Category Archives: Management

Examples of what not to do – simple mistakes you have seen that others could avoid.  AKA – How many ways can you get yourself into trouble?

One of the items of constructive feedback I have received is that some of my articles are too long.  The subject of this article resulted in an article over 2,000 words long.  I have reminisced with friends in the consulting business that have suggested that we collaborate on a book on this topic based on the experiences we have had.  As a result, this article will be posted in multiple editions.

A very highly regarded friend of mine recommended that I address mistakes that might be beneficial to others.  Nasreddin said something to the effect that, ‘good judgment comes from the experience we get from exercising bad judgment.’  Given the benefit of this insight, I will address some of the things that I have seen as the cause of extreme angst in one healthcare organization after another.  An exhaustive listing is beyond the scope of any article.  However, I welcome tips and stories from my readers addressing vivid memories of things that would be beneficial for others to know, especially those that do not have the experience of some of us.

Blind trust of systems

This is one of the most basic managerial errors and it is seen over and over.  People ‘assume’ that a system will or will not do something without proving the assumption only to be surprised when their blind faith is proven wrong in a spectacular faux-pas.  Rather than assuming that people understand the meaning of the word ‘assume’, I will define it by dissection.  All to often, people engage in assumptions leading to flawed decisions that make an ASS/out of U/and ME.  I wish I could remember how many times I have witnessed flawed assumptions wreaking havoc around me.  Sometimes, these errors result in terminations of the people involved.  Mark Twain and Ronald Regan said that, “It is not what you know that will get you, it is what you are absolutely certain of that is just not right.”

Once upon a time when I had reason to doubt the controls in the hospital’s accounts payable system right after a new state of the art, super whiz-bang application had been implemented, I was assured by my Controller that there were safeguards in the system that he said would guarantee that there was no scenario under which an automated check for more than $25,000 could be produced and signed with my facsimile.  I had set this limit to insure that I had the chance to personally review large disbursements and sign them manually.  About a week later, it came to my attention that instead of keying a construction draw request of less than $25K, the A/P clerk keyed the remaining balance of over $275K to a contractor that the hospital was engaged in an active dispute with.  What do you think happened when this transaction went through the system without interruption and out to the contractor?  If you ass/u/me that he brought the check back, you would be sorely mistaken.  I am sure others can provide similar nightmare stories.

There are thousands of ways to be trapped by our own systems. The more complex the systems, the greater the number of interfaces with other systems and the higher the volume of transactions, the greater the potential for error and the larger the error will have to become before it is discovered by normal control and balancing processes.

Hiring mistakes

Another HUGE area of learning in the school of hard knocks is hiring decisions.  Jack Welsh said something to the effect of, “Getting the right people into the right jobs is a lot more important than developing a strategy.”  As an interim executive I have observed that one of the more common areas that gets organizations into trouble is hiring decisions that result in people being put into roles where they cannot succeed.  Some organizations and hiring decision makers are highly motivated to put the next person in line into a role whether they are qualified or not.  I have been criticized for bringing people from outside of town into the organization to fill crucial roles.  My response is that if  properly qualified local applicants were available, I would hire locally to save travel money if for no other reason.  I have counseled Boards and written on the subject of organizational performance being nothing more complicated than the collective caliber of the team on the field.  One of my mentors taught me by example the potential and value of getting the right people into the right places in an organization and the difference they can make.

Getting the right people is as important if not more important than avoiding hiring the wrong people by making mistakes in the vetting process.

AR valuation

I have seen so many executives brought down by incorrect valuations of their accounts receivable that I have lost count.  So many in fact, that I was inspired to address one of my blog articles to CEOs that all too often become one of the first victims of this error.  The article asks the question, ‘have you been caught looking?’  One of the biggest risks on a hospital’s financial statements is the valuation of revenue and accounts receivable and for every understatement, there are multiples of over-statements of receivable and revenue value.  In fact, I have not seen an undervaluation recorded although I have been in arguments with outside auditors about under and over valuations of revenue and A/R.  It is a lot easier to convince an audit partner to not book an undervaluation than it is an over valuation.   The executive that wishes to avoid becoming a victim of this trap needs to take the advice of my article on the topic to heart.

