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Last week I found myself having what turned out to be an interesting and illuminating conversation with a couple of millennials on Twitter. It turned out to be this way because it started out badly but ended well.

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One of my online friends shared a link to something where I’d heard the term bandied about but had no idea what it meant. The term is “gamergate”, and overall it involves the issue of whether some people were being paid or given other favors to get video game reviewers to write positive stories about their games.

In its own way it morphed into an additional story about the mistreatment of women in these games. A sidebar activity became attacks on specific women who were either considered a part of gamergate or had come out against video games for their portrayal of women.

I read the story and decided to retweet the link. The part I found disturbing was how these women had threats of violence against them, including death, and how one lady had to cancel a presentation at a university because someone wrote and said they would commit a massacre and kill as many people as possible if the spoke. That part disturbed me more than anything else, so I shared the link and said I found it all abhorrent.

That’s when I got into a discussion with a couple of millennials whom I’d never met. They were coming out and supporting the gaming industry, and quite vehemently at that. I wrote back saying the problem I had was the threats against women. For some reason they didn’t believe me and it became a back and forth slugfest for a short period of time, although I was dodging and being somewhat sarcastic and accusatory while one of the two was using some fairly bad language.

When the other said there hadn’t been any name calling I referred him to look back at the thread. He saw it and said he was wrong because I had indeed been called a couple of names. I saw this as an opportunity and said that obviously all of us had missed what the other was trying to say, which can be a major problem on Twitter since you’re only limited to 140 characters.

The calmer of the two asked me to state my position again, so I did. I said that I wasn’t a gamer and didn’t really care about gaming. But I did care about threats against women and how trying to stop them from having their points of view would do nothing but prove what they said about gaming and how women are portrayed. I stated once more that the only thing I really did care about was how the women were being treated and that it was going to take some gamers to help stop the madness.

At that point the entire conversation changed. Both were more considerate and more reasoned, agreeing with my position and saying how they and many of their friends have been condemned en masse by lots of people who didn’t even try to talk to them and that they appreciated that I was taking the time to hear their side and explain mine. I said I apologized for overlooking their statements because I was so concerned with the misogyny that I wasn’t paying attention to their defense of gaming in general.

I don’t know that I’d say we parted as friends, but we did part on friendly terms. I’m not even sure why I decided to take a stand and then try to have a reasoned discussion with them at the time, but as I thought about it I realized that way too often we hear of the gap between baby boomers and millennials trying to communicate with each other and how it’s almost impossible to have a reasoned discussion, even in the workplace. I guess I wanted to see if that was true or not.

Nope, it’s not true. The lesson is to be open to finding a way to diffuse tense situations, look for an opportunity to present your case, and be willing to defer your own thoughts for a while and see what the other side is saying and take it into consideration.

Neither side is ever going to be perfect on this front, and at the end of things neither side might agree with anything the other side says. But sometimes it’s more important to give it a try to see if two parties can come together in some fashion, even if it’s to reasonably disagree with each other.

Do you believe there’s a communication gap between generations? Is it all that drastic if you believe so? And have you found ways of bridging the gap when it’s important?

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I’m in an interesting position as a sole proprietor. I could choose to do nothing all day when I’m not working on a project for a client and live like a rich person. Except I’m not rich so that wouldn’t last very long.

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This means that the only way I make money is by doing something to try to bring income into the household. Basically I can do that in two ways, but really it comes down to one way. I can create something or I can market, but even if I create something I still have to market, thus the one thing.

That takes action, aka “doing”. I can’t rely on anyone else to do it for me unless I pay them, and even the act of paying someone to do it for me requires some effort from me. I have to create the script, teach them something about what I do and hope they understand it, respond to whatever leads they find and, of course, then talk to any potential clients.

I’ve found that there are many managers who don’t really “do” anything. I’m not saying they’re not putting their charts together to report progress or interacting with an employee here and there but in the overall scope of things they’re not doing anything.

