Bottle-Necks and Push-Back – Problems in Production Goal Attainment

Knowledge Check!Let me begin with an affirmation when you believe that a problem is insurmountable, you are 100% correct, and nothing will ever change.  If you tell me a problem is insurmountable, I will say to you BULL!  Every time!  Why; because if people built it, people can disassemble it.  We might have to push at it, swear at it, sweat at it, and kick at it some, but people can disassemble it!  When we believe no problem is insurmountable, we are more than ½-way to solving the problem!

At work right now, a colleague has a problem; trainers do not want to come in early and train new hires.  Because new hires cannot be trained in off-hours, his team is slipping in production goal attainment.  When he drops far enough, his regional bosses will decide more resources need to be spent, and public shaming begins to occur because public notice accompanies greater resource allocation.  The bottle-neck is training; the push-back comes from trainers.

Fishbone DiagramThe trainers are pushing back because they are already double and triple tasked to training new hires in two other more “important” departments.  Except, because those other departments are considered “more important,” production goals for the entire facility will never be met.  A core philosophy is missed; when quality fails, nobody meets production goals.  The vicious cycles keep going around; training cannot spare people to train quality, quality fails to meet goals, and production goals are missed due to training.

Exclamation MarkThere are times I have wished this was an isolated example; however, this repeats so often I should have cards made.  Breaking the training bottle-neck requires thinking outside the standard paradigm, or in more basic vernacular, get out of the box and start thinking anew!  While the following solutions are explicitly geared to fixing the training bottle-neck, the pattern for thinking is helpful as a conversation starter.  Start the conversation rolling!

Here’s some ideas:

  1. Off-hours shift training. Look at your operational schedules.  Do you have times when equipment is not operating, when the production floor is down, and when people can be trained?  Use that time!
        • I worked at a manufacturing facility where after the first three days of new-hire orientation, all manufacturing and warehouse employees worked the third shift for their first four months. Why?  Training could operate the floors and equipment and work around maintenance without crimping operational schedules or hindering production.  Then, new hires went onto the day shift where two extra managers could offer management-by-walk around for additional OJT.
        • I have observed warehouses where new hires work a split shift; they come in for 4-hours of training when nobody else is around but trainers, and then 4-hours when the rest of the warehouse is around—giving new hire equipment operators experience in operating in both a quiet environment and a busy environment.
        • The idea is to find times when you can safely train without hindering operation tempo. Use the calendar, use a shift rotation, be honest with people and be upfront on expectations and the reality of business needs.  Guess what, when you are honest, people respond!
  2. Appreciative Inquiry – Believe it or not, when you have a problem, a pressing business need, or an urgent issue, your people will pleasantly surprise you with solutions if you listen and act. Too often, I have been stunned ever to forget this lesson; people have brains and ideas, use them, give them credit, and watch them blossom into your best problem solvers!
  3. It should go without saying, treat people as the professionals you hired.
        • My first boss in supply chain quality control did not teach me basic stuff, e.g., this is a part, how you count the pieces, a SKU, etc. The boss presumed I knew or would ask questions, which saved both of us time and resources.  More to the point, by treating me as a professional, I grew into being a supply quality control officer and loved the job.  I have witnessed the opposite too often to know my experience is not the norm in supply chains, which is detestable.
        • You hired a professional; treat them as a professional. Set standards, show them, explain, train them, and build them into greater professionals, primarily by getting out of their way!
        • Encourage people never to stop learning through example!
  4. Who is your customer? Who are your vendors?  Who are your stakeholders?  Why is this information important?
        • Customer service is dead; however, if you do not know your customer, vendors, and stakeholders are, so is your business model!
        • Customer helping is alive and well; however, your business model is dead if you do not know your customer, vendors, and stakeholders!
        • Managers, let me give you a hint, your customer is your employees. When was the last time you got to know your customers?  When was the last time you helped your customers?  Why did you last help your customers?

LookWhen it comes to bottle-necks and push-back, knowing your customer is the first step in solving the bottle-neck and charting a positive path through push-back.  Consider my colleague, his customer are his employees needing training, his vendor is the training department, and the stakeholders are the rest of the business, those setting production goals, those relying upon his team meeting production goals, and ultimately the paying external customer.  Yet, my colleague, cannot see who his customer is, does not think of training as a vendor, and the rest of the business as a stakeholder, for this is not how he was trained.  Worse, his business unit refuses to accept this method of thinking to improve production goal attainment.

