Buzzwords and Canned Phrases – More Tyranny From Plastic Language

Stretched WordsPlasticized words make the most trouble.  Unfortunately, public education in America does not appear to care; public educators are some of the worst abusers of words, disconnecting words from meanings to achieve an agenda, which is practicing mental terrorism.  Poerksen (1995) discusses this phenomenon in some detail, and the need to be more cognizant of the problem is a small part of the solution. For example, Poerksen (1995) brings up the term ‘strategy’; the context might not be clear. Without specifying the intention and meaning, the audience becomes lost quickly but lost with confidence and lost doing what they understand.

Hitler’s Germany was famous for plasticizing words to make socially unacceptable actions acceptable with no negative consequences. For example, consider how cattle cars were used in the transportation of Jewish Citizens and other humans deemed useless, by plasticizing the term “cattle,” the Jews could be eliminated, society could believe 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 dehumanized to the level of cattle.Non Sequitur - Plasticity of Language

Poerksen (1995) is correct in labeling those who intentionally destroy language through plastic words as tyrants and tyrannical actions.  Mao was an excellent speaker, but his deceiving methods included making words plastic to cover abuses of people, destruction of lives, and to help his followers feel good about what they were doing. Likewise, 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 a tiny example of how Ex-President Obama manipulated language to hide, obfuscate, denigrate, and deride the American People.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)3-direectional-balance

If you are going to work in a department with such an auspicious title as “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department (DEI), one might imagine that you have a clear and present understanding of the power of words. But, apparently, those working in DEI either have an agenda and desire to be tyrants or are uneducated in the power and ability of words.  Draw your own conclusion, but I present in totem an email received earlier this week while I was out of the office.

12 Things You Should Never Say… And What To Say Instead

It’s easy to say the wrong thing when you’re under stress or a problem arises. Take a pause to reframe your response:

        1. That’s not my problem. ‘I recommend you speak to_____’
        2. But we’ve always done it that way. That’s a different approach, can you tell me why it’s better?’
        3. There’s nothing I can do. I’m a bit stuck, can you help me find other options?’
        4. This will only take a minute. ‘Let me get back to you on a timeframe.’
        5. That makes no sense.I’m not sure about that one – can you give me some more details on your thinking behind it?’
        6. You’re wrong. ‘I disagree and here’s why ______ what do you think?’
        7. I’m sorry, but…. I’m sorry about that… next time I will _____’
        8. I just assumed that. ‘Could you clarify what your expectations are for me?’
        9. I did my best. ‘What could I do better next time?’.
        10. You should have... ‘It didn’t’ work – here’s what I recommend next time…’
        11. I may be wrong, but... ‘Here’s an idea…’
        12. I haven’t had time. ‘I will be able to get this done by…’

And if you have said something you regret, here are three steps to quickly recover:

        1. Apologize. Be sincere for any upset or confusion you might have caused
        2. State what you didn’t mean. Admit your error, explain what you did not intend to do or say.
        3. Say what you actually meant. Explain what you really intended to say or do.

Please note, no grammar changes were made in copying and pasting this email; I changed the format to emulate the original. So now, let us carefully examine, without judging the grammar, the canned phrasing presented here along three lines: applicability, usefulness, and value.

ApplicabilityDetective 3

When discussing applicability, we are looking for situations where the canned phrasing offered is better than being natural, admitting error honestly, and moving forward from the current position in a constructive manner.  I fully appreciate that the 12 bolded phrases might not be the best way to state something.  However, the lack of applicability for the canned replacement phrases does not improve the situation.  Imagine a situation where the offered canned phrase would work, and I will show you a real-life scenario where it was tried and failed miserably.

Drawing upon more than 20 years of experience in and around call centers as a subject matter expert, as a customer relations expert, and published author, I can certify that canned phrases do not improve situations, nor can they cover mistakes.  Canned phrases stick out like a red dot on a white cloth!  The customer can hear the canned phrases, and the canned phrases will result in negative consequences!  Hence, this information from DEI fails the smell test before ever launching as a potential solution.

UsefulnessLook

When discussing the usefulness of a tool, the first aspect to always note is that any tool should feel comfortable, almost as if it was an extension of yourself.  Tools are intention incarnate; we select tools to perform tasks we cannot perform without the tool.  For example, hammering nails into house framing requires a hammer.   Not just any hammer, but a framing hammer, specifically designed for the job, framing, and because all framing hammers are not manufactured equally, should feel like an extension of your arm and hand.  The same is true for words; words are tools employed to communicate and should feel like an extension of yourself, be personal, and be helpful for the intent of delivering a message.

Again, we find the DEI email and canned phrases not passing the smell test.  Take any single item in the list above and try to use the exact phrase in a sentence with a friend or co-worker, and you will find yourself struggling to personalize that phrase.  Worse, saying it aloud makes you struggle with the offered grammar. So again, try personalizing that phrase; can you find any variation that feels natural to your method of speaking?  If so, you have used the offered phrase, but does it add or detract to the conversation when applying that phrase?  Herein lay the problem, some of the proposed phrases might work with individual variation but still cannot be used for a positive result.

ValueAndragogy - The Puzzle

Value is the sum of the application and usefulness of a tool to create opportunities to advance the situation to a solution positively.  More to the point, the value remains in the hands of the tool user, not the suggester of canned phrases. Thus, the tool’s value is not found in what has been created but in the usefulness and application to the tool’s user.

For example, while working in a call center, the agents were instructed to fit as many “keywords” into a conversation as possible.  The Quality Assurance Department (QA) was counting how often these keywords were used, so the pressure to perform was on the agent.  QA found that the offered words were often used in a single sentence to begin or end the call, and more often than not, when used during a call, led to call escalation.  Hence, the value of the terms was lost on the customer and worsened customer relationships.  Instead of releasing the agent from using keywords, the business managers doubled down.  The management team had no clue about the usefulness of the words as tools for communication and disregarded the need for tool personalization.  When negative results occurred, they compounded their error.  10-years after this disastrous decision, the agents are still forced to use tools that do not fit, the customers have continued to leave in droves, and the management team still struggles to understand why.

Knowledge Check!Application, usefulness, and value are how you measure tools, any tool.  From a tape measure to a hammer, from a computer to computer software, from words to headsets, the tools must meet these three criteria. Unfortunately, buzzwords and canned phrases do nothing to build value, enhance enthusiasm, or build cohesion into an impetus to motivate.  Often, buzzwords and canned phrases do the exact opposite, and failing to understand applicability, usefulness, and value is the problem of those insisting upon terminology, not the audience.  It cannot be stressed enough, plastic words lead to mental terrorism, and terrorism always leads to tyranny!

Reference

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

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

NO MORE: “Constructive Criticism” – Killing The Lie!

