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Get out of bed and blog

30 Sep

It’s the last day of September. Sigh. As I was lying in bed a few minutes ago at 10:54, trying to fall asleep, I realized to my chagrin that I had not written a single post in September, despite my best intentions. It’s the new job — director of marketing for Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center — which I started Aug. 23. I can blame most of it on that. And the new semester in the MBA program. And my daughter going away to college yet still needing her mom, at least by phone once in a while. And needing care packages. And wanting to enjoy what time is left over for movies, dinners and day trips with my husband.
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So rather than looking at September as a lost blogging opportunity, I got out of bed and wrote a quick post instead. Opportunity is always present.


Delivering happiness in health care

7 Aug

“Envision, create and believe in your own universe.”

I received an advance blogger copy of Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose in June. Hsieh is best known as CEO of, the online shoe source he grew from nothing to more than $1 billion in gross sales, now owned by Amazon. Originally, I planned to review as a general business book. Now that I’ve repurposed and refocused, I’m re-reviewing in light of the lessons it holds for health care marketers.

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Delivering Happiness is perhaps the most charming business book ever – at least of those I’ve read. Hsieh’s strength as an author is his storytelling, beginning with the worm-farm yarn in Chapter 1. Unlike most business writers, by the end of the book we know about Hsieh’s childhood entrepreneurial ventures (and failures), how he took advantage of crowdsourcing as a Harvard student to get good grades with little effort on his part and his one-time love of serious poker. It’s probably the only book that’s turned the PLUR principle Hsieh learned at raves – Peace, Love, Unity, Respect – into a business mantra.

[tweetmeme source=”KateEGrey” only_single=false]And the stories he tells in the first portion of the book make the final third sing. Quite frankly, if Hsieh had just regurgitated his business vision, and thoughts on culture and customer service, in book form there would be no reason to listen. I mean, come on, who would pay just to read about another company’s vision? But because the reader knows Zappos’, and Hsieh’s, story by the time we get to that part of the book, his talk about the importance of brand and culture hits some high notes.

Hsieh’s biggest point isn’t about business, but life: There has to be meaning behind what you do.  Money alone isn’t enough – as he discovered after he walked away with $30 million in his pocket at age 24 after selling a company he co-founded, LinkExchange, to Microsoft. Without passion, there’s no satisfaction. Hsieh’s underlying message: What companies should be doing is implementing core values, focusing more on customer service, company culture and employee happiness. Those companies that do, according to Hsieh, actually improve their financial performance as well.

Health care is perfectly enabled to deliver the kind of passion Hsieh refers to. Like Hsieh, I’m also a sometime student of the burgeoning science of happiness. According to Hsieh, research from the field is confirming that the combination of physical synchrony with other humans and being part of something bigger than oneself leads to a greater sense of happiness. Isn’t that what health care is all about?

In the final chapter of the book, Hsieh turns his efforts personally to the reader and outlines what is known about the science of happiness. Happiness is really about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness and being part of something bigger than yourself. One of health care’s weaknesses, at least in the acute care environment, is perceived control. I think that’s behind a lot of nurse, allied health professional and caregiver burnout.

One could say Delivering Happiness is completely choppy – the first third is really Hseih’s story, from Harvard to LinkExchange to venture capitalist and Zappos. The middle third, which is mostly about Zappos, is not really written by Hsieh – he includes segments from at least 12 guest contributors. And the very last chapter is about positive psychology and how to apply it to your life. However, given what we learn about Hsieh starting on page 1, it holds together. It makes sense. That’s who he is, what he stands for and what he believes in – the underlying message of the book. It’s the universe he wanted to create.

Five readings to shape your management thinking

18 May

The spring semester, my first in the MBA program, is over — a rich time of learning. It was also rich in reading material, especially in Management and Organizational Science. I have an almost three-inch-high stack of paper to remember the class, with more than 368 pages of case studies, academic articles and news stories. (Not counting the textbook readings.)