  1. Leadership must lead by first embracing new thinking and possibilities.

Previously in my career, it was a pleasure and adventure to be on a project where the leadership wanted a solution to their problem.  However, the leaders did not want to change, at all.  They wanted a solution, but refused to change in any shape, form, or method.  Worse, the leaders did not admit they did not want to change because they themselves had not considered that a solution would require change.  Thus, when the solution was delivered, it looked like a great idea, on paper.  But, the second it was implemented, reality bit, change was coming, and this scared the leadership team into panic mode.  Add in the coming economic downturn that had already started to hurt the company, and panic turned into a full-on disaster.

?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1Leaders, it is imperative that you lead first by example personally, then by actions professionally, then only if necessary by words.  When you observe new thinking on an old idea, embrace that and see where it goes.  Even if the new idea fails, build people!  Production goals are about human efforts distilled into statistical symbols.  Never forget about the human element.  Build people, and you meet production goals.  Build quality into every single transaction, and you meet production goals.  Fail people, and you will never meet production goals!  Fail quality, and you will fail to meet production goals.

I cannot make this any simpler!

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

The Role of Quality – The Only Path to Improving Productivity

LookWarehouse or call center, manufacturing or non-profit, service industry or product sales, the role of quality continues to be misunderstood.  Sometimes, it appears that quality is intentionally misunderstood.  Often it seems as if quality and compliance are synonymous, even though quality is a small part of compliance.  Some businesses call quality “Quality Assurance,” “Quality Control,” or the “Quality Department.”  Regardless of the name, quality is the only path to improving productivity; however, productivity is measured.Inspiring Quotes on Quality - Fortune of Africa Swaziland

I have worked with businesses that used quality as a stick to beat employees and ultimately fire them.  This is an absolute abuse of quality and the quality people!  Worse, it hinders productivity because everyone becomes worried about meeting quality demands and not meeting customer expectations.  The employees who meet “quality” in these organizations are depressed, morale is pathetic, and the brand suffers significantly.  What really hurts, everything costs too much takes too long, and the company is not competitive, flexible, viable, or even worth mentioning.

What is Quality?

Bobblehead DollQuality is a process of striving to improve.  Interestingly, people inherently know when they have received quality or not.  Be it a person, a company, a community, a state, a government, etc., how one approaches quality as a process for improvement defines that person, company, community, state, etc.  Some companies think, “We have a quality department, we are meeting quality metrics, we are doing just fine in quality.”  To which I reply, in my best imitation of Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H 4077, “HORSE HOCKEY!”Quality Quotes (40 wallpapers) - Quotefancy

Why; because that company cannot define what drives the metrics being reported.  That company has a quality department but not a quality attitude, quality focus, and quality determination.  It cannot be stressed enough if your people are not quality first; you are losing between 33% and 50% of your potential!  Worse, the loss of potential is always hard to pin precisely to a direct problem when the problem is lodged in something as amorphous as “quality.”Chinese Crisis

Recognizing Quality Value

Let’s do the numbers together.  A manufacturing plant, a call center, and a warehouse are examples A, B, and C, respectively.

Example A: Employee A has been trained on making a part; he has never been told how his parts affect the finished product and is sometimes sloppy in creating pieces.  But, because he is within set standards, his sloppy work can be cleaned up at another station, so Employee A does not want to improve quality.  Producing 200 parts made per day, with anywhere between 5 and 75 pieces, needing additional work; Employee A has an overall cost to the company above and beyond expected costs.  Regardless if Employee A increases his productivity to 250 to 300 pieces per day, his defects remain potential lost.Blue Money Burning

Example B:  XX Team has 15 agents; each agent is expected to handle 80-100 calls per day.  But the quality metrics are so stringent; the team can only meet 35-40 calls per day on average.  However, the business processes to complete work, and meet the quality standards, handicap any single agent from meeting the 80-100 calls per day.  Does the company look at the agents or their business processes and quality standards?  The business will demand higher productivity and never realize that the churn increase is from burned-out good employees walking away!blue-money

Example C:  Inbound product receivers, outbound product shippers, and quality are the three departments in a warehouse.  Inbound, they do not consider themselves part of a quality initiative; their productivity is driven by how many items get properly stowed per day.  Outbound is where the company focuses as this is where the customer satisfaction is directly observed; how much an outbound picks and prepares for shipping is productivity.  Quality is considered someone else’s job as a quality department counts for compliance to SOX and other legislation.  Inbound and outbound employees know their positions, and because they are not quality, they can create quality problems intentionally or not, and someone else will always take care of the problem.  Dirty part locations with inventory from other areas don’t matter; quality will fix it.  Torn or damaged product in a location, it doesn’t matter quality will fix it.  In this case, 2/3rds of the employee potential for improving quality is AWOL!