Bird of PreyPoerksen (2010) provided sage counsel regarding how language plasticity leads to tyranny. Unfortunately, when discussing criticism, the tyranny of “constructive criticism” is displayed, and it is time for this lie to end, permanently!  Let me state, for the record and unequivocally, criticism never constructs positive behaviors!  Criticism doesn’t change simply because an adjective attempts to make criticism less harmful.

Criticism

Criticism defined, provides key insight from the common definition, “The expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.”  Disapproving based upon perception and expressed through words, looks, actions, and behaviors; this is criticism, and the best people in the world to criticize are the British.  IIf I call the British extremely critical and claim that is a compliment to the residents of the British Isles, those in Scotland and Ireland will understand, and no adjective in the world can make this criticism “constructive.”  As a point of reference, I draw this conclusion about the British from history, but knowing that does not make the criticism less accurate or less painful. On the contrary, I think the British have come a long way in changing their critical behaviors, actions, and manners and applauding them for their growth.

NO FearThe remaining definitions in the term criticism expand nicely upon the point that criticism and being critical can never be “constructive.”  “The analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of work.”  “A person who expresses an unfavorable opinion of something.”  The etymology of critic, which is the root of criticism, comes to us from Latin criticus, from Greek Kritikos, from kritēs ‘a judge’, from krinein ‘judge, decide.’  Never forget criticism, or the act of being critical originates from personal perception, a choice to be judgmental and critical.  The intent is to pass judgment upon something, someone, or someplace with the intent to cause personal harm or sway the opinions of others.

Constructive

Being constructive is “serving a useful purpose, or tending to build up.”  As noted above, criticism cannot be constructive because the adjective “constructive” is the polar opposite of criticism, which tends to tear down, demean, and depress.  Yet, when business leaders begin to write annual reviews, they are told to constructively criticize their employees, to sandwich criticism between praise to make the criticism less painful, and to construct comments in a manner that showcases strengths while not dwelling on the criticism.  Why; because this is the “scientifically approved” method for leadership, provide “constructive criticism.”  Except, criticism is a personal opinion and can never construct anything!

Why are we discussing criticism?Why

09 June 2021, in my company email box, I received an email, considered a “Thought of the Day,” from no less an auspicious source as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department (DEI).  If anyone knew the damage of tyrannical language, I would think those in DEI would have a clue.  Yet, by their email, it is clear that DEI continues to drink the Kool-Aid and act the tyrant where language is concerned.  The email attempts to define destructive criticism and constructive criticism and then provides steps for distinguishing between the two forms of criticism.  Completely forgetting that criticism can never be constructive and will always be destructive.  From the email, we find these two fallacious concepts:

      • Destructive criticism: is undermining and can cause harm. There is no upside or way to positively spin what is said/written because the critic does not have your best interest at heart. It is destructive criticism that gives people fear of criticism in general.
      • Constructive criticism: is designed to be helpful and is based on valid facts/observations. It’s meant to help you grow and become stronger. It’s not always positive, but it can help you to see things in a new light. The critic almost always gives it based on their experience and genuinely wants to help out.Anton Ego 4

Using the definitions provided, can you see the tyranny?  Are the problems with plasticizing criticism behind the adjective “constructive” evident?  Do you understand the term plastic language and how plasticizing a word can destroy a person? Finally, ask yourself, does the professional critic write to “help the subject” of the criticism out, or do they criticize for another purpose entirely?

undefined1960, Doris Day’s movie, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” has a character who moves from being a professor of acting at a college to being a theater critic.  The movie is a comedy and delightfully shows the problems with criticism.  Better, the film underscores how criticizing never leads to constructing a person, a reputation, or an industry.  A more recent example of the problems with criticism can be found in the Disney/Pixar animated movie “Ratatouille.”  Anton Ego is the critic of restaurants, and his name strikes fear and dread into the hearts of the cooks and chefs in a restaurant.  Anton Ego is a tyrant who employs criticism as a tool for his own ends.  The final criticism of Chef Gusteau’s Restaurant near the end of the movie is a stunning example of how criticism can never be constructive!

Bait & SwitchFrom the DEI email, we find something very interesting in the Constructive vs. Destructive questions; the lack of the term “criticism” in the constructive criticism questions. Instead, criticism has been subtly changed to “feedback” in every place the term criticism should reside. So, for example, the first item under constructive is stated, “Feedback and advice from others are essential for growth and success.  Look at criticism as a learning opportunity.”  Better still, the third item in the constructive list states, “Detach yourself from criticism.”

Your ability to understand and refuse to play word games promotes operational trust in an organization, brings stability to teams, and establishes you as a person willing to learn.  Learning thwarts tyranny, and the tyrant has to give ground.  Never lose the moral high ground!

Knowledge Check!Fighting tyrannical modular language, or the plastic word games people play to control an audience, I suggest the following:

        1. Question terms used—demand logical answers.
        2. Know words and definitions; if unsure, ask SIRI, look the terms up in multiple dictionaries, but don’t rely upon one source for an explanation.
        3. When in doubt, practice #2, then #1 until you are less confused. I have found those working to plasticize words cannot stand scrutiny.
        4. Sunshine disinfectant works when tyranny is found; put the tyrant in the sunshine and watch them emulate a vampire in the sunshine!

Freedom requires a willing mind and a courageous heart; you are never alone when you take a stand against tyranny. So stand and watch the tyranny begin to fall like a rock slide.  Be the tiny rock that starts something big!

Reference

Poerksen, U. (2010). Plastic words: The tyranny of a modular language. Penn State Press.

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

Employee Engagement

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

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

Employee Engagement – Defined

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

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

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

Reflective Listening

Listening has four distinct levels; currently, these are:

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

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

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

Appreciative Inquiry

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

Here are the six operational steps for appreciative inquiry:

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

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

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

Organization

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

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

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

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

Have FUN!

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

1F@rr3st1

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

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

 

NO MORE BS: VA Leadership IS the Problem!!!

Angry Grizzly BearPSA:  If you have a weak stomach, please feel free to not read this report.  This article is discussing the ongoing and continual problems of the VA leadership to ensure clean medically reusable equipment is available for practitioners use.  While the YUCK factor is high, the issue remains a leadership failure, and worse, it was purposefully designed into the VA organization to spread infectious diseases between veterans!

