The Role of a Call Center Trainer: A Qualitative Descriptive Study

Bobblehead DollI want to express my deepest gratitude to Call Centre Helper Magazine for the opportunity to advertise for my dissertation research.  I once asked a call center leader what a trainer does; their answer still makes me chuckle.

A trainer trains!

Kind of obvious, right.  Now, what does a trainer train?  How does a trainer train?  How does a business leader know the trainer has been successful in training?  What is the purpose of training?  What does training do for those trained?  These questions and the business leaders’ comment have inspired my professional and academic footsteps for several years now.Call Center 2

In early July 2021, I finally received permission to begin human testing for my dissertation.  I have posted several advertisements on social media for call center workers, trainers, and senior leaders to entice 17 people willing to answer some questions about training in call centers, a call center trainer, and what precisely a call center trainer does.  The following is a brief description of the aims and intents of my research to increase interest and hopefully glean the needed participants to finish my study.

Consider for a moment a teacher who has influenced you professionally or personally, and why did they make such an impact?  Could a different person have made the same impact?  Why?

The above questions are the crux of my research; to date, the role of the instructor has not been considered a variable in corporate training.  As an adult educator, I find this gap very alarming.  In academia, the teacher’s role has been extensively studied, and opinions abound regarding the role of the teacher.  Yet, in a professional setting, no researcher has addressed this gap to date.  With the push to move all training to computer-based solutions in autonomous environments, if the trainer does not teach corporate knowledge and behaviors, who does?

Call Center BeansIn researching the history of professional training, the model employed has not changed since a master taught journeyman who led novice instruction.  Yet, with technology, global populations, cultures, language, and globe-spanning organizations, the role of the trainer seems to continue to take a back seat.  Yet, if a corporate trainer profoundly influenced you professionally, would you not want that experience for another person?

Due to the restrictions on human testing in research, I cannot change the dry legalese of the advertisements.  I know they are long, tedious, and challenging to get through.  However, if you are interested, please get in touch with me directly using:

Msalisbury1@my.gcu.edu

Please note, to participate, you will need the following:

      • Work in an English Speaking Call Center with a home base in the United States.
      • Have a LinkedIn account (This is for verification of professional qualifications only).
      • Speak English like a native.
      • Be willing to answer demographic questions, including time in the current role, education, and so forth.
      • Be willing to elaborate upon your answers. I will ask you some questions about your experiences; please provide details, depth, and descriptions as your answer.

Knowledge Check!Important to note, your name and business will never be mentioned in my dissertation!  I am not collecting any personal data beyond education and years of experience.  Any direct quotes employed will carry no connecting data, and no one will see your details.

Thank you for considering joining me in my dissertation research.  I look forward to publishing this research and discussing the findings with you in later articles.

© 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.

 

Flexible Workspaces – Alternative Work Options

Bobblehead DollAfter my service-connected injuries went crazy in 2010 and my nerves decided I needed to be a “bobblehead doll,” I quickly realized there was a need for alternatives to commuting to an office every day and working as a traditional employee.  However, alternatives to conventional employment continue to be few and far between, primarily due to the IRS in America.  2020 saw a breakout in other options to the traditional employment paradigm, and I would like to continue this discussion to generate more alternatives to conventional employment.

Olmstead and Smith (1989) wrote what I consider to be the quintessential and sentinel book on alternatives to traditional employment, “Creating a Flexible Workspace: How to Select and Manage Alternative Work Options.”  Flexibility in the workplace is not just a Human Resources (HR) duty but is helped by having HR people with imaginations and who are empowered to be creative to keep good employees.  Flexibility is not merely limited to a wide variety of work schedules which can be offered optionally.  Flexibility in the workspace also includes on and off-site employment, and cross-training, as key fundamentals in empowering employees and driving workplace flexibility programs.  But flexibility always begins with the realization that flexibility is a two-directional relationship between employer and employee and a means for enhancing the talents, skills, and abilities already hired as part of a dedicated appreciative inquiry desire to innovate.