TOP 25 POOR QUALITY QUOTES | A-Z QuotesNow, someone might think, these are hypotheticals, not real businesses.  Those examples are directly from my experience.  Yes, these examples are slightly oversimplified for brevity; however, not having a whole company quality culture hinders productivity.  This is a truth inescapable.

Co-Equal but not Co-Valuable

kpiProductivity, however measured in your company for goods or services, should be a co-equal part of quality.  Yet, if equality cannot be achieved, err on the side of increased quality until productivity catches up.  The value of productivity is measured in green money, cash.  The value of quality is measured in blue money, potential.  Bringing up my favorite axiom, “Burn enough blue money, and cash evaporates, and no one can trace where the cash went!”

Returning to Example A, the employee does not know, has not been trained, and is unaware that their actions are directly costing the company.  Since there is a quality person to check and “fix” the mistakes, the loss of potential is immeasurable until the business leaders have to increase the manufacturing price to account for the added work in quality to correct the errors.  Hence, when all metrics are equal between quality and productivity, err on the side of quality, and productivity will catch up.

Exclamation MarkWant a secret; it does not work in reverse!  Erring on the side of increased productivity increases costs elsewhere, burns potential, and ruins company bottom-lines.  Quality cannot “catch up” to productivity — an example best witnessed in manufacturing and warehouses.  The potential costs between manufacturing or multiple handling of products carry a potential cost, with no means of recovery.  Thus, it remains imperative to understand the roles of productivity and quality defined early, and placed in the proper order, to avoid significant cash hits to the bottom line.

Quality – A Culture, Not Just a Department!

cropped-2012-08-13-07-37-28-1.jpgA quality culture is an extension of the individual’s professionalism, always striving to be better.  Not faster, not slower, but better every day.  Training is a dynamic part of quality, and learning something new should be encouraged.  Yet, training, especially in call centers, always seems to take a back seat to operations and productivity.  All because productivity is not correctly understood and placed in its proper role.  Training and quality are potential or blue money expenses where the return on investment will be unknown.  Why; because quality and training place tools into the hands of employees, who then go on to build or destroy based upon the examples of leadership.

Quality Image Quotation #4 - Sualci QuotesQuality should be felt in every conversation, in every process, in every program, in every interaction.  As the most important customer in a business is other employees, the quality program is the most important activity and process for enhancing the business’s goals, aspirations, and daily production rates.  A culture of quality will then have the ground to grow and room to expand.  But, a quality culture will not grow overnight, nor will it grow without causing stagnant processes to change.

Knowledge Check!Consider a seed.  To grow, that seed has to be destroyed completely; but no one ever mourns the loss of the seed for the potential fruit to be born from that seed growing.  The same is true for a quality culture growing; the culture will destroy the seeds of stagnation, the apathy of indifference, and the processes and procedures that are not valuable to the new quality culture.  Will you allow a quality culture to grow?

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

How Do I Know? – An Update on the VA Mandatory Mask Policies and VA Leadership Failures

Question24 May 2021 – 1200-1500 I visited the Las Cruces Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  Upon entry, I was asked to wear a mask.  I described I could not wear a mask, and the employee said I might be required to wear one but left the decision to those working more closely with me.  I waited in line and was called to the Team 2 window, where a gentleman was more than happy to assist me in getting the paperwork started to change VA hospitals after relocating.  About 45-minutes into my time in this CBOC, the gentleman asked me to wear a mask.  I told him I could not and had brought my VA Doctor’s note as proof.  The gentleman read the letter, confirmed I was good to receive care without the mask, and provided exceptional customer support.