The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) conducted an investigation and reported its findings 16 June 2009.  While still not the first-time endoscopes and colonoscopes being dirty have caused patience significant risks, this report clearly details the failure of VA Leadership as an organizational design flaw.  From page i of the report, we find the following:

Facilities have not complied with management directives to ensure compliance with reprocessing of endoscopes, resulting in a risk of infectious disease to veterans. Reprocessing of endoscopes requires a standardized, monitored approach to ensure that these instruments are safe for use in patient care. The failure of medical facilities to comply on such a large scale with repeated alerts and directives suggests fundamental defects in organizational structure” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Also, from page i the scope of the investigation and those requesting the investigation are detailed:

The VA Office of Inspector General received requests from the Secretary, Chairmen and Ranking Members of VA oversight committees, along with individual members of Congress, regarding the reprocessing of endoscopic equipment at several specific VA medical centers (VAMCs), and to assess the extent of related problems throughout the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). The purpose of the review is to describe the pertinent events at VAMCs where problems were reported, assess VHA’s response to the events, and conduct a system-wide evaluation of current reprocessing practices” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Let us be perfectly clear, since 2009, the VA Federal Officers have been informed and kept abreast of the problems with properly cleaning, sanitizing, and documenting reusable medical equipment, specifically endoscopes and colonoscopes, and have done nothing to fundamentally correct the direction of the VA, the VHA, or the offending VAMC’s.  What good is a memo when it is not applied as a standard operating procedure, where consequences are involved?  How is a memo going to be effective against a culture trained to not do their jobs, no matter the cost to patient safety?  To fully comprehend the problem with reusable medical equipment not being properly cleaned and sterilized (repurposed) see pages seven and eight of the following report linked.  There are a lot of acronyms, but the general sentiment is clear, the VA has an enormous problem with properly cleaning reusable medical equipment!

In a VA-OIG report dated 06 May 2021, we find an employee, after having been caught once, still not being properly supervised, not doing their job, and remaining employed.  This employee was caught falsifying legal documents on the cleanliness of endoscopes, and dirty equipment was used on multiple patients.  The facility conducted an investigation, the VISN conducted another investigation, neither investigation led to any type of fundamental organizational change to protect the patient.  Even the VA-OIG investigation has not led to fundamental organizational changes and improvements in cleaning and sterilizing reusable medical equipment.  Frankly, this should scare the daylights out of every veteran going in for any type of care at the VA.VA 3

Trust is hard won and easily lost.  Right now, can any provider at the VA assure any patient that the reusable medical equipment has been properly cleaned and sterilized before being used on that patient?  Since the VA-OIG report in 2009, the direct answer to this question is a resounding NO!  Again, I ask only for emphasis, if a non-VA hospital, clinic, or provider’s office was caught not properly cleaning, sterilizing, and documenting medically reusable equipment, how could they remain in operation?  The short answer is, they could not; unless they are an abortion clinic, but that’s and entirely different subject.  The Federal Government and the lawyers would descend en masse to shut down the facility, hold the administration accountable, and demand retribution for the patients involved.  Why is the VA Administration and VHA Administration, and the VAMC and VISN Administrations able to escape culpability in risking a patient’s health with dirty medical equipment?

Angry Wet ChickenEvery single Federally elected politician should be up in arms about the double standards between VA hospitals and non-VA hospitals.  If a non-VA hospital is caught with dirty medically reusable equipment, can they use the VA as an example in court as a defense?  NO!  Yet, here is a legal double-standard and precedence that opens the door to more questions.

Returning to the 2009 VA-OIG report, we find how the investigation was methodologically carried out.  The methodology reveals just how widespread and in-depth the investigation is, and how deeply this problem is organizationally wide for the VA.

We visited the facilities which had been the subject of considerable media attention: the Bruce W. Carter VAMC (Miami) in Miami, FL; the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System-Murfreesboro campus (Murfreesboro); and the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center (Augusta) in Augusta, GA. We reviewed applicable regulations, policies, procedures, and guidelines. Furthermore, 26 inspectors conducted unannounced onsite visits for the total of 42 probability-based randomly selected VHA facilities to examine pertinent endoscope reprocessing documentation.

Because of the unannounced nature of the inspections and for cost-efficiency, a stratified clustering sample design was employed to maximize the number of facilities that could be inspected in a single day. Two probability-based random samples of VHA endoscope reprocessing facilities were selected from the study populations for the unannounced onsite inspection: one for colonoscope reprocessing and another for ENT endoscope reprocessing. With probability sampling, each unit in the study population has a known positive probability of selection. This property of probability sampling avoids selection bias and allows use of statistical theory to make valid inferences from the sample to the study population.”VA 3

Back in 2009, the media was very cognizant of VA issues, then the dead veteran scandal of 2012 and 2017, turned the media’s attention away from how the VA conducts business.  Let me direct your attention to the final sentence of the quoted material above.  As a researcher, this is a gold standard methodology statement for researching a complex organization like the VA, to pick proper probability samples, and to reduce individual inspector bias in the combined report of findings.  Thus, from this quoted material we can presume both that the methods of conducting the research were sound and conclude that the egregious behavior by administrators is VA wide!VA 3

If dirty medical equipment is how the VA defines excellence in the 21st Century, America’s veterans are in trouble deep!  I am now in my eleventh year of writing about the behavior of the VA and how they intentionally treat veterans.  I have witnessed detestable behavior by providers as an employee, and brought this behavior to the administrator’s attention, for which I was discharged without cause!  I have written about instances of negligence so terrible that there should have been a Congressional Blue-Ribbon panel assigned to demand correction and conduct and investigation, but nothing ever transpired.  I have personally experienced providers so inept, their qualifications should be questioned.  I have observed VA employees abuse, harass, threaten, and intentionally hinder treatment.  The behavior of the VA Administration where reusable medical equipment is concerned is so far beyond the pale, words escape me to describe.

Dont Tread On MeI believe in the little rocks that start landslides.  I know the power of tiny snowflakes that create an avalanche.  I know that if enough veterans, their families, friends, and communities rise up, the elected politicians responsible for scrutinizing the government will be forced to make veteran safety and health at the VA a priority and blessed change will finally arrive in the VA Administration and administrators.  Imagine how you would feel to learn a close friend or family member caught an infectious disease during treatment at the VA.  Please respond accordingly!

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

NO MORE BS: CHANGE! – Let me Explain

Bird of PreyAs a fourteen-year-old, I was wandering around an office supply store in Belfast, Maine, and came across a bookmark I thought had an interesting statement on it:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I thought that saying was pretty neat, and it helped me begin a process in my own life of learning how to learn and challenging change.  Over time, I began to suspect something out of place in the pattern that quote/prayer was claiming; I do not believe there are things I cannot change!  I know that if a person refuses to change, I can do nothing until that person chooses to change.  But, I remain convinced that there is nothing man has made that cannot be changed.Leadership Cartoon

As a building contractor, I learned that the same tools I am using to destruct a building are the same tools I will employ to construct a building.  An important point where change is concerned, structures can come down, structures can be built, but the human element rests upon their own decision to change or not.  However, many times the structures can influence the individual to change.