Appreciative InquiryQuestion

Appreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that they already have enough of what a business organization needs, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tell leaders who want to know and change their organization how and where to begin.  Appreciative inquiry-based leadership is 6-continuous steps that start small and cycle to larger 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.

The six operational steps of 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.

Follow 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 then become the force to building change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

Call Center Agent - FemaleFlexibility and Viability – Not just Terms, but Lifestyles

Flexibility in an organization is understood as accepting change and positively using that change to grow and develop more flexibility.  Viability in an organization is where the continuing effectiveness of flexibility generates new growth markets and creates the organization’s potential to flex to meet the growth areas.  Flexibility and viability are interlinked and interwoven ideas that every employee should be conscious of and striving to enhance personally as part of their brand.

Andragogy - The PuzzleErroneously called “Employee Engagement,” flexibility and viability are the continued efforts of all employees to participate in the business’ success.  Appreciative inquiry is the sum of the efforts to flex and be viable in competition with other businesses, recognizing that the answers to your current problems are always found in listening to employees.  Please note, you can think your business is flexible enough, but when the winds of change blow, will your business collapse or grow?

For example, as a consultant and subject matter expert, I was called into a manufacturing company to improve flexibility.  The company had been around for more than 100-years, and the owners, a family business, figured they were pretty flexible.  From day one, though, it was apparent the business had stagnated, and there was no flexibility or viability left in the organization.  When the 2008 market recession occurred, the company lost 5 of its 6 operating shifts and barely survived by draining all remaining liquidity to stay afloat.  The company has limped along ever since, to the amazement of everyone who has worked at this facility.

GearsHence, one must understand the principles of viability, flexibility, and appreciative inquiry as a lifestyle of daily choices where the leadership is engaged in and listening to employees.  Failure to listen remains the number one reason businesses, and governments fail.  Who should governments be listening to; average citizens, not statisticians, not special interest groups, not lawyers and political cronies, the people who voted them into power.  Who should businesses be listening to; their employees, not customers, not vendors, not shareholders, all of whom need to have a voice, but the front-line employee has answers.

Realities versus Fiction

Having worked with many a small businessperson across the continental US, the smaller a business understands the need to listen to employees, but the bigger a company becomes, the less desire they have to listen to anyone, let alone employees.  This is a reality.quote-mans-inhumanity

The fiction is the proclamation that the customer should be listened to, the shareholders know what the business needs, or the vendors have essential information for the company.  While all have a seat at the table, the front-line employees remain a wealth of information generally untapped, unused, and depressingly denied the ability to help.  As a consultant, I spend most of my time listening to the employees, then presenting their ideas to management.  I have never claimed another employee’s ideas as mine and never will.  Yet, I know too many consultants whose ethical and professional brands might be slightly less demanding than my behavior standards.  This also is reality, watch the ethics of a consultant; if they waiver, there is duplicity nearby!

Creating Flexibility in the Workplace

As an industrial and organizational psychologist, I affirm in a language most somber that no single tool will be a “magic bullet” for fixing employee concerns and building flexibility and viability.  Holistic solutions are not just a current “buzzword,” but an actual truth.  The solutions must grow from an apt quote from Captain Jack Sparrow:

“The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man, or you can’t. But pirate is in your blood, boy, so you’ll have to square with that someday. And me, for example, I can let you drown, but I can’t bring this ship into Tortuga all by me onesies, savvy? So, can you sail under the command of a pirate, or can you not” [emphasis mine]?

People ProcessesWhat can your company do, and what can your company not do?  Between these two extremes are a lot of different possibilities, opportunities, and areas for exploration.  For example, as a call center, can you home shore your agents?  Maybe the technology is there, but are the legal questions regarding data security and safety open to home shoring?  What about contingent employment, where you use knowledge vendors to fill in during peak times, thus allowing your call center to flex off and not have to work overtime so much?  Would your call center do well with phased retirement, partial retirement, or voluntary reduced work time programs?