After the past year at the Phoenix VAMC, where my every movement on the property was shadowed by VA Police officers looking for a reason to injure, arrest, cite, and force me from the property, the employees here in Las Cruces was a breath of fresh air.  However, the experiences in Las Cruces provide further evidence of the following facts:

      1. The Hospital Director has statutory authority for adapting and creating policies and procedures that benefit the safety of the employees and the patients. A point I stressed to the leaders of VISN 22 and the Phoenix VAMC to no avail.
      2. The Federal Mask Mandates can be situationally applied for the circumstances of the individual. Yet, another point I have repeatedly stressed since July 2020, and the first time I was injured, arrested, cited, and forced from Federal Property. At the same time, I was being denied emergency care under EMTALA and having my HIPAA information repeatedly violated by the VA Police Officers.
      3. The bombastic and unprofessional behavior of the Federal Police employed at the Carl T. Hayden VAMC is a problem of the leadership, and the failures of leadership to instill professionalism, proper attitudes and behaviors, training, and tactics in approaching and handling situations in the Phoenix VAHCS. At the behavior of the Federal Police Officers in the Phoenix VAHCS, Che Guevara, Mao, Stalin, and Fidel Castro would be proud!VA 3

How can a person be sure the problems caused are a direct result of leadership failures?

ApathyBy tracing behaviors, attitudes, and influence to their source, the police chief acts as he considers appropriate, but the underofficers generationally multiply and mirror his behaviors.  The same is true for the chief who takes his example from the assistant director, director, and hospital leadership.  Chains of command always have this consequence; the example of those above are mirrored, replicated, and multiplied to impress the higher officers to gain attention and promotion opportunities.  Want to take a measure of a leader; look to the most junior person in the chain of command and watch them for behaviors, attitudes, and actions that originate in the leadership.

GavelCase in point, long have I detailed and described the failures of leadership at the VA.  The latest is a wire fraud scheme in Jackson, Mississippi.  From the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), we find the following:

Anthony Kelley, the owner of Trendsetters Barber College in Jackson, Mississippi, pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud in a scheme to steal federal funds. From October 2016 through March 2019, the college offered a master barber course that was not accredited by the state’s board of barber examiners. Kelley fraudulently represented that this course was approved and, as a result, was allowed to collect GI Bill money from veterans enrolled in the program.”VA 3

As the lowest person in the chain of command, Mr. Kelly was allowed to attempt to commit fraud by the VA.  Never in these reports is the VA employee, their supervisor, and their manager, who were complicit in allowing fraud to occur, mentioned and held accountable.  Somehow, we, the taxpayer, must presume that those committing frauds could hoodwink the Department of Veterans Affairs without any inside help.  Help coming directly or indirectly from government employees charged with investigating, ensuring, and following proper protocols and procedures to protect against theft and fraud.

Angry Grizzly BearLet the US Attorney and VA-OIG special investigators crow about catching the person perpetrating fraud.  Before they break open the champagne, they need to be looking into the leadership that either overtly or covertly allowed this fraud to occur.  The elected officials need to be demanding why fraud opportunities are so rampant at the Department of Veterans Affairs that criminal proceedings are being reported almost every week and asking about the culture of corruption and leadership failures allowing these behaviors to thrive.

Is it a “Culture of Corruption?”

Absolutely; the VA is sick with a culture of corruption!  It is my sad duty to report on another employee who was able to steal from the VA, stealing hydrocodone and oxycodone prescriptions from the VAMC mailroom and mailboxes at some 40 locations in Kerrville, Ingram, and Center Point.

Scott M. Brown, a pharmacy technician at the Kerrville VA Medical Center in Texas, was charged with one count of theft of US mail for stealing hydrocodone and oxycodone prescriptions from the medical center’s mailroom as well as from residential mailboxes between March and April 2021.”VA 3

Currently, Mr. Brown is being held in custody and remains innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of his peers.  However, the fact that Mr. Brown has been charged and is in custody speaks volumes to the lax leadership that allowed these prescription thefts to occur.  Where is the VA-OIG in asking how the robbery was possible?  Where are the special investigators demanding answers from the leadership on policies and procedures that an employee could easily violate to obtain these drugs?  Who else was involved, or had to know, what was happening and said nothing?Plato 3

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been overtaken by those without skill, knowledge, and ability to understand cause and effect and properly interrupt the cycles of corruption.  Worse, these same people will bleat about how they need more money for technology solutions when their personal example, leadership failures, and human-to-human relationships are the actual problems.  The leaders will bleat like sheep in a corral about engagement, customer service, and industry buzzwords because they have no substance and even less desire to see things change.Plato 2

Recently I detailed the failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs on information technology.  The fallout from the deplorable designed incompetence in the IT/IS infrastructure at the VHA continues to represent just how incompetent the current leaders genuinely are.

