Chapter 4: Staffing and the Mission Act – Shifting the Paradigm at the VA

On 25 June 2019, the following came from the Office of Inspector General (OIG), “Staffing and Vacancy Reporting under the MISSION Act of 2018.” Under the Mission Act, the VA has to report on steps being taken to correct the “chronic healthcare professional shortages since at least 2015.”  “The OIG found [the] VA partially complied with the law’s requirements, reporting current personnel, and time-to-hire data as prescribed. However, VA’s initial reporting of staff vacancies and employee gains and losses was not transparent enough to allow stakeholders to track VA’s progress toward full staffing.”

After having been terminated without cause, justification, or reason 51.5-weeks into my 52-week probationary period of employment, reading this OIG report was infuriating. Thus, I sent Secretary Wilkie an email. Apparently, my email was insufficiently clear, and additional information is needed.  I am not trying to get my job back; I am trying to help the VA to improve. With this purpose in mind, the following information is being suggested to the VA.

As a veteran, I am excited about the power of the Mission Act and the focus being placed upon the service member by I CARE. I CARE is a customer-focused approach to VA services combining WE CARE and SALUTE, and is intended to promote effectiveness, ease, and emotion into the patient/customer experience. Except, the VA has only rolled out the I CARE approach to management as the Union has not ratified this approach for non-supervisory staff. The disconnection between actions to improve and those thwarting improvements astounds and mystifies.

Let me tell you about my experience in the New Mexico Veterans Health Care System (NMVAHCS), to elaborate upon disconnections and point out where fundamental changes can begin to transpire for the entire VA System where staffing is concerned. Please note specific names have been scrubbed to protect privacy.

First, let’s talk about animosity and hostility. My director, while employed from June 10, 2018, to June 05, 2019, never wrote anything down as a way of avoiding her responsibilities, shirking her job, and allowing her underlings to act in a manner consistent with the worst dregs of humanity. The director would not look at you while talking with you, but would type an email or perform other work on her computer during the discussion, blaming she was “super busy.” The supervisor would offer platitudes, “plastic words from plastic lips,” and then blame you for not notifying him of problems, concerns, or issues experienced. From February 2019 to my unjustified termination, I was subject to daily abuses by fellow employees.  Nothing was ever done by the supervisor or the director, and the assistant director was off-site.  The women abusing me were promoted and moved, or transferred to a different department during my termination (quid-pro-quo, or a hatchet job, both come to mind).  Bringing the first three areas needing change to address the staffing shortages:

1. Clear, concise, written policies and procedures. The NMVAHCS is supposed to have three levels of governing documents to provide a metric to measure performance, to complete duties as prescribed, and to explain why things are done the way they are done. The overall document is an MCM (I do not remember what this acronym stands for), then policies governing, then work procedures. The MCM library, at the time I was discharged, was only about one-fourth updated and held only about 10% of the MCM’s it had displayed as available. When repeatedly asked for policies and procedures that spring from the MCM to govern my job, I was told they do not exist, “because that’s the way we do things here,” or “I have a verbal agreement with that department, and nothing further is needed.”  Lacking these guidelines, how can you measure performance? Lacking these guidelines, how can any employee hope to know they are performing the jobs they were hired to perform? Lacking these guidelines, how does a supervisor explain what happens, why things work the way they do, or for a process review to improve performance to commence?

2. The use and abuse of the probation periods to play favorites, pick winners and losers, and act in a manner that, while technically legal, is pitifully unethical, immoral, and demoralizing to the entire workforce. The private sector remains strictly controlled where probationary employees are concerned; why can the VA act in a manner inconsistent to the private sector, where probationary employees are affected?

3.  The probationary employee needs an appeal system, a justification for termination, and a mandated two-week notification unless separation is occurring due to behavioral or criminal action.  If an employee is promoted, they must give two-weeks to their current duty station before transitioning to the new role; why is a probationary employee terminated without this two-week notification? How can a probationary employee be documented as a top-notch performer all the way up to the end of their probation, and be discharged for failure to qualify?

Second, I was physically attacked, my medical records were regularly reviewed until Jan 2019 due to the supervisor refusing to protect my medical files, and the details made known to many other employees. I was discriminated against due to my injuries, by the same employee who physically assaulted me, made jokes about my injuries to nurses, the other MSA’s, security staff, and housekeeping staff.  The NMVAHCS, specifically the Hospital Emergency Department, has a horrible problem with record surfing and then violating HIPAA by telling details of the medical records to other nurses and staff not directly caring for the patient. Providing the next four areas of staffing improvement:

1. Get the tracking system working to validate unauthorized access by insisting that every single person pulling up a medical record needs to leave a note justifying why that record was pulled; this will require a written policy and procedure, and IT improvements to track and report everyone, and every file. Why this has not been done previously remains a mystery, but does not matter. Fix the problem!

2.  Regardless of whether a complaint is filed on a Report of Incident (ROI) form or only emailed to the chain of command, the investigation process must be both similar, timely, and action producing. For the same senior employee to stalk me in the hallways trying to attempt further intimidation, for the security cameras to have witnessed her attack and no officers to arrive, and for this incident to be hushed up and covered over remains inexcusable! Management does not believe a female can harass and be the aggressor party, and this thought process must cease!

