer to this question is going to cause significant angst in why and how you communicate with customers. I am fairly certain, the answer to this question is going to disrupt every communication channel’s operations and daily tactical actions requiring a review of operational strategy. Business leaders, do you dare to ask the question? Are you prepared for the answer?
  4. Gitomer, Chapter 16 (p. 234-248) details change and how to make the change effective in your operations. The 10.5 points are useful, but what comes next is the best plan for moving forward successfully.

Leading to the final question:

“What will you do now?”

 

Reference

Gitomer, J. (1998). Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless: How to Make Customers Love You, Keep Them Coming Back and Tell Everyone They Know. Atlanta, GA: Bard Press.

 

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Customer Service Surveys – Bringing Sanity to the Survey

Nissan sent me a post car sale survey. I answered the questions honestly, and the sales rep did a great job; yet, those servicing and supporting the sales rep did some stuff, and I am not particularly pleased. I was specific in the comment section, praising my sales rep, and particular on who and where the ball was dropped creating issues. Not 30-minutes after completing the survey, I receive a call from a senior director at the Nissan Dealership who said that my sales rep was going to be fired and lose all his commissions for the month because the survey is solely his responsibility. The senior director went forward and said, “This is an industry-wide practice and cannot be changed.”

I disagree!

As a business consultant, long have I fought the “Voice-of-the-Customer” surveys for measuring things that a customer service person, salesperson, front-line customer-facing employee, does not control. If the customer-facing employee does not control all the facets that create a problem, then the survey should only be measuring what can be controlled. For a car salesperson, they have a challenging job, and they rely upon a team to help close the deal. Including a service department, a finance department, sales managers, and more. The blame all falls upon the sales rep for problems in the back office.

I sold my Kia Soul for a Nissan Juke, my salesperson at Peoria Nissan was excellent and I wound up purchasing three vehicles from Peoria Nissan. I have purchased a Rogue from Reliable Nissan, and a Juke from Melloy Nissan, both of which are in Albuquerque, NM. Tonna Yutze at Peoria Nissan is a great salesperson. Shawn Walker, at Reliable Nissan, is a young salesperson, with great potential. Of all the cars I have purchased, these are the car salespeople who have made a sufficient impression that I remember their names long after the sale — speaking more about the salesperson, than a post-sale customer survey.

Quantitative data is useful but means nothing without proper context, support, purpose, and a properly designed survey analysis procedure. Even with all those tools in place, at best, quantitative data can be construed, confused, and convoluted by the researcher, the organization paying for research, or the bias of those reading the research report.

Qualitative data is useful, but the researcher’s bias plays a more active role in qualitative research. Qualitative research suffers the same problems as quantitative research for many of the same reasons. Regardless, quantitative and qualitative data does not prove anything. The only thing qualitative and quantitative data does is supports a conclusion. Hence, the human element remains the preeminent hinge upon which the data swings.

Leading to some questions that every business sending out a “Voice-of-the-Customer Survey” instrument needs to be investigating and answering continuously:

  1. Is the data being captured relevant, timely, and accurate?
  2. What is being measured by the survey instrument, and why?
  3. How is the information being used to improve upon that which is measured?
  4. Who benefits from the survey and why?
  5. Who is harmed by the survey, and why?

Even with all this taken into consideration, business leaders making decisions about “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey data need to understand one person can make or break the service/sales chain; but, it requires a team to support the customer-facing employee.  Juran remarked, “When a problem exists, 90% of the time the solution is found in the processes, not the people.” Hence, when bad surveys come in, defend your people, check how your business is doing business, e.g., the processes.

The dynamics of “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey instruments require something else for consideration, delivery. AT&T recently sent me a “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey via text message. Collecting the barest of numerical (quantitative) data, three text messages, three data pieces, none of which gets to the heart of the customer issue.  Barely rating the salesperson in the AT&T store I had previously visited. Recently, I received a call from Sprint, where the telemarketer wanted to know if I wanted to switch back to Sprint and why.  The nasal voice, the rushed manner, and the disconnected mannerisms of the telemarketer left me with strong negative impressions, not about the telemarketer, but of Sprint. Nissan sends emails and while the data collected has aspects of the customer’s voice (qualitative) and numerical rankings (quantitative), my impressions of Nissan have sunk over the use of the survey to fire hard-working sales professionals. My previous bank, Washington Mutual, had a good, not great, “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey process, but the customer service industry continues to make the same mistakes in survey delivery and application.