Detective 4In the US Army, I noticed something powerful; when living in a Korean War-built Quonset hut, my fellow soldiers and I had moral problems, experienced depression, and struggled.  But,  when we moved into new barracks, many of these problems ceased almost immediately.  Thus cementing a lesson, the environment plays a role in personal feelings and influences desires to change.  In the US Navy, this was more poignantly learned.  I slept in Crew Berthing Three, the rest of the engineering department slept in Crew Berthing Two, and I hated going in there.  Between the smell, the lackadaisical attitude towards maintenance, and the general disorderliness of the compartment always left me feeling depressed.  So, even though I slept in the same berthing as Deck Department, which included the Boatswains mates, the berthing spaces were neater, cleaner, and better all around.  Environment matters and influences personal desire to change or not to change.

As my injuries have worsened with age, my ability to rebuild engines, build or destruct structures, and operate heavy equipment has been reduced dramatically.  But, the lessons taught have remained, there are people I cannot change, but there is nothing that I cannot change.  My wife asks me all the time why do I write articles for a blog.  My answer is rooted in the Serenity Prayer quoted above; there is nothing I cannot influence to change.

Andragogy - LEARNToolsThere are people who I have met who will never change.  One comes readily to mind, I was homeless on the streets of Auburn, Washington, after leaving the US Army in S. Korea.  I had a job but no place to stay.  One night while wandering to keep warm, I met a homeless man who refused to change.  He was homeless by choice, not because of any drinking or drug problem, not because he was not smart enough to get a job and improve his living conditions, but because he chose to be homeless.  He said, “I am who I am, and I refuse to change just to please society.”  A very intriguing thought occurred to me then and has repeated often, am I choosing to be homeless, or am I choosing to grow?

I choose to be a lifelong learner; this commitment sprang from this conversation with this homeless man in Auburn, Washington.  I committed to several principles knowing that I could more greatly influence my environment as I changed myself.

      1. Be Curious
      2. Focus on Active Looking
      3. Review and Redraft
      4. Improve memory and recall
      5. Change your perception

Because there is nothing I cannot change, I know the power of small pebbles in a landslide.  I know the power of tiny snowflakes in an avalanche.  I understand how a small rudder can turn an enormous ship for good or ill.  Nothing man has made that man cannot unmake, remake, fix, correct, or influence change.  There are people no one will ever influence due to moral agency, individual perception, and the valuation of consequences.  But, the environment around that person can be changed, and opportunities provided to encourage a different mindset.

GearsCase in point, an engineering shipmate of mine, was kicked out of Crew Berthing Two for smelly feet, which led to smelly shoes, which upset a lot of people in Crew 2.  He was forced to come live in Crew Berthing Three.  Why did he have stinky feet, a fungus was growing on his feet, and he had never been taught how to care for his feet.  He could wash them 100 times a day, but because he did not know how to care properly for his feet, nothing would change, and his feet would stink.  When my shipmate chose to change, we taught him about foot care, he went to medical and got some fungal cream, and he purchased new shoes and socks.  Why were his feet not a problem in Crew Three; we had better, and took better care, of the ventilation system than Crew two.Courage

Those engineers in Crew Two could not understand that the environment influences behavior, and the influence of behavior led to negative consequences.  The move to Crew Three changed the environment physically and led to an eventual change in mindset for the person.  Could Crew Two have had better ventilation; absolutely, if the members living there desired it.  Since they individually decided not to have better ventilation, the consequence was a smellier and more nasty berthing space.  Environment plays a role in behavior and influences people for good or ill.  We can affect the environment, but we cannot force change upon people who refuse to change.Behavior-Change

Leading to the final thought, why do we need “wisdom to know the difference?”  I  can change the environment around me.  I can change me.  I cannot change other people, but I can change other things and influence the people after changing those things in the environment, causing problems.  Let us examine this from the viewpoint of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The administrators (people) are causing moral issues and distress in the employees.  Some of the employees like being morally repugnant. Others are ethically obtuse because of job security. Others remain true to themselves and stay in the system to help affect change.

Life ValuedHow does a person change a system built by man; start with the environment, which in this situation are the processes, procedures, and methods of conducting work.  A leader arrives and begins influencing people through how they perform their work.  Then begins the fundamental operations of training to new standards, including ethical, moral, and logical processes and procedures written down.  Then, that leader begins holding people, not written processes, accountable for their actions.  Shortly every person will be faced with a choice, change or leave.  Hence, cleaning and correction become a natural function of the environment, and change is made where many have claimed; change will never happen.

Knowledge Check!As an industrial and organizational psychologist, I know this is the path forward as I have applied these lessons in my own life.  Changing people, like destructing and constructing buildings, does not occur magically.  Plans are made, planning is carried out, and fundamental change occurs through the environment.  Use the pattern:

      1. Be Curious
      2. Focus on Active Looking
      3. Review and Redraft
      4. Improve memory and recall
      5. Change your perception

Watch what happens!  It is amazing to see and possible to change.  Nothing cannot be changed; only people choosing not to change cannot be changed.  But people are not the environment, and the environment can influence people!

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

NO MORE BS: Excuses or Designed Incompetence

ApathyConsider the following situation, you receive a letter dated 26 February 2021, postmarked 11 March 2021, and received on 16 March 2021.  The letter demands you respond within 14-days of the date of the letter, or you will be held accountable for failing to respond in a timely manner.  When you call to complain about the delay in receiving the letter, you are told, the US Post Office (USPS) is to blame, and all complaints should be directed to the USPS.

What is an excuse?

An excuse is a method to reduce blame attached to an action, defend or justify one’s actions, an attempt to release one from accountability or a poor or inadequate example of something.  As children, we are taught excuses are like noses; everyone has one, and picking it in public is disgusting.  Yet, when something happens, two types of people emerge, those who make excuses and those who take responsibility and work to fix the problem.

Calvin & Hobbes - TypicalWhat is designed incompetence?

Designed incompetence is a ready-made excuse for inadequacies created in business operations, a method to avoid responsibility and accountability. Due to the cost of designed incompetence, it is generally only found in government operations.  Designed incompetence can also be intentional actions designed into business operations, so the expected functions are designed to fail purposefully.  Designed incompetence is always harmful and destructive in nature, generally will make no logical sense, and will always be the preplanned leadership fallback position.

Example of an excuse:

The USPS is running slow, so the delivery of mail is taking longer to deliver than usual.

COVID has a lot of employees out sick, so operations are slower.

The person who wrote the order requesting the work to be completed did not do their jobs properly, and the original order must be rewritten.

Examples of designed incompetence:

Detective 4How mail is handled is that one person prints the letter and stuffs it into an envelope.  Another employee picks up the mail for delivery to the mailroom.  A third employee operates the postage machine.  Once posted, a fourth employee takes all the mail to the postal dropoff/pickup point.

