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.

 

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Tragedies, Travesties, and Uncomfortable Truths – Shifting the Paradigm at the Department of Veterans Affairs

For the uninitiated, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has three chief administrations the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemetery (NC).  The majority of the problems a veteran is going to experience originates in decisions from the VBA, which then influence care with the VHA.

I believe in giving credit where, and when credit is due; thus, please join me in congratulating the VBA for meeting a significant milestone.  From the VBA press release we find the following:

“On August 11th, VA updated portions of the rating schedule that evaluate infectious diseases, immune disorders and nutritional deficiencies. By updating the rating schedule, Veterans now receive decisions based on the most current medical knowledge of their condition.”

The reason this is good news stems from so many veterans leaving the military with problems caused in the service where the VBA has dictated there is no injury due to the rating scales, forcing the VHA into a treatment problem where the patient is concerned.  More on the rating scales issue momentarily.

I-CarePlease join me in mourning another death at the hands of the VHA, which is labeled by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) as “largely preventable.”  A patient in the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center was in a mental health unit and committed suicide.  Largely preventable is a vast understatement when hospital leaders only begin caring about the veteran committing suicide after the suicide, where training and policy adherence was not mandated prior to the suicide, and the lack of cameras and staff monitoring allowed for a patient, already having trouble and this trouble is known to the hospital providing treatment, to take their own life.  No staff monitoring every 15-minutes was occurring; why?  Why were the cameras non-functioning?  How long had these problems been known and nothing was being done to correct these discrepancies.

Let me emphasize a truth about suicide.  A person expressing desire to suicide is not weak or lazy, and they will not “find a way.”  Having had depression sufficient to consider suicide in the past, I can tell you from personal experience that friends help, talking openly and honestly helps, and the emotional burdens placed upon a family when a suicide is successful are tremendous, as well as the guilt the surviving family must overcome.  This veteran did not have to die, their death was “largely preventable,” and for their death to occur on VA property, in a mental health ward, remains a tragedy.  That the VHA dropped the ball and allowed, through leadership failures, non-working technical means, and training deficiencies, this veteran to die is disgraceful!

The VBA is committing travesties of justice every day.  Consider the following, in the past 15+ years since I left the US Navy, I have had discussions with veteran service officers (VSO’s) across the continental United States on my own claim, and while supporting other veterans with their claims.  A recent example serves to illustrate the problem.  A Spine Anatomyveteran has bulging disks in the cervical spine.  The MRI shows disk degeneration, stenosis, and other problems in the cervical spine.  The veteran has an “S-Curve” in the thoracic spine caused by carrying bottled gas containers from the pier into the ship.  There is stenosis and disk degeneration in the thoracic spine.  The lumbar spine has bulging disks, degeneration, and stenosis.  Three separate areas of the spine, three distinct injured areas, yet, the VBA calls the spine issues, “Lumbar strain.”

Any person who has taken human biology in K-12 education can tell that spine issues in cervical and thoracic are not “lumbar strain” and would not need “new and material evidence” to understand that the first decision was flawed.  Yet, for the veteran to obtain a rating for their spinal issues, they must find an orthopedic spinal specialist, not affiliated with the VHA, and get a letter of diagnosis detailing why these separate areas of the spine are not “lumbar strain.”  The current corporate medicine world, finding an orthopedic specialist will require a non-VHA doctor as a primary care provider (PCP) to refer the veteran to a specialist.  Without a significant cash investment, time investment, and replication of VHA completed tests, x-rays, and MRI’s, the veteran will not be able to obtain a letter detailing the issues sufficient to sway the VBA in correcting their initial judgment.

The veteran will be stuck between three bureaucracies, the VBA who is denying the claim for spinal injury, the VHA who cannot diagnose and document a problem sufficient to meet the VBA standards, and the corporate medicine outside the VHA.  Yet, anyone with a passing understanding of human anatomy and biology can logically make the leap that the spinal issues cannot all be lumped under “lumbar strain.”

I continue to ask, “What is a veteran to do?”  Many times, the veterans in this position are either unemployed or employed below their skill level because they are in pain, they have medical issues requiring treatment, and they cannot obtain the treatment needed because the VBA has not allowed a military service claim to be placed upon the medical records for the VHA to treat.  To chain medical professionals to a rigid and dead bureaucracy, by refusing their ability to diagnose a problem for another VA administration is, without a doubt, a terrible decision, and dangerous practice.  To refuse to investigate a medical problem, restricted breathing with chest pain because the pain is not related to heart and lungs remains a travesty and an abuse of the patient.

