Category Archives: Cognitive Skill

More examples of what not to do AKA how to stay in the frying pan and not fall into the fire.

This is the second article in the series about what not to do.  The person suggesting this article asked for examples of things that might help you save yourself from yourself.  Please send me your examples and stories of things not to do.  Your confidentiality will be protected unless you want credit for the idea.  Sharing this experience, especially with younger executives is one of the best ways to serve the industry.  I have an outline of a third article and depending upon response, I could probably keep this going for a while since like a consultant friend of mine used to say, “One idiot can keep three consultants busy forever.”

Project planning

Ben Franklin’s adage goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  I have found this profound simple statement to be true time and again.

After being appointed interim CFO in a hospital, I learned that there was a major construction project under way.  The project and the rate at which the hospital was burning money on the project did not make sense to me.  To make a long, complicated story short, no one could produce a feasibility study to support the project’s value proposition or pro-forma analysis to support the project’s underlying  financing.  When no one could produce a sources and uses of funds analysis, I spent a couple of weeks creating my own from scratch.  When I was finished, it was clear that the project was underfunded by over $20 million and the hospital did not have sufficient reserves to cover the shortfall.  When this information was provided to the Board, after they recovered from the shock and horror, they decided to stop the project that would have resulted in a problem with the bonds used to finance the project by drawing reserves below bond covenant minimum requirements triggering a technical default.  The entire organization was oblivious to this looming disaster.

Ole Abe said that, “You should spend twice as much time sharpening your axe as you spend cutting with it.”  The implication of this admonition is obvious to anyone that has ever cut wood with an axe.  Still and yet, executives let distractions and competition for their time lead them to allow ill-conceived initiatives to go forward then they are surprised when the projects blow up on them.  If you want to entertain yourself, pick any executive out at a cocktail party and ask them if they have ever seen a project go bad.  The war stories you will hear are spectacular. Better yet, ask the ‘expert’ if they have ever seen a peer do something stupid.  Apparently, they have not heard or have disregarded the advice of Einstein, “Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is the beginning of insanity.”

Project control

Oh boy!  The easy part of a project is the planing and approval.  The hard part is execution.  There are a lot of challenges with project execution.  One is that other unanticipated confounding priorities arise in the organization that bleed capacity from the organization’s leadership to remain focused on a critical project.  Another commonly seen problem with project execution is the loss of key leaders during the course of the project.  All too frequently, critical assumptions underlying the project’s rationalization are proven inaccurate or incomplete once execution begins.  Sometimes, a project’s success is largely dependent upon one person and if that person leaves or is incapacitated, the entire project goes into jeopardy.

To some degree, a project is analogous to a marriage.  In order for it to succeed, more than 100% commitment is required from all sides.  Every effort you make to manage your risk can be thwarted by uncontrollable changes in your business partner(s).  There is no guarantee that the people that sold a deal and made commitments on behalf of your business partner will be around to honor those commitments.  If they made commitments that were not in the contract, they may not be allowed to honor them.  More than once before a project was completed, I have found myself dealing with an entirely different cast of characters.  What about a business partner that gets acquired during implementation and none of the commitments made before the acquisition are honored?  A business failure or overcommitment by a business partner can move into your life like bad in-laws.  This is why business partner selection is so important.  Too often, a decision maker will chose a business partner based on cost alone and in the process buy himself a set of problems that turn out to be exponentially more expensive than the most expensive option that was under consideration at the time the decision was made.

A project does not have to fail to become a disaster.  Delays in a project can be as damaging.  I do not know of a delayed project that resulted in a better outcome.  Sometimes, delays cause cascading problems.  Take a construction project for example where the electrical contractor is contracted to start on a date certain and the project is not far along enough for them to begin work.  This kind of a delay can rapidly spread throughout an organization and create enough problems to overwhelm the ability of the leadership team to address them.  This is the reason you were required to study PERT in school.  How often do you see it applied in practice?

If a mistake is to be made in project management, it should be biased in favor of overcompensation for potential problems.  I am regularly criticized for being too conservative and too hard on pro-forma analysis assumptions. Never the less, time after time I see projected revenues and time lines being overstated and projected expenses understated.