3. See or hear something, say something. Multiple nurses listened to the jokes in the ED about my injuries but never said anything to their boss, even though they knew it was a HIPAA violation.  MSA’s in clinics throughout the hospital knew about this employee’s abuse towards me, and she abused many others; HR (when I arrived there for help) knew about this aggressor party but could not provide any assistance. The Union knew about the problem employee, but because I was a probationary employee claimed they were bound and couldn’t help. People knew, but said nothing! The director, assistant director, and the supervisor knew and did nothing; this is a significant organization issue and needs to be addressed. I took the complaint to ORM, nothing; EEOC, nothing; OSC, nothing. As a victim of harassment and discrimination, male, service-connected disabled veteran, where should I go for help? I was not the only male being attacked in the hospital, several male employees I know quit their jobs over harassment and to my knowledge received the same treatment by the EEOC, ORM, OSC, and so forth.

4. There is a difference between following the law and using the law; the difference is a moral center. I stress the actions taken to terminate are legal, but not ethical or moral. The moral and ethical obedience to the law would improve the employee experience greatly.

Third, cultures of corruption are killing employee morale, and the intransigence of senior leadership is mimicked down to the lowest level employee in the VA organizational hierarchy.  The local labor union president claimed the following, “The HAS Director has been a HAS director for three years and served in three different VA systems.  She has two supervisors that are known for getting rid of employees before their probation period concludes costing the VA Hospital $10,000 per employee to onboard.” Again, technically legal, but the probationary employee process is wide open to the “legal” abuse of employees. Helping us to arrive at the next three issues for correcting employee morale and turnover problems.

1. When malfeasance is known, senior leaders should be providing extra scrutiny.  Put a formal appeal process into the probationary employee rules and regulations. This way, the fact-finding would have to have documentation over-time to reflect employee performance. Track probationary employee dismissals by the department, sex, veteran status, time remaining in the probationary period, and so forth, and track this data over time. NMVAHCS is known for getting rid of probationary employees within their last 10-days of probation; thus, it is apparent that the process is abused by senior leaders throughout the hospital.  The employee was a proper, functioning, and active employee, but suddenly within sight of the probationary employment period concluding that employee is magically unacceptable; I don’t think so! Nurses have this problem, but their probationary period is two years. I have heard of doctors having this problem in the Phoenix, AZ., VA Hospital. I have witnessed many staff having the same problem in the NMVAHCS. As a point of interest, I was warned by non-VA hospital workers in the Albuquerque Community that the VA Hospital is known for getting rid of probationary employees and to watch my back. The community is watching and cares about what happens at the VA Hospital and CBOC’s. Fix the probationary employee rules, regulations, and processes.

2. Training should be maximized for all employees, but shift the focus to train and develop, not merely to check a box annually. I taught other MSA’s. At the request of the assistant director, with full knowledge of the director, I wrote a training packet of how to perform computer tasks, and can tell you as an adult education professional, the focus at the NMVAHCS is not on training people! When I mentioned this, I was told training is controlled at the national level, which is why the training is so inadequate. Training philosophies govern attitudes surrounding training value.

3. Organizational trust starts with the leadership team and requires time, engagement, and experiences. The leadership team I was subject to did not try to build trust, actively abused employees, and generally aided and abetted the miscreants to the detriment of all. Hence to correct staffing problems, there must be changes to the mindset and examples of the senior leaders first and foremost.

I reported how to fix the problems mentioned above to my chain of command first, to the sound of crickets and platitudes. I made suggestions on hardware and software to reduce fraud, waste, and abuse in the ED. I openly discussed options and made process suggestions for the entire 51.5-weeks of my employment.  I stand in amazement that my reporting these issues to the VISN head, the hospital director’s office, regularly to my chain of command did not make me a whistleblower according to OAWP and the OSC. To have whistleblower protection, you need to be employed. If a probationary employee does not qualify for whistleblower protection, why all the training on whistleblower protections? Why is the caveat about being employed not mentioned in the whistleblower protection training materials? What else is missing from the training materials on whistleblowers that would improve the employee experience? Is one of the ways the VA defends itself from change by terminating employees before whistleblower protections can be applied? If so, how does the VA leadership expect to change the mid-level managers, supervisors, and directors?

My termination was initiated by a letter written by one MSA who blamed me for the actions of another male MSA in the ED. The letter was co-authored by an MSA who was incompetent in her duties, lackadaisical in following her schedule, and who preferred to be a social butterfly than manning her post; all issues raised to the supervisor and chain of command, which were dismissed without review, who was a probationary employee until early 2019.  These authors actively solicited for signatures to the letter, what was promised to the signatories? When all this was mentioned to the HAS director, the supervisor, the OSC, the EEOC, ORM, etc.; I was advised that there is no case here because I was a probationary employee and the HAS director can exercise her right to terminate without cause anytime during probation. Is the legal abuse of the probationary employee clearer? If all new hire employees of the VA, and all those employees being promoted, are considered a probationary employee for their first year then the probationary employee abuses are the central problem in correcting staffing issues at the VA.

One Emergency Room doctor is a perfect example of biased leadership and how underlings were influenced. The doctor treated people according to their political leanings. A patient came into the ER for help wearing a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat and proudly wearing his support for President Trump, his treatment in the emergency room under this doctor was deplorable, delayed, and detrimental; I was ashamed to witness this travesty. Another time, a patient comes in proudly wearing his support for previous President Obama, and his treatment by the same doctor was 180-degrees different. The political leanings of nurses on his staff determined if the doctor was friendly or not. The health technicians’ political leanings determined the attitude the doctor showed toward them. Is the problem apparent; biased leadership caused tremendous problems in staffing treatment, patient services, and employee morale. Because this doctor only works day shifts, several nurses and health technicians shifted to nights to have a higher level of professionalism in the doctor’s they worked with, the other nurses and health technicians either quit the VA or found work in different departments or jobs. One nurse left her profession entirely and took a significant pay cut to escape harassment by this doctor. She was a probationary nursing employee who used the stress affecting her health to change jobs.