The “system” is designed so that the person writing the orders is the only one who can designate where the work can be completed.

The regular employee handling this process is out, and nobody else knows that position sufficiently to perform the employee’s functions with COVID.  So everything had to stop while we waited for the original employee to return.

We “forgot” to reset the postage paid from $0.46 to $0.51, which caused delays in mail being correctly posted and sent out.  Since four of the six-letter received on 16 March had a second $.10 postage on the back, I can presume safely there was a delay.

What do you think?

Today, I spent four different calls to the same government agency, and received more than 12 different excuses, and identified 6 processes designed incompetently with the sole purpose of providing a method to shift blame, remove accountability, deny responsibility.  I was talking to the Department Heads of three different sections of the same organization.  People in charge of fixing the problems to eliminate excuses and redesign operations to remove designed incompetence are not doing their jobs.  Maybe, my analysis is a little hasty; however, after 17 years of dealing with this organization, I feel confident in my conclusions.

Duty 3I know my response; I am very disgusted with the organization and these designed incompetent operations and lackadaisical managers posing as leaders.  As a professional who works with companies and organizations, I work tirelessly to remove excuses and eliminate designed incompetence.  Yet, I do not understand how the government can continue to escape responsibility, accountability, and behavior correction.  I am not confused but very disheartened that Congress refuses to scrutinize the government to correct and improve behavior and performance.

What would you suggest for corrective behavior for the government?  I am genuinely interested in your thoughts and comments, for, from the disparity of the comments, we can design improvements and demand those improvements are accepted.  Feel free to dream big in the comments, and let’s design our government to improve for all.

© 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.

More VA Insanity – COVID Mask Policy – Denial of Service

I-Care02 March 2021 – Today, I got a secure message from the pulmonologist at the VAMC in Phoenix; he needs me to go to the hospital for a series of tests to understand why I cannot breathe.  Except, when he tried to get me into the hospital, he was told the VA Mask Policy would not be allowed to be “adjusted,” and the administration is the problem.  Worse, the local administration refuses to engage in discussion, refuses to write a cohesive and legal policy, and absolutely continues to deny service to veterans illegally.

I desperately need answers as to why the VA Hospital is allowed to act in this manner.  The denials of service are more than just a mask policy issue where COVID is concerned.  The actions of the Phoenix VAMC since June 2020 extend beyond simple bureaucratese where COVID masking is concerned.  Where are the elected representatives in scrutinizing the Phoenix VAMC?  Where is the media in demanding answers to the abuses being witnessed?  Where are the police in protecting the innocent?

InertiaTo actively work to refuse service, shut down dissenters, and muzzle those who honestly want to help and change the Phoenix VAMC into something worthy of respect and improve the care of the patients who try and obtain healthcare at the facility is atrocious behavior worthy of the harshest condemnation.  My medical chart clearly states I cannot wear a mask, the pulmonologist needing me to receive tests to understand why, is unable to obtain community care due to administrative fiat, and unable to get the VA to stop needlessly harassing, injuring, and arresting me because I cannot safely wear a mask.  All because the administrators would prefer to refuse service, deny care, and then complain that nobody is making their appointments.

2004, I started this journey with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); I had spinal problems, I was short of breath, I had neurological issues, and a host of other issues.  Yet, for more than 10-years, the VA refused care after I left the service with injuries because of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) treatment.  As soon as I finally get the VBA to act, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) begins to act like I am scum that was drug in off the streets.

LookWhat drives me crazy, I have been across the United States and seen the inhumanity of the VA Administration up close and personal too many times to think the problems are limited to only one VISN or another.  I have witnessed veteran patients and dependents worthy of the highest care denied service and then further abused by the VAMC refusing these people’s future care.  I have witnessed VA employees create rules to inconvenience a veteran patient, slow care, and deny service to a patient who had to travel 4-6 hours to the VA.  The VA-Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) relates more and more abuses by VBA and VHA staff monthly, where accountability is lost, responsibility rarely accepted, and the cycles of abuse continue because nobody in VA leadership will act!

Does anyone understand what this entails?  A patient, not me, with chronic pain and incredible service-connected injuries, is denied the ability to drop off a letter for his primary care provider, and the VA employee who would handle the letter anyway refused to accept the letter unless the letter was mailed.  The veteran drives four-hours to the VA Hospital every time he needs care and he works to maximize his time while at the VA taking care of as much business as possible.  The employee claimed that if the patient left the letter on that employee’s desk, the employee would throw it away.  The VA employee refusing to help a veteran was shortly promoted, moved to a less visible clinic, and the veteran who needed the help still has not received the support he needs.  Even after writing to the hospital administrator, the VISN administrator, and his congressional representative.  Why do I know so much about this case, I witnessed the scene and have been kept abreast of the trouble this veteran is having.

Survived the VAI met a veteran on social media who is in my same boat and cannot physically and safely wear a mask.  He has been actively denied service, even while bleeding, at the ER.  If President Trump had not signed the Community Care Act, which forces the VA to allow patients the VA refuses to see to access community-provided care, both of us would have been much worse than we are today.  Monday (01 March 2021), a nurse from my primary care provider called to relay information. The nurse refused to provide service, refused to answer questions, and then chose to become offended and disconnected the call.  Worse, I still have no idea why the nurse called, the purpose for the call, or what outcome will be derived from the call.  Why; because you cannot directly call your clinic and receive answers.  The phone chain games mean I call the clinic and get routed to a call center, they leave a message for the provider, and possibly within a week, I might obtain an answer from the provider.

Want to reach your clinic directly; send a secure message through the MyHealtheVet portal.  Then wait for an answer that can take as little as 24-hours, or as long as 3-months, if you get a response at all.  I have asked simple questions through both phone and secure messages and received atrocious answers, answers not fit to print, and answers that are a logical pretzel-making no sense but are regarded as “the policy of this hospital.”  A non-veteran I was casually talking to asked, “Why do you use the VA at all?”  The short answer is because if you do not use the VA, the billing nightmare to get the VA to pay for healthcare from military-connected injuries is a bloody nightmare!

VA SealCase in point, 30 June 2020, I checked into an ER for care.  January 2021, I receive a collections notice for the visit.  I called and asked why; apparently, the hospital submitted the statement to TriCare instead of TriWest, causing confusion and denial of service.  But, the VA “due to HIPAA” policies could not speak directly to the hospital, only to me.  I had to call the hospital and inform them of what the VA said.  The hospital’s billing department, the collections agency, and I are stuck between two bureaucracies at the VA, and I have an active collections problem hammering my credit.  These shenanigans are, but a small part of the regular issues all veterans are handed because the VA refuses to do their jobs creates rules and policies at whim to inconvenience, and flat out refuses to do their jobs!