When new (or familiar) management problems arise in my work life, I plan to seek out the wisdom of these readings, so I catalogued this treasure trove in a binder for future reference. I decided to create a Top Five most-useful/most-meaningful/most-interesting list while I was at it. You can find links to the original articles (sometimes for a fee) in the posts:

  1. Get Rid of the Performance Review! Samuel A. Culbert, a management professor at UCLA, is on a mission to revamp the performance review, with a book on the subject which came out in April.
  2. Case Study: Compensation and Performance Evaluation at Arrow Electronics. I especially loved the case studies. It was really hard to pick only one, but this one really got my ire up.
  3. Strategies of Effective New Product Team Leaders. If you need to build or rebuild a team, this article provides practical, concrete strategies.
  4. Evidence-Based Management. I titled my blog post My No. 1 Top Hit. It still stands. I’m now a huge Bob Sutton/Jeffrey Pfeffer fan.
  5. The Dean’s Disease: How the Darker Side of Power Manifests Itself in the Office of Dean. While this article may appear at first glance to narrowly focus on academia, it’s broadly applicable to any organization.

Five more readings which almost made my list:

  1. “To a United Pilot, The Friendly Skies Are a Point of Pride; Capt. Flanagan Goes to Bat For His Harried Passengers; Still, Some Online Skeptics.”
  2. Good to Great, or Just Good?
  3. “For Lt. Withers, Act of Mercy Has Unexpected Sequel: U.S. Officer Broke the Rules To Let His Men Take In Young Dachau Survivor.”
  4. The Men’s Warehouse: Success in a Declining Industry
  5. Treadway Tire Company: Job Dissatisfaction and High Turnover at the Lima Plant

Guest post on Mary Jo Asmus’ Aspire blog

1 Apr

The greatest leader I’ve ever worked with, bar none, is Lynn S. Atcheson. I was recently asked to write a guest post on leadership and relationships for Mary Jo Asmus’ Aspire-CS blog. Guess who I wrote about?

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Thanks, Lynn, for inspiring me still.

Fake it ‘til you make it

22 Mar

Too often in life, the knowing-doing gap – as defined by Stanford Business School Professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton – can be traced to “a basic human propensity: the willingness to let talk substitute for action.”

Then imagine a dysfunctional project team, debating a concept or a product to death. If you lead a team, embrace action instead. Welcome change. If you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, develop a hypothesis, attempt the work, then analyze the outcome. Fake it ‘til you make it.

Strategies of Effective New Product Team Leaders, an article published in the California Management Review by Avan R. Jassawalla and Hemant C. Sashittal, embraces just this approach. While the title seems to indicate narrow applicability to just one group, this article has implications and scope beyond new product development teams. It’s a useful approach to building a variety of cross-functional teams, including those to improve sales revenue, such as in a service organization, or improving patient care, or developing new processes. Heck, it’s even valuable if one ignores the cross-functional premise and applies it to managing a department-level team.

According to Jassawalla and Sashittal, effective new product team leaders formulate five objectives and strategies:

  1. Ensure commitment
  2. Build information-intensive environments
  3. Play facilitator
  4. Focus on human interaction
  5. Focus on learning

The effective team leader can then best apply these strategies in a culture which encourages change and innovation with the full support of senior management. Mistakes must be welcomed in interest of furthering learning – to stretch the notion of what’s possible.

One aspect of teams not mentioned in the article: What is the optimum team size? No data or reference is included. Presumably, a too-large team might be unwieldy, and there would be a less secure bond among members. Too small a team might become insular, or suffer from a lack of diversity in opinions and options.

A second aspect not mentioned: What is the optimum time from team formation to maximum effectiveness? According to article, effective leaders focus on increasing members’ personal and emotional commitment to the team. This dynamic is a function of trust level, which is built over time.

As this article implies, the work of a team leader is extensive, and requires a significant commitment beyond day-to-day operational activities. An effective leader develops project plans, schedules meetings and puts out fires, among other things, and does it quietly, without any undue attention or fanfare. It’s team facilitator as servant leader.