I spent 51.5-weeks without reasonable accommodation because my chain of command was not interested in my health, but used my missed days as an excuse to seal my termination. Not having the proper reasonable accommodation equipment meant every day was painful, challenging, and detrimental to my health. I had to drive, follow-up, track, and push for the material that was provided; yet, according to ORM, EEOC, OSC, etc. there is nothing to see here, probationary employee. Another example of the legal abuse of the probationary employee.

I advocate for veterans and thought I had found employment where I could make a career, I followed the rules, and I worked hard. I would see the VA succeed, and the staffing problems become more manageable. The majority of the staffing problems have their root cause in poor or biased leadership; hence, to address these problems and begin to rectify the staffing issues, the administration must change. Policies and procedures need to be written down, communicated and trained, then staff can be held accountable, and transparency in the employment staffing process is available. Accountability and transparency are both missing in the staffing process to the detriment of all veterans, taxpayers, employees, and the communities housing a VA Hospital system.

 © 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

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

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Word Plasticity – The Scourge of the Modern World

 

 

 

 

 

Non Sequitur - Plasticity of LanguageConsider the following term ‘Flaccid,’ which is often mispronounced as “flassid” instead of the proper pronouncement “Flakcid” (Calvert, 2008).  Whereas, the term ‘Decimate’ does not mean extreme destruction, but the death of every tenth man and originates from Roman Military punishment (Calvert, 2008).  These are but two popular terms that are regularly plasticized in English communication through mispronunciation, lack of understanding the definition, and always with a hidden agenda.  Everywhere in all societies, and throughout all of recorded history, we find intentional misconception being passed as intellectual depth, through the plasticization of words.  Plasticization of words is nothing more than disconnecting words from standard definitions for a personal political agenda.  Many engaged in the intentional plasticization of words are “thought terrorists” who are trying to run their plan and break the mental will of people, demonizing those with knowledge of words as ignorant, and using the court of public opinion to employ emotions as a means to kill debate.

Plasticized words make the most trouble and unfortunately, public education in America does not appear to care; in fact, public educators are some of the worst abusers of words, disconnecting words from meanings to achieve an agenda, again mental terrorism.  Poerksen (1995) discusses this phenomenon in some detail, and the need to be more cognizant of the problem is but a small part of the solution.  Poerksen (1995) for example brings up the term ‘strategy’ the context might not be clear, and without specifying the intention and meaning, the audience becomes lost very quickly, but be confident they know and are doing what they understood.

Hitler’s Germany was famous for plasticizing words to make socially unacceptable actions, to be understood as acceptable with no negative consequences.  Consider how cattle cars were used in the transportation of Jewish Citizens, by plasticizing the term “cattle” the Jews could be eliminated, society could consider what they were doing as acceptable, and the political agenda of Hitler was pushed forward, because a human of different religion, handicap, and so forth has been reduced to cattle.

Poerksen (1995) is correct in labeling those who intentionally destroy language through plastic words as tyrants and their actions tyrannical.  Mao was an excellent speaker, but his methods of deceiving included making words plastic to cover abuses of people, destruction of lives, and to help his followers feel good about what they were doing.  Ex-President Obama used a TelePrompTer because extemporaneous speaking is not his forte, and because of the plastic words which were bent, twisted, and molded to deceive.  We all remember the promises of Ex-President Obama where ObamaCare is concerned.  However, what is fading from the collective public memory are the plastic expressions lauded upon Bergdahl to justify nefarious actions.  Bergdahl is but one small example of how Ex-President Obama manipulated language to hide, obfuscate, denigrate, and deride the American People.

Stretched Words

Shakespeare (2016) uses Hamlet to relate a line that applies to frequently; especially when communicating online, “… thou doth protest too much, methinks.”  Too often, those intent on misusing words are the ones protesting too much about something and now every communication, every interaction, and every person is a threat that must be lorded over by the intellect of the one protesting.  A recent example of this the world witnessed during Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, where the judge’s children were physically and verbally assaulted, but a warping of legal rights and guarantees justified the assault.  A careful review of any newspaper, news broadcast, and many politicians speaking will evidence the plasticization of words to justify actions, e.g. President Clinton, “Depends on what your definition of “is” is,” words to couch a threat while seeming to be helpful and friendly, or worst of all hide abuses of others through twisted logic.  Every time words become disconnected from standard meanings, society crumbles, language becomes useless, and the consequences are multi-generational.  Exactly as what transpired in recovering Germany after Hitler’s demise.

I had the great personal pleasure of speaking to a senior from Germany who lived through Hitler’s oppression and the recovery of Germany post-WWII, and the person I spoke with affirmed the most difficult social problem was relearning words and definitions to communicate without the taint of Hitler’s Germanic Language.  Hence, we can draw several lessons from this experience, language is trained and can be retrained, relearning language is a social problem fixed through social interactions and personal knowledge, and personal responsibility and accountability remain pre-eminent in communicating correctly.  Another lesson from my experience, history repeats itself and those with dastardly designs will always corrupt language to gain the advantage, before showing their true colors.  Every single despot in recorded history has employed plastic language to lull the population into acquiescence, before demanding loyalty.

