Are You a Reluctant Leader?

By Walt Grassl

Do you know someone who is very comfortable doing a job that has no leadership dimension, even though you just know they could thrive as a leader? Many of these individuals have a condition sometimes referred to as altitude sickness. This is not the medical condition that occurs when you are at high altitudes and cannot get enough oxygen. This kind of altitude sickness refers to the fear of success, the fear of reaching great heights.

Jesika leads a department of engineers at a design and manufacturing company. Two years ago, she realized her organization was growing too large for its current structure. To keep a workable supervisor-to-employee ratio, she needed to split the biggest section into two. This left her with a supervisor position to fill. She preferred to fill the position from within the existing organization, thus providing career growth paths for her existing employees. She sat back in her chair and thought about which of her employees might be candidates for the new position.

The water-cooler favorite was Donald, who had been lobbying for a move into management for years. But Donald was not well liked by his coworkers. He was not good at collaborating with his team. On more than one occasion, he mentioned that, if he were supervisor, people would do what he said. When rumors of an organization change started circulating, the thought of Donald being in a supervisory role negatively affected morale.

No other employees had expressed interest in moving into supervision. Jesika remembered that, when she first became a supervisor, she did not want the job. She eventually took the job after her boss convinced her that reluctant leaders are often the best leaders. They lead from a desire to serve, not a desire for power.

The following are five ways to identify reluctant leaders:

1) Peers Seek Their Counsel: Most organizations have two kinds of leaders: people with leader in their title and people who are sought out for advice by their peers. When looking for reluctant leaders, observe your teams. Who do the team members respect? Who do they go to before bringing problems to the attention of management?

2) They Are Focused on Team Success, Not Individual Glory: Some employees are too busy focusing on their tasks to help others with theirs. Other employees realize that if one employee is stuck, it hurts the team, and they are willing to either help the others or direct them to someone who can. These are potential leaders. Some employees take as much individual credit for the work of the team as they can. Other employees are selfless and focus on the achievements of the group. These are potential leaders.

And when thing go wrong, as they sometimes do, some employees are quick to blame others. Other employees focus on fixing the problem and correcting the root cause. These are potential leaders.

3) They Are Passionate About the Work: Which employees have a passion for the work? They should take pride in a job well done and see their work as a reflection of their character. They sometimes stay late when in the middle of a key project – not to impress the boss but because they are caught up in the moment and lose track of time. That passion and dedication inspires others. If they constantly have their eye on the clock, they are not leaders.

4) They Exercise Good Judgment: One of the key characteristics of a great leader is judgment. A sign of good judgment is when employees seek help. When they are stuck, do they immediately get help? Do they spend a little time and effort on the problem but then reach out for assistance when they realize it will affect the schedule? Or do they not ask for help and then, when the task is overdue, blame the late delivery on the problem they couldn’t solve? The first and last examples are not yet ready for leadership.

5) They Are Lifelong Learners: Employees who are lifelong learners are potentially good leaders. They realize that they don’t know it all. They are more likely to listen and fairly evaluate the input of others – in particular, their subordinates. This promotes innovation and encourages employees to speak up if they feel something is heading in the wrong direction, leading to happier teams and better quality decisions. Employees who feel they do not have anything new to learn and don’t fairly assess contrary inputs are at risk for stagnation and ignoring the warning signs of trouble.

In thinking of all the people in her department, Matt stood out. Matt was quiet, very technically competent, and respected by his peers. On more than one occasion, Matt said he was happy doing design work and had no desire to become part of management. Jesika ran Matt through the criteria for reluctant leaders, and he met them all; she felt he was just suffering from a touch of altitude sickness.

Jesika met with Matt and had a heart-to-heart discussion. She gave him specific examples of how he had all the characteristics of a reluctant leader. She also shared that she also had suffered from altitude sickness and understood his reluctance. She asked him to take a day and consider accepting this challenge.

Matt slept on it, and the next day he agreed to become a supervisor. Jesika promised to mentor him and provide him with the training and resources he needed to be successful. Fast-forward to today: Matt is a well-respected leader and has not let the power go to his head.

Sometimes the best leaders are the reluctant leaders. When assessing your teams, look for quiet, unassuming employees who demonstrate the qualities of reluctant leaders and help cure them of their altitude sickness.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, the author of Stand Up and Speak Up, and the host of the Internet radio show of the same name. Walt’s accomplishments include success in Toastmasters International speech contests and performing standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, visit waltgrassl.com.

[From the October/November 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Five Qualities of a Lasting Leader

By Barry Banther

Acting as a leader in a call center isn’t just something you do; it’s someone you become. But, that requires a personal transformation, not just a personal agenda. Roger hadn’t learned that lesson. During an interview for a new leadership position, the hiring manager asked why he switched jobs, and sometimes companies, every few years.

Roger blamed the employees who stopped growing and doubted the organization’s commitment to the goal they asked him to reach. In other words, it had to be the environment because Roger was a good manager. Roger was half right; it was the environment. But, he failed to recognize that he was responsible for creating that situation.

Lasting leaders, those who can weather economic downturns, and even seismic market shifts in their employees or customers, are the ones who know how to assemble a diverse team and bring out their best. As a leader, if you’re not building relationships with your associates that will last, your success will be short-lived.

If we want to understand what really defines leaders, then we have to start by looking at their followers. The old motivational tricks no longer work. Employees become jaded from broken promises and failed dreams. Today, followers are drawn to leaders who show openness, invest time, listen, encourage, and show appreciation for the strengths their employees bring to work. These qualities are developed intentionally over time, but they pay dividends in both financial and personal performance for a lifetime.

Leaders who are held in the highest esteem for their success on both the bottom line and with the people they lead epitomize five key qualities. From their followers, you will hear phrases like these: “He was always there for me,” “I felt like she really listened,” and “He valued my opinion.” The result is employee engagement at the highest level. These qualities are gifts that a lasting leader is willing to give freely to the people they lead.