Each of these options builds flexibility and viability, but they come with consequences, and the valuation of those consequences should include input from the front-line employees.  For example, a call center I am familiar with used to have stepped departments, where a rep could learn the basics, then promote into the next higher step.

3-direectional-balanceExcept, the model was broken by HR, and the depth of available personnel dried up.  Thus, the call center went to a universal agent model, where all agents were expected to know all the different departments and steps and act accordingly.  The universal model was sold as a cost-saving measure.  The employees did not like the new model as all the business processes were built on the old stepped agent model.  The universal model failed, the company could not afford to return to the stepped model, and knowledge was walking out the door at an exceeding pace.

The answer was to listen to the front-line employees, but it took more than five years and ten different consulting firms and technology firms to reach this point.  But the cost of lost potential sales and lost business knowledge is still hindering this company from a full recovery.  Why; because the change that broke the company has never been fixed, just plastered over, and the universal agent approach destroyed organizational trust between employees and the employer.  Decisions have consequences, and if you do not know what your company can do, you do not know what your company cannot do; especially, if you refuse to listen to the front-line employees.I'm not listening - boring :: Funny :: MyNiceProfile.com

What will your employees do?  What are your employees already capable of doing if provided the opportunity?  Where is the focus in your company, customers, vendors, shareholders, or employees?  Why?  Who of your employees can you absolutely trust to accomplish a task?  How do you know that employee is trustworthy?  What makes that employee happy to return to work every day?Michael Shurtleff quote: Listening is not merely hearing, it is receiving the message...

When you listen to your employees, honestly and openly communicate with them, and know the why to share the why your employees can work marvels you could not believe possible.  If you desire flexibility and viability in your company, build it!  One employee at a time using imagination, honest communication, and build organizational trust.  You will be surprised at how often the answer to improving your company doesn’t have a dollar sign but a living person and a debt of gratitude.

Reference

Olmsted, B., & Smith, S. (1989). Creating a flexible workplace: How to select and manage alternative work options. American Management Association (AMACOM).

© 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.

Loyal Oppositionists – A Leadership Principle Requiring Focus and Explanation

ToolsThe last time I discussed being a loyal oppositionist, I am afraid people missed the point.  Apparently, the thought absorbed was that only a person could be a loyal oppositionist in politics, which is incorrect.  Thus, I am revisiting the principles of choosing to be a loyal oppositionist.

Loyal Oppositionists

It is less that you are an adversary and more that you are someone with an opinion that (although frightening to me) might in some way enrich my own. And if I raise myself to being a partner with you on this mutual journey of ours, and if I refuse to bow to the posture of being a frightened adversary as you intersect my journey with a journey different than my own, we can profoundly change what we would have otherwise both died wrestling over.”  ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Webster defines “Loyal Opposition” as “a [person] whose opposition to the party in power is constructive, responsible, and bounded by loyalty to fundamental interests and principles.”  If we are ever in a position of power, we, the loyal oppositionists, stay mindful of our actions, responsible and accountable to those who supported us to power. We remain true to the organization’s fundamental principles, giving us the privilege to serve as a leader.

Lemmings 5Loyal Oppositionists never use violence to control the thoughts of others.  We refute ideas with more potent ideas.  We employ words, conviction, and confidence.  We love the freedom found under the “Rule of Law.”  We are constructive in our comments, truthful, and we research and report, even if it means we must improve our individual actions to meet our ideals.  Now, more than ever in American History, America needs loyal oppositionists to step forward, answer the call, and defend liberty against the tyranny thrust upon us.

You see, the point is that the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”  ― Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People

Principles of Loyal Oppositionists

Trust is earned, respect is given, and loyalty is demonstrated. Betrayal of any one of those is to lose all three.” – Ziad K. Abdelnour

Thus, the first principle of loyal oppositionists is to adhere to and commit to understanding this basic equation.  Failure to know and live this basic equation means loss of leadership, wasted resources, and chaos.  Important to note, these principles come before being “constructive, responsible, and bounded.”