Patients seeking care at the majority of VA Hospitals face no customer care, worse customer service, refusal to honor the job, disrespect of the patients, dependents, and veterans, and worse service for active personnel.  I have seen the VA’s actions, and I refuse to stay quiet about the illegal behavior, unethical actions, and the immoral treatment of veterans, active service members, and the qualified dependents seeking care and finding crass bureaucratic red tape.  There is no reason for this abuse of the patient, except as previously mentioned, the VA Hospitals can “get away” with bad behavior where non-government hospitals cannot.

Where do we go from here?

DetectiveWith the government being less than enthused with ending the COVID-Farce, with the media refusing to recognize a problem and assist in advocating for a reprieve, and with the elected officials failing to scrutinize the workings of the executive branch’s operations properly, I am not sure of the proper answer to this question.  Insanity, according to Einstein, is doing the same things over and over, expecting different results.  The paradigm of government-provided healthcare is a pernicious fraud and desperately needs to be corrected.  But the answer is more than simple bureaucratic inertia found in many other government agencies.  The VA has built a special case for itself, and the solution will necessarily require new approaches and new thinking.

The belief that government is good for anything but injuring others remains an idea that needs to spread far and wide in an effort to reduce the harm caused by the government.  The American people require a higher return on their investment in the government through forced taxation.  Yet, the administers of government and the elected representatives hired to scrutinize the government fail to act, believe the bureaucrats over the citizen, and are part of the problem.

Fishbone DiagramRoot cause analysis points to inertia as being a prime candidate in the failures experienced and witnessed.  Inertia is a comfortable blanket to wrap yourself in when change is supposed to occur, but change scares you.  The hospital administrators refused to act because that would require a spine and written records scare the hospital administrators; especially those in Phoenix after two dead veterans’ scandals where responsibility pointed to people who possessed written records.  Hence, besides inertia is the fear of being held accountable because the written records exist.  Yet, because policies, directives, and processes are not being written down, behavior can worsen where the veteran patient is abused, and there is nothing that can be pointed to claiming the actions taken were inappropriate.

Detective 3Logic claims that if the VA denies service to a class of veteran patients, then another option for receiving care should automatically open.  However, the lack of written policies and the inertia of the employees causes the veteran patient a nightmarish cycle of needing care but not being able to access care.  Because the employees are following spineless leaders and inertia is better than sticking one’s neck out and acting differently from the pack.  Thus, plotting a path forward requires leadership and a willingness to document, change, and adapt, all of which appear anathema to the VA generally and the Phoenix VAMC particularly.

The VA-OIG just recently finished an audit of community care claims being handled by 3rd party contractors.  The results are fairly typical of the VHA and VBA using designed incompetence.

The OIG audit found that inadequate contract terms and VA’s lack of effective oversight contributed to claims processing inconsistencies and errors. The VA’s contract did not include standardized criteria for contractor employees to use when distributing and processing claims. Furthermore, the contract did not require contractor employees to follow VA’s Office of Community Care (OCC) claims-processing guidance. Although the contractor cannot be faulted for acting inconsistently with OCC guidance not required in its contract, the resulting inconsistencies mean VA lacks assurances that proper processes were used. VA also did not have an official quality reporting mechanism in place before February 2019.”

The VA-OIG report quoted above discussed how 13% of the claims were handled inappropriately, causing veterans’ problems and delays in processing for providers.  In Albuquerque, NM., I saw this firsthand.  The VA sent me to a community provider; the community provider filed all the proper paperwork and kept gathering more paperwork for the next three years.  Finally, when all the red tape was satisfied, ¾’s of the bills were too old to receive payment.  That provider went bankrupt trying to provide services to veterans because he could not get paid in a timely manner.  I was there for the full and abysmal treatment of this provider by the VA.

Detective 4The designed incompetence is galling and getting worse.  The VBA is the portion of the VA that makes claims decisions.  Recently the VA-OIG investigated the VBA specifically to check consistency to comply with skills certification for compensation and pension claims processors.  The results are a horror story of designed incompetence, failure to do the job, and trainers’ failure to train properly.  Of the 10,800 claims processors required to certify their jobs, 4700 were never tested from 2016-2019.  Of the 2,500 who failed the certification test, 1,900 did not have any repercussions, training plans, identified corrective action, or employer counseling.  Worse, the VBA failed to take any personnel actions on 98% of the population surveyed (10,800).  2018, as in the entire fiscal year of 2018, the certification tests were unavailable due to technical issues on the VBA’s intranet.  Meaning that effectiveness in 2019 to measure and certify was virtually useless!  Does anyone wonder why veterans are refusing to trust the VBA and the VHA?  Is the problem clearer that congressionally elected officials’ failures to scrutinize the government influence the employees’ behaviors for the worst?  How many claims have been improperly decided, wasting taxpayer time and money and the veteran’s time and money since 2016 by failing to certify to fill the roles and duties the American Taxpayer is paying them to fulfill?

Wasting TimeIt is imperative for profound and fundamental organizational change at the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin as soon as practical.  Worse, scratch the surface of any other government agency on the Federal or State level, and the same problems arise.  The same abuse of taxpayers, the same refusal to do the jobs hired to perform, and extensive cultures of inert slugs just punching time and wasting money until they can retire!

© 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.

Tiger Teams – A Potential Solution to VA Issues: An Open Letter to Secretary Wilkie

I-CareTo the Honorable Secretary Robert Wilkie
Department of Veterans Affairs
Washington D.C.

Dear Sir,

For almost a decade, I have read and studied the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from the position of patient, employee, concerned citizen, and now as an organizational psychologist.  During this time, I have read many Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigation reports, and yearned to be of fundamental assistance in improving the VA.  I have an idea with potential for your consideration, “Tiger Teams.”

In the US Navy, we used “Tiger Teams” as “flying squads” of people, dedicated to a specific task, and able to complete work quickly.  The teams included parts people, technicians, specialists, and carried the authority of competence and dedication to quickly fixing whatever had gone wrong during an evolution, an inspection, or even in regular operation.  It is my belief that if your office employed a “Tiger Team” approach for speedy response, your job in fixing core problems the VA is experiencing would be easier.  Please allow me to explain.

Tiger TeamThe VA-OIG recently released a report regarding deficiencies in nursing care and management in the Community Living Center (CLC) at the Coatesville VA Medical Center, Pennsylvania.  The inspection team validated some complaints and were unable to validate all complaints because of poor complainant documentation.  Having a Tiger Team able to dispatch from your office, carrying your authority, would provide expert guidance in rectifying the situation, monitoring the CLC, and updating you with knowledge needed to answer the legislator’s questions regarding what is happening.  The VA-OIG found other issues in their investigation that were not covered under the scope of the investigation, leaving the VA-OIG in a difficult position.  Hence, another reason for a Tiger Team being created, to back stop and support the VA-OIG in correcting issues found outside their investigatory scope.