1) The Gift of Being Open to Others: Every leader claims to have an open door policy. But, it’s not a leader’s door that needs to be open; it’s an open mind that matters. Openness encourages employee engagement, and that is fundamental to business success. The Gallup Organization’s study of employee engagement in 7,939 business units in thirty-six different companies found that “employee engagement was positively associated with performance.”

2) The Gift of Investing Time in Others: Leaders are usually not solo inventors or lonely creative thinkers. They are called to assemble a team of people and enable them to be more productive together than any of them could be alone. Leaders can’t create time, but when they invest their time to build profitable relationships with their employees, they are multiplying the results they can achieve. Choosing to spend time with employees daily is a leader’s best return on time.

3) The Gift of Listening to Others: Trust between leaders and their associates is built upon a transparency that reflects a freedom to speak and be heard. Bad culture, where listening isn’t valued, impacts organizations every day across America. An estimated 55% of a leader’s work time is spent listening, but most leaders don’t know how to do that. They confuse listening with hearing. When we are open to an employee’s ideas and we invest the time to hear them, then we are more apt to understand what they are saying and, sometimes more importantly, what they are not saying.

4) The Gift of Offering Encouragement to Others: Employees can work for hours without food or water. However, they can’t do quality work for more than a few minutes without hope: the hope that their work matters, the hope that they can get the job done, and the hope that their effort will be appreciated by their boss. You have few chances as a leader to show respect for employees that is more potent than surprising them with words that show you believe they have what it takes to get the job done despite their current challenges.

5) The Gift of Expressing Appreciation for Others’ Abilities: When a leader gives away genuine appreciation, it is mirrored back in improved attitudes, stronger commitment, and better performance. Study after study documents that employees do not feel appreciated. The gift of appreciation is not about altering your associates’ opinion of the leader; it’s about changing their opinion of themselves. When a leader helps employees believe in their unique strengths, they build a work environment that works. Lasting leaders know how to bring out the best in others.

You can be appointed someone’s boss but not their leader. Your followers ultimately determine your leadership. Had Roger developed these five skills, he might have still moved jobs every few years, but it wouldn’t have been because he could no longer get results. It would be because he had developed a reputation for building a high performance team who followed his leadership, even under tough conditions. That kind of leader is always in high demand.

Barry Banther is the founder and CEO of Banther Consulting. With decades of experience as a business leader and corporate executive, he has become a trusted advisor, leadership speaker, and trainer for Fortune 100 companies, as well as midsize to large family-owned businesses across America. Barry’s new book, A Leader’s Gift: How to Earn the Right to Be Followed, will be released in April 2014. For more information, visit www.barrybanther.com.

[From the February/March 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Battle Burnout: Address the Six Motivators for Enjoying Work

By Erick Lauber

Call center work is hard, and Gloria wasn’t happy. It wasn’t that she hated her job or anything like that. Her co-workers were fine, and she didn’t mind the type of work she did. In fact, she thought she did it pretty well. Of course, she wanted more money, but who doesn’t? No, something else was bothering her. At some basic level, she simply didn’t enjoy coming to work anymore. Whatever excitement or sense of accomplishment she used to get had been replaced by a lack of motivation.

Gloria’s issue is a common one. Employees around the world sometimes lose sight of what makes their work worthwhile. They get run down, burnt out, and de-motivated. At times like these, it can be difficult for anyone to enjoy work and find the old levels of motivation and energy.

To help Gloria and others like her, it is necessary to look at the underlying causes. Why do any of us enjoy work? Can we reignite those causes in our own work environment? The answer is yes. There are six reasons why we enjoy work, ignoring money, of course.

1) Inner Accomplishment: The remarkable time and energy some people put in to their work can only be understood as an inner drive; they simply want to achieve that goal. Seeking a personal sense of accomplishment is natural and can be harnessed every day. It can be described as “taking pride in one’s work” or a sense that “this is what I was meant to do.” Whether the objectives are short-term or long-term, making progress toward a goal makes all of us feel good.

What steps can Gloria take to regain that sense of accomplishment?

2) The Greater Good: Many of us are also motivated by a sense of community, the feeling we are part of something larger, and life isn’t just about our own individual needs and wants. Many experience this particular joy and peace as they volunteer for church or service groups, but it can also be encouraged in the workplace. Although more common in other cultures, many Americans are also motivated by community considerations.

Perhaps Gloria could reframe her circumstances and see how she is contributing to the greater good.

3) Personal Relationships: Many employees get enjoyment from the individual relationships they experience at work. It helps them look forward to each day. The laughter, the camaraderie, the forgiveness, and even the occasional stresses are all something they enjoy and know they wouldn’t want to live without. But not everyone is the same, and certainly, we’re not all our best self every single day. Enlightened managers respect this basic human need to connect with others and allow it, if not encourage it, in their workplace.

How can Gloria connect with others at work? Does her boss know this is important?

4) Sense of Team: Similarly, some people enjoy a special sense of completeness and wholeness by experiencing team spirit. In the workplace, many employers work hard to encourage this shared identity by conducting internal PR and messaging campaigns. For quieter teammates, a sense of camaraderie might provide an extremely important opportunity to connect and feel like they belong.

Does Gloria feel she is part of a team? How much team spirit has her boss created?

5) Physical Exertion: Though not directly applicable to call center work, for some workers, a sense of satisfaction comes from physical exertion, and the absence of it makes the job less appealing. It doesn’t feel like work if they aren’t breaking a sweat or doing battle with the weather. This is partly a product of socialization and might be tied up with what work means to them. Modern day psychology reaffirms the benefits of physical labor. We all know how endorphins can give us a slight high, and everyone knows about the stress management benefits gained from working out.