To promote compatibility with the Department of Defense’s electronic health record system, VA is replacing its aging record system. This requires VA medical facilities to upgrade their physical infrastructure, including electrical and cabling. The OIG determined from its audit that the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) cost estimates for these upgrades were not reliable. VHA’s estimates did not fully meet VA standards for being comprehensive, well-documented, accurate, and credible. The audit team projected that VHA’s June and November 2019 cost estimates were potentially underestimated by as much as $1 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively. This was due in part to facility needs not being well-defined early on. The estimates also omitted escalation and cabling upgrade costs and were based on low estimates at the initial operating sites. Because cost estimates support funding requests, there is a risk that funds intended for other medical facility improvements would need to be diverted to cover program shortfalls. The Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization (OEHRM) also did not meet its obligation to report all program costs to Congress in accordance with statutory requirements. Specifically, OEHRM did not include cost estimates for upgrading physical infrastructure in the program’s life cycle cost estimates in congressionally mandated reports. Although VHA provided OEHRM with an approximately $2.7 billion estimate for physical infrastructure upgrade costs in June 2019, OEHRM did not, in turn, include them in life cycle cost estimate reports to Congress as of January 2021. OEHRM stated it did not disclose these estimates because the upgrades were outside OEHRM’s funding responsibility and that they represented costs assumed by VHA facilities for maintenance—including long-standing needs” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Angry Wet Chicken 2Did you catch that; the office specifically tasked with handling estimates intentionally low-balled estimates, did not include all necessary contractual requirements, and then lied to Congress to cover their hides, and fell back upon designed incompetence to skirt blame, responsibility, and accountability when the VA-OIG came investigating.  Lying to Congress is a CRIME!  Yet, these federal employees can break the law with impunity, and all the VA-OIG can do is make recommendations for improvement!  If you want to read the full report of shame, you can find it here.

Leadership is change; management is stagnation and corruption.  When will the VA start hiring leaders to enforce, demand, and execute change to benefit the taxpayer and the veteran community?  Where are the elected officials willing to work with newly hired VA leadership in establishing legal frameworks for evicting employees who refuse to change from the federal workforce?  When can the veteran community and the taxpayer expect to see real and tangible change at the VA?

Knowledge Check!I am not asking these questions and not expecting an answer!  I am asking these questions looking for and expecting real results to begin immediately, if not sooner!  This is a national embarrassment with a global impact, and it is time for the United States to lead in correcting their detestable government workforce!

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

Employee Engagement

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

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

Employee Engagement – Defined

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

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

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

Reflective Listening

Listening has four distinct levels; currently, these are:

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

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

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

Appreciative Inquiry

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

Here are the six operational steps for appreciative inquiry:

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

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

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

Organization

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

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

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

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

Have FUN!

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

1F@rr3st1

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

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

 

Weep America! – The VA Leadership is Becoming Worse! – Part 1

Angry Wet ChickenThe Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has really outdone themselves this week.  I am used to being ashamed of what passes for leadership and administrators at the VA, but this week, they have surpassed themselves.  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) filled my inbox with seven investigations results, and the reports of leadership failure should leave every American weeping and madder than wet chicken with a raging case of hemorrhoids!

  • A Hope Mills, North Carolina man, Daniel Bruce Ross, was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for conspiring to accept bribe payments in exchange for the performance of official acts while working as a federal government employee. Ross previously pled guilty to the charge.  He was also ordered to pay $21,520.00 in restitution.”

Accepting bribes, shameful misconduct, and while I certainly agree with the need for punishment, why does this sentence appear light?  Did the bribe recipient make a deal?  If so, as Paul Harvey would say, “Where is the rest of the story?”

VA 3The Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), had their quality assurance program inspected, and the results, oh these results… the VBA administrators should be fired!  There are no excuses sufficiently valid to hide this behavior!

