Don’t be difficult to work with

A lesson I have witnessed often is the more difficult you make it to work with you, people will find other resources. Challenging employees better be good at what they do or they may be shown the door or encouraged to leave. If a company makes it difficult to work with them, buyers from and sellers to the company, will seek other options.

Here are a few real examples:

– A company known for shopping for services annually eventually ran out of bidders because the cost of doing business became too high (one company would just throw their Request For Proposal in the trash can). Sellers and buyers who promote relationships have more fruitful long term experiences.

– When Master Service Agreements became commonplace, the attorneys in our headquarters were as difficult to work with as attorneys at some of our clients. We lost a $1 million sale on an idea we raised and the client loved because of our legal obstinance. The second bidder got the work on our idea. That hurt.

– An employee of ours could never be satisfied and complained often. After she complained in my office for the tenth time about how her last employer did better at something, I said to her “We are obviously not meeting your needs. You are doing good work, but why don’t you look elsewhere.” She did and left. What she did not know is we had a continual growth mindset, so we were always talking with people. Her replacement was one of the best project managers I ever worked and she was a very congenial person and eventually an effective manager.

– A fellow consultant had an arduous client who was always asking for added scope services, which he often refused to pay for. After many months of this, the client called our CEO to complain. My colleague pulled up three competing consultants contact information and provided them to this client. In essence, he fired the client. He said it was one of the best decisions he ever made.

A US farmer noted on PBS Newshour yesterday, we cannot just turn off the tariff spigot and start the pipeline again. His buyers have found other options. As a business person, I have noticed this president fails to appreciate what it takes to get things done. We have witnessed this repeatedly in rash mandates that have people (even his own) scurrying. That is poor leadership and worse management.

Do you have any examples?

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A few observations – big and small

Let me offer a few observations trying not to only speak of the man who shall not be named.

– A friend used to have sayings on his voicemail greeting. My favorite one is “always tell the truth as you don’t have to remember as much.”

– The man who shall not be named (MWSNBN) said he did not like “negative and critical” people while referring to a couple of British leaders. Really? Have you read your tweets?

– Another friend said “a man will never be shot while doing the dishes.”

– The MWSNBN failed to get buy-in from his caucus on placing tariffs on Mexico. Apparently, the caucus is not happy, with the Senate leader saying the MWSNBN would use “tariffs to solve HIV and climate change.”

– A person who is accountable and says I am sorry for a mistake is an exemplar for others to follow,

– The MWSNBN once again claimed he did not say something when a released audio recording said he did. What should have been a minor issue with a mea culpa, became a bigger one. This is not an isolated occurrence. “I am sorry” should not be so hard to say.

– A person who awakes and believe it will be a good day stands a better chance to have one than someone who believes the opposite.

– The MWSNBN awakes and tweets in a stream of consciousness. By the time he gets to work by mid-morning (per Bob Woodward’s book “Fear”), he tends to make his day worse not better. His biggest enemy is the one who looks back at him when he shaves.

– Our leaders should help us be better people. They should represent our better angels. Nelson Mandela, Warren Buffett, Paul O’Neill (retired CEO of Alcoa), Bill Russell (who won 14 NBA, NCAA and Olympic championships) are examples of great leaders. They made their organizations better.

– Great leaders do not tell 10,000 lies, do not bully people and think largely of themselves. A great leader deflects credit to others, while a bad one assumes credit even when it is not due, per a lesdership consultant.

Now, I am going to go do the dishes.

 

 

Navigating medical customer service

Before I share a few observations and experiences, let me first note that too many Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) are likely understaffed and undertrained to do the jobs they are asked to do. The healthcare system in the US is complex with a lot of moving parts, including consolidated entities on the provider side and insurer side. In other words, there are plenty of opportunities for the system to fail the customer, provider and insurer.

Through all of this, the patient has to be the navigator of his or her customer service experience. Otherwise, the patients may not realize they are not being treated fairly. As evidence that I am not personalizing this more than I am, let me mention two things.

First, I have a friend who runs a successful business advocating for insured patients. Her firm is hired by companies to help their employees and retirees navigate the healthcare insurance system. In essence, they advocate to get the insurers to pay for what they say they will in plan documents. No more, no less.

Second, as a retired benefits manager and consultant, I am familiar with the complexities, but there are people who know them far better than I. So, what concerns me is people who get maltreated  by the system and don’t know they can push back or don’t feel comfortable in so doing. The various acronyms, footnotes, poor communications, entities and touch points are confusing.