To the elected Federal officials, why are you not demanding improvement to the VHA and the VBA?  Why do veterans have to die in the care of the VHA before any improvement is made to the bureaucracy you created?  Where does a veteran go to obtain relief from the bureaucratic nightmare where the VBA and the VHA are refusing to help the veteran?  The tragedy in this entire article is that the VA cannot enforce policy adherence, controlling the risks to avoid incidents like those detailed, and demand better performance from the people and the systems that are supposed to help the veterans.  The travesty in this article is the policymakers between Secretary Wilkie and the front-line employees; who is helping the veteran navigate these rocky shoals and dangerous waters of government policy?

I have met some great VSO’s, employees of the VBA and VHA, and interviewed with phenomenal people working in the National Cemetery; yet, they all have the same problem, the millstone around their necks is the regulations, policies, procedures, and red-tape of the VA that has been designed to refuse help as the first response to every question posed.  Thus, as I have asked Senator Udall (D-NM) and Representative Haaland (D-NM), as well as countless other Federally elected officials between 1997 and the present, what is a veteran to do to obtain the help they need from the VA?  Who would the veterans approach for guidance and support?  When the VBA is demanding “new and material evidence” before acting to support a veteran, how does a veteran obtain this evidence?

I know of hundreds of veterans who were affected by an independent duty corpsman in the US Navy who threw records over the side of the ship to avoid being held accountable for bad decisions and patient abuse.  Because these records are not in the medical files, injuries sustained in the service are not documented, and the VBA will use this as an excuse to deny claims.  What is a veteran to do?  Where does the veteran go?  How does a veteran correct something that occurred beyond their control to obtain treatment for decades-old injuries?  You the elected officials allowed the bureaucracy to be built, you are responsible for correcting these issues experienced, what are you doing to affect change and support Secretary Wilkie in fixing the VA, and by extension the VBA, the VHA, and the NC?

The American people are watching how you treat veterans, and we are not pleased!

 

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

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

Uncomfortable Truths – Procedural Breakdown and Leadership Failures

I-CareOn the 5th of August 2019, a VA-OIG report was delivered, but I was unable to comment due to the tragic incident documented in that VA-OIG report.  A veteran died, and while this of itself is troubling, the tragedy was how that veteran died.  Thus, the delay in writing about this veteran’s death and the VA-OIG report.

For the record, I worked at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center from 2018-2019.  From my first day to my last, I asked for, begged, pleaded, and reported that a lack of written procedures opens the VA to avoidable risks.  I was instructed several times by employees who had a minimum of five years in the administration of the hospital, who led the hospital mainly after hours, that writing anything down means responsibility.  But, responsibility is avoided at all costs by the leadership who are keen to keep from losing their power and job if something went wrong.  I countered that written procedures, where training on those procedures is documented, means that responsibility and accountability do not, automatically, result in lost employment, all to no avail.  Thus, the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque operates by gentlemen’s agreements, verbal directives, gossip, and personal opinion.

How is this accountable leadership?  What will it take to change this culture of irresponsibility?

The VA-OIG report documents that a nurse inappropriately labeled the patient as dead and did not commence resuscitation efforts.  Documentation was not completed, appropriate processes and procedures were not followed, and proper training was not conducted.  The crash cart, for a Code Blue emergency, was unlocked and deficient.  The leadership teams and committees did not correctly follow procedures and review the incident.  Reprehensible, detestable, and criminal are just some of the adjectives I have been using on this incident; but, the VA-OIG made nine recommendations.  Why does this not comfort me, comfort the family who lost a loved one, or suggests to America the problem will not be repeated?

I know the written procedure problem exists in the Phoenix Arizona VA Medical Center, the Cheyenne Wyoming VA Medical Center, and the Albuquerque New Mexico VA Medical Centers as I have been a patient of all three.  From the VA-OIG report, I must presume this problem is VA-Medical Center-wide, and I have to ask, why?  The military believes in writing everything down, redundancies, and accountability for records and documentation are taught from day one.  How is the VA able to operate without documentation, written processes, and documented procedures?