How and why in “Voice-of-the-Customer” surveys, or the delivery and use of the survey data, leaves a longer-lasting impression upon the customer than the actual survey. Thus, if you are a business leader who purchased an off the shelf “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey analytics package, and you cannot explain the how, why, when, where, what, and who questions in an elevator, the problem is not with the customer-facing employees doing your bidding. If your back-office people supporting the customer-facing people are not being measured and held accountable, then the survey is disingenuous at best, and unethical at worst.

I recommend the following as methods to improve the “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey process:

  1. All business leaders using the customer service survey data must be able to answer the why, what, when, who, and how questions clearly to all who ask about the survey tool.
  2. If you have sections for the customer-facing employee and mix in other questions about the process, the customer-facing employee’s responsibility begins and ends with the specific questions about the customer-facing employees’ performance. You cannot hold a customer-facing employee responsible for broken back-office processes!
  3. Revise, review, and research the data collected. Ask hard questions of those designing the survey. Know the answers and practice responding to those asking questions.
  4. Get the customer-facing employees involved in forming what needs to be measured in a survey, have them inform and answer why. You will be surprised at what is discovered.
  5. Use the data to build, teach, train, coach, and mentor, not fire, customer-facing employees. Support your people with data, not destroy them.
  6. If you cannot explain a process or procedure in an elevator speech, the process is too complicated. No matter what the process is, use the elevator as a tool to simplify your business organization, processes, procedures, and tools.
  7. Be a customer! When a customer, ask tough questions, drive for answers that work, and if the customer-facing employee is struggling, train through the chain of command!

Never forget, the value of the “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey is found in actionable data, to improve cohesion between the front- and back-office, training talking points, and the power to return a customer to your business. Anything else promised is smoke and mirrors, a fake, a fallacy, and sales ruse.

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Leadership and the Department of Veterans Affairs – Shifting the Paradigm on Killing Veterans

I-Care

Since the beginning of 2019, a running theme in the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports, that I have delivered via email, has been the lack of leadership.  Today’s VA-OIG report is a perfect example of discussion and remains significant due to a veteran being killed by the Spinal Cord Unit in San Diego, CA.  I fully submit that VA Secretary Wilkie is trying to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs.  I fully offer that the nurses and providers, as well as other front-level employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs, are trying to do a difficult job in a bureaucratic nightmare.  I contend that the mid-level managers between the supervisors and Secretary Wilkie need removed and processes redesigned.

Using today’s report, we find causation for removing mid-level managers to streamline leadership effectiveness and potentially save patients.  The VA-OIG claimed, “At the time of the patient’s death, the SCI unit used an outdated nurse call system that required the use of a splitter to connect the ventilator to the call system, none of the respiratory therapy staff had training or competency assessments related to PMV use, staff failed to report the patient’s ventilator tubing disconnections through the Patient Safety reporting system, and SCI leaders failed to follow the standard operating procedure for the management of clinical alarms.”

Outdated technology is inexcusable, especially for all the money continually pumped into the Department of Veterans Affairs to update technology.  Who are the mid-level managers in charge of procurement that have failed to do their job and improve technology effectively?  VA-OIG, was the role of technology procurement included in this investigation?  If not, why?  If so, where is that report?  I have personally witnessed 10+-year-old technology used for patient care due to inadequate leadership efforts and procurement people wasting time, as well as other resources.  If a root cause in a patient dying is old technology, why are we not holding those in procurement an IT accountable?

