Calm in the Storm

Practical Strategies for Effective Management

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Outsourcing, Insourcing, Upsourcing, Downsourcing

It sounds a lot like “one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish” doesn’t it? Well with apologies to Dr Seuss, here is what I am thinking about today:

Example One: You go on line to get an airline ticket. After putting in the same information multiple times (find the airport code, use the little interactive calendar, check the “agony index,” –thank you Hipmunk for that accurate term– compare flight times and costs, etc.) the site crashes repeatedly. Finally, in desperation, you call the airline. After 25 minutes on hold, you finally reach an agent that will indeed sell you a ticket, but for an additional $25 fee. The airline’s “efficiency” has been improved but the cost has been absorbed by the customer.

Example Two: You are a radiologist in a high volume trauma hospital medical center. You read maybe 40-50 cases a day– CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds,and so on – filled with complex images. There are few “normals” in a trauma level 1 or 2 hospital, just various kinds of disasters ranging from motorcycle accidents to strokes to tumors. Each case is dictated to a trained medical transcriptionist who can type as fast as she or he can hear, with extraordinary accuracy and full command of the medical terminology. These are solidly middle class positions, with median salaries of about $35K, with the top 10% making about $50K, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They require a high school degree and additional training, often at a community college, but not a Bachelor’s degree. But your hospital decides that it will save money by laying off all of the transcriptionists and replacing them with voice recognition software. Anyone who has used this software knows how inaccurate it can be. In medicine, it might have 95% accuracy! But that means your doctor has to correct 5 out of every 100 words. Is that good enough? And now your radiologist spends twice as much time dictating as he used to. His or her day has gone from 8am to 6pm to 7 or even 8 pm, depending on case volume and complexity. (One scan might yield 1500 images!), and s/he still has to actually treat people! The hospital’s “efficiency” has improved, but at the expense of both the transcriptionist and the doctor.

We all have examples of this from our own experience. Sometimes it is the dead end phone tree. Why do I have to say my credit card number over and over again, when they will ask me for it again once I get a live person when I call my credit card company? Why does the cable company not fully staff its customer support number? I waited on the phone for ADT’s customer support for 51 minutes recently! These processes are deliberate—they improve the “efficiency” of the company, by requiring fewer people to answer calls because the extended wait times make people give up! The company’s “efficiency” has improved, but the cost in time (and frustration) has been paid by the consumer.

So here is my question for today: Can we get a better definition of efficiency than “fewer people doing more work” along with making the consumer do as much of the work as possible, despite their lack of specialized training? Or as I put it to myself: Eff  ≠  (roadblocks + hurdles) – employees!


How to start your new job: Checklist # 5

Personal and oThe Checklistften Over Looked!

So boring. But you’ll thank me in many years when you discover you’ve maxed out your retirement contributions! Seriously, starting a new job is exciting, even joyous. It is very easy to overlook our personal stuff, especially if promoted from within the organization. So go through the checklist!


______How much flexibility do I have for my work hours. Is it possible to work from home if I have a major project?

We’d all love to be able to do this. But you need to know the organization’s policies and your boss’ expectations. You also need to be instantly available if there is an emergency. Heaven help you if you can’t be found!

My assumption here is that you work in a physical office, not a virtual one. In the virtual world the rules are the same tho—check the policies, know your boss’ expectations, and have a protocol for emergencies. You also have an additional problem: without “face time” how do people get to know you? Trust you? You might literally use FaceTime,or Skype, or messaging, but many virtual worlds rely too much in my view on conference calls. So think about this one a bit and discuss it with your colleagues. In the virtual world, the people who keep their jobs during layoffs are the ones who are not invisible.

______Have I updated my withholding (W-4)?

Duh. Higher salary? You’d better review, because you may have higher withholding requirements—or not, depending on your personal circumstances. You may also want to take your salary increase and put a higher percentage to student loan debt, rainy day savings, or charitable giving, or all three. Just because your salary goes up, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend more.

______Have I updated my retirement deductions?

This is another often over-looked no brainer. If you got a 10% raise, you could put more into retirement, or even the whole 10%, if you can keep your current expenses the same. Just be sure you are aware of the tax implications.