What is a person to do in these difficult times?

Words Defined

  1. Know words and their definitions. Accurately knowing and using language supports society and improves communication. Do not be afraid of dictionaries, thesauruses’, and asking for help in making sure word selection is the best it possibly can.
  2. Ask questions about words used when unsure. If you know a word’s definition and the context appears to be off, be brave, ask questions, and insist upon the other person either clarifying or using more simple language to prove their point.
  3. Stop all use of emotion in communication. The people who insist upon employing passion do so to thwart logic, stop debate, and ruin lives.  If the sender wants to use emotion, stop talking, stop listening, and let the sender belittle themselves.
  4. Speak simply. Write simply.  Language and punctuation are excellent tools to communicate, use them, not emotion, not complicated terms, and know your intent in communicating.
  5. Speak and write specifically. Pronunciation, annunciation, and clarity come with simplicity and desire to build value for others through communicating correctly.  Know the intent of your communications.  Know and understand the purpose.  Answer through the message, “What do I want the receiver to do or know?”
  6. Listen. Forget active listening; active listening is not satisfactory to the societies we currently live in.  Commit to listening reflectively, for in listening reflectively we take active listening skills and add the desire to achieve mutual understanding.  Lacking mutual understanding means communication remains unsettled and unsettled communication breeds areas to abuse words, meanings, and intentions.

Please note, this does not mean someone becomes a communication police officer or communication stormtrooper.  Fighting plastic words is all about the individuals knowing, doing, and being better as a communication sender and receiver.  Aware of the duality of the roles in communicating effectively, with a desire to be the communicator of choice others follow.  Plastic words are intentional, and the person creating plastic words knows full well their fraud and deception, e.g., Ex-Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton.  In choosing to de-plasticize words, we choose to respect those who plasticize words but not speak with them until they become honest communicators while monitoring through listening.

References

Calvert, J. B. (2008, June 13). Words, words. Retrieved April 25, 2015, from https://mysite.du.edu/~jcalvert/humor/words.htm

Poerksen, U. (1995). Plastic words: The tyranny of modular language (J. Mason, & D. Cayley, Trans.). University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Shakespeare, W. (2016). Hamlet [Kindle].

© 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.

 

Shifting the Paradigms: A Hybrid Leadership Theory Plan – Allowing One’s Self to Create a Leadership Theory Template

Man, as defined as a species, learns by doing; this principle of learning is best showcased by the poem “What man may learn, What man may do” penned by Robert Louis Stevenson.  First, we see, and then we do; if “Imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery,” as proclaimed, then leaders are neither born nor made; thus, leaders are formed through the flattery of perception and emulation (Martin, 2012) [Emphasis Mine].  For example, a new recruit in the military, any military, learns how to be a leader by following, perceiving, and copying those placed above them.  The same pattern is copied time and time again until the top of the leadership pile is obtained or until something drastic happens to the top rung, i.e., premature death, elections, and other influences. This theory of leadership evolution places the training of the leader squarely upon the individual aspiring to lead.  The aspiring leader must choose whom to emulate, and in choosing, form decisions about why he chose that leader over another of equal or greater rank to emulate.

Emulation as a leadership theory places personality, emotional intelligence, preferred organizational culture and environment, and every other aspect of the leadership environment into the hands of the person aspiring to lead as choices of preference, while also removing excuses and leaving the leader fully responsible, accountable, and liable for the consequences.  As a species, we not only mimic those we hold in esteem, we magnify them.  Thus, a learner emulates certain behaviors and increases those behaviors (Coloroso, 2008).  Just as a child is taught to hit by watching his parents beat each other and the child, the child will not only hit but also will not understand hitting is unacceptable and will increase violence past hitting to using weapons other than fists.  The third generation of being taught hitting is acceptable generally moves to murder and incarceration.  Upon emulation, magnification occurs, and patterns will continue until stopped.

More often than not, leadership through emulation theory is interconnected to spiritual leadership theory. Fry (2005) claims spiritual leadership theory “… was developed within an intrinsic motivation model that incorporates vision, hope/faith, and altruistic love, theories of workplace spirituality, and spiritual survival through calling and membership.”  While Fry (2005) continues to justify this position, leadership through emulation remains a great-uncharted unknown or only researched through the bias of religious lenses and discounted.  Yet, the great truth remains; humans learn through seeing and doing, and thus, leadership occurs through emulation and agency.

Religion is merely a set of beliefs and practices people adhere to voluntarily.  The term spiritual discusses closely related character interests, attitudes, and outlooks.  While not devoid of religion, spiritual leadership theory does not entirely apply to the reality of life with enough applicable strength to overcome individual zealots or the anti-religious zealotry found in many organizations.  Many people do not realize that allowing religious freedom means accepting the term religion without feeling encumbered to onboard a religious theory.  Fry (2003) expounds upon the spiritual leadership theory, and while this theory includes many aspects of corporate responsibility personally held dear, the reliance upon religion can be a hindrance for those followers who might choose to lead but remain anti-religious.  Wren (1995) discusses leadership theories but focuses too much on a few while denigrating those not mentioned.  By relying too heavily upon charismatic, transactional, and transformational leadership, Wren (1995) loses the forest grandeur by focusing on seeds, not that this diminishes seeds, but there is so much more to see and experience.  The following leadership plan relies heavily upon what works and includes pieces of spiritual leadership for the active moral and ethical code, emulation leadership theory, and flexible thinking in organizational structure design.  The result is a highly trained, experienced, effective leader, capable of creating success in many different industries, environments, and situations.