What should they be doing? I’m of the mind that good managers are also good leaders, and good leaders don’t sit around resting on their laurels or allowing the status quo to be all they aim for. Thus, managers should always be striving for something better, not only for their departments but for themselves.

If I may, I’d like to use part of my background as an example of this.

When last I was a full time director, I took the job when the department was in disarray; it was actually two departments. Obviously my first goal was to get things moving in the right direction, get some training in, establish some processes, create some new leaders in the department and get buy-in from all the employees.

I accomplished that and then decided it was time for the next step, which meant increasing our goals, coming up with new systems to monitor performance and setting up performance rewards as well as monetary bonuses for staff, which helped solidify a cohesive department.

I could have stopped there, as our performance grew. Instead, I decided it was time to bring other departments into the fray, since how they performed impacted the overall organization, and if I could help make them more efficient and profitable all of us would benefit. Thus, I reviewed their revenue and statistics and met with both directors and people who were tasked with certain duties. Revenue grew, cash grew, and things were working out pretty well.

After we merged with another organization the things I’d put into place carried over into both organizations, and I had lots of help getting things equal. And yet that wasn’t the end of it all. I knew there was another piece left, and even though I didn’t want the job at the time, I became the compliance officer for both organizations because it was a job that needed to be done. I also brought in lots of other people because this needed to be a team thing.

Across the board, none of us ever rested on our laurels. When we had a success we took a moment to celebrate, brought in others who had a part in those particular successes, and then we went after the next thing. We did this because we knew that sitting around waiting for things to happen never worked for anyone. Sure, sometimes we found things we’d rather not have found, but it was necessary so we could address them and move forward.

I don’t say any of these things to make myself look good. I use them as an example of what “doing” is all about. Without my doing all those things, I’d have never been able to go out on my own to do what I do now. I don’t like to use the word “failure” to describe when things go wrong; I believe in the term “expermentation“, because without that nothing progresses and no one or nothing ever gets better. Without risks, without doing something, you never know how much better something, including life, can be.

Are you as a leader or a person doing something, anything positive? Are you taking calculated risks and chances?
 

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I guess it’s been more than 4 years since I’ve written an article more for the rights of patients than talking to those who are already in health care, although when I talked about hospital charges I’m betting that most people working at hospitals don’t know much of this stuff either.

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Hospital billing and its relationship with the public is much different than any other business in this country. Whereas there’s all this noise about how unfair it all is, I don’t necessarily take that view all the time. Sure, there are some charges that might seem to be kind of expensive, but there are lots of expenses people don’t understand that hospitals have and things they have to do because of regulation, which explains why you sometimes read that hospitals aren’t doing so well financially. More of them need to call me but… oh well… :-)

Anyway, this one’s for you, the patient, because I know what you’re going through. I myself am sometimes a patient, being diabetic and having a back issue, and here and there I have to call for one reason or another. Probably not for most of the reasons I’m going to cover in my 5 rights below but, since it’s part of what I do for a living, I can offer you some ideas you might try.

1. Ask for an itemized bill. A complaint I hear all the time is that patients get a summary of charges from both the insurance company and the hospital but don’t remember everything they had done. By law, hospitals aren’t required to send an itemized bill out without a request because of HIPAA privacy laws (I’d tell you what HIPAA means but it wouldn’t mean anything to most of you). In this regard they’re not sure who’ll see the bill & open it first, and sometimes patients come to a hospital for something they don’t want anyone else to know about and by law are protected.

2. Ask for an explanation of what some things are on the bill. Great, you’ve received your bill and it all looks like hieroglyphics. I don’t know of a single hospital that uses the full description that’s in the procedure book, let alone the full description of what the diagnosis code means. Truthfully, the people who you’ll talk to when you call them on the phone might not know either. But you have a right to know so you can call and ask for it, whether you can talk to someone who can tell you everything or whether they’ll have to research it and send you something.