Is a lack of physical activity at work contributing to Gloria’s lack of motivation? Since her job is sedentary, can her employer even offer an exercise program or gym membership?

6) Mental Challenges: Finally, a great many of us enjoy the special mental feeling that comes from exercising our creativity or satisfying our curiosity. For some, the small euphoria that comes from developing something new or conquering a complex problem greatly contributes to an individual’s sense of professional enjoyment.

Gloria’s work involves mental challenges on most every call, but does she feel invigorated by them or bored? How can her perspective be turned around?

“Why” is the Answer to “How?” So, what can management do to help employees enjoy their work? Or, what can Gloria or others do themselves? The answer is simple: treat the cause, not the symptoms.

Instead of worrying about symptoms like aggressive behavior or poor attitude, employees and employers can create a more enjoyable work environment by directly addressing one or more of these common denominators. Why not casually interview Gloria about whether she feels connected to her fellow co-workers? Does she have any friends at work? Why not ask, “Is this job challenging enough?” or “Would you like the opportunity to be more creative?”

Stepping back and reflecting on each of these six motivators can guide any manager or employee toward a more enjoyable workplace. There is hope for Gloria and her job by applying a little modern day psychology to her work.

Erick Lauber, Ph.D., is an applied psychologist and faculty member at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He speaks and consults on leadership, personal growth and development, and taking charge of our own life stories. He has won nineteen educational TV and film awards and has been published in numerous psychology journals and book chapters. His video log is located at lifeframingintl.com  For more information, visit www.ericklauber.com or call 724-464-7460.

[From the February/March 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Keys for Adapting to Any Career Change

By Dr. Marty Martin

Regardless of your employment situation, one thing is certain; at some point, your career will change. This is especially true right now in healthcare. It could be a gradual change, such as a job slowly evolving or phasing out, or it could be a sudden change, such as the board of directors mandating a reduction in staff immediately. Regardless of the exact scenario, the key trait that will enable you to reposition yourself and thrive after a career setback is your ability to embrace adaption.

Unfortunately, many people lack a belief in their ability to adapt. As such, they become immobilized by fear when change is apparent. So, rather than adapt their mindset, approach, and even skills, they choose to stay stuck in their comfort zone, even though it’s no longer comfortable at all.

Realize, though, that adaption is natural. For example, when you travel to a location that has a different climate than what you’re used to (such as going from Miami, Florida, to Chicago, Illinois, in the winter), the new weather feels harsh for the first day. But after a few days in the new climate, your body adjusts, and the colder temperatures don’t feel as frigid. Your body and mind acclimate, and you get used to the new environment.

This natural ability to adapt at a physiological level also applies to dealing with changes in your career. You simply need to tap into your natural ability to adapt and apply it to your professional life. The following suggestions will help you achieve that.

Reflect on Your Past: When change is upon you, reflect back on a few times in the past when you overcame adversity. Identify what you had to do to get through those difficult times. Ideally, choose examples from your past work. If you can’t think of any, then go back to your school days and your personal life. If you really have led a challenge-free life thus far, then think about books or movies where you’ve learned about others overcoming adversity.

Once you choose a few situations to reflect upon, determine the actions and attributes that helped you or others in the past. There’s a high probability if you repeat the mindsets and actions that worked in the past, they’ll work for you now as well. This exercise helps you shift your energy from victim to victor. You prove to yourself that success is possible.

Choose to Associate with Like-Minded People: To keep your mindset strong, surround yourself with individuals and groups who support you in doing something different, rather than those who try to keep you chained to the status quo. Of course, this step is always easier to say than to do, especially when your family or closest colleagues are the ones holding you back.

First, assess your transferable skills. For example, if you were a manager whose department closed, your skills likely include hiring and staffing. Look at what other promising or growing positions use those skills, and network with people in those jobs. This enables you to actively make connections with new people in an area that has more opportunity than your current work.

If your loved ones are contributing to your negative mindset, sit down with them and have an honest conversation about the current situation and your options for change. For example, if you realize you need to relocate and your spouse does not want to move, show the reality of the situation. You might say, “If we remain here, we can’t maintain our lifestyle. We’ll have to downsize to a one-bedroom apartment or move in with family. If we relocate, we can maintain our lifestyle, just in a different zip code. What makes the most sense to you?” Be calm and use specifics when you talk. Chances are the loved one will see the necessity for whatever change is needed.

Do Scenario Planning: Write out detailed scenarios about what can happen if you adapt, if you fail to adapt, and if you somewhat adapt. You need to sketch out all three rather than single point planning, because single point planning can set you up for frustration if the plan doesn’t go exactly as outlined.

This sort of triple scenario planning is based on stress inoculation training, which encourages people to anticipate a negative event and explore how they might deal with it in various ways. Should the negative event actually occur, the person has an idea of what to do to overcome it, which makes the negative event less stressful. The scenario planning works a lot like stress inoculation training.

For example, if you’ve been laid off and can’t find a new job in your area, you may decide that your best case scenario, if you adapt, is to find a job you love – one that pays great and offers high satisfaction – albeit in a different part of the country. If you fail to adapt, that scenario may include you moving back in with your parents and working at a low paying job that you hate. And, if you somewhat adapt, perhaps you find a good paying job in your town, but you’re doing work that doesn’t give you much joy or satisfaction.

With these three scenarios detailed on paper, you have the option of choice. Which scenario do you want to pursue? Now, instead of becoming paralyzed with thoughts like, “I don’t know what to do next,” or “Until I figure out what is the right decision, I’m not going to do anything,” you can make an informed choice of the best way to overcome your current situation. If you are involved in joint decision-making with family, share what you wrote with them so they can be part of the process.