Exclamation MarkWhile not precisely a ranked principle, a person’s character is witnessed; they are not spoken, not listened to, observed, and judged by others.

You can easily judge a man’s character by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Like trust in a relationship, a person’s character is built upon mutual experiences, time, and consistent behavior.  Loyal Oppositionists understand the power and reputation inherent in a person’s character; they are slow to judge, quick to observe and create their own opinions about other people’s character.  Realizing that a person’s character is built, allow yourself and others time to get to know your character.Virtue

The following cannot be stressed enough:

Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.” – Woodrow Wilson

Self-sacrifice is not equivalent or comparable to being a floor mat for everyone to walk on.  Self-Sacrifice is all about knowing the why and being a volunteer.  Not to the point of burn-out, and not to inflate an ego or anything other than an honest desire to render assistance to the best of one’s abilities.  Loyal oppositionists want to help!  Failing to understand this mental desire is the number one reason why loyal oppositionists lose positions, roles, and employment.  Leaders, do you know who to trust as a loyal oppositionist?  Do you know how to use a loyal oppositionist to advance ideas to solutions?

DetectiveConfucius makes a powerful statement here for loyal oppositionists and their leaders.

Base yourself in loyalty and trust. Don’t be companions with those who are not your moral equal. When you make a mistake, don’t hesitate to [admit and] correct it.”

How often has a team failed in competition because one team member has the moral integrity of a louse and the entire team suffers, without ever knowing why they keep losing?  Consider your favorite sports teams, how many make the news for acting without moral integrity, and you can answer the first question quickly and easily!  Doubt this fact, pick a team, any team, any sport, and job, and you will find the truth glaring at you.  Morality matters!

Leaders…  Never Forget

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.” – Edward R. Murrow

Remove America, insert your company or branded organization, and you will find significant truth in the statement from Mr. Murrow.  Dissent is defined as concluding contrary to the majority, expressing an opinion different from prevailing opinions or an official position, or simply a disagreement.

cropped-bird-of-prey.jpgI was working in a call center for a prominent online adult educator, where I questioned the software being changed and the rollout of the new software system.  The software would not be finished and thoroughly user-friendly for an additional five years after the initial rollout.  I expressed my dismay at rolling out a partially completed product when time and energy should have been put into finishing the software before rolling it out for all the employees.  My director felt this was disloyal to the organization, trumped-up fallacious claims, and wanted to punish me for disloyalty.  I walked out of that job; I was not disloyal then, I am still not disloyal to the brand.  I am not loyal to that director or the supervisor who craved a promotion and signed off on my being punished on fallacious claims and charges.

Mr. Murrow’s point is extremely critical for leaders and followers to embrace.  Loyal opposition lives as long as leaders, and followers, agree to disagree.  In the middle of two extreme points, truth is found, solutions improve, and people are built.  Thus, loyal oppositionists’ value is the second point in an extreme to aid in changing perspectives and building a better product, service, country, or nation.

Knowledge Check!While killing loyal opposition is most visible in the political spectrum where partisan politicians cannot agree to disagree and work together, the problem with killing loyal oppositionists is everywhere.  From sports teams to board rooms, to political forums to every business, refusing loyal opposition has become the disease we are strangled with.  Some try to blame communication skills, others try to blame the “speed of business,” others will use one of a thousand other excuses, but as the axiom goes, “Excuses are like butt-holes, everyone has one, and they stink!”  Embrace your loyal oppositionists and allow them to help you!

© 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.

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: Revisiting the VBA and Spinal Claims Issues

VA SealOne of the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports I wrote about in 2019 was how the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) was inaccurately deciding spinal claims for veterans.  Apparently, the complexity of primary injuries and secondary problems was causing confusion at the VBA, and when the VA-OIG came around to investigate, 100% of the claims from 01 January to 30 June 2018 were inaccurate in some way, shape, or form.  The VA-OIG reviewed 62,5000 spinal injury claims in the designated window; 34,700 were incorrectly processed, with approximately 5000 receiving inaccurate decisions resulting in over or underpayments totaling $5.9 Million.  Thus, each of the 5000 veterans had about an over or underpayment of $1180; whether this is monthly or in total is not detailed.