AR reclassifications

A reclassification of AR is potentially more dangerous and harder to catch than a simple error in calculating realizable value.  For example, consider an organization that holds self pay balances after insurance in the same bucket as the insurance.  This is considerably more common than many managers appreciate.  Suppose a commercial receivable is valued at 70% of the underlying charges and self pay receivables are valued at 5%.  When an amount like $5 million is reclassified from insurance to self pay to clean up a backlog after the insurance balances have been satisfied, the adjustment to the value of receivables will be 65% (70% – 5%) or $3.25 million.  There are other reasons for balances to accumulate in the wrong buckets on the receivable system leading to reclassification adjustments.  The receivables are not wrong, they are just valued incorrectly.  This kind of error is enough to knock an enormous dent into or potentially wipe out the operating income of any enterprise.  There are rarely adequate cushions or reserves in realizable value calculations to absorb a shock like this.

Summary

As can be seen, a text-book could easily be written on the topic of what not to do.  There are plenty of texts that are written on what to do, they are just all too regularly ignored.  Some leaders seem to not have the ability to connect academic learning and practice. These are but a few examples of things that I have seen go wrong in healthcare organization’s business operations.  This discussion is a good example of the value of experience.  Experienced executives operating on evidence based practice have a far better potential to avoid these pitfalls and others.  Sometimes the value of an executive in an organization is more related to what they know than what they do.  Once a patient in an outage accosted a surgeon  over his fee.  The patient took the position that the fee bore no relationship to the time spent on the procedure.  The surgeon replied that 5% of his fee was for the cutting and the other 95% was for knowing where to cut and what not to cut.

My plan is to publish another article on this topic with more examples of what not to do. If you have any stories to contribute, I would love to hear them.

I would like to thank Dr. Christy Lemak, Dean of the Health Administration program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham for inspiring 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.

Should I pursue professional credentialing?

I need to start this article with a disclaimer.  I am HIGHLY BIASED in favor of professional credentialing.  If this is offensive to you, stop reading this now.  I am fairly well credentialed.  I have a Masters of Business Administration degree and a Doctorate of Science in Healthcare Administration.  I hold Fellowship certifications from both the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) and the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE).  I hold HFMA certifications in Managed Care and Patient Financial Services (PFS).  I am in the first class to be certified by HFMA in managed care and I was the national co-valedictorian in my HFMA PFS exam class.  I served a sentence on HFMA’s Board of Examiners (BOE) including a year as Chairman of the BOE.  The BOE is responsible for HFMA’s professional certification program.  Other than this, I have not done much to improve myself professionally or promote professional certification.

Lest this come across as self aggrandizing, you should know that I had a rough time in high school but ended up being the first in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree and that undergraduate degree was bestowed by The University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce.  One of the highlights of my service to the healthcare profession is my service on HFMA’s BOE.  A number of changes to the HFMA certification process occurred during my service on the Board and as the Chairman of the BOE that I am very proud of.  Changes that were focused on making the certification process more objective and making the preparation process more efficient.

You’re damn right I think credentialing is important.

More than anything else, I think a professional credential makes a statement about you.  I discuss this in my article about getting ahead.  Holding professional credentials makes a statement  that you have shown willingness to go beyond the minimum required by a job to be recognized by your peers in your discipline as being one of the best among them and an example for others seeking career advancement and improvement.

Professional certifications usually require a combination of education, experience and ability to demonstrate mastery of a discipline.  The effort required to obtain a credential is useful in that in the process of achieving the recognition, it is impossible to not learn something or possibly a lot.  This knowledge is helpful in career development and can differentiate you from your peers in a competitive job or search situation.  Among your peers, those with professional certifications are typically held in higher esteem.

For some credentials and some disciplines, certifications are minimum requirements for certain roles.  There was a time when holding an ACHE Fellowship was practically a minimum requirement for becoming a hospital CEO.  That is not as true today because of the shortage of FACHEs and the effects of some head-hunters focused on making their own jobs easier by convincing Boards of Directors that requiring professional certification will unnecessarily restrict the pool of candidates.  My question of a Board making a decision like this is why would they want to expand their net to catch applicants that did not feel that getting certification in their discipline was important?  Ironically in hospitals, these Boards preside over medical staffs that increasingly require Board Certification of their members.  My question is if they support requiring Board Certification of their physicians, why would they intentionally establish a lower threshold for the executives operating the organization?  If the demand was higher for certified leaders, it could result in an remuneration differential and lead to more executives seeking certification.  If I was advising a Board or a hiring executive, I would and have required headhunters to build a very strong case for recommending consideration of a non-certified executive when certified executives are available.