All successful leaders like Presidents Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, among others emulate moral fortitude and character as well as personal integrity to leadership principles and existence in productive work efforts.  These leaders stood firm for core beliefs including truth, justice, mercy in the face of war, and built followers, who could then lead in difficult times and lead well.  The primary chain linking all these leaders remains a single item: when faced with a decision, they acted with no hesitation, no spinelessness, and no hypocrisy.  By choosing whom to emulate, in emulation leadership theory, the best can be onboared, magnified, and broadcast back into the organization forming a bulwark anchoring other people aspiring to become leaders.  Brady (2005) discusses levels of influence in launching a leadership revolution.  Part of the first level requires the aspiring leader to know the environment, history, basics of the organizational culture, and much more.  The main point in the plan is to emulate the best, choose new principles to include, discover new ideas that work, and employ this knowledge in direct personalized solution.  Due to the high amount of emotional intelligence inherent in the current employer organization, transactional and charismatic leadership are of limited functionality.  Transformational leadership theory has more application but does not include many elements needed to enforce the plan or to achieve success.  Leadership requires follow-on levels of influence that include preparation, desire, understanding the role of learning and adversaries, loving people, and developing people, who will choose to develop others.  Of particular importance is the principle of loyal opposition, also known as a courageous follower.  Building upon Chaleff’s (1995) discussion about the “Courageous follower” becoming a courageous leader, who can influence change, lead-in difficulty, and conquer, it remains imperative for followers to become those they emulate or the entire period of training is not valued by followers (Yukl, 2006, p. 134-139).

Personal strengths include a vast repertoire of benchmarks, successes and failures, working knowledge of psychology, depth as being a follower in stressful situations, and the drive of a bloodhound to find and fix.  Skills and talents under constant construction include communication, manners, modesty, and developing interpersonal skills between peers and current leaders without causing insult.  Personal weaknesses include a distrust of followers leading to problems with the delegation of authority, a reluctance to allow failure in followers, and an own abhorrence to perform tasks a second time after a failure.

The leader currently in existence needs experience to improve as described by Brady (2005), Jossey-Bass (2003), and others.  The leader imagined and envisioned for the future needs seasoning to become a reality; thus, allow yourself or your followers time to build into the leadership plan outlined.  The gaps are minor, and the weaknesses cannot improve without more experience in handling complicated situations.  In vague terms, the timeline might look something like this.  Within the next year, advancement would be from customer care professional in fraud to a curriculum designer or teacher/trainer/coach of adults for the current employer.  Within the next three years, or by the conclusion of an academic degree program, advancement would be from designer/coach/trainer into leading other coaches/designers. Within the next eight years, progress would be to a service delivery leader guiding leaders of other coaches/designers/trainers and eventually be advanced to a director of corporate training or vice president of training delivery and human resources.  Keeping this euphemistic plan on track requires sticking with a single employer, building a solid personal brand based upon successes, leveraging educational degrees while maximizing the previous experience and new experiences into solutions for the employer.

Recognizing that attitude, failures, and other people acting as variables on this plan requires communicating intent, working with people to convince them that end goals are attainable and the change needed to realize the end result.  Until this plan launches, it remains imperative to exemplify Chaleff’s (1995) descriptions of a “Courageous follower.”  This type of follower can emulate those in leadership positions while supporting the good and learning from current leadership mistakes.  In a seamless transition, the “courageous follower” employs emulation theories of leadership and gains the advantage while building the needed personal brand and accomplishments and preparing for future leadership (Yukl, 2006, p. 134-139).

Avolio (2008), Brady (2005). Paine (1995), and Wren (1995) among others, discuss another aspect of being a good follower and future leader, liberty.  America throughout history has provided excellent examples of what occurs when free people band into a society dedicated to liberty, freedom, and individuals empowered to choose their destiny.  Being a courageous follower requires freedom of choice, and all future leaders, regardless of theories espoused, need to remember the power of freedom when leading.  While some leadership writers discuss empowerment as a panacea term for everything from agency to low-level decision making, empowerment merely is freedom by a different name.  Free followers are naturally empowered to choose, and with training, proper guidance, and organizational support choose with confidence.  This is known as agency or the power to choose with responsibility and accountability for the consequences.  Honing this power to choose wisely, while protecting the opportunity to succeed and fail, promotes a level of trust and commitment to current leaders that improve morale, lifts people, and builds robust organizations.

While less than bare bones in many aspects, the leadership plan described remains flexible enough for significant changes in future prospects while being detailed enough to fit into the current lifestyle of potential interested leaders.  Experience has taught that detailed plans tend to force a locked down mentality in thinking, creating a box that hinders, hampers, and delays.  While some details must be included, a delicate balance is preferred when dealing with the vicissitudes of life.  Staying on track with this plan requires courage, fortitude, and emulation of the best and brightest to become a reality.

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.

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

Coloroso, B. (2008). The bully, the bullied, and the bystander. (Living ed.) New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Fry, L. W. (2005). Positive psychology in business ethics and corporate responsibility. (pp. 47-83). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.iispiritualleadership.com/resources/publications.php

Jossey-Bass, R. (2003). Business leadership: A jossey-bass reader. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Martin, G. (2012). The phrase finder: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Retrieved from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery.html

Stevenson, R. L. (n.d.). What man may learn, what man may do. Retrieved from http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/stevenson/what_man_may_learn.html

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.

An Open Missive to our Federal Elected Officials: Who Polices the Federal Government in Following Hiring Practices?