Waiting too long to intervene

I have watched executives demur from engaging an issue in hopes that it would go away.  I have rarely seen this strategy work.  More often than not, a problem in an organization will get worse the longer intervention is delayed.  There are a lot of reasons that this occurs not the least of which is that addressing operational problems most often involves dealing with a personnel problem.  I do not know many executives that enjoy taking on a personnel problem.  Vince Lombardi said, “Hope is not a strategy.”  Failing or refusing to intervene can allow a problem to become exponentially more damaging until it reaches the point that the organization’s financial statements are impacted.  Time and again as an interim, I have been asked, why it was going to take so long and cost so much to address a problem?  I have seen ten or more interim executives committed to address what had been allowed to become a major business problem on more than one occasion.  My answer to this question is always the same.  Cutting costs after an organization finally decides to address a problem only prolongs the time and cost necessary for the mitigation.  All too frequently, organizations create a problem by under-resourcing an area or initiative.  When this leads to a melt-down, the leaders charged with the mitigation are frequently frustrated by the cost and time associated with fixing the resulting mess.  Sometimes, I have to tell them for their future reference that the cost associated with keeping a process or function under control is always a small fraction of the time and resources necessary to straighten it out after it goes catawaumpus.  Every executive I know can relate one or more horror stories to prove this point.  More often than not, the fiasco is related to an I/T implementation where the costs and operational consequences associated with a failed project can exceed the original budgeted cost of the project.

Fire fighters are known for over-commiting resources to a fire.  This strategy is designed to err on the side of having more resource than is needed to address the fire as opposed to running the risk that a growing fire will overwhelm the resources that are available on site.  Once, I asked an interim CEO how it was going relatively early into his engagement in a very troubled large hospital.  His answer that I have never forgotten was, “The platform is on fire.”  A platform is like a ship.  When it catches fire, getting off is rarely an option.  You must fight the fire where it is and failure is not an option.  Remember the USS Forestall?  Skimping on resources when dealing with a problem like this can lead to figurative death in the form of an unplanned career transition.  A business problem is analogous to a fire in the organization.  If you are going to make a mistake addressing a problem, your personal risk will be much lower if you respond aggressively to a problem and err on the side of over-commiting resources until the problem is resolved and the situation stabalized.  The alternative is a potential conflagration.

Non-evidence based decisions

The mantra of UAB’s Doctorate of Administration in Health Sciences program is, “Evidence based practice in Healthcare Administration.”  I have commented before on what appears to be a paradox in healthcare.  On the clinical side, most of what is done is based on evidence gained from objective, peer reviewed research.  The purpose of the research is to yield better outcomes and safer facilities for patient care.  In the administrative suites of too many healthcare organizations, decisions are routinely made based on seat-of-the-pants hunches, historical precedent, little or no analysis, ridiculous assumptions, no assumptions, flawed analysis, systematic ignorance or reckless disregard of applicable evidence and research.  More often than not, harried administrators do not even bother to see if any applicable research is available to help them make better decisions.  In other cases, decisions are made for political expediency or to appease Dr. Huff-and-Puff.  I got into trouble in a Catholic hospital for suggesting the leadership team’s decision making ranged from magic eight ball to Ouija board.  I now keep a magic eight ball on my desk as a reminder to not fall into this trap.  It is funny to have younger people ask me what the magic eight ball is.  They’re not old enough in some cases to have ever heard of the magic eight ball and they are fascinated to see how it works.  It is a wonder some organizations get along as well as they do.

Indecisiveness
I was perusing novelty signs in a gift shop in Indiana when a sign captured my attention.  It said, “Decision making around here is like a squirrel crossing the road.”  Indecisiveness can be dangerous when it is practiced in the front office.  At its least, indecisiveness can lead to project and initiave delays.  At worst, it can wreck not only projects but the credibility of executives with their Boards.  There’s a one liner that says, “The road to failure is littered with run over squirrels.”  In an earlier article I said, “If you are a decision maker, make a decision.”  Not making a decision is making a decision.
As before, I would like to thank Dr. Christy Lemak Professor and Chair of the UAB Department of Health Services Administration for the inspiration or should I say assignment that resulted in this article. I am looking forward to seeing my grade.
Please feel free to contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these blogs or interim executive services in general.  As the only practicing Interim Executive that has done a dissertation on Interim Executive Services in healthcare in the US, I might have an idea or two that might be valuable to you.  I can also help with career transitions or career planning.
The easiest way to keep abreast of this blog is to become a follower.  You will be notified of all updates as they occur.  To become a follower, just click the “Following” link that usually appears as a bubble near the bottom this web page.
There is a comment section at the bottom of each blog page.  Please provide input and feedback that will help me to improve the quality of this work.
This is original work.  This material is copyrighted by me with reproduction prohibited without prior permission.  I note and provide links to supporting documentation for non-original material.
If you would like to discuss any of this content or ask questions, I may be reached at ras2@me.com. I look forward to engaging in productive discussion with anyone that is a practicing interim executive or a decision maker with experience engaging interim executives in healthcare.