Embrace the New Reality: Make no mistake, everyone’s career is going to be affected at some point in his or her life. This isn’t an “if” scenario; it’s a “when.” So, even if your work life seems to be going well, start developing your capacity to adapt so that when change occurs, you know what to do.

If you’re in the midst of a change and need to adapt quickly, remember that learning is inherently difficult because you often feel awkward, incompetent, and insecure for a while. Eventually, though, you become so fluent in the new knowledge or routine that you can’t imagine your life any other way. Therefore, the sooner you start cultivating and embracing your ability to adapt, the sooner you can thrive in your new situation.

Dr. Marty Martin is the director of the health sector management MBA concentration and associate professor in the College of Commerce at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. His second book, Taming Disruptive Behavior, will be published this year by The American College of Physician Executives (ACPE). He is currently working on his third book, Do You Have Career Insurance? For more information visit www.drmartymartin.com.

[From the April/May 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Conquering a Sick Day

By Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla

It’s a crisp Monday morning. Your agenda is interwoven with meetings, projects, and the usual “catch-up” from the week past. You awake with shaking chills and muscle pains and feel like you’re being pulsed by a million tiny lasers. Every time you swallow, your saliva feels like gasoline fueling an already rip-roaring fire in your throat. You have too much to complete at your office; staying home is just not an option – or is it? How do you know whether to stay or go? Though some employees often feel that they should fight through and go to work, there are many signs that indicate that you could be contagious, which is definitely a good reason to stay home.

It is imperative to avoid spreading your infection and be evaluated for treatment to accelerate your recovery. Signs that you are contagious, which should simplify your decision to not only stay home but to seek medical care to accelerate your recovery process, are as follows:

  • Fever
  • Persistent productive cough with fever
  • Outbreak of rash with or without fever
  • Red eyes with mucus discharge that seal your eyes shut in the morning
  • Severe sore throat
  • Muscle pains and achy joints with any of the above symptoms
  • Vomiting with, or without, diarrhea
  • High fever, stiff neck, and headache

The spread of either a viral or a bacterial infection can cause a negative trickle-down effect on the entire workplace. Realize that not only are your co-workers at risk from contracting your infection, but so are their families and loved ones. This may include family members who may have fragile immune systems, including the elderly and newborns. Plus, it is unlikely that your co-workers will thank you when they contract the same cold or flu! When your co-workers develop your illness, resulting in many other sick days across a department or office, productivity inevitably declines. Many sick days could have been prevented by you taking one or two days out of the office. There are many ways you can manage your workload while sick, especially if your co-workers or boss are willing to lend a hand and be flexible.

Some strategies that will allow for productivity during this “down” time include:

Work via remote computer: There are many projects in day-to-day office life that could be completed from your home computer while you are in your pajamas in bed. If you can link your office computer to your home desktop or laptop, you can tackle any computer-based projects you have lined up. Another option is to have work scanned and sent to you for your home viewing and completion, allowing you to stay on top of your workload and recover at the same time.

Convert physical meetings to telephone or Skype: Utilize technology to your advantage. Most cell phones have the ability to add in multiple callers, allowing you to set up conference calls. If you are supposed to call in to a conference line, have one of your co-workers send you the number and instructions. Ask a co-worker to set up an automatic, outgoing message with your “number for the day” and your Skype information. Not only will you impress your colleagues and clients with your innovation and dedication, but you also show your consideration for not spreading your infection.

Take work home: This scenario works well if your symptoms start the day before. Bring home that proposal that must be finished before the end of the week and work on it in between naps. Always prepare for the worst.

Pre-arrange for back-up coverage: Along with letting your boss and other co-workers know that you will be at home, arrange for a specific co-worker to cover what they can of your workload. Let them know of any pressing work or engagements, potential problems, or expected calls. This will allow a “physical” presence if one is needed in your line of work.

Do your “back-up work:” This can be anything that needs to be done but often falls by the wayside: expense reports, industry research, or other tasks that you have pre-assigned yourself and are readily available. If you manage a department or group, this is a good day to review your budget, employee productivity, and financial trends.

Although we cannot predict when an illness will impact our lives, we can certainly try to prevent associated annoyances. The old adage, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure,” rings true here. There are many ways to protect your immune system and body against such infections, including diets high in vitamin C, minerals, and antioxidants that boost your immune system; avoiding sleep deprivation, smoking, and alcohol; washing your hands regularly; encouraging your workplace to have hand sanitizers strategically placed for staff use; and taking time to de-stress.

You should also have regular medical checkups to screen for any underlying diseases that can compromise your immune system. If you do find yourself sick and your primary care physician is not available to evaluate you, you have other options. You can either go to an urgent care center or have a telemedicine consult with a physician via Web or phone. There are also many walk-in clinics at various pharmacies that can evaluate and treat you efficiently.

Many of us have experienced how a sick day can set us back. As professionals, parents, and productive citizens, it works in our best interest to not only plan for these unforeseen sick days but also incorporate prevention and maintenance of our wellness into our daily lifestyle. A healthy attitude and a positive spirit are the foundation to achieving the art of health balance. We are the architects of how we choose to deal with obstacles, such as sick days, that sometimes unpredictably insert themselves into our busy lives. Conquer them; don’t let them conquer you!

Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla is a speaker and expert in work/life balance. Her book, Harmony of the Spheres, offers methods to streamline workloads, solve interpersonal workplace issues, and offers practical advice on integrating work and home life.

[From the April/May 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Managing Interruptions and Your Time

By Danita Johnson Hughes, Ph.D.

According to the great American inventor, Thomas Edison, “Time is really the only capital any human being has and the one thing he can’t afford to waste.” Consider that:

  • Time gets lost. People kill time. Time flies. It gets wasted.
  • Time weighs heavy on our hands.
  • We spend time. Time passes. It drags on or it hurries by. Those behind bars are said to be doing time.
  • Sometimes, we have no time left; we’re out of time.