Something to think about those 5000 veterans mentioned does not include the 29,800 veterans’ claims which contained processing errors that could have had a monetary effect on veterans.  The VA-OIG could not determine monetary over or underpayments on these 29,800 claims.  Hence, $35,164,000 in possible over or underpayments was still in question if the average per person holds from the 5000 mentioned above.VA 3

More details on the other 34,700 veteran claims incorrectly processed for these claims with processing errors, VBA staff decided on the claims before completing all required evaluation steps.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) conveniently designs its processes to fail, and this is referred to as designed incompetence.  Think I am wrong; check out what the VA-OIG discovered as the root cause of incorrect spinal claims processing.

The OIG found that all incorrectly decided veteran claims resulted from VBA’s inadequate process for ensuring accurate and complete evaluation. The disability rating schedule—the primary criteria for evaluating disability—contains minimal guidance on neurological and peripheral nerves. A procedures manual detailing the rating schedule is too subjective about peripheral nerve disability evaluations, which can lead to an inconsistent evaluation for a secondary service-connected condition” [emphasis mine].

Angry Wet ChickenThe manuals, designed and published by the VBA, are inadequate to decide spinal claims consistently.  The VBA created these books to be a ready-made excuse for cheating veterans with improperly decided claims on spinal injuries.  Why is this such an issue for me; I have been fighting chronic pain in my spine since 2002.  I fell multiple times onboard the ship after being pushed by a First-Class Petty Officer while carrying a load of D Cell batteries.  I experienced weakness and shortness of breath on the boat, went to medical; none of those records exist anymore.  The Chief made Senior Chief and was “encouraged” to retire shortly after I left the ship. After leaving the service, I discovered that the Independent Duty Corpsman, a US Navy Chief, was consistently sinking medical records for the Engineering Department to Davey Jones’ Locker.

Angry Wet Chicken 2Today, 10 May 2010, I had a Compensation and Pension appointment with LHI.  I discovered the VBA had edited my claim, and my C-Spine information again was missing from the evaluation.  Since my spine was inappropriately decided in 2014, I could not add the C-Spine problems into today’s appointment.  I was sent back to the VA to file a supplemental claim, using the VA-OIG report from 05 September 2019, as “New and Material Evidence” to have my 2014 claim reopened.  That 2014 claim, called bulging disks in C-Spine, bulging disks in L-Spine, and a trauma-induced S-Curve in my T-Spine as “lumbar strain with chronic pain.”  Today, I was asked how the peripheral nerve problems in my right arm were connected to my lumbar spine!  Not joking, a Nurse Practitioner asked me to explain the connection, without mentioning the C-Spine, the fact that my Right Shoulder is 1-1/2 -2” shorter than my left shoulder, not to mention the headaches at C-0, but all this has something magical to do with my lumbar spine.  After all the tedious bureaucratism I have experienced with the VA, I was not surprised; other adjectives fit, but not surprise!

Upon returning home, I filed a supplemental claim, as advised by a customer service representative at the VBA.  Best of all, the customer service representative confirmed I could use the VA-OIG report as my “New and Material Evidence.”  This is good because none of the MRIs since 2014 are allowed as “New and Material Evidence,” the neurological decision claiming I have an unknown neurological disease is not permitted. All the lost jobs, employer letters claiming a need for ADA Accommodation, or physical therapy notes are also not allowed as “New and Material Evidence.”  All because of those published books the VBA uses to make determinations, which continue to fail to accurately and consistently aid in deciding spinal claims for the VBA and for the VHA to treat.VA 3

The VA-OIG Report has the following to report, which also played a significant role in confusing the nurse practitioner interviewing me today.