As a dual-service, disabled veteran, possessing two master-level degrees from accredited colleges and engaged in the pursuit of a Ph.D., I am finding, from personal experience and in speaking to others pursuing employment with disabilities, discrimination is alive and well.  I can understand the discrimination in private sector hiring; I do not like it but understand it.  Risk, costs of health insurance, and costs of doing business increase when hiring those with disabilities.  I do not see government as a “jobs program” in any way; however, the government has taken it upon themselves to enact rules specifically to hire those with disabilities.  Thus, the government should be more open to hiring those of us with disabilities.

People ProcessesFederal Government hiring procedures provide two hiring paths, competitive and non-competitive.  Under competitive, there are several ways of being placed ahead of others and points are awarded for certain hiring preferences, of which being a veteran is but one.  In non-competitive hiring, Schedule A provides for disabled people to sidestep the traditional, or competitive, practices of hiring to have an opportunity of obtaining employment without having to compete with candidates not experiencing the special conditions caused by disability

Disabled people are supposed to be able to employ Schedule A hiring practices for Federal Hiring because disabled people know how difficult it is to be hired for the private sector, city, county, and state government hiring.  Here is where those in hiring positions for the Federal Government are able to bypass the system and not hire disabled people:  no one is policing hiring.  I was informed, very politely, by the Inspector General’s Office that they do not inquire or investigate compliance with regulations for hiring.  The question to you, elected Federal Officials: who polices and ensures compliance with written protocols established by OPM for hiring?

As a disabled veteran, hiring in the private sector has become more difficult as my injuries have become more noticeable, from fall 2010 to present.  Having a disability that is nerve based, causing tics/twitches/spasms, hiring officials acknowledge directly or indirectly that since my cost to employer-based health care will come with a pre-existing condition and higher overall costs in ADA compliance and loss of potential (blue) money, I become the “candidate to beat,” and finally will be told, “you are overqualified,” “you are over-educated,” or my personal favorite “you are not a good fit.”  Thus, after four consecutive years of seeing my ability to be hired in the private sector diminish, I began more heavily pursuing employment with the Federal Government.

In June 2016, I was, finally, awarded a Schedule A letter to add to my documents in Federal Hiring.  With the Schedule A letter, I was provided OPM training on how to be “Direct Hired” and walked through the OPM website governing the policies that govern Schedule A hiring and disability hiring for the Federal Government.  Since the award of the Schedule A letter, I have had a VA hiring official refuse to use the letter claiming VRA and VEOA are both more efficient, and then not hire me for being “overqualified.”  I have experienced hiring managers tell me that “Direct Hire” authority lies with managers, and you need to know those managers to employ Schedule A preference, but the hiring managers cannot tell you who else to speak with to receive Schedule A hiring.  The absolute best excuse has been a hiring manager’s claim that there is no such thing as non-competitive hiring, that all applicants must be hired under competitive hiring standards, and then proceeded to tell me I am not qualified for the position because my degrees were not specifically those desired in the advertisement, even though the advertisement did not specify a specific degree, other than master-level.  Most recently I have been offered positions so far below minimum pay levels only because the government knows that desperation often breeds compliance, even if compliance creates actual harm, all in the name of some future date of possibly being hired for the wages qualified for at the time of hire.

Hence, I emailed the Inspector General’s office regarding these circumstances and received the following reply, “The Inspector General’s Office does not monitor compliance with hiring in the Federal Government.”  Thus, Elected Officials, I ask you, “Who regulates and ensures compliance in hiring for Federal Government positions?”  “Who is accountable for OPM regulations being adhered to by local hiring decision-makers?”  “Where can those who are disabled and trying to work turn for a reconciliation of just grievances?”  You, the elected officials, created this hiring system with preferences for disabled people to find work with the Federal Government, so who is policing the hiring for you?

I have now contacted elected officials in four separate states while living and voting in those areas, Ohio, Arizona, Utah, and Michigan, asking the representatives of elected officials directly the same questions posed in this missive.  Senator McCain’s office was the most oblique and obtuse claiming that if hiring practices are not being followed it is due to a lack of training somewhere, but the issue is not important enough for the senator’s time.  Upon arrival in New Mexico, I asked about hiring at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque and was told by several officials at the VA Hospital that the HR Department was under extra scrutiny due to a significant lack of following the hiring guidelines for Federal Government hiring; but, none of those people could tell me who polices the hiring practices and ensures compliance.

Why is this important; because disabled people are not receiving the kind of hiring support they need.  With the current costs to business operation in the private sector, I can understand, I do not like it, but I can understand, that hiring those with disabilities is going to be a major cash outlay upfront with increased risk.  As a business professional, I understand the risk/cost structure, and I understand that the speed of business dictates finding the lowest cost/risk, candidate.  For the city, county, state, and Federal Government positions, I cannot fathom why disabled people are dragged through such egregious hiring practices.  I did an unofficial survey of 25 Federal Government, NM State, Bernalillo County, and City of Albuquerque employees asking them one simple question, how long did it take for you to be hired initially.  The answers ranged from multiple months to 5 years of constant applying.  If the employee had been promoted, I asked how long did the employee wait for the promotion, and the answers ranged from 3-months in the initial position to 15-years.  As a business professional, I can confidently say this is where enormous amounts of blue (potential) money are being wasted, and as the axiom goes, burn enough blue money and green money, in this case, taxpayer funds, evaporate!