Rather than lament issues, let me offer a few tips to help in the navigation.

– If you need a pre-authorization for a surgery or procedure, start at least a week before or as soon as you can. Ask what they need and make sure they know who to call. An increasing number of providers are putting the burden more on patients to get the process started.

– On any call or reach-out, save emails or notifications, write down notes, names, dates and phone numbers – there are many, especially with centralized functions for smaller doctor offices. Recently, I was given multiple numbers to call (and addresses) from each party.

– Read your EOBs – Explanation of Benefits – including the footnotes as to why something was unpaid or pending. There may be an action needed on your part. If have a non-ACA, non-Medicare or non-employer plan, there may be a need for medical information to confirm this is not a pre-existing conditon.

– If you feel uncomfortable with asking questions of your doctor or insurer, write the questions down or include someone to advocate for you. Don’t be afraid to ask what someone said as it can be confusing or the person may not be the best communicator. And, if it is a major surgery or procedure, it is more than OK to seek a second-opinion.

– Follow-up. This is critical. Hand-offs are made to do things and the receiving entity may not confirm it has the ball. As a result, while you are waiting, nothing is happening. If medical records need to be there in 30 or 60 days, follow-up 10 – 15 days before those deadlines.

– Finally, be as diplomatic and polite as you can, but sometimes it is hard. So, be prepared to say something like, “I am sorry to be a pain, but this is frustrating.” Also, if urgency is needed, please share that need. Some readlng this may note there are websites to facilitate this process, but too often, the website does not do what you think it is doing. It may just be recording a query and not codifying an action. You may be surprised how frequentIy I have to read to the CSR what another part of the company sent me.

Again, there are many fine people in these positions who want to get things right for the patient. It is often said, good people make up for a bad structure.  Yet, it should not be as hard as it is. Until it is made easier, you must be the navigator of your customer service.

Please feel free to share your ideas and reactions.

Freezing executive pay opens up money for workers

An article in The Guardian earlier this week caught my eye. CareCentrix CEO John Driscoll penned an editorial “We froze the salaries of 20 executives – and it improved the lives of 500 employees.” Driscoll took the reins of this struggling healthcare company, whose financial troubles included a significant amount of staff turnover.

Driscoll worked with his leadership team and Human Resources to make a number of changes, but he felt that was insufficient to right the ship. So, he made a decision to find more money to keep workers who were struggling and working multiple jobs.

As Driscoll wrote in The Guardian, “What that meant for our company was that if we just froze the wages of our most senior team – less than 20 executives – we could radically increase the wages and improve the lives of nearly 500 of our teammates.

The conversation with our executives was straightforward. We were in the midst of a turnaround. We were demanding much from every corner of the company. Small financial sacrifices from those at the top could be life changing for those at the bottom of our wage scale. We needed to do it to build a real sense of Team CareCentrix. They agreed. With joy, we announced in January 2015 that our minimum base pay for employees would go up to $34,000, or the equivalent of $15 per hour.

Raising wages in the midst of a business turnaround was not easy. We needed our executive team to buy into a vision of business success where every employee had a fair shot at success. It worked.

Our business has tripled over the past five years. Our minimum wage is now approaching $16.50 per hour and last year we broadened profit sharing to all levels of the company.”

This caught my attention as the US far exceeds other nations in the ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay and has for some time. Having been a former Compensation & Benefits manager, manager of people and consultant, executive pay is much more upwardly elastic than that of average workers. Average worker pay has a lid placed on it through the budget process – which often overemphasizes past, current or expected troubles. Also, downsizing at the time of annual raises facilitates the lowering trend on average pay increases as folks who would have received little or no increase are let go – so folks that remain receive suppressed increases to make the percent increase in the budget work.

What I like about this CareCentrix example is the thought process and solicited buy-in from rhe executives. Yet, it need not take a burning platform to make needed change. There is a productivity cost to turnover that impacts the bottom line due to constant churning, replacement, recruitment and training of staff. Keeping more people longer is accretive to profits.

Some larger national companies have recognized this and raised their floor pay levels – Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Walmart are in this group. So, thoughtful discussions are needed, in my view, around these issues irrespective of or along with governmental imposition on increased minimum wages.

Competition and collaboration

I am reading a wonderful book on the life of Paul Simon. His story of dedication and diligence to his craft is an amazing read. He is a highly competitive, yet very collaborative professional. And, he notices these qualities in others.