Training at the Department of Veterans Affairs is a colossal joke; either the training is bloated, and the user cannot identify which parts are valuable to their job duties specifically, or the training is so shallow that the topics are considered a waste of time.  But, there is also a third option for training; training only applies to managers due to the labor union collective bargaining agreement.  Thus, the front-line worker could use the knowledge, but the union is preventing that knowledge from spreading as that policy has not been approved.  The leaders in charge of training cannot answer basic questions regarding applicability, usefulness, or point to policies and procedures that govern why certain topics are required to specific audiences.  The lines of communication breakdown in training have reached monumental proportions, and as witnessed, is killing patients.  Worse, the training at the VA is governed by third-party LMS software that can quickly be completed without ever influencing the actions of the individual.  Classroom training is a rehash of the LMS training and does not cover the gaps or explain why.  Front-line supervisors cannot answer basic questions about the why behind a process or procedure, nor can they point to a resource where the information can be discovered.

The VA-OIG noted a root cause in their investigation, “The OIG could not determine what the ventilator settings were at the time of the patient’s death, because facility staff who inspected the ventilator immediately thereafter changed the settings to check whether alarms were functional and then reportedly returned the settings to the previous levels.”  If the setting on a piece of equipment is required for a patient safety report, why are there not digital pictures taken?  I find the VA-OIG being unable to ascertain equipment settings to be a complete failure of current technology.  How many smartphones are possessed by patients, staff, providers, etc. that could snap a picture of a piece of equipment for an official record?  Does not the VA issue phones to mid-level managers?  One of the most egregious problems at the VA is designed incompetence to allow a malefactor the ability to hide behind bureaucracy to avoid accountability and responsibility.  Designed incompetence is the problem and I do not see any of the mid-level managers, leaders, supervisors, trainers, etc. acting to eliminate designed incompetence to the improvement of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Consider for a moment the hundreds of millions of dollars lost in bloated construction projects.  The project leader has vague, inaccurate, old, etc. processes and procedures to blame the failures upon; this is an example of systemic designed incompetence, that protects a lazy employee and costs the taxpayers resources, and the Department of Veterans Affairs reputation.

The VA-OIG reported more root causes in the death of a patient to include, “… the facility did not implement risk mitigation strategies for the use of the in-line Passy-Muir® Valve (PMV) on ventilated patients. The facility did not have a backup monitoring plan when the ventilator alarms were off, patient criteria to determine when the valve should be removed, policies for facility staff and patient/family education on the use of the PMV, policies or procedures for monitoring and documenting ventilator and alarm settings while using the PMV, or a policy to use anti-disconnect devices.”  Risk mitigation is everyone’s job in a VA Medical Center.  Risk mitigation is a facet of every post and included in the third-party software training programs for providers, nursing staff, and clerical staff.  Why did this patient die from a lack of risk mitigation?  What are the tactical risk mitigation actions that support risk reduction strategies?  I have asked this exact question, as an employee and a patient, in two separate VA Medical Facilities and never received an answer beyond simple platitudes.  A root cause in a patient dying was risk mitigation strategies; VA-OIG, there is a bigger problem here that merely making a recommendation to leadership can resolve.  If a strategy is not supported with tactical action, there are no strategies; simply wishful thinking and hope statements.  Are the mid-level managers going to be held accountable for dropping the tactical ball here and letting a patient die from systemic designed incompetence?

The US Military believes in redundancy; every mechanical system has a backup, that backup has a backup, and there is a manual backup for when all else fails.  How can the Department of Veterans Affairs claim to serve America’s military veterans without redundancies?  Without training on redundancies?  Without education and real-life training scenarios, to prod thinking before an emergency occurs?  The simple answer, the VA cannot represent, serve, or support America’s veterans without these core competencies built into the processes and procedures that power a learning organization.

I am sick and tired of seeing veterans harmed, abused, and killed at the hands of bureaucratic ineptitude and systemic incompetence that protects the lazy and useless at the expense of veterans.  I am beyond disgusted that mid-level managers, supervisors, directors, etc. have the power to arbitrarily pick winners and losers based solely upon the worship that employee does to the boss when the employee cannot do the job they were hired to accomplish.  It is beyond inexcusable to see no job-specific duties, processes, and procedures that provide tactical action for strategic aims at every workstation where training is held daily to meet the strategic goals of the medical facility.  The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to begin cleaning house of the criminals, the incompetent, and the lazy that are supporting a reputation of killing veterans through designed incompetence, as they masquerade as supervisors, directors, managers, etc.; there is no excuse for killing another veteran!