Fishbone DiagramFor a decade now, I have been reading how the VA-OIG makes recommendations, but where is the follow-up from the VA-OIG to determine if those recommendations are being followed and applied?  Too often there is no return and report feature built into the VA-OIG investigation, as these investigators just do not have the time.  Again, this is what a Tiger Team can be doing.  Taking action, training leaders, building a better VA, monitoring and reporting, building holistic solutions, and being an extension of your office on the front lines.  Essentially using the tools from your office to improve the operations locally, which builds trust between the patients and the care providers, building trust between the families and the VA, and delivering upon the Congressional mandate and VA Mission.

Another recent VA-OIG report also supports the need for a fast response Tiger Team.  Coordination of care and employee satisfaction concerns at the Community Living Center (CLC), Loch Raven VA Medical Center, in Baltimore, Maryland.  In geographic terms, this incident is in your backyard.  While the VA-OIG inspection was rather inconclusive, and recommendations were made, it appears some things are working in this CLC and other things are not working as well as they should.  By using a Tiger Team as a flying squad, intermittent and unannounced inspections by the Tiger Team can aid in discovering more than the VA-OIG could investigate, monitoring the situation, and reporting on progress made in improving performance.

As an employee, too often the director of HAS would claim, “That problem is too hard to fix because it requires too many people to come together and agree on the solution.”  Or, “The solution is feasible, but not worth the effort to implement because it would require coordination.”  Getting the doctors and nurses talking to and working with administration is a leadership role, providing support to leaders is one of the best tools a Tiger Team possesses one authority is delegated.  The Tiger Team presents the data, presents different potential solutions, and the aids the leadership locally in implementation.  As an employee I never found a problem in the VA that could not be resolved with a little attention, getting people to work together, and opening lines of communication.  Thus, I know the VA can be fixed.

Root Cause AnalysisThe Tiger Teams need to be led by an organizational psychologist possessing a Ph.D. and a personal stake in seeing the VA improve.  The organizational psychologist can build a team of like-minded people to be on the flying squad, and these team members should be subject matter experts in VA policies, procedures, and methods of operation, and should change from time to time.  I have met many people from the VA who not only possess the passion, but are endowed with the knowledge of how to help the VA, and I would see the VA succeed.  Yet, I am concerned that the VA is not changing, not growing, and not developing the processes and procedures needed to survive, and this is damaging the VA, which leads to wasted money and dead veterans.

Why not have a flying squad for each VISN, who can meet to benchmark, compare notes, and best practices.  Who work from home and visit the local offices in the VISN, reporting directly to your office with a copy to the VISN leadership.  Whose job is to build the Tiger teams needed to oversee, provide expert support, and practical analysis.  The idea is to help you gather real time data, improve implementation of VA-OIG recommendations, and meet the demands of Congress.  If a Tiger Team, with the functioning Flying Squad, can save one VA-OIG inspection in each VISN, by improving that VISN, medical center, CLC, etc. before it becomes a major problem on the sSix O’clock News, then the Tiger Teams have paid for themselves.

All veterans know of the Phoenix VA Medical Center debacle, where veterans died while waiting for appointments.  I fully believe that had the VA Secretary had a Tiger Team in place, the root causes of that incident would have triggered the necessary flags to save lives and avoid or mitigate the catastrophe.  Flying squads are the Tiger Team in action, and action should be the keyword for every member of the team.  The mission of the Tiger Team should be to find and fix root causes, repair trust, and implement change needed to improve VA operations at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), and the National Cemeteries.

The VBA is especially vulnerable, and in need of outside resources to support change.  Recently the VBA was involved in another scandal involving improper processing of claims for veterans in hospital over 21-days, resulting in millions of dollars either overpaid or underpaid to the veterans.  Training, managerial oversight, and proper performance of tasks was reportedly the excuse the VBA used, again, to shirk responsibility.  Tiger Teams can provide the support needed to monitor for, and encourage the adoption of, rectifying measures and VA-OIG recommendations, not just at the VBA, but across the full VA spectrum of operations.

Please, consider implementing Tiger Teams, from your office, assigned to a specific VISN, possessing the authority delegated to run the needed analysis, build support in local offices, and iron out the inefficiencies that keep killing veterans, wasting money, and creating problems.  I firmly believe the VA can be saved and improved, built to become more flexible, while at the same time delivering on the promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”

I-CareThank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Dave Salisbury
Veteran/Organizational Psychologist

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

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

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

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The Ugly Face of Government Largess – The Bureaucrat!

Government LargessCharles A. Reich, an American legal and social scholar as well as an author who was a Professor at Yale Law School, in his paper “The New Property” writes about how government largess created the bureaucrat.  The same bureaucrat who invents rules to exercise authority creates problems to stop work, and generally acts in a manner conducive to a feudal lord over the taxpayer, to pick winners and losers through government magnanimity, rather that specific individual bureaucrat’s magnanimity.  Well, the bureaucrat has one thing correct, their enmity is destroying America!

New Mexico is facing a severe teacher shortage, Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) is facing not only a significant teacher shortage but also remains completely clogged with bureaucratic drones that thwart efforts by people to help meet the teacher shortage and improve education in New Mexico’s largest public school district.  With a regular need for 300+-substitute teachers and pages of teacher openings, logic would say, “Let us innovate, create, and participate actively in alternative teacher licensure programs to fill this teaching gap.”  Herein is the mind of the bureaucrat most obvious; APS refuses to participate, sponsor, host, or help those seeking a teacher license a path forward to obtain a teaching license through alternative licensure.

Government Largess 2The APS bureaucrats did three things this Summer, they hired Kelly Education Services to attempt to improve the substitute teaching pool.  Except, the contract with Kelly does not go into effect until October 14th, the better part of two months after the school opened for a new year. The bureaucrats over substitute teaching, never changed the convoluted and insane practices to reduce costs and help those seeking licensure to afford to become substitute teachers.  The school board approved a much-needed pay raise for fully-licensed teachers; while minimizing the opportunities for alternative licensure, and increasing the paperwork and procedures to become a licensed teacher. As well as making the current teachers suffer more under onerous district mandates.  The mind of the bureaucrat is entirely on display, and APS’ actions constitute child abuse!