Ways to fix the hiring issue:

  • USAJobs.govEach Federal Government office needs to have a single person solely responsible for Schedule A and all other direct hire authority programs that non-employees can communicate with to apply directly to that organization. All open positions would run through this office first providing the option to request Schedule A preference, and upon that selection, USAJobs.gov would automatically drive the applications to the single person responsible for direct hiring and provide this person’s name and contact information to the applicant.
  • Stop the redundant efforts. Once a background and reference check has completed for one office, make this information available to all offices for 365-days.  With applicants making multiple applications to several different offices, this alleviates contacting those references multiple times, duplicating work, and wasting resources.  The technology to share is already available, and this is a low-cost, high-return option to invoke.
  • Every worker in government expects everything to take an inordinate amount of time to complete work. The longer the waiting game takes, the more potential (Blue) money is wasted exponentially.  Start shaving unproductive hiring practices, processes, and procedures.  Streamlining the hiring process overall is needed!

Blue Money BurningConsider the following as a general guide.  For every five dollars of blue money wasted, fifteen to fifty green taxpayer dollars evaporate.  Thus, when a position is open, the lost potential is the annual salary of the new hire for every month the position remains open and unfilled, and the green money loss is the annual salary of the position open every two months.  Between others having to work harder to cover the open position (Blue), the added strain and stress of working shorthanded (Blue), and the lost productivity of the entire team including the costs of long-term planning (Blue), along with other factors, are “hidden costs” of conducting business.  In the blue money loss, the green money evaporation is found in less time for maintenance, tools, and people are used harder and longer, overtime for important deadlines, and commitments lost are all, but not a complete list, of green money evaporation pits.

  • While not directly a hiring practice, reducing employee churn, training, and promoting more quickly is a best business practice. The people in government make the government, and I am not the only customer service professional pointing to government offices as the epitome of incompetent people wasting resources and destroying morale and customer relationships.

Case in point, at the Regional VA Office in Phoenix, AZ, three people regularly man the front desk and are the face of this VA facility.  Of these three, one person is incompetent and intentionally mean, remarking in demeaning and insulting tones to questions and speaking ill of the veteran they just “helped.”  One is trying and means well.  The third could not be hired to clean road kill off streets and is completely and utterly a drone, for example saying they are working on a task but never accomplishing anything productive.  Several times while being harassed assisted by these individuals, I witnessed the third person asking for help from another employee to staple forms together, asking “where does the staple go in the form again?”  Hence, I was not surprised when Phoenix became the face of incompetent and heartless government workers literally killing veterans.  Clean house of the deadwood, replace with hard-working people and streamline the process of work to reduce the opportunity for drones and hacks to manipulate the system.  Of the 10-15 people that regularly float through the Phoenix VA Regional Office Front-Desk/Waiting Area, I think two might actually be working.  The rest seem to have an amorphous purpose doing ambiguous work in a cloud of confusion taking taxpayer wages for no productivity.

  • Customer service improvement begins internally, employee to employee. Want to slow churn, improve how employees serve each other.  Want to reduce churn significantly, get the supervisors, team leaders, and other organizational leaders out of the office, onto the production floor, and actively exemplifying customer service and professionalism.  Improve employee to employee customer service and departments like the VA and DMV will immediately begin to change their horrendous reputations.

I am not the only person in this country paying taxes and angry about the drones and dregs hired to conduct government business.  It is past time to demand accountability for the taxpayer money waste at all levels of government.  Decreasing waste begins with improved hiring, respect for the government they work for by being honest in their employment, and increased regard for the people they serve.

When an employee commits a crime, they should be able to be fired and never re-hired by the government, then held accountable in a court of law for their crimes.  When an employee does not pay their taxes while working for the government, they should be fired and never re-hired, then held accountable like every other citizen not paying their taxes.  To hear about government computers full of porn, child porn, and online gambling, tells me there are workers that are not being supervised properly, work is not being done, and the supervisor and the offending employee need to be fired and never re-hired, then held accountable in a court of law for their crimes.  Being paid to work and not working is theft!  Child porn is a crime!  Watching porn on a computer while being paid is both sexual harassment and theft, both of which are crimes!

The taxpayer receives a slap to the face when federal, state and county government employees are caught gaming the system for personal profit, are not required to remit the monies ill-gotten, and are not fired, or worse are fired and an obscure union regulation returns them to work at the same salary and position of authority, or worse are promoted after being returned to work.  These are failures in treating people properly, honoring the tax dollars invested, and reflecting a failure of elected officials to supervise government workers needed to run the government.  When will our elected officials become the leaders we are paying them to be, holding those malfeasant characters legally and morally accountable and removing them from employment in government?

Your'e HiredWe hired you, the elected officials, to run the government for us, not to enrich yourselves at our expense, and not to allow nefarious and untrustworthy people to lie, cheat, and steal our tax monies and keep being paid with our tax money!  More egregious still is allowing those who have abused the power of government to cause harm, then allow those abusers to quietly leave the government with their pensions, and no criminal charges are ever pursued, e.g., Lois Lerner among many others.  When you want to know why the approval rating for elected officials is so low, look no further than the issues raised in this missive.  Fix the problems!

What “Going the Extra Mile” means in Customer Service: A Call Center Labyrinth

cropped-snow-leopard.jpgI met a unique call center representative, who when asked by management to “go the extra mile for the customer,” remarked, “I go the extra mile for the customer by simply answering the phone.”  Recently, “going the extra mile” has resurfaced as a customer service topic, and I think we need some parameters for understanding the term to really appreciate what it means to “go the extra mile.”