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Leadership Theory Analysis – Creating Hybrid Solutions in Leadership

No single leadership theory will work for the complex situations this world continues to develop (Chow, Salleh, & Ismail, 2017).  Hence, the discussion for a hybrid mix of leadership theories and models as applied to the needs of leaders in current business organizations.  The idea is to fashion a working leadership model, helpful in developing a CEO and as a guide for every corporate officer, regional manager, and employee to guide the company into profitability, as a risk management tool, and to develop followers to become leaders (Yukl, 2010).  “Hungry, Hone-able, and Honorable” (Brady & Woodward, 2012, p 26), provide foundational items to develop the working leadership model customizable for organizational design and hybridize the leadership approach as an integrative leadership process (Chow, et al., 2017).

Theories and Models

Contingency theory is surrounded by situational awareness or simply looking at the mission, looking at the tools available, and creating a solution to meet the problem (Nahavandi, 2006, p 41; Endsley, 2000; Yukl, 2006).  Contingencies always hamper and boost the situation, how the followers choose and apply their strengths during stressful periods will either eliminate additional contingencies or create additional contingencies.  Thus, contingency leadership needs additional input from other theories to assist in leading during change.

Participative theory is the firm belief that the best solutions do not come from the leader, but from the front-line workers who are doing the job every day.  Participative theory demands input from everyone working together and forms a symbiotic relationship with situational awareness and contingency theory (Yukl, 2006; Endsley, 2000).  Participative theory hinges upon styles or choices between autocratic action, delegation, consultation, or joint decision-making.  The leader has to choose which model of participative solution will work best given the tools and followers.  The leader also needs to know who the major stakeholders are, decide the value of inputs from major and minor stakeholders, and then pursue this input as a daily part of the decision processes.  When mixing participative theory into a hybrid mix with contingency theory the traits and behaviors of the leader play a more important role.  Thus, Chaleff (2003) continues to influence daily action.  The leader forms the role; this role influences the situational environment, and becomes both a behavior for the leader and a role model for followers, this then becomes the reputation of the leader and the advertisement of the entire organization to the public.  Careful attention is the rule of the day when mixing this leadership cocktail.

Trait theory employs using the traits of leaders, traits are learned, trained, and these traits will carry the day when all else fails; traits depend upon behavior theory and vice versa, traits lead to behaviors, thoughts lead to traits; thus, as Yukl (2006) displays in Table 1 below, these two theories are interchangeable and inseparable.  Behavioral theory combines the behaviors, which emanate from trait theory into action.  No single behavior is prominent, but several behaviors can ruin relationships necessary to solid leadership.  Wren (1995) warns about charisma and the power of charisma to influence people bringing Chaleff’s (2003) discussion about leadership leading to the abuse of followers.  If abuse occurs, the leader is at fault regardless of the eventual justification or vindication of the leader.  Leadership is perception and relationship formed into action (Du, Erkens, & Xu, 2018).  The followers always judge the leader and the leader might never know the level of influence upon the followers.

Like pieces of a puzzle, a leader can never forget the foundational bedrock upon which all these theories sit, “Hungry, Hone-able, and Honorable” (Brady & Woodward, 2005, p 26).  Leaders and the followers require getting back to basics, when forming a hybrid leadership model, learning, growing, and being shaped in the hybrid mix of the stated theories into a new organization excited to innovate in their market and fuel the new consumer experience.