Further rumination on success

The Wall Street Journal’s lead editorial on June 23 featured an article by Kay S. Hymowitz entitled, “Is there Anything Grit Can’t Do?” The article is about the work of Angela Lee Duckworth.  In my article about career advancement, I talked about hard work, paying a price and the perseverance necessary for career success.  Here we have another excellent example of a researcher that has dedicated their career to the study of a specific topic.  If you do not believe a researcher in academia can become the undisputed authority on a subject, check out Dr. Duckworth’s CV.  For those of you interested in further study of this topic, the list of grants, articles and presentations in Dr. Duckworth’s CV reads like the literature review in a dissertation.   In the case of Dr. Duckworth, her expertise flies in the face of a lot of conventional ‘wisdom’ and political correctness.

The ideology of indoctrination of children in too many failed government schools and universities for that matter vacillates between victim-hood and entitlement insuring the continuing institutionalization of mediocrity and poverty.  In my opinion, public education has deteriorated markedly over the past thirty years.  The US Department of Education was founded in 1979.  In federal fiscal 1980, the department’s  budget was $14 billion.  By FFY 2015, the bureaucracy’s budget had ballooned to $73.8 billion.  Studies have shown an inverse relationship between spending per student and outcomes yet the common proposed solution to every problem is more money.  I do not know anyone that thinks that public education is any better for this spectacular increase in investment.  I have heard Eric Von Hessler and others advocate for the elimination of the Department of Education in its entirety as a means of balancing the federal budget.  I think a lot of people would agree that education is better-managed locally and not from a central federal government bureaucracy.   Too few young people are being taught that the thing that has the greatest potential to make a positive difference in their life is drive or ‘grit’ as described by Dr. Duckworth and not the narrative of the NEA.  There are probably not very many people who have done a more thorough job than Dr. Duckworth understanding how to help children and adults succeed.

If you search Dr. Duckworth on YouTube, you will find a long list of videos.  These presentations are as inspiring as they are compelling.  A lot of Dr. Duckworth’s inspiration and early discovery came from teaching elementary school math.  She became fascinated almost to the point of obsession to understand why some of the smartest students as measured by IQ exhibited lackluster performance while others who did not have the gift of rote intelligence excelled.  Those of us fortunate enough to have parents that were members of the greatest generation of Americans know what grit is.  The greatest generation got their grit honestly from the great depression, WWII and the work involved in building our country into the success it has been.  I will never forget my son’s late scoutmaster, A.H. Friel, a WWII veteran saying, “We were not worried about whether or not we would die in the war.  Our biggest concern was that it was going to be over before we could get into the fight.”   Mr. Friel’s service included a stint on the USS Indianapolis just before its fateful mission.  Contrast Mr. Friel with the current ‘run, hide and tell’ advice citizens are getting from western governments about responding to the threat of terrorism.  Many of us that grew up in these homes learned a ‘git ‘er done’, ‘suck it up’, no griping no whining demeanor.  When those of us that are products of the 60’s and 70’s got to college, we encountered a fiercely competitive environment that extended into our early careers.  Many of us have driven ourselves to the edge in relentless effort to succeed.  This phenomena inspired one of my favorite songs; Luckenbach.  Willie and Waylon lament that, “This successful life we’re livin’ got us feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys.”  They go on to sing, “We’ve been so busy keepin’ up with the Jones, got a four car garage and we’re still building on.  Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love.”  One of the most memorable days in my life was spent in Luckenbach, TX.  I highly recommend you put it on your bucket list.  The inspiration of the song and the ‘town’ led me to start my article on success by posing a question; what does success mean to you?

People that know me know I like motor racing.  Two of racing’s biggest stars are Dale Earnhardt senior of NASCAR and John Force of NHRA.  Both of these men rose from very difficult childhoods.  They grew up in poverty.  They are not well educated.  Yet they became titans in their respective sports and grew massive racing enterprises.  Why?  A lot of people would say grit or drive or in the case of Force, brute force.  They have a refuse to lose, ambitious, opportunistic demeanor that dominates their personality and their performance on and off the track.  This is in spite of vicious wrecks that in the cases of other drivers permanently altered their competitive drive.  An example is Earnhardt’s 1996 wreck in Talladega that was eerily similar to and actually more destructive than the 2001 wreck in Daytona that killed him.  Force has said, “I’ve been on fire from here to Australia” and “I saw Elvis about 1,000 feet down a drag strip one day.”  I have heard a number of professional athletes say that they were not born with their talent or gifted.  Many of them attribute their success to willingness to work much harder than the people around them and to take chances others would not take.  That and a vision of success.  I heard John Smoltz say that when he was nine years old, he was pitching in the World Series in his mind.  There was never a shred of doubt in his mind that he would pitch a decisive game in a World Series.  By the time he became a World Series pitcher according to his account, the reason he was so calm and focused was that he had played the game in his head over 1,000 times.  Napolean Hill said, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”  Les Brown said, “To be successful, you must be willing to do the things today others won’t do in order to have the things tomorrow others won’t have.”