  • To ensure claims decisions are accurate and consistent so veterans receive the benefits to which they are entitled, VBA established a multifaceted quality assurance program. The VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reviewed the quality assurance program and identified a systemic weakness in oversight and accountability… The VA-OIG found that while VBA’s quality assurance program routinely identified claims-processing deficiencies and communicated results to internal and external stakeholders, the Office of Field Operations did not ensure that regional office employees took adequate corrective actions to address the deficiencies identified” [emphasis mine].

VA 3Did you catch that, the leadership who set up the quality assurance program, built into the program a loophole to allow them to not act upon the deficiencies discovered.  Talk about designed incompetence, ineptitude, and outright fallacious behavior!  When a bad decision is made by the VBA, especially due to poor quality assurance, the veteran is out time, money, and resources to gather “new and material evidence” to ask the VBA to review their original decision!  Never are the VBA employees who cost the veteran, ever held accountable, responsible, or made to suffer in kind for their atrocious behavior, and I want my elected representatives to start asking why!

VA SealThe failures of the quality assurance team are not new, 22 July 2020, the VA-OIG found:

    1. …QRT specialists did not identify a significant number of claims-processing errors that should have been identified. Based on a statistical sample, the OIG estimated that 9,900 of the 28,400 quality reviews (35 percent) completed during the review period contained missed claims-processing errors that should have been identified. Quality reviews with identified errors are routed to another QRT specialist for peer review to help ensure the cited errors are The OIG determined that the current peer review process was not adequate to identify errors missed during the initial quality review. In addition, performance reviews of QRT specialists did not promote competency, resulting in missed claims-processing errors.”
    2. Worse, in direct violation of VBA procedures errors identified by QRT specialists, were overturned by regional office managers with 870 errors found where 430 were overturned (49.43%). Why were the regional managers not fired for violating policy?  The VA-OIG continued, stating:

Reconsiderations are requested by employees when they disagree with a cited error. Errors affect employee quality for performance review purposes. The OIG found that VBA’s current procedure regarding requests for reconsideration did not promote objectivity or contribute to accuracy of decisions. In addition, incorrectly overturned errors resulted in inaccurate performance quality for employees.”  Can someone say, Quid Pro Quo?  Should not questions arise about cherry-picking results and holding people accountable?  What about the veterans affected by these quality errors?  Who fights for them when the VA-OIG reports these obscene details and failures in leadership?  Each incorrectly decisioned claim is going to hurt real people, where are the elected representatives?

    1. In reading this report, my favorite quote is made:

The OIG estimated that during the review period 2,000 of 4,400 identified errors (45 percent) were not corrected in a timely manner and 810 of 4,400 identified errors (18 percent) were not corrected at all. In addition, there is no process to confirm that corrective action was taken on error corrections. To maximize the effectiveness of the QRT program, additional oversight, objectivity, and accountability should be established.”  Can you say, “DUH!”  Talk about designing incompetence into a procedure to ensure no responsibility ever hits you, the process can identify errors, but cannot ensure the errors were corrected.  What an asinine and inane bureaucratic trick!

VA 3The following has been a review of the VBA’s quality assurance program, investigated in 2020, for failures of such immense magnitude that the VA-OIG returned, less than a year later asking questions about the VBA’s quality assurance oversight, and the problems only worsened as a deeper dive was made into what governs the quality program at the VBA.  Further supporting that the leadership IS the problem in every branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs!

Plato 2The following is a recap of findings by the VA-OIG regarding the continued mistreatment of VA Employees who report allegations of misconduct, retaliation, or poor performance of senior leaders, and other issues to the whistleblower program at the VA.  This topic is of particular interest to me, as when I called the VA-OIG regarding criminal misconduct by senior VA leaders, I was told since I was no longer an employee whistleblower protection do not apply and an investigation cannot proceed.  Since I had been reporting problems since 2018, I asked if those investigations would continue, and was told no, as I was no longer employed.  Hence, a loophole is built into the rules and policies, you have to somehow remain employed to be considered a whistleblower, but not just an employee.  You must be an employee who is not under probationary periods which can last from 1-5 years depending upon the position from date of hire.