3. Dispute charges, though not all of them. Sometimes a script will have come in from your doctor for services to be provided and the hospital might not have provided them all after seeing the results of your first test. Also, sometimes hospitals might charge you for something that wasn’t on the script, which is actually fraud (though most of the time accidental) whether they did it or not. You might have to confer with your physician to verify whether it was all requested or not, because sometimes a physician adds things to a script without telling you, but once you’ve confirmed it and it’s wrong, call the hospital.

4. Ask about reduced balances or charity care options. If you don’t have the money to pay the entire bill up front and may not have it, you might want to ask about these things. Almost every hospital now offers discounts to self pay patients instead of making them pay the entire thing (most of the time there are signs all over the hospital about it but most people don’t think about it until they get their bill). With charity care, they’ll test your income against the poverty line options and could potentially reduce your bill, even possibly qualifying you for a 100% write off. However, to get that you might live in a state where they’ll help you apply for Medicaid first, and only if you get rejected by them for making too much would you get it.

5. Payment plan options. If you know you’re not going to qualify for anything like #4, you can ask for payment plan options. This gives you the opportunity to pay your balance down over time. On this one every hospital will have a different plan. Some are pretty aggressive, being told they can only accept payment plans that pay the entire bill within 6 months. Other hospitals might have plans where they’ll work with you to accept a certain amount of money monthly, even if it takes many years to pay off. Some hospitals will have a deal with an outside lender, who will in essence buy your balance and set you up on a payment plan at some type of interest rate. Still, that’s better than worrying about trying to pay off the entire thing at once.

I hope that helps some. If you have any questions on this please ask.
 

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I’m always saying there are a lot of bad leaders and almost every day I have it proven to me. And yet, I think that being in leadership is a great thing, and wish more people were ready to embrace it and use it to their advantage and the benefit of others. Why? I have 5 reasons, and here they are:

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1. You’re in the know more often than not. Sometimes you’re in the know because you’re at a level where you might have to help make some decisions. Maybe you’re in the know because you’re the one putting things into action. In any case, it’s rare that you’re shocked or surprised by anything someone else comes up with.

2. You have the ability to make changes. True, some people are scared of change, but if you’re not one of those people being on the front line of change means you’re ready to make a difference in both the business and the lives of others. If those changes are positive then it’s all good, but if those changes have to be negative you’ll have the opportunity to figure out how to deliver bad news in a kind way.

3. Your “work” changes. If anyone who’s a leader says their job is boring, they’re not doing anything. Although I wasn’t all that crazy about lots of meetings I was thrilled to have every day be something different. Sometimes I created the circumstances, sometimes they came my way. Thing is, when everything was going well I never rested on laurels but tried to figure out what we could do better or what problems might be coming that I could head off.

4. Your time isn’t being watched as much. Freedom to come and go is a blessing, even if you’re in one of those jobs where you’re sometimes working 12 to 16 hour days. Even in a high pressure job you get to decide when you’re going to eat, when you’re going to take a break, who you’re going to talk to, which project is most important… as long as you’re getting things done and most of them are positive you’ll be left alone.

5. Perks. Let’s face it, the higher you go the more perks you get. Money isn’t everything; trust me on this one. When I was a director I might work 12 to 14 hours one day and then work only 4 to 6 the next. I could take time off and not use my vacation hours if it was only a day, and there were no worries if I couldn’t make it in because of inclement weather because I’d just dial in and work from home. If vendors came in I could take a longer than normal lunch and not have anyone clocking my time because it was work related. If I wanted to go to trade or networking meetings that were related to the job… you get the picture.

True, leadership can be a scary proposition, and it’s risky because leaders are more apt to lose their jobs because it’s easier getting rid of one person than a bunch of people (unless it’s cost effective) but no one grows in any venue without some risks.

So, does this make you think of leadership in a different way?
 