So to sum this up, if you are not happy with how things are with you, you might want to reconsider Pogo; “We have met the enemy and he is us.”  The demons standing between where you are and where you want to be might be mostly between your ears.  All of us can cite examples of people we know and work around that are examples of what I am talking about here.  As I said before, success is not always best measured by career accomplishment.  However you measure success, if you want to increase yours, one of the best strategies might be to resolve to turn up your grit.  My hope for that you have the courage to click some of the links in this article and that you are as blessed and inspired as I have been by what the people I have referenced are saying and doing.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these blogs or interim executive services in general.  As the only practicing Interim Executive that has done a dissertation on Interim Executive Services in healthcare in the US, I might have an idea or two that might be valuable to you.  I can also help with career transitions or career planning.

The easiest way to keep abreast of this blog is to become a follower.  You will be notified of all updates as they occur.  To become a follower, just click the “Following” link that usually appears as a bubble near the bottom this web page.

There is a comment section at the bottom of each blog page.  Please provide input and feedback that will help me to improve the quality of this work.

This is original work.  This material is copyrighted by me with reproduction prohibited without prior permission.  I note and  provide links to supporting documentation for non-original material.

If you would like to discuss any of this content or ask questions, I may be reached at ras2@me.com. I look forward to engaging in productive discussion with anyone that is a practicing interim executive or a decision maker with experience engaging interim executives in healthcare.

 

 

I got one right

Throughout my blog, I have argued time and again that the development and practice of cognitive ability is one of the key enablers or detractors of personal and organizational performance.   I have encouraged my readers to focus on improving their cognitive skills as a means of empowering improved decision making capabilities.

When I was in undergraduate business school years ago, we were required to subscribe to and read the Wall Street Journal on a daily basis. That assignment started a discipline that has endured through my career.  One of the reasons that I read the Wall Street Journal daily is that its healthcare industry coverage is as good as any.  In addition, The Wall Street Journal is intellectually stimulating on many levels.  For example, one of the things that has been shown to improve cognitive ability is vocabulary study.  Rarely a day goes by that I do not see at least one word in the journal that I cannot define.  I look these words up and record their definition.  When I find myself with nothing to do, I get my list out.  More often than not, these words are found on the Journal’s editorial pages that are written by some of the smartest people alive.

My article on career development has been very popular.  I am honored and humbled by the number of people following my work that are genuinely interested in developing their careers and advancing in organizations.  The comments, feedback and suggestions this article stimulated have been inspiring to me and motivate me to find suggestions and recommendations that will be helpful to my readers.

Many of us know and are motivated by the stimulation that comes from affirmation.  In my article on career advancement, I argue for the development of cognitive ability as a means of building a foundation from which you may advance your career.  One of the things that fascinates me about universities and the people that work there is that regardless of the subject, how arcane or trivial it may seem to be, there is a professor at some university somewhere that is an expert on the subject.  We are so blessed and our society and life is so enriched to have these geniuses among us.

An article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on June 5, 2017 is a very good example of what I’m talking about. This article confirms my theory that the development of cognitive ability is a critical success factor when it comes to roles and responsibilities requiring the incumbent to be able to do their own thinking.  I had no idea that for many years this very characteristic has been under study.  Not only that, there is a ranking of the degree to which various university programs are or are not successful in developing cognitive skills among their students.  It is very sad and some may argue disingenuous that these data are not readily available to people considering one academic program over another.

The  article title is:  Exclusive Test Data: Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical-Thinking Skills

So I’m vindicated.  The admonition of this is that all of us can benefit from  focus on continuous cognitive ability improvement.  So what are you waiting for?  How much more evidence do you need to be convinced that among the highest and best uses of your time is investment in yourself?

Please feel free to contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these blogs or interim executive services in general.  As the only practicing Interim Executive that has done a dissertation on Interim Executive Services in healthcare in the US, I might have an idea or two that might be valuable to you.  I can also help with career transitions or career planning.

The easiest way to keep abreast of this blog is to become a follower.  You will be notified of all updates as they occur.  To become a follower, just click the “Following” link that usually appears as a bubble near the bottom this web page.

There is a comment section at the bottom of each blog page.  Please provide input and feedback that will help me to improve the quality of this work.

This is original work.  This material is copyrighted by me with reproduction prohibited without prior permission.  I note and  provide links to supporting documentation for non-original material.

If you would like to discuss any of this content or ask questions, I may be reached at ras2@me.com. I look forward to engaging in productive discussion with anyone that is a practicing interim executive or a decision maker with experience engaging interim executives in healthcare.

Best of luck – Ray Snead