Plato 3The following are findings highlighted from the report on the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) and delivered to Congress:

    • Finding 1: The OAWP Misinterpreted Its Statutory Mandate, Resulting in Failures to Act Within Its Investigative Authority
      1. The lawyers were reading the policies and interpreting their intent too strictly and this was chilling whistleblowers at all levels of the VA.
    • Finding 2: The OAWP Did Not Consistently Conduct Procedurally Sound, Accurate, Thorough, and Unbiased Investigations and Related Activities
      1. The OAWP lacked comprehensive policies and procedures suitable for its personnel given that individuals’ reputations are at stake and whistleblowers’ identities must be protected.
      2. The OAWP did not have quality control measures. While some inadequacies were found by disciplinary officials and VA’s Office of General Counsel, this de facto oversight was not an effective or sustainable solution.
      3. The OAWP had failed to provide the staffing and training necessary to ensure it has the expertise, experience, and commitment that yield objective and thorough investigations.
      4. The OAWP had fallen short of its commitment to conduct “timely, thorough, and unbiased investigations” in all cases within its investigative jurisdiction.
    • Finding 3: VA Has Struggled with Implementing the Act’s Enhanced Authority to Hold Covered Executives Accountable
    • Finding 4: The OAWP Failed to Fully Protect Whistleblowers from Retaliation
    • Finding 5: VA Did Not Comply with Additional Requirements of the Act and Other Authorities
    • Finding 6: The OAWP Lacked Transparency in Its Information Management Practices

VA 3Is the problem clearer; the official investigative arm of the VA has the same leadership problems as the rest of the VA, and those leaders cannot, or will not, properly train staff to do their jobs!  How many employees have been unfairly dismissed by the VA because they reported to the OIG, like they are supposed to do, and retaliatory actions by senior leadership has cost them a job, their professional reputation, and the VA a chance to improve?

Knowledge Check!I can find no media discussion on this report to Congress where the elected officials took any action to hold anyone accountable.  The speech being reported is milk-toast solid and should have led to public remonstrations and it did not even cause a ripple in a toilet bowl.  Meaning that the legislation from 2017 and earlier is still being thwarted by the VA administration and administrators to the detriment of the VA and the employees discharged who did their job and reported on problems witnessed.

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

Communication – A Tool of Improving Call Centers, a Leadership Guide

A call center recently asked for some help. They have an “open-door” policy for employees to use. The call center meets all the designated training directives and compliance mandates. They believe they are the “best of the best” in providing customer support and have won awards from third-parties to back up these claims. Yet, employee churn remains high, employee morale remains low, and the leaders are becoming wary of the employment pool attracted to the call center.

ProblemsIn making observations, the consultant team tested the “open-door” policy and found that those sought were never in their offices even though the doors were open. The training was occurring, but the training offered had little to no value for the front-line customer-facing staff. It was generally considered a zero-sum game, providing time off the phones and causing stress and overtime costs. Worse, the front-line supervisors and employees’ perception was the existence of a chasm, separating them from higher organizational leaders.

Yukl (2010, p. 7) stated the definition of leadership as a “… multi-directional influence relationship between a leader and followers with the mutual purpose of accomplishing real change. Leaders and followers influence each other as they interact in non-coercive ways to decide what changes they want to make.” Fairholm (2001) built on the definition by Yukl (2010), insisting that leadership is a social event specific to the group of followers and leaders. Leadership and followership is a social contract; a call center is one of the most unique social environments possible. Due to this social environment, the leader who inspires communication is the call center leader who will be highly successful and train others to be highly successful.

Inherent to a fruitful and lasting social environment that promotes growth and development, leadership requires non-coercive methods to inspire and empower and provide aid to followers during change. Leadership in call centers is a social event specific to that group of followers, and leaders requiring mutuality in action to influence objectives being appropriately met. Coercion is a poison that infects like cancer into social environments; unfortunately, coercion is an easy trap to fall into as it is effective in the short-term.

Using the definition of leadership by Yukl (2010), we find why coercive leadership is ineffective; coercion cannot touch the followers’ hearts and minds to empower action towards objectives. A coercive action is any activity performed to harm or ensure the compliance of the action’s target. Coercive practices take many forms, from withholding benefits, including praise, to overt action, including threats and force. Coercive measures are used as leverage to force an individual or team to act in a way contrary to their individual or team interests. Covert coercion is rampant in many call centers and takes the form of restrictive policies, carrot/stick incentives, and human treatment policies that allow favoritism to rule instead of results.