The perception of not having enough time for the things we must do or, just as importantly, the things we want to do, is a leading cause of stress in society today. This is quite apparent in the healthcare industry, where workers are continually asked to do more. Continued exposure to stress can have an adverse effect on both a person’s physical and mental health.

Because you spend a great deal of your time at work, meeting your employer’s expectations becomes increasingly important. Managing your time effectively, however, is often hampered by interruptions at work. Constant interruptions can significantly hinder effort, curtail creativity, and decrease productivity by disrupting thought processes and workflows, causing individuals to lose focus and take longer to complete tasks. A high rate of interruptions can be a serious issue in the workplace and can be a barrier to success.

A Typical Day at Work: Think back to your last day at work. I bet it went something like this. You arrive at work, sit down, and slowly begin to get into a groove. You begin working on that report that’s due at the end of the day. After about an hour and a half, you quit to go to a meeting that was scheduled a few days ago. After the meeting, you think, “What a waste of time. They could have just sent a memo for us to read and not interrupted my work day.”

You go back to your office and try to get back to that report. The phone rings. It’s Tom. You decide not to answer. Whatever it is, it can wait. Two minutes later, Tom is knocking on your door. You bite your tongue and invite him in as you’re thinking, “Can’t he take a hint? I’m busy!”  He spends twenty minutes discussing the meeting you just had and how he thought it was such a waste of time. He leaves.

The phone rings again. It’s Jenny. You don’t answer. You really need to get this report completed by the end of the day. Jenny sends you an email. You open it. She needs to discuss a matter of mutual concern regarding another work matter. She’d like to do this at your earliest convenience. You email her back that you will meet with her later in the afternoon. Gee!  Another meeting!

While emailing her, you notice several emails received since yesterday. You think, “Maybe I’ll read some of these and get them out of the way.”  Two hours later, it’s past lunchtime and you haven’t eaten. You take a break for lunch. When you return, Jenny is waiting to start the meeting you agreed to this morning.

Jenny leaves. Before you restart your computer, you decide to take a bathroom break. You run into John in the hallway. He comments that he hasn’t seen you all day and wants to know what you’ve been up to. You tell him you have a report due and need to get back to it. The two of you talk for ten minutes.

You finish the conversation and complete that trip to the bathroom, resolving to get back to that report as soon as you get to your office. In your office, you remember a file you need to finish the report. You don’t remember where you put it. After 30 minutes, you locate it. Finally, you get back to your computer.

As you’re typing away on your computer, your boss walks in, pats you on the shoulder, and wants to know how it’s going. You try to keep a straight face as you’re thinking, “It could be going better if I could get around all these interruptions.”  After a light conversation, you’re alone again.

Time Stress: Does this sound familiar? If so, you may be experiencing “time stress.”  Learning to manage your time more effectively by controlling interruptions is the key to reducing stress and being more productive and successful on your job.

Here are some helpful strategies for taking control of your time and using it more effectively:

  • Regularly organize and prioritize your work.
  • Assess the types of interruptions you experience most. Are they necessary or not?
  • Distinguish between available time and time that is off limits.
  • Postpone unnecessary interruptions until you have some available time.
  • Be willing to say “no.”  There are only so many hours in a day and only so much you can do with that time.
  • Recognize that some interruptions are unavoidable. When these occur, encourage the interrupter to get to the point quickly. Don’t engage in “small talk.”  Establish how much time you have initially – 10 minutes, for example – and stick to it.

Time management is a journey. By keeping control of your time and managing how it is spent, you may find that you have just a little more to spend. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Danita Johnson Hughes, Ph.D. is a healthcare industry executive, public speaker, and author of the forthcoming Turnaround. Through her work, she inspires people to dream big and understand the role of personal responsibility in personal and professional success. In her first book, Power from Within, Danita shares her Power Principles for Success that helped her overcome meager beginnings and achieve professional, community, and personal success. For more information email danitahughes@edgewatersystems.org.

[From the June/July 2011 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

A Formula for Success: Accountable Care + Patient Experience = Accountable Experience

By Tina Minnick

“Capitation with gain-sharing,” “Improving outcomes and increasing value,” “Revisiting integrated delivery tactics among primary care physicians, specialists, and hospitals,” or “Bending the healthcare cost curve for managed populations,” whatever your definition (in whole or in part) may be, Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) pose a strategic opportunity for hospitals and large physician practices alike. If ACOs can overcome concerns from a Stark and anti-trust perspective and are successfully implemented, patients and ACO market leaders will see stronger physician alignment, improved quality, cost reduction, and an improved patient experience.

What is and who will drive the ACO movement? The Medicare Shared Savings Program in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act broadly defined the ACO concept to include the many healthcare organizations across the country. While the organizational structure of an ACO is loosely defined, it does require that primary care physicians be a component. The ACO pilot program looks to work with Medicare populations beginning in January 2012, and healthcare observers agree that commercial payers will follow the Medicare lead.

The goal of the ACO movement is that provider organizations be accountable for the value of a population’s healthcare costs. Doing so “will require focused efforts to improve care for the 10% of patients who account for 64% of all U.S. healthcare costs,” according to both Peter Orszag and Ezekiel Emanuel.

The reality is that the U.S. cannot continue its current approach to healthcare delivery. Analysts predict healthcare will be one fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2019, and ACOs are part of the prescription to affect cost and quality. Coordinated care that provides value and reduces cost will become the standard. ACOs will be looked upon as major drivers of reducing the healthcare cost curve.

Both hospitals and large physician groups are prime leaders for the ACO movement. Growing market share is key for hospitals, and a strategy focused on retaining and gaining new patients will be needed to offset lower utilization. According to an article by John M. Harris, Daniel M. Grauman, and Rashi Hemnani, hospitals should “focus on retaining cases from the population that previously had been ending up in different hospitals, despite having been treated by the hospital’s primary care physicians.”