Simon noted after meeting the driving forces of The Beatles, he saw how competitive John Lennon and Paul McCartney were. They made each other better trying to outdo the other. But, they also were highly collaborative with each other and other musicians within the band and recording studio.

Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles were similar. Like Simon and the lead Beatles, Henley and Frey are highly prolific songwriters. Yet, they worked relentlessly on their harmonies. They were as close to flawless as possible. Regardless of who sang the lead, the others contributed to making the music sound even better.

The Beatles were known for their harmonies as well, with numerous takes and much practice. Like The Eagles, regardless of the lead, they all worked together to get the right sound, either vocally or instrumentally. There is a great documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper that highlights the competition and collaboration which created the most acclaimed album of its time.

Back to Paul Simon, he and Art Garfunkel would practice their harmonies facing each other to watch the other’s mouth as they sang. They even preferred to record singing in one mike because rhey felt it sounded better. And, like The Beatles, Simon constanty pursued makig the music better collaborating with other musicians who brought different styles of music.

Plus, Simon is competitive due to being told he was not tall enough, he wasn’t good enough, he didn’t have the right birthplace to be a folk singer, he wasn’t rock-n-roll enough, he couldn’t sing as well as Garfunkel, etc. Simon just learned his craft behind the scenes even going to England where he was more accepted for his unique style and songwriting.

Competition is a good thing. Yet, checking egos and working together make the product even better. Collaboration is vital, otherwise the competition can become unproductive through sabotage or rooting for failure. The dysfunction in Congress and White House are obvious examples where the absence of collaboration is stifling progress.

So, it is more than fine to compete, but do collaborate. That added seasoning could make all the difference.

 

Legislators do your job – I have a dream

I have a dream of legislators working together. I have a dream that leaders like McConnell, Pelosi, Schumer, McCarthy and Pence will sit down with a to-do list and find common ground to pass needed legislation to help people. Stabilizing healthcare costs and addressing the opioid crisis, addressing deteriorated and needed infrastructure, providing better job retraining and community reinvestment, addressing the risks of climate change and addressing the increasing deficit and debt are a few priorities.

It is a dream I have. You may not agree with my priorities, but I hope you share my dream of our legislators being more concerned with doing their jobs than keeping their jobs.

Note: The above letter was forwarded to my newspaper opinion page. Please feel free to modify and use.

Call me crazy

I hope everyone had a great weekend. We are living in interesting times, some would even use the word “crazy.” Here are a few random thoughts to match the times.

– A real hero is someone like Lori Gilbert Kaye, a 60 year-old woman who lost her life in this weekend’s synagogue shooting. She lost her life because she threw her body in front of the Rabbi. Please share her story rather than the name of the cold-blooded killer, who not only killed her, but shot two others, including an eight year old girl.

– I agreed with the President when he said people need to get vaccinated for measles.. Then, as I read on, he said during the campaign the measles vaccine is linked to autism. When will this man understand that words matter and people do not realize that the significant majority of the words this man says are untruthful ones?

– Speaking of lies, The Washington Post has recorded 10,000 lies by Trump as President. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich defended the President saying he is a businessman and is allowed to exaggerate. Mr. Gingrich, I am a businessman and if someone in business lied like the President, people would not do business with him very long. Further, why did an independent contractor who dealt with Trump companies say “Word on the street is if you do work for Trump, get paid in advance.”

– A recent poll conducted by Opinium said 55% of Brits now feel the 2016 Brexit vote was a bad idea. They have time for another vote, but not if they wait. A fact based process would help, but it would also help here in the states.

– With the advent of market segmentation in all things, including the pseudo-news and now data, we seem to be moving closer to another Robber Baron period. Now, it is so easy to obfuscate voters, they do not know that elected officials are making changes that help the wealthy. What is also unsurprising is how easily more strident groups can be fooled to go along, provided you play to their fears.  Immigration is being sold as the problem, but the main problems are technology and CEOs chasing cheaper labor costs. In Western countries the haves and have-nots are even more divided. Unless something is tangibly done, this bifurcation is unsustainable.

– Finally, it is amazing how little the US leaders talk about our ticking time bomb problems – job retraining as technology kills more jobs, increasing debt, environmental degradation, global water crisis, stabilizing healthcare costs, crumbling infrastructure and climate change. The GOP is running on building a wall, proliferating gun ownerships, restraining abortions and how bad socialization is. Make all candidates answer questions about these ticking time bomb problems. If they cannot, do not vote for them.

Call me crazy, but maybe, just maybe, the ones who are crazy are the ones not addressing real issues and telling real truths. You be the judge.