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Yesterday I had lunch with a friend of mine who’s recovering from some health issues over the last couple of years. As we were talking and she was telling me some of her plans, I couldn’t help but remember, then pass on to her, things I’d advised her to do in the past that would have helped alleviate some of what she was going to be doing now.

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It got me thinking about why, even if advice is good, so many people don’t take it, or listen to it, even if they asked you for that advice. Of course I came up with an answer; whether it’s valid or not, I leave up to you.

In my opinion, much like motivation, people take to it when they’re ready for it. I know people, including myself, who couldn’t be bothered earlier in their lives with taking time out of their day to read something motivational or listen to something motivational because there were too many other things going on, that now seem to find reasons everyday to consume it because they enjoy the boost it provides. I remember a book titled Illusions that my friend Kelvin gave me in the early 2000’s that meant absolutely nothing to me until 2004, when my mind was in a much different place.

When it comes to advice, I often don’t like giving it until asked. That’s because I’m one of those people who doesn’t like unsolicited advice. I know that sounds like a conundrum since I give people advice on this blog all the time but I see this blog as a place where people come to see what I might have to say willingly because they might be looking for a solution. When I’m ready to look for a solution to an issue I’ll reach out or research it on my own; I’m like that, so I assume others are like that also.

At the same time, I rarely ask for advice. Instead, I’ll ask questions about something specific, part of my researching something, to help me think about something in a better way. I believe that if I ask questions properly that people will give me the responses I need, not necessarily saying what I expect, and that’s a type of education that works for me.

When people ask me specifically for advice and I have enough background to give suggestions, rather than telling people what to do, I always expect that they’ll take it under advisement, and hopefully do something similar, if not that exact thing, because I always have a basis for what I’m telling someone. If I can’t help I tell people I can’t, so that I can reduce the probability that I’m giving someone bad advice that won’t benefit them.

The thing is that these are often people who I know. What about people I don’t know that well or, better yet, what if it’s people I work with in some fashion? Should the expectation be that they’ll listen better and use the advice more often than anyone else?

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Here’s a great leadership lesson for you: never take for granted that people are listening to you, or understand you. Have you ever watched a TV show where someone is giving instructions to others and those people remember everything they’re being told? Have you ever sat there trying to remember some of what you heard and realizing that even if you were riveted to the program that sometimes you still have no idea what’s going on?

I certainly have. And I’ve come to realize that if I think something is important enough that not only do I need to make sure I’m not talking too fast or using language that’s too vague or too hard to understand, but that once I’m done and I ask the person if they understand what I said to give me their impression of what I just told them and what I hope they’re going to do. I find that at least half the time those same folks who told me they got it have no real clue what I’ve just told them, which means I have to say it again.

This can be frustrating for a leader because they might not feel like they have the time to go over it all again. However, what everyone needs to realize is that there’s really only one group of employees that will get it right the first time, every time, and why they get it… military personnel.

Why do they get it? Because they first go through rigorous training where they do something, then do it again and again and again and… you get the picture. The early weeks of being in the military is all about training and precision. Once the basics are learned, all anyone has to do is a quick modification and soldiers get it the first time. They’re taught that’s the expectation, and if they can’t get it they won’t be in the military long.

With friends, the only expectation you should ever have is that they at least let you talk to them the first time. With employees, you need to learn that training is always important and that constantly verifying competencies is how you can determine if adding something new to the mix will go smoothly or not. If you as a leader isn’t willing to go that far often enough and people can’t retain what you’re telling them, it’s your fault.

Now that I’ve told you that, and I told you what I do, can you tell me you’ve understood what I’ve written here and what to do? Have you read these words and come up with your own plan? Or did you read them and discard them? Leave a comment below and let me know… only if you read this of course. :-)
 

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Over this past weekend, one of my wife’s friends, who used to be a co-worker, stopped by the house. I hadn’t seen her in a long while, but I knew that over the past 6 months her department had undergone a management change. I asked her how things were going with the new manager.