A running theme in the VA-OIG reports delivered since I began tracking VA-OIG reports in 2015, continues to be that documents are not properly completed, not maintained correctly, not audited timely and appropriately, or missing entirely.  Missing written procedures detailing how to perform tasks, and leadership were not forthcoming with the written procedures and policies needed to complete the tasks appropriately assigned.  A hospital in the private sector with these problems would be inundated with malpractice lawsuits, Federal inquiries, and threatened with closure; yet, the VA can operate without document controls, written processes and procedures, and escape any consequences, why?

The VA-OIG report detailing the death of a veteran in a behavioral health unit is not the first, nor will it be the last; but it should be!  This veteran’s death should be a clarion call for every hospital director in the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, to demand an immediate correction, that leads to written procedures, clearly defined directions, and training in following those procedures — then monitoring those procedures for updates and shelf-life.  This veteran’s death doesn’t even raise the eyebrows or curiosity of the lowest congressional staffer, and that is shameful!

Senators and Congressional Representatives, what are you doing to support Secretary Wilkie and his team in demanding answers and implementing corrective action?  Hospital directors, what are you doing to fix this abhorrent behavior in your hospitals?  Hospital directors, what are your directors, supervisors, and leaders doing to improve performance and follow Secretary Wilkie’s leadership to enhance the VA?  There is no excuse for another dead veteran at the hands of the providers and nursing staff in the VA Health Administration.

America, please join me in mourning another veteran’s passing.

This veteran did not have to die!

 

© 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.

 

Wanted A Leader – The Leader’s Job Description

The best job descriptions address the standard questions, of Who, What, When, Where, and How.  The common question ‘Why’ is excluded because it remains self-evident, there is a “something” desired from the job, or the position would not be considered worthwhile.  Since value and rewards are the sole facets of the beholder, ‘Why’ has been excluded.  The sum of these points and positions is derived, deduced, and selected from the following resources, and this list is not all-inclusive, Avolio (2008), Boylan (2005), Brady (2005), Carpenter (1868), Chaleff (2003), Lundin (2000), Costa (2008), Hamlin (2008), Hinckley (2000), Oyinlade (2006), Morrow (1935), Sandburg (1926), Wren (1995), and Yukl (2006).

Wanted: a Leader

All Applicants will have the following characteristics:

  • Drive and Determination – This is required as the task is difficult, the work often arduous, and the pay is never sufficient.
  • Education and Experience – Knowledge is good, but a continued thirst for learning must supersede the past educational experiences. Experience in applying education is critical.  Without experience in application, the education is not enough to obtain this position.
  • Willingness to sacrifice – As a leader the followers’ need trained and supported, this requires a large measure of sacrifice in time, resource allocation, and demands innovation in thinking.
  • The power to delegate – Leaders do not have enough time to meet all their responsibilities, if a leader cannot delegate, oversee, and inspire others to action, that leader is not capable of achieving success.
  • Willing to follow without sacrificing the need to lead – Leaders can never sever the ties to the following, but the leader must act to lead. Above all else, leadership requires balancing between being a follower and leading well.
  • The ability to exude a ‘Quiet Confidence’ – Knowing you know what to do, have the ability to find the answers, and still meet achievement goals, is required to inspire confidence and determination in others.

Charismatic people need not apply, but those possessing ‘Chutzpah’ are always welcome.  Charisma is a potent drug and when combined with the power of leadership has a tendency to lend itself to abusing followers.  People possessing ‘Chutzpah,’ have the backbone to make a stand, and remain standing long after others would consider quitting.  Determined ‘Chutzpah’ will be the order of the day to make any change, lead change, and drive change in others, while putting followers at ease, delivering praise, and inspiring others to achieve.

The Ideal candidate possesses a working and living knowledge of history, politics, sales, marketing, customer service, and a devotion to seeing others succeed.  The Ideal Candidate must be willing to be an example and remain engaged mentally in the tasks of leadership.  Other qualities an Ideal Candidate would include:

  • Appetite
  • Passion
  • Motivation
  • Imagination
  • Understands the difference between monitoring and overbearing
  • Emotionally stable

To apply, please begin meeting these standards, and future leadership positions will be forthcoming.