Application to Organizational Success

Chaleff (2003) leaves both a warning and a charge for the leader to not abuse the followers.  Some of the most destructive criticism of every organization come from the employees feeling abused “by the system” who then vent into social media, which in turn harms the corporate image and reputation.  Abused followers is a leadership failure per every leadership model in existence.  Corrective action should include empowering employees with participative inclusion, setting contingencies for constructing change, which requires the use of employee traits, behaviors, and action.  When employees are acting and seeing their actions rewarded, then those employees or followers attain the emotional connection to their work and then broadcast their new feelings into social media.

Participative leadership should include the customers and other major stakeholders in deciding what to sell, how to sell it, and when to sell it.  By employing Yukl (2006) model in Table 1, the participative leader will influence the environment they choose to change, include those who have the solution in rough draft, and work to both hone those with the solution and build those participating in the change.  First, though, the leader needs to know who they are as a person, then build these traits into behaviors personified by those being lead.  Once the leader sees stakeholders following the lead and being successful, the situational factors causing contingencies will begin to shift like sand under the feet of a person walking.  Yukl’s (2006) ability to visually portray this process through Table 1 is an image every employee needs to understand before participative leadership using contingencies grown from individual stores can begin to work.

Conclusion

Each business unit has different customers, stakeholders, and contingencies, the participative leaders can never forget this principle.  Blanket solutions and singular approaches will continue to produce problems until this principle is both endorsed and understood.  Customers in Phoenix have different needs and desires than customers in Scottsdale; both of these customer bases have different needs than a business unit in Seattle or New York; thus, it is time to stop the blanket model and innovate a business unit-based approaches to products, services, and employee empowerment.  The models discussed above, can only go so far in influencing the business leaders, until action occurs at the lowest business unit level or even a regional level, the dearth of leadership will continue to hamper business operations, sales, marketing, and employee relations (Deci & Ryan, 2008).  Regardless of how the hybrid solution is put together, there must be an assessment tool included to gather feedback for improvement from followers to leaders (Lovett & Robertson, 2017).  Without two-directional communication between followers and leaders, nothing changes, improves, or develops to build followers into leaders or keep struggling business units out of trouble.  The flexibility of a hybrid solution rides upon the assessment process of leaders from followers; plan well!

References

Brady, C., & Woodward, O. (2005).  Launching a leadership revolution: Mastering the five levels of influence.  New York, NY: Business plus – Hachette Book Group.

Chaleff, I. (2003).  Leader follower dynamics.  Innovative Leader, 12(8), Retrieved from http://www.winstonbrill.com/bril001/html/article_index/articles/551-600/article582_body.html

Chow, T. W., Salleh, L. M., & Ismail, I. A. (2017). Lessons from the Major Leadership Theories in Comparison to the Competency Theory for Leadership Practice. Journal of Business and Social Review in Emerging Economies, 3(2), 147-156. DOI:  https://doi.org/10.26710/jbsee.v3i2.86

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). “Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life’s domains”: Correction to Deci and Ryan (2008). Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 49(3), 262-262. doi:10.1037/0708-5591.49.3.262

Downes, L. (2012, January 02).  Why best buy is going out of business… gradually.  Forbes Magazine, Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrydownes/2012/01/02/why-best-buy-is-going-out-of-business-gradually/

Du, F., Erkens, D. H., & Xu, K. (2018). How trust in subordinates affects service quality: Evidence from a large property management firm. Business.Illinois.edu. Retrieved from https://business.illinois.edu/accountancy/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/03/Managerial-Symposium-2018-Session-IV-Du-Erkens-and-Xu.pdf

Endsley, M. R., & Garland, D. J. (2000).  Situation awareness analysis and measurement.  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Goldratt, E., & Cox, J. (2004). The goal: A process of ongoing improvement.  (3rd ed.).  Great Barrington, MA: North River Press.

Lovett, S., & Robertson, J. (2017). Coaching using a leadership self-assessment tool. Leading and Managing, 23(1), 42-53.

Navahandi, A. (2006).  The art and science of leadership.  (4 ed.).  New York, NY: Pearson Hall.

Wren, J. T. (1995).  The leader’s companion: Insights on leadership through the ages.  New York, NY: The Free Press.

Yukl, G. (2006).  Leadership in Organizations.  6th Edition.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

© 2018 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.