If you are an executive that is interested in career advancement, my advice is that credentialing is one of the first things you should consider.  The type of credentialing you pursue can vary depending upon your current or desired role.  In nursing for example,  a wide variety of credentials are available.  Many nurses carry several credentials.

We have all heard the adage that if something was simple or easy, everyone would have it. This principle certainly applies to credentialing.  Credentialing can be expensive, time consuming and difficult.  Credentials require a combination of minimum education, in-role experience, examinations, service under the tutelage of another certified leader and the like.  Each discipline has a process for determining the requirements for one of their members to be recognized as the best among them.  Some are more rigorous than others.  An argument can be made that the more onerous the process, the higher the value of the credential and the greater the degree to which a credentialed executive is set off from his peers.  In the case of HFMA, the credential is a Fellowship and it is earned by less than 10% of the members.  If you are a HFMA member, start paying attention to the certified status of your peers and look at their career advancement success compared to the 90%+ of uncertified members.  It should not surprise you to discover that the type of people that pursue professional certification are the same type of people that tend to advance their careers faster than others.  Is it the credential?  To a degree, I would argue that the answer is yes.

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 and attribution.  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.

What is a blind reference?

Some people naively think that the only reference checking that is done is with the references given by a candidate or a head hunter.   Executives recruiting for talent will peruse your CV looking for places where you might have common acquaintances.  They will also look for places that some of their friends and professional contacts might have insights.  When these links are found which is most of the time for an experienced recruiter or hiring executive, you are about to become the victim of a blind reference.

A ‘blind reference’ is an investigation into your past by a hiring executive that you know nothing about.

I do not put a lot of faith in  references provided by a candidate although I have had candidates give me references that were not very complimentary of them.  If you are going to give a reference, at least have an idea about what they are likely to say about you.  No one that has any sense is going to intentionally give a bad reference on a candidate to a stranger.  I also disregard reference letters.  No one is going to write a letter that states the candidate is bad.  On occasion, I will write a reference letter for someone as a personal favor but I aways counsel them that reference letters in my opinion are a total waste of time.  The only time I pay any attention to a reference letter is if I know the author.

Because of political correctness and the cold legal realities associated with references these days, the best you are going to get from formal references in most cases is that the candidate was hired on one date and departed on another date.  The most you are likely to learn is that the candidate actually did work for the firm you are contacting for the stated period of time.  They will rarely tell you anything more because references are subjective by nature in most cases.  Subjective references that cause a candidate to be ruled out of a search can become a liability for the person that gave the reference.  This is one of the reasons that blind reference checking has grown in my opinion.

If I get a reference call on a candidate being evaluated by someone I do not know, I refer the call to HR where I know what they are going to be told.  Even if the reference call comes from a friend,  I know the candidate and I know them to be bad, usually instead of giving a bad reference, I will refer my friend to HR where they will get the standard, canned response.  The hiring manager gets the message.  If a friend encounters me refusing to give a reference, they always get the message.

The more frequent call that I get is from a decision maker that is checking references that are not on the candidate’s list.  These are the calls that are dangerous for candidates because they are blind to the candidate; hence a blind reference call.  The candidate will never know in most cases they were vetted through a blind source.  This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to keep up your networking and to not burn bridges unnecessarily.  If you left a place under questionable circumstances, you need to have a good explanatory story and you need to be forthcoming and transparent.  Of course a blind reference is not necessarily a bad thing.  Under the right conditions, it can propel you to the front of the line.  I received a blind reference call on a candidate I happened to be considering at the same time.  I told the blind reference caller that they could dispense with their questions because my reference will be very simple, “If you do not hire her, I will.”  I had worked with this candidate before and she is outstanding.  She was going to end up with a gig regardless of how the reference checking worked out in this case.

When I get a blind call from someone I know and trust, they are going to learn the whole story.  The reason is that I know I can call them to have the favor returned at some point in the future.  If the candidate departed under less than ideal circumstances or told a story that I know to not be true, I will give the reference to HR as stated above.  This usually surprises the decision maker that hoped to get something from me.  The fact that I refuse to provide a reference for someone that the decision maker knows I know well usually tells