References

Avolio, B. J., & Yammarino, F. J. (2008). Transformational and charismatic leadership: The road ahead. Vol 2. Bingley, United Kingdom: JAI Press – Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Boylan, Bob (1995). Get Everyone in Your Boat Rowing in the Same Direction. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble.

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

Carpenter, F. B. (1868). The inner life of Abraham Lincoln: Six months at the white house. New York, NY: Hurd and Houghton.

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

Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (2008). Learning and leading with habits of mind: 16 essential characteristics for success. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108008/chapters/describing-the-habits-of-mind.aspx

Hamlin, R. G., & Sawyer, J. (2007). Developing effective leadership behaviors: The value of evidence-based management. Business Leadership Review, IV(IV), 1-16. Retrieved from www.mbaworld.com/blr-archive/scholarly/5/index.pdf

Hinckley, G. B. (2000). Standing for something: 10 neglected virtues that will heal our hearts and homes. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Lamb, P. (2011). Social value and adult learning. Adults Learning, 23(2), 44.

Lundin, S. C., H. Paul, and J. Christensen. Fish!, a remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. Hyperion Books, 2000. Print.

Morrow, H. (1935). Great captain: The Lincoln trilogy. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company.

Oyinlade, A. (2006). A method of assessing leadership effectiveness: Introducing the essential behavioral leadership qualities approach. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 19(1), 25.

Sandburg, C. (1926). Abraham Lincoln: The prairie years. New York, NY: Blue Ribbon Books.

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.

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.

 

Chapter 3 – Shifting the Department of Veteran Affairs Paradigm – A Letter to our Elected Officials

Admiral Jackson, I am sorry to see you go! I feel you would have been a good VA Secretary and can understand the reasons behind removing your name for consideration for this post. Thank you for trying.  I am sincerely sorry for how your nomination was hijacked, slandered, and the stress and frustration that came from being attacked. Mr. Wilkie, I am looking forward to your leadership at the VA and hope to see leadership improve the engrained intransigent culture into a flexible and growing organization, cognizant of the trust of the American voter and veteran alike. I wish you the best of luck.

President Trump, you are doing a GREAT job, and I thank you, your family, and your staff, for doing hard and difficult work in an atmosphere of negativity thicker and more detestable than London Fog, Haggis, or Blood Pudding. I remain absolutely astounded at the pressures unnecessarily applied to you and your family and am grateful for your efforts, successes, and failures!

Senator McCain, I am utterly ashamed of your conduct, your staff, and your record. Every time I see you speak, it repents me for ever having voted for you. After dealing with your staff, it repented me, after your failed bid for the Presidency, it repented me, but the latest small-minded, bitter, diatribes, I have repented again. What an abysmal disgrace you have turned into, and I regret, with my entire soul, for having once voted for you.

I cannot understand, except through seeing daily the likes of Senator McCain, how the Department of Veteran Affairs could slide so far into the depths of bureaucracy. Since my last open letter to our Elected Federal Officials, the following examples have crossed my desk through email from Inspector General reports of investigations and through news feeds. Please note, this list is not conclusive as too many cross my desk daily to list here, even briefly.

13 May 2018 – News reports of a double-amputee being turned away from the VA Medical Facility in Atlanta without receiving assistance with a prescription. From personal experience and having spoken to hundreds of veterans traveling and needing medications, I know exactly what the veteran went through, and the VA should be ashamed of their behavior. “Joey” Jones is correct, veterans are told by their Primary Care Providers and the “Ask a Nurse” phone line if you need help go to the ER. What is not told is the time required to wait in the ER, the doctors being able to not risk anything and tell a veteran they will not receive help or the fact that while waiting for help in the ER you run the risk of getting worse. To be perfectly clear, the problem uncovered by “Joey” is nationwide and is not an abnormality but an established practice in place at every VA Medical Center I have visited for treatment.

07 May 2018 – An OIG report covers the results of an audit of a program specifically designed to aid in helping cover the cost of transportation to a VA Medical Facility. The results of the audit showed grand malfeasance and extreme misfeasance with the projected loss to the American Taxpayer of $173.8 Million through December 31, 2020. With all the technology we have, why can’t the veteran needing services, arrive at their local hospital and have the treatment completed instead of having to travel to receive treatment at a VA Medical Center or VA Clinic? I understand needing to use various supportive modes of transportation for some patients, and a contract for those fees should be handled carefully, succinctly, and at the local level, not at the national level. Using the numbers from the OIG Report, for the one-year period 11,900 beneficiaries received 5.034 payments each, where the total payments amounted to $23 million inappropriately made or problematic payments making each payment average merely $383, 973 each. Of the $23 million spent, $11 million could have been saved, per the IG’s reckoning. After reading the variables the OIG reported, I firmly believe more than $11 million could have been saved by putting local VA Medical Centers in charge of transportation costs, contracts, and reimbursements.