“… The medical examiners did not always choose disability levels that were consistent with documented symptom details from the exam. Examiners told the review team that VBA did not provide any guidance on the definition of these disability levels. In addition, they are VBA terms, not medical ones, and there are no standardized criteria for the examiners to determine severity.”

The nurse practitioner could not explain the difference between mild, moderate, and severe.  The VHA uses a pain scale from 1-10; thus, confusion reigned during the LHI compensation and pension evaluation.  Imagine that; the VBA cannot train a third-party contractor on VBA-specific terms designed to create confusion between the language used in the VHA and the language used in the VBA.  Color me shocked; NOT!  VA 3

There have been no changes to these terms, and the confusion generated since the VA-OIG called out the VBA on their inability to communicate and accurately decide veterans claims.  Imagine my surprise when a reader claimed I was too harsh on the VA Administrators and their failures to lead, correct, and design anything that fundamentally fixes the VA.  The VA-OIG issues “recommendations,” the VBA, The VHA, and the National Cemetery ignore the recommendations and continue with business as usual.  Hey taxpayer, how would you rate the VA and evaluate their job in not wasting your tax dollars?

What blows my mind is that this is what the marketing department for the VA calls “Defining Excellence” in VA Healthcare!  The VA-OIG report continued claiming:

The same form also asks medical examiners to provide an opinion about whether the veteran’s range of motion is limited during flare-ups or after repeated use. The medical examiner can decline to provide an opinion, but a sufficient explanation is required if the medical examiner takes that route.  The VBA manual states the opinion may be insufficient if the conclusion is not adequately justified or implies a general lack of knowledge or an aversion to offering this statement on issues not directly observed.  Most of the errors the OIG team identified did not have the required and sufficient explanation about why the examiner could not express an opinion.”

Recognize a problem here; if I replicate a movement that causes me severe pain, I fall to the floor, insensate, and become an ER issue.  For the last spinal compensation and pension evaluation, the evaluator collapsed my legs four times in her office by placing her hand on my L-Spine where the disks are known to be bulging.  What did the VBA call this? Insufficient evidence for a secondary peripheral nerve problem.  I had to report to the Albuquerque ER for a shot of morphine and a shot of Toradol. Missing the next three days of work due to pain in my spine where the medication was insufficient to the task of relieving the suffering.  Those days missed directly led to my being dismissed from VA employment and spending the majority of the next two years unemployed!VA 3

So, not the VBA cannot communicate using medically acceptable terms.  They cannot understand when nerves have a primary, secondary, and tertiary issue causing a veteran loss of employment, severe pain, repetitive injuries.  Then the VBA has the gall to refuse to accept all VHA medical records as “New and Material Evidence.”  Do you know how hard it is to replicate a secondary or tertiary problem when it occurs intermittently on one side of the body but is a regular 24/7 injury on the other side of the body?  My right side is neurologically worse than the left side, but how do you communicate that to the interviewer?  How do they properly communicate that to the VBA when the VBA does not use medically recognized terminology?

LinkedIn VA ImageWorse, all the problems have a root cause in the technology forced upon the medical reviewer. There is an insufficient explanation to describe to a veteran what the VBA is asking for, so the veteran can answer the questions correctly.  The person who made my spinal claim originally had been writing VBA claims for 20+ years.  She was still disregarded by the VBA because the Veterans Service Representative reviewing the claim could not, or would not, interpret the doctor’s note correctly for an accurate decision.  Any fourth-grade biology student can tell you that the T-Spine is different from the L-Spine, and damage in one does not mean damage can be added to the other, and all the damage can be lumped together!  Yet, that is precisely the asinine decision I was handed and have been fighting!VA 3

If you want more details on this egregious example of leadership failure and VBA insanity, the whole report can be read here.  I am not joking, and adjectives are expended describing how deplorable the VBA processes are and the problems these decisions place the veteran into!  The rules are ineptitude hiding behind designed incompetence to the Nth degree, and that is an absolute disgrace!Apathy

I 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 about learning a close friend or family member was being refused treatment at the VA because their claim was inaccurately decided.  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: 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.