______Do I have a mentor (or several of them)?

Some people, especially women managers, think they have failed the whole mentoring thing if they don’t have some super mentor in their lives. But I think you should feel free to have lots of mentors—a network of people whose experiences in life and work give you a place to turn for advice. Some mentors are in your profession, but some you may know from other facets of your life. Look around!

______Are there professional associations that would be helpful to me?

There are few things as satisfying in the world of work as having people in the same field to talk to. You can share problems, strategize, make connections, and have fun with people who get what you are dealing with day to day. Here is a place to start, if you are not familiar with professional associations in your field:   Go to their websites, poke around, ask your friends, ask your boss. Not all of them are equally valuable but some of them are extraordinarily helpful. Give it a try.


How to start your new job: Checklist #4


Ok, your space and your office is set up. You’ve got all the meetings on your calendar, you have access to data and email, and as new manager, you are ready to go, right? Not quite. There are two more areas that I think you need to check out.

As new manager, you have some homework to do. Who reports to you? Do you know their job titles and functions? Their backgrounds?

So here is the checklist:

______ Is there an organization chart on the company or organization website? What is the “chain of command?”

Yes, you know who your supervisor is, but who does she report to? If you need info from another department or office, who do you ask, and what is the protocol? These are important issues for getting off to a good start—and to avoid embarrassment!

______Are there written office policies for the staff about requesting vacations, calling in sick, etc.?

I once started as a new manager where there were no written office policies. There was also an atmosphere of bullying! One of the staff intimidated others and gave herself preferential vacations. Some staff deliberately took vacation time at the busiest season so that they wouldn’t have to deal with the stress. Needless to say, it took both time and strategic thinking to turn that workplace around, and an important early step was to develop written policies. So find out what they are and understand them completely. If there are none and you need to create them, don’t do it on your own. (I’d be happy to steer you a bit on the best steps for you to take)

______Are they consistent with organization/union/civil service policy?

Few managers are willing to go the extra mile and learn the policies of the larger environment in which they work. The contracts and policies are your friend! Knowing them could save you from a load of grief later. And as a manager, that is also part of your job.

______Do I want to establish drop-in office hours for my direct reports or staff?

Sometimes staff complain that they can’t talk to the boss when they need to. Sometimes it’s simply the quantity of meetings that fill his calendar. And that is a real problem for many in management positions—there are so many meetings that there is no time to do the actual job! (My assistant and I used to joke that a good day was when we could look at the “to-do” list before 4 pm!) Think about whether there is a time when you could allow people just to drop in. Or when you can go wandering around the office and visit with people. Be careful, you don’t want them to think you are spying on them, or don’t trust them to do the job! There is a fine line from being available to being a micromanager. Or you can follow the pattern of one of my best bosses (see below).

______Is it possible for me to eat lunch in the cafeteria (or other common space) on a regular basis?

I know, I know. Despite the advice of doctors, management gurus and our own inner selves, many of us eat lunch at our desks, because it seems like there is no time to do anything else. But if you can carve out a half hour three days a week, and tell your staff that they are welcome to sit down with you, you’ll be amazed and how many people will stop by and eat with you. It is great both for your reputation for accessibility, but also for keeping in touch with what is going on.

______Do I have a copy of emergency protocols? Have I reviewed them?

This is so important. Have you ever had a data breach? An intruder walk in? A staff member with a heart attack? A fire overnight? A power loss? Where are the back up files? (You do have backups, right?)  None of these things may ever happen, but if they do, you’ll be glad you prepared.

­______Have I reviewed recent staff evaluations?

Who are these folks anyway? Staff evaluations of your direct reports are your responsibility, so reading past evaluations will help you get to know them better. Good managers set goals with their staff, so you will be able to  see if your staff have specific goals that they are working on. Reviewing their files will also inform you whether or not evaluations have been done in the past! Too often, although individuals are supposed to be reviewed every year, the reviews get forgotten. They can be challenging and time consuming, especially if you have never written one before. But if, in the first few weeks, you discover that Ms X is a problem or Mr Y is absolooootly terrific, it is nice to know whether that has been reflected in their reviews. This is not the place to discuss how to review an employee or how to deal with a problem person, but you should know what is in the files and compare that with your own observations.


Next time, we’ll talk about the final points on the check list!


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