The saying, “go the extra mile,” has origins in the beatitudes as discussed in the New Testament, which includes a discourse on when asked to walk a mile with a person, go with them two.  Obviously, the customer service representative, especially in a call center, cannot walk with the customer two miles.  Thus, what exactly and specifically is intended when management wants the representative to “go the extra mile?”  Think about this for a moment.  In a metrics measured call center, does the representative have the time to engage the customer in idle chit-chat and remain productive per the parameters?  Is the representative expected to perform an account analysis for the customer while answering the customer’s questions and extend the call to ensure each customer is taking the fullest advantage of the available products and services offered?

In a related question, what organizational policies are prohibiting, interfering, or downright anathema to the agent “going the extra mile?”  As an agent, I worked in a call center with this exact problem; the company instructed agents “go the extra mile” for every customer, but then discouraged agents with policies, procedures, and back office personnel whose sole purpose, it seemed to the front-line agents, was to always say no before yes.  When these issues were brought to the attention of the business leaders, the solution was to add more bureaucracy and another person to the back office, which further complicated delivering upon the customer service commitment.

Raising the first point for “going the extra mile” organizational support for delivering a higher level of customer service.  If the front-line agents are being asked to “go the extra mile,” the entire organization already needs to be delivering a higher level of support to the front-line agents.  Business leaders, “going the extra mile,” begins with you exemplifying the “go the extra mile” attitude.  Then, get into the “how” of work performance including the logic of processes and procedures, the reasons “why” business is done in the manner and style of your organization, and smooth the transitions between the front and back office.  The best approach for this is to take each business process from origination in customer service and walk it through every whistle stop in your business to completion, and at every stop asking “why.”  I guarantee you will find ways and means to improve the process every single time.Kindness Quote

Second, when someone is asked to “go the extra mile,” it is human nature for that person to ask or think, “What is in it for me?”  If there is no discernable value in “going the extra mile,” the person asked to put forth more effort could become hostile, depressed, and/or simply put less quality into the action wasting potential and defeating the purpose of “going the extra mile.”  There will always be a psychological value aspect to this discussion.  As a business leader looking to deliver a higher level of quality service, are you prepared to reward agents for “going the extra mile?”

Third, be specific, detailed, and precise in communicating what is meant by “going the extra mile.”  My unique colleague has a point.  If the agent considers answering the phone “going the extra mile,” how will you as the business leader address the need to act differently?  Some might think my colleague was flippant in answering as he did, but the callers at this time were more hostile than normal, technology was changing and customers were experiencing more problems than normal with the services provided, and due to employee churn, all the agents were being asked to work longer hours.  It takes real courage in these difficult circumstances just to answer the phone, let alone resolve customer problems; forget “going the extra mile!”  As a business leader, are you fully cognizant of the issues in the front office?  When asking for an agent to “go the extra mile,” have you specifically defined what this means, detailing actions that fit the description, and do you know it is possible for others to accomplish?

Speaking of accomplishing an action, on the day I was hired as a call center agent, the call center had a six-month backlog of work in the back office, meaning six months prior to my date of hire a customer had requested a bill credit or some other change, and the issue remained open on my date of hire.  After 60+ hour weeks, for three months, the backlog had been reduced to 45-days, and this was considered acceptable by the business leaders.  Thus, the front-line agents had to be prepared to explain why it would take a minimum of one and a half billing cycles for the change to become visible to the customer and encourage the customer to continue to make the payments as shown on the bill to keep from suffering any adverse consequences.  Being possible to accomplish requires business leaders to know what is happening in the front-office and the back-office simultaneously and understand from the customer’s point of view the “why” behind business processes.

Fourth, training as an ongoing, regular, and value-added action is necessary.  Too often training is considered “one and done,” and then annual compliance training is required that everyone suffers through.  If this is the attitude of training in your call center and the training is not value-added, as in “is the training useful immediately” and the value apparent, there is a failure in training, a failure in leadership, and the failure is visible to customers.

The Extra Mile Just Ahead Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.I worked as an agent for a great call center that believed in ongoing training at the team level where front-line managers held daily training and the trainers held monthly refresher and targeted performance training.  The problem was that no one measured the training for value, and the agents began to see the time off the phone for training as an exercise in futility.  Value-added is a critical component of ongoing training and begins with asking where are you, as an agent, struggling?  Value-added training ends with an agent overcoming that specific struggle and growing to find another struggle and knowing that training is there to aid them in finding a solution to the new struggle.  Build value-added training as an ongoing conversation, which will be visible to the customer, and the agent is prepared to make the opportunity to “go the extra mile.”

Is the difference clear?  Be specific, clear, and concise when directing “going the extra mile,” and agents will begin testing the waters for organizational support based upon their current levels of knowledge.  Agents will want to make opportunities to “go the extra mile” when they are properly trained and are confident in the training to help them meet the customer’s request and desires.  Agents will make opportunities to “go the extra mile” for customers when they are confident that the business stands behind them in processing, in a timely manner, the agent’s requests made on behalf of that customer.  Agents will make opportunities to “go the extra mile” when their leaders are exemplifying “going the extra mile” for internal customers.Extra Mile  Agents will create opportunities to “go the extra mile” when there is value to them personally for the extra effort and when “going the extra mile” does not harm their scores in a metric based call center.  Finally, agents will create opportunities to “go the extra mile” when they know specifically what “go the extra mile” entails; remember, amorphous feel-good lines do not clear instructions make.

© 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.