Coercion is pernicious, and coercive practices are preventable. Yukl (2010) further elaborated that the follower only gives the coercive leader power out of fear or acts as a coercive agent to oppress others.  Furthermore, Yukl (2010, p. 137) specified that coercive leadership produces fear as the only motivator, and fear is dysfunctional, making nothing but more dysfunction in followers. Academic researchers often use the military as an example of coercive power and coercive leadership. Yet, having served in the US Army and the US Navy, I can attest coercion does not work in the military just as it does not work in any other industry. Coercive power is an acid destroying everything, building nothing, and dehumanizing people into animals.

The opposite of coercion is persuasion. Persuasion is the mode of being effective in collaboration, and persuasion requires trust and communication. Trust is an operational factor that builds the relationship between followers and leaders. It is the single most crucial factor in collaboration; but, collaboration and trust, as operational concepts, require two-directional communication to reach maximum effectiveness (Du, Erkens, Xu, 2018).

Internal-CS-Attitude-Low-ResCommunication as a tool in expressing confidence in the follower/leader relationship gains strength to clear misunderstandings and reach the desired consensus to meet organizational goals and operational objectives. The operational concept of trust and communication requires the third leg of the trust relationship agency. The follower needs to possess agency to act, informed agency requires training to employ, and the power and support of leadership to feel confident in action as detailed by Boler (1968), Avolio and Yammarino (2002). Which is where concepts meet reality, where theory is tested, and the leader is needed.

The following are proposed actions to build trust in organizations, improve communications, and empower the agency in employees to act. One of the worst things a leader can do when coercion is suspected is “trust exercises.” Trust exercises like standing a person on a chair and having them fall back into the team’s waiting arms. A call center leader colleague tried holding team and department meetings using “trust exercises,” and the result was best described as a catastrophe. The actions proposed are practical and can be employed in all call centers, including those working remotely due to COVID.

  1. Employ praise! Honest, truthful, fact-based, and reasoned praise is the most powerful tool a call center leader can employ to build people. With many call center workers working remotely, using praise as a recognition tool is critical to improving employee performance.
      • Use QA calls to issue praise.
      • Use non-cash incentives to recognize powerful deeds.
      • Make praise public through company newsletters and leadership emails.
      • Be specific, direct, and honest in your praise.
      • Be consistent in offering praise.
  1. Saying you have an “open door” is not enough, be the support mechanism your people need.
      • Respond to emails. Even if you cannot offer a substantial response immediately, personalize the email response, set a follow-up date, and meet those follow-up dates for additional communication.
      • Respond to employee questions with enthusiasm for listening and acting, not merely speaking.
      • Stop active listening; begin immediately to listen to meet mutual understanding through reflective listening. Mutual understanding and a promise to act on a concern are essential to support “open-door” policies; failure to listen and act is the number one failure of “open-door” policies.
  2. Training must change. If training is not a value-added exercise to the person receiving training, training has not occurred, resources have been wasted, and problems are generating.
    • Does your trainer know how to gather qualitative data from front-line workers to make curriculum developments?
    • Does your trainer know how to collect quantitative data from the training program to gauge decision-making in curriculum improvement?
    • What adult education theories are your trainers employing to instruct, build, and motivate adult learners who are employed?
    • How do you measure training effectiveness?
    • Does a “trained” employee know how to use trainers’ information to change individual approaches?
    • Do team leaders take an active role in training, or are they just “too busy?”

All these questions and more should be powering your training of the trainer discussions. If these questions are not being addressed, how will you, the call center leader, know your training investment dollars can return a positive investment? Training remote workers, especially, requires training programs that can motivate learners to change personal behavior. Thus, the training must have the ability to reach the student’s honor and integrity.

Leadership CartoonCOVID has provided many opportunities, and only through collaboration, communication, trust, and empowered agency, can help call centers to survive this difficult period. Regardless of how long the government shutdowns occur, your call center can survive, and call center leaders can prosper, provided they are willing to be leaders indeed, not managers in disguise.

References

Avolio, B. J., & Yammarino, F. J. (2002). Transformational and charismatic leadership: The road ahead. San Diego, CA: Emerald.

Boler, J. (1968). Agency. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 29(2), 165-181.

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.

Fairholm, Gilbert W. Mastering inner leadership. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.

Ruben, B. D., & Gigliotti, R. A. (2017). Communication: Sine qua non of organizational leadership theory and practice. International Journal of Business Communication, 54(1), 12-30.

Yukl, G. (2010, April 23). Leadership in organizations [Adobe Digital Edition Version 1.5] (7th ed.).

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.
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