Her response was shocking to me; she said:

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“I don’t know if things are better or not. Whereas the previous manager was always coming upstairs barking at us to have better production times, even though she didn’t know what we did, after the new manager’s first week we almost never see or hear from her. What’s worse is that we had some bigwigs come visit the department. She asked one of the other techs to put a little presentation together, she never talked to him about it, the day came and she never showed up, he did a great job, enough that the CEO of the hospital sent a letter saying how impressed everyone was, and then she took all the credit for putting it together.”

I was appalled. I was thinking about the type of gall it takes to claim credit for the work someone else did without being any part of it. You can bet she’d have been quick to chew him out if it hadn’t gone so well.

It’s bad enough being an absentee leader; the workers have no idea if she even knows what they do, which is pretty much like the previous manager, only they knew she didn’t know. It’s worse when you minimize the work employees do, to the extent that you claim credit for their success as if they didn’t have anything to do with it.

Can you imagine how demoralized the employees are? If this particular department had a problem with employees before what makes anyone reading this think they’ll feel any better now? Whereas previous management was so bad that many good employees left, bad management started off well by removing some of the less competent elements of the department, then become one herself, and probably doesn’t realize that a couple of the good employees that are left are thinking about leaving. Where will this leave the department? Will anyone even know how to evaluate it if they leave?

People who work for you or do work for you are not your slave. They’re not there just to make you look good; this isn’t a ghostwriting opportunity, where you get to pay someone else to put together something so you can claim authority you don’t have. I always say that no business is as strong as the employees who are willing to come to work everyday and give their all.

Employees don’t really ask for all that much; they want to be paid fairly, have an opportunity to have some say in the work they do, and get a little bit of appreciation. Employers who don’t do any of these things almost always find themselves going through employees in big numbers and wondering why they can’t find anyone qualified.

Who’s not really qualified in this instance?
 

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Once again I’m packing up my hotel room so I can move everything to the main office and then go home once again for what always feels like a very short weekend. I absolutely hate the process of packing up my room, but last year I was paying for time that I wasn’t here and it got pretty expensive. I have better ways of throwing my money away where I actually enjoy myself.

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The strange thing is that I never feel the same stress when I’m leaving home to go out of town. You’d think that pressure would be greater and yet it never is. There are two reasons for that. One, I know I can always buy whatever I need when I’m out of town so there’s no big deal if I forget something. Two… I have a cheat sheet to help me pack.

I created it back in 2005 when I was doing my second long traveling stint. Because I drove, and of course times were different then, I could take everything with me in the car, which was better because things cost less at home than in Westchester County. Also, I was packing a suitcase every week as opposed to now, and I also did laundry every week as opposed to now.

Why don’t I have a sheet when I’m out of town and it’s time to pack? I don’t really know. I realize that it might help cut down some of the stress, but I also know that when push comes to shove, I’ll get it done, tossed into one of my two boxes, my laundry basket or my main travel bag, which I brought the first time I went out of town and have left ever since.

I tell this story because I know it’s the story of so many businesses in this country, including where I’m working right now. There are standards that have been passed down over time but few actually written policies. There are some written procedures, but that’s about it.

Why the need for written policies? Because things change and people change and interpretations change. Because most information gets passed down by someone who heard if from someone else who heard it from someone else… how many times can you say that? You also know it’s true.

A lot of what I do comes down to interpretation. Suffice is to say that not everyone agrees with my interpretation of things because I don’t agree with everything someone else says all the time. However, everything would go along much more smoothly if there were specific policies to address things as opposed to one overriding policy that, though it seems like it could be a good idea, is lacking because it really doesn’t address the issue and leaves so many gray areas unattended.

In any case I did a video on the subject as well to help hammer out the issue. What do you think about having written policies and procedures? Helpful, needed, or just a waste of time? Check out the video, then let me know.
 


http://youtu.be/MVZuz1uZzLw

 

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