How to guide employee performance

3 Mar

Sometimes, our BADM 720 readings are joy. Pure bliss. Get Rid of the Performance Review! is one of those proverbial breath-of-fresh-air pieces. In this Wall Street Journal article, Samuel Culbert, a professor of management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, outlines seven highly valid reasons why performance reviews are “a negative to corporate performance, an obstacle to straight-talk relationships, and a prime cause of low morale at work.”

One of the seven flaws Culbert cites is the difference in approach between the evaluator, the supervisor, and the evaluated, the employee. The employee thinks she is there to negotiate her pay. The employer is there to discuss performance and how it can be improved.

And as Culbert point out, that’s a farce. In most larger organizations, raises are limited to a predetermined range determined by senior management or the board, usually 2-5% annually at most companies. It doesn’t matter how fabulous your performance is — you’re never going to get more unless you get a promotion. Your employer is never going to raise your salary outside of your market range anyway. And if your organization is in financial trouble, the annual raise might be 0% across the board.

Culbert has many other strong points about the weaknesses in most performance review systems — that objectivity is subjective, and teamwork is disrupted, among others. However, what I responded to most strongly was Culbert’s suggested alternative.

He recommends tw0-sided, reciprocally accountable performance previews, where a boss can guide, coach, tutor and otherwise provide oversight — what a boss is supposed to do, after all. Rather than dwelling on what has already taken place and can’t be fixed, as in the performance review, the preview creates discussions about how boss and employee can work together more effectively as a team, separately from any discussion of pay.

I’ve experienced it,  and I know it works. I consider myself fortunate to have had a great boss, Lynn Atcheson, for 13 years, a boss who also happened to be an amazing leader. Twice a year, unconnected to our corporate-mandated performance review, she met with each member of her team to answer these six questions, what I now call The Lynn Review Questions:

  1. How are you doing?
  2. What are you learning?
  3. What are your goals?
  4. How can I help you?
  5. Please provide any recommendations how I might improve my leadership style.
  6. Provide any recommendations on how we can improve our department.

It’s been nine years since I worked for her, and I still have the questions! I later went on to use the questions with my own direct reports. When she first implemented it, we employees rolled our eyes about it a bit  — “Oh, it’s time for the meeting” — but actually, the formalized way in which she approached it made it both more comprehensive and significant. And because she had already built trust in her day-to-day leadership behaviors and actions, we could have truthful, meaningful, impactful conversations.

How to make a graceful (and memorable) exit

28 Jan

Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership calls Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show farewell speech “a class act.” Like Dan, I don’t usually stay up late enough for the Tonight Show, nor have I watched Conan O’Brien in any of his other incarnations. So I’m especially glad he called Conan’s video farewell to our attention.

This is leadership at its darkest hour, when plans and dreams come to an abrupt halt and the road ahead is unclear. It’s about the others who depend on him, not his grief.  It’s about looking forward to other possibilities, not looking back at what was lost. He rallies against cynicism, and delivers a message of hope and possibility at a time when he, personally, might have every reason to despair and disparage.

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(As a marketer, I can’t help think that 7-Eleven would be wise to take him up on the parking lots!)

Conan’s farewell reminded me of another graceful exit last week, this one from the reality show Project Runway. Usually, when contestants get booted from talent-based reality shows, the exit-interview spiel goes something along one of these lines: 1) “I’m disappointed in myself. I know I could have done better/worked harder.” 2) “I’m blazingly talented, and the judges just didn’t see it.” 3) “I know I’ll be successful some day, no matter what.”

The de rigueur exit comment is all about me, me, me. Which made Pamela Ptak’s exit a refreshing eye-opener. Pamela didn’t talk about her disappointment at losing from a career perspective – at least not in the edited version that aired on the show. The portion that aired is about 1:03 in:

Pamela was just so human, so appreciative of her fellow competitors, that it resonated far more strongly. She talks about heart, about the real emotional connections that people form when they work together. Caring for others, no matter how cutthroat the competition, is an important leadership component.