As a side question, why is the use of contracted services so disconnected from reality? Having used the external services, records do not get logged properly (received and connected to the veteran’s medical records), contracts seem to always lag beyond 120-days before remittance, and veterans and those contracted are left in perpetual confusion at the mercy of VA bureaucrats. I personally spent three days tracking down records from contract services, walked the records to the receiving center, and still, the records were missing when my Primary Care Provider (PCP) went looking for them to discuss moving forward in a treatment plan. Why have you, the Federal Elected Officials, allowed these diseases of bureaucracy to exist?

03 May 2018 – We find an OIG report “Appropriation Irregularities” to the tune of $11.7 million dollars of unauthorized services obtained and paid for from wrong accounts. In my home, an appropriation irregularity is when I spend money on a candy bar or soda without telling my wife who budgets our money. How are 11.7 million dollars an “irregularity?” More importantly, where are the consequences? I get it, the funds were then taken out of the proper accounts, training was held, and the received OIG promises to never do it again. This accounting irregularity was discovered only because of a hotline tip; how many more offices in the VA and across the Federal Government are creating “appropriation irregularities” and no one is saying or seeing anything wrong?

What is the solution to the continued failures in the VA?  I propose the following:

1.     Sunlight! It is said that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I propose OIG reports begin containing names, so these workers creating problems receive public embarrassment as an encouragement to improve performance. It is past time for those causing problems to be brought into the light of day and public scrutiny. I also propose civil penalties for the malfeasance and misfeasance done in government employment; you have the public’s trust, and when that trust is violated, the public should be able to know all the details.

2.    Let’s call things what they are. In the case of the “appropriation irregularities,” it should have been called a failure to know and follow established regulations either with or without intent to defraud. If a citizen cannot use ignorance of the law before a judge, the government employee cannot use ignorance of regulations and policies in the administration of their duties. What happened to the veteran in Atlanta is malpractice and nothing less; if the VAMC in Atlanta cannot police their own in this issue, it is past time for the OIG to step in, bring appropriate charges, and civil penalties on behalf of the veteran harmed and the nationwide policy reviewed post-haste to halt further abuse of veterans.

3.    In business, to protect the bottom-line and to affect customer service decision making, power is placed on the lowest level of the hierarchy to do the most good. This principle of business needs to be the cornerstone of every VA policy, procedure, and process to conduct work. Stop the madness of central command in DC and put the decisions for local veteran care on the local level. While even this might not fix all the problems, having decisions made locally means that the community knows who is making decisions and who to hold responsible for malfeasance and misfeasance occurring in government.

4.    Common knowledge in America is the following:

“Red tape – the complex procedures and rules that bureaucrats follow in completing their tasks.

Conflict – when the goals of various bureaucratic agencies just do not match up, and they end up working at cross purposes.

Duplication – when agencies seem to be doing the very same thing.”

The VA is infected with all the diseases of bureaucracy and you, the Federal Elected Officials, are charged with using the tools at your disposal to enact change, support the new VA Secretary, and honor the commitment to veterans in improving the tools the veterans have been provided by you the Federal Elected Officials. Get technology useful, use technology at every level of improving veteran care, and demand more technology tools to push the power to make decisions as low as effectively possible to aid the most veterans.

5.    The VA has a LEAN program, and has had the program since at least 2015, when will the leaders employ the LEAN program to improve the VA processes and procedures? Through the total quality management (TQM) philosophies provided through LEAN programs, there should have been tangible and visible change to the VA by now.

I cannot describe how incredibly futile the customer service surveys being demanded after every encounter in the VA truly represents. The disease of bureaucrats is too expensive to veterans, to American Taxpayers, and to American Communities who need the wasted funds at the VA to be employed in infrastructure improvements, housing, utility protection, and so many other areas. You, the Federal Elected Officials, are in charge, will you please stand up, exert your power, and fix the government?

© 2018 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

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