Large physician practices are also likely to want to lead ACO efforts. Physicians often self-refer, and the thought of obtaining additional “gain-sharing” funds by reducing hospitals’ census could be a motivating factor. Whether a large primary care group forms its own ACO or remains as an affiliated hospital partner, hospitals could see volume shift as primary care physicians choose alignment patterns. Domination of the market will occur by those who act and succeed first.

Critical Success Factors for ACOs: Dominating Market Share and the Patient Experience: Market share is the percentage of total sales volume in a market captured by a brand, product, or firm – in this case, by a practice or hospital. The patient experience will drive brand loyalty, result in repeat patient visits, and generate new business.

Contemplating healthcare market share can sometimes be difficult because many think “once a patient, always a patient” or are the only provider for a particular service or insurance type. In the past, these thoughts may have been valid, but with transparency and patients’ options, provider appeal and reputation need to be top of mind.

ACOs have to develop business plans for service area, target market, reimbursement, information technology (IT), quality, providers, and organizational structure. Each of these areas stand on its own as a major strategic decision, and execution of these plans will determine an ACO’s success. Independent of these components is the fact that ACOs are designed to increase value and decrease costs; it is imperative that market share and the patient experience be critical success factors in plans to maintain or grow revenue before, during, and after ACO implementation.

In considering where to begin, honestly answer these questions:

  • What are patients specifically saying about communication to and from their doctors and nurses?
  • How are you responding to patients’ comments, whether they are good, bad, or indifferent?
  • What reporting is available to help gain an understanding of your patient experience?
  • Would your patients recommend you to friends and family?
  • How are you capturing potential patient inquiries in the community?
  • How are you serving your community to grow awareness?
  • How are you managing unnecessary processes in a crowded and busy emergency department?
  • How consistent is your patient follow-up for both patient experience and quality care?
  • What tools are available to promote work/life balance for your physicians?
  • What risk management strategies are in place to document after-hours patient interaction and provide peace of mind for your employed physicians?

These questions and your answers can help you grow the patient experience, and you may also find that revenues increase and costs decrease because of your consistent follow through. For example, The Studer Group asserts that healthcare organizations making discharge follow-up calls achieve a 20 to 30 percent reduction in preventable readmissions. Furthermore, patients receiving discharge calls place in the 90th percentile as likely to recommend a hospital to friends or family. Practices and hospitals alike need these kinds of sustainable results to be successful in an ACO environment.

What proof do we have that ACOs might work? Geisinger Health System, based in Danville, Pennsylvania, is a fully integrated system. It is physician-led, employs 800 physicians, and spans 43 counties serving 500,000 patients annually. In a recent interview with Health Affairs, Dr. Glenn Steele, president and CEO, shared that high utilization and high cost may also be an indicator of low quality. He believes Geisinger’s use of the LEAN concept as a re-engineering technique helped to redefine processes to cut cost and improve outcomes and enabled the organization to determine in which direction they should go. It isn’t just about how to give care and the associated processes, but also how the patient interacts with physicians and nurses and the overall patient care experience.

Geisinger bent their cost curve by 7 to 8 percent because of their LEAN processes and their advanced medical home model that is a community approach to care called ProvenHealth NavigatorTM. “Our costs are still going up, but they’re 7 to 8 percent lower than what they would have been because of our fundamental re-engineering of our community practice-based care,” reports Dr. Steele. They worked with their primary care and specialty physicians to create unique incentives, and they collaborated with insurance company nurses and placed them in primary care and skilled nursing settings to keep patients with multiple chronic diseases healthier.

Hospital admissions and readmissions are lower for these patient groups because they, and their families, are keenly aware of the symptoms they need to be cognizant of. By knowing the symptoms and taking care treatment steps at home, they avoid going to the emergency department.

What about the patients? Are they happy with the outcomes? Kevin Brennan, executive vice president for finance and CFO of Geisinger Health System, says, “We participate in patient surveys for our ProvenHealth Navigator program, and we have unbelievably high degrees of satisfaction. And that carries over to our physicians, too. We manage our members and their care plans.”  Plus, on the cost side, they aren’t paid less for managing care better.

Mr. Brennan sums it up nicely, “At Geisinger, one of our organizational goals relates to our legacy – leaving the organization with a better-prepared set of leaders than existed before. We encourage innovation, especially with care processes, believing that quality and efficiency are inextricably linked. The environment is changing, and we have to adapt.”

Driver or Passenger? The ACO pilot project will launch in January 2012, and providers that choose to be involved will be responsible for lowering costs and improving quality of a defined Medicare population. Those that hesitate with a “wait and see” attitude because of the many unknowns related to ACO structure may find themselves sitting in the passenger seat; they will have a great view, but no control over the destination.

ACOs will make healthcare leaner and, based on what we’ve seen thus far, will create a more innovative approach to care giving. Whether or not you choose to drive ACO development, growing market share and the patient experience is vital to building and sustaining viability in an already competitive environment.

My advice? Don’t get left behind. Get in and drive the ultimate patient experience.

[From the April/May 2011 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

2010 ICARE Award Winners

By Patty Maynard

Each year, RelayHealth recognizes those customers who best share the key principles and mission contained in the corporate vision, ICARE. Originally adopted in 1998, the ICARE principles stress that successful relationships between companies are often the result of shared common values, which also serve as a cornerstone of their cultures.

ICARE represents:

  • Integrity: do what’s right
  • Customer first: you only succeed when your customers succeed
  • Accountability: take personal responsibility and expect the same in return
  • Respect: treat people with dignity and consideration
  • Excellence: insist upon quality

The ICARE customer awards are an extension of internal company awards designed to acknowledge and honor those customers who exemplify the principles of ICARE, including innovation, talent, and attention when interacting with their customers. This commitment to quality has delivered overwhelmingly positive results to their organizations.

The following organizations achieved this status by re-engineering existing processes to ensure that best practices were implemented throughout the contact centers and also developed new services in reaction to changes in their local marketplace.

Resurrection Health Care – RES-INFO Line, Illinois: Challenged with an organization-wide “break-even” strategy to balance the budget, the RES-INFO Line contact center utilized the reports and statistics gathered from their call center software to make staffing decisions regarding call volume. The data provided key information about mission critical activity and analyzed appropriate cost savings. The guiding principles of ICARE were evident in their decisions, and the result was a decrease in FTEs and hours while simultaneously expanding services. Their action achieved the goal of reducing the budget and assuring the call center will remain viable and a key component of the organization’s mission.

CareNet Inc, Texas: The CareNet nurse advice line uses care coordinators to conduct the intake process via director-approved medical screening criteria to quickly identify urgent health situations. In order to ensure they were providing the proper high quality care at the right time, they instituted a process to review their urgent call prioritization procedure. Initial assessment demonstrated that one of their service lines was overusing the “urgent call” processing procedure. By analyzing call center data and reports, CareNet management recorded the percentage of appropriately documented “urgent” calls that resulted in a disposition of 911 or ED. The report data allowed comparison of the care coordinator’s document to the recommended disposition from the clinical staff. Since the analysis and implementation of new quality control guidelines, the urgent call prioritization process improved by 38.6%. By establishing appropriate usage of the urgent call prioritization process, CareNet is achieving their goal of providing the right care at the right time for all their customers.

Scott & White, Texas: Overcoming a possible closure of the call center many years ago, this innovative organization rallied behind physician support to revamp and reorganize the center and focus on availability when it was needed the most. Once the decision was made to change to an “after hours” business model, the organization added an Unlicensed Assistive Personnel (UAP) position to place inbound calls into a queue for handling by RNs. By focusing on these two changes, the organization was able to positively adjust service levels and decrease abandoned call levels. Today, the call center is positioned to return to a 24 x 7 operational model. They clearly achieved their goal of increasing the quality of care to their patients and providing key support for their physicians.

Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center, South Dakota: The call center needed to increase efficiency of time and resources, both in terms of personnel and equipment, and to increase patient referrals and procedures. The first initiative was to take over the after hours calls from a local paging company. Even with a volume of 700+ calls per month, they managed to reduce number of physician page-outs by 69%.

The second initiative was to assist with helping manage the call center efficiency at the heart hospital to, addressing idle time in the diagnostic systems. To address this surplus of resources and increase the inflow of new patients, procedures, and referrals, the call center began scheduling heart screenings for minimal cost. Since August 2008, over 4,400 screenings were conducted with heart and related cardiac medical risk factors found in 1 in 3 screening participants.

Finally, the call center assisted with reminder phone calls for mammography, MRI, and pain clinic appointments. Since the inception of the reminder call program, no-show appointments have decreased by 66%. The call center has clearly demonstrated how to add both efficiency and new services for their healthcare system.

Congratulations to all of these ICARE winners!

For more information, contact Patty Maynard, CECC solution line leader – patient solutions with RelayHealth, at 480-663-4722 or Patty.Maynard@RelayHealth.com.

[From the August/September 2010 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Labor for a Lifetime

By LeAnn Thieman

There were 100 little babies laying three and four to a cardboard box, strapped in the belly of a gutted cargo jet. It was 1975, Saigon was falling to the Communists, and I was accidentally caught up in the Vietnam Orphan Airlift. It was a stressful situation; if you don’t have coping skills, you learn them fast!

As our plane took off, I was haunted with image of three days before when I stood on the runway and watched as first planeload of orphans crashed after takeoff, killing half of the adults and children board. I clutched our newly adopted baby boy to my chest. Would this plane be blown out of the sky too?  I trembled so hard I could barely hold our son. To cope, I started slow, deep, easy breathing…the kind I’d learned from Lamaze classes several years before. The same breathing that I used to bring our daughters into our family, I was using to bring our son.

Since then, my many years as a childbirth educator have convinced me that those child-birthing techniques are not just labor skills, but life skills. I taught couples laboring tools: breathing, relaxation, positive thinking, and visualization. These are imperative for coping with challenges of labor and are equally applicable in coping with “labors” in our lives.

Breathing: Like similar activities, rhythmic breathing releases endorphins, which act as our body’s own pain medication. We have it to tap every day, but we forget to do activities that release it!  I taught laboring moms that when they are afraid their bodies increase adrenalin production, inhibiting the release of oxytocin, resulting in poorer contractions and a longer labor. Rhythmic breathing decreases stress, thereby decreasing adrenalin production, facilitating a better, shorter labor. If stress and adrenalin do that to labor, what does it do to our everyday lives?

We need to breathe like laboring moms– in 2,3,4 and out 2,3,4. As we breathe in, think the words “I am” and as we breathe out, think “relaxed.” It works. When I was en route to Vietnam, the national officers of our organization met me at the airport with $10,000 to smuggle into Vietnam. So with the most expensive padded bra in world history, I headed through customs. An angry looking Vietnamese guard with a gun barked at me, and I feared he’d take one look at my chest and know this was not an act of God. Trembling with fright, I knew I’d give myself away. So I started that deep breathing– in, $1,000, $2,000, $3000, out $4000…

Relaxation: It’s said relaxation is 90% of a good labor, and that applies to life too. Keeping our bodies relaxed keeps our emotions under control. I told laboring moms we are only as relaxed as our hands and our face. We can’t relax if we’re making a fist or clenching our teeth or the steering wheel.

We schedule so many activities into our days, yet we seldom schedule relaxation. Still, we must allocate at least fifteen minutes every day for relaxation, meditation, or prayer. Ideally, we should set up a “relaxation” place at home where we can listen to guided relaxation exercises or soothing music while doing our slow, rhythmic breathing. Involving all five senses is best, attained perhaps by lighting a scented candle or gliding in a rocker. Once we’ve mastered this relaxation technique, we can utilize it in the break room, the ballpark, or the bedside.

Positive Thinking: I am absolute believer in the power of positive thinking. We get what we expect from life. When we expect positive things, we act accordingly and get positive results in return. When we expect success, we usually succeed; when we expect failure, we usually fail. When we expect health, we make healthy choices; when we expect illness, we are often sick. In childbirth classes, when worried couples doubted their ability to survive labor, I quoted Henry Ford, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right!”

Research shows that emotion– positive or negative– affects human health. There is mounting scientific evidence that hope, faith, love, the will to live, purpose, laughter, and festivity can actually help control disease. These aren’t just mental states but have electromechanical connections that play a large part in the working of immune system.

Positive thinking also affects our performance. The Texas Rangers baseball team years ago lost twenty-one straight games. The manager knew an evangelist was in town and made the team wait in the dugout while he went to have their bats blessed. He came back an hour later with “blessed bats.”  The team won nearly every game after that– and the pennant!  Were the bats blessed?  It doesn’t matter; the team got what they expected.

Positive Visualization: We can take positive thinking one step further by incorporating positive imaging. Positive visualization is a powerful and mysterious force in human nature that is capable of bringing about dramatic improvement in our lives. Einstein said, “Imagination is more powerful than knowledge.”

I instructed laboring moms to visualize their baby moving down the birth canal, their cervix opening, and finally holding their baby in their arms. I literally watched their bodies respond. We know the expected response is true in biofeedback, when blood pressure and pulse rates are reduced with imaging techniques.

Cancer patients say they have less nausea and vomiting when visualizing a serene white beach in Maui, cascading waterfalls, and peaceful sunsets. But, it seems that can work in reverse. One cancer patient saw her doctor in the grocery store and it brought back such intense images of nausea with her chemo, she threw up on the spot.

Breathing, relaxation, positive thinking, and positive visualization work for sick people and labor patients, and it will work for you. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever be asked to rescue babies in cardboard boxes in war-torn countries, but God knows you rescue people every day in what you do. Remember to use your labor tools to affect not only your happiness, but your health as well.

LeAnn Thieman is a nurse, author, and Speaker Hall of Fame inductee. She is co-author of Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul, as well as Chicken Soup for the Nurses Soul and Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul, Second Dose. To learn more about her books and presentations, call 1-877-THIEMAN.

[From the June/July 2009 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Caring for the Caregiver

By LeAnn Thieman

Terry stacks the breakfast dishes into the sink, hands the freshly packed lunchboxes to her son and daughter, bundles them into their coats and boots, and hustles them to the school bus. With a smile and a wave she promises, “I’ll pick you up after school. We’ll make Christmas cookies for your Girl Scout meeting, and then we’ll go to your basketball game.”

She scurries back into the house to spoon-feed one more before leaving for her part-time job. After wiping his hands and face, she kisses his nose, helps him into the car, buckles him in, and drives him to daycare. Hugging him, she promises, “I’ll pick you up at lunchtime, Dad.” With a vacant look in his eyes, he asks, “But what about breakfast?”

Terry is one of the 54 million Americans caring for a family member. Over 40% of families who provide care for an elder have children at home under the age of eighteen. Seventy-five percent of caregivers are women. Part of the “sandwich generation,” many will spend more years caring for a parent than they will raising a child. Not only are they ministering to their parents and children, many are caring for their children’s children. From 1990-2000, the number of kids living with grandparents increased 30%.

Alarmingly, women who care for grandchildren have a 55% greater risk of heart disease. Caregivers of someone with a chronic illness have a 63% chance of dying early. It’s no wonder caregivers often experience troublesome feelings such as depression, resentment, worry, helplessness, exhaustion, guilt, anger, and sadness resulting from the reversal of parent-child roles. But when caregivers care for themselves, these statistics and severe emotions can be drastically reduced.

Caregiving depletes a person not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Because 25% of the world population is caring for someone, we all know a person in a caregiving role. Here are 12 easy tips for you to help care for that caregiver:

  1. Extend compassion and empathy first.
  2. Encourage them to care for themselves as attentively as they do others. Remind them to get regular checkups, to eat properly, exercise, and get adequate sleep.
  3. Suggest they take time out for themselves and use relaxation or stress management techniques such as meditation, visualization, biofeedback, or yoga.
  4. Advise them to pay attention to their own feelings and emotions and to seek counseling and support groups if needed.
  5. Listen.
  6. Help them to stay actively involved with friends and hobbies.
  7. Assist them in finding respite care so they can regularly take time for themselves.
  8. Subscribe them to supportive caregiving periodicals and magazines and give them spiritual, inspirational, and encouraging books.
  9. Help them tap into community-based and national resources for support. The National Family Caregiver’s Association and the Area Agency on Aging are great places to start.
  10. Deliver a heat-and-eat meal.
  11. Offer to sit with their loved one, even for 30 minutes, so they can take a bubble bath or a walk.
  12. Tell them how much you admire them for all they are doing.

These small efforts to care for the caregiver create a win/win/win situation. Your relationship with the caregiver will flourish; the family member will receive care from a happier, healthier caregiver; and that caregiver will feel cared for, too—a much needed and overdue gift, any time of year.

LeAnn Thieman is a nurse, author, and Speaker Hall of Fame inductee. She is co-author of Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul, as well as Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul, Second Dose. To learn more about her books and presentations, contact 1-877-THIEMAN.

[From the April/May 2009 issue of AnswerStat magazine]