APS is also suffering from a school principal and other administrative staff shortage.  Between NM State and APS, the bureaucrats have created a system of public education geared to keep those students in poverty, as far away from education as possible.  To continue to actively seek ways to prevent students from learning, by providing lower student standards, less emphasis upon reading, writing, and arithmetic, all the while continuing to rely upon “magic-bullet” expensive programs that cannot deliver, due to the bureaucratic interference, by APS.  The NM State Professional Licensure programs are replete with hurdles to stop, thwart, and actively protect the APS bureaucrats.  Hence, NM State is guilty of child abuse, by protecting bureaucrats who keep students from becoming educated.

Today, I drove from Albuquerque, NM to Santa Fe, NM, specifically to the New Mexico Professional Licensure Bureau, to have a conversation with the state officials regarding alternative licensure for teaching, and to renew my substitute teachers license.  My conversation lasted less than five minutes, with a bureaucrat who represents the epitome of a useless bureaucratic drone.  The bureaucrat fell back on answers using policy, blame-shifting tactics, that included answers that provided no information and was intended to frustrate the applicant; all while acting like I was an interruption to her day.  The cubicle secured room behind the “service-window” has piles of work laying in dusty dormant heaps throughout the office walkways.  The office ambiance resembled a sleeping cave, where the lights are turned low, and with tall cubicle walls; thus, it is apparent the bureau is not home to efficient work.  The office has a “service-window,” where the applicant can approach and attempt to conduct business.  But, to contact this State Office, you must first run the gauntlet through rent-a-cops with Schutzstaffel (Nazi-Germany SS Para-military troops) wannabes standing “guard” in the front of the building.

Department of Homeland Security, you have created a monster, and the blame is all yours!  SCG, no website found, is the current contractor to Homeland Security for the Federal Buildings in Santa Fe, NM.  These Rent-a-Cop Bureaucrats think that they can judge how a person is feeling, and deny access to a Federal Building based solely upon their discretion, and personal opinions of the citizen entering the building.  I have now had this same issue at three Federal Buildings in NM.  While I was very disgruntled the first time this occurred, by the 15th time, I can only say, “Department of Homeland Security, please cease hiring snowflakes, rent-a-cops, and thugs as “security” for Federal Buildings.”  Better still, train them in professionalism, dignity, and how to do the job you have hired them to perform, without hassling the citizen trying to conduct business in a Federal Building.  Security at a Federal Building should not be the first hurdle a citizen must navigate to reach the bureaucrats.

I asked for a supervising officer when the “security officers” began hassling me, and was told, “You can be detained for trespassing in a Federal Building.”  I asked them, “Under what charge?” Then was told a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo, that was not accurate!  One officer pulled out a cell-phone and supposedly called the officer in charge (OIC), and related a bunch of lies to inflate his reasoning why he was hassling me, and refusing to allow me entrance.  I asked again for an OIC and was provided a lecture in a wild attempt to justify their continued unprofessional behavior, for my attempting to enter a Federal Government building.  I was threatened, again, with being detained, and then they “mercifully allowed” entrance, provided I was escorted to the NM Professional Licensure Bureau, to ensure I was not going to “cause an unprofessional scene.”  I was followed to NM Licensure Bureau, and one of the officers entered into the bureau to report me as a “difficult person” to the staff in the office.

Government Largess 3The mind of the bureaucrat looks for every opportunity to thwart a citizen in interacting with the government, that citizens hired through the ballot box, where the bureaucrat can then pick winners and losers in receiving government largess.  The best line of this interaction, “We are here to protect the workers in the back, from people like you.”  I was then told how disgruntled people, frighten, scare, intimidate, and disrupt a “professional” workplace.  Upon exiting the building without any answers or receiving assistance, I saw the woman who kept popping her head up on the second-floor atrium where the elevators let you off, who witnessed this interaction, talking in hushed and hurried tones with the single officer remaining in the front, as the officer that “escorted me” was still not back on duty at the security checkpoint.

To recap, a “security officer” considers it his duty to be off-station, at a two-man security post, to attempt intimidation of a citizen needing to conduct business.  Two “security officers” harass and hassle a person entering the Federal Building because they collectively decided the citizen’s attitude was not “sufficiently professional” to obtain entrance.  The “security officers” do not know the law, and cannot execute the law faithfully and without bias.  The only recourse available to the citizen is to swallow this abuse, harassment, and profiling, to rescue their day and complete the work they need to accomplish to obtain employment.

Department of Homeland Security, you are directly responsible for the wasted time, energy, and the idiocy of the two “security” officers at 120 S Federal Place, Santa Fe, NM on duty on 19 September 2019, at 1300.  Just as I hold you in contempt and responsible for the continued actions of bureaucratic “quasi-security officers” in Albuquerque, and I have filed more complaints against the unprofessionalism and ridiculous disregard that oozes from the pores of every single rent-a-cop in Federal Buildings experienced in New Mexico.  I cannot fathom how or why I have these access problems only in the Federal Buildings in New Mexico.  I have not had a single issue in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and a host of other places across America.  I will congratulate, and thank you, for the attempt at correcting the issues at the Federal Buildings in Albuquerque, as that situation has slightly improved; now fix the rest of the bloody Federal “security officers” in the state of New Mexico.

America, we have a significant problem with the government, it started in the 1930s when the government took advantage of a catastrophe to seize power from the citizens, and this problem has only increased in the almost 100-years since.  The bureaucrat that works in serving the public is an extension of the officers elected in the ballot box.  Thus, I implore; please hold those elected accountable for the drones, the power-hungry, and those who consider their work on the public’s behalf as executing government largess, responsible and, accountable.

“We may define a republic to be … a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behaviour” [Emphasis added].  – James Madison

Only those elected can positively influence the actions of the bureaucrat hiding in their cubicles lording their power over citizens.  Only those elected can be held accountable and responsible for what the workers and staffs do in the name of those elected.  We, the legal citizens of America are the government we elect, and I advocate the position that I am not a peon, serf, or “huddled mass” beholden to the government.  The government, from the local dog catcher, school board, and judge to the President of the Republic of these United States, is beholden to you and to me.  Those bureaucrats hiding in offices that make your life so difficult are obligated to us as well.

Image - Eagle & FlagI refuse to be the property of the government, standing like Oliver Twist, begging for slop from fat and repugnant government officials.  America, we deserve a more responsive government, our Constitutional Rights declare that the power over the Government is ours to hold, and the government must come to us to ask for more.  Let us use the control we hold and demand accountability and responsibility from those elected.  Where those elected are requiring compliance, and keeping those working in public service accountable for the abuse and mistreatment the citizen receives at the hands of bureaucrats.

Reference

Charles A. Reich, The New Property, 73 Yale L.J. (1964). Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/ylj/vol73/iss5/1

 

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

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

Leadership Theory Analysis – Creating Hybrid Solutions in Leadership

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

Theories and Models

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

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

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

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

Application to Organizational Success

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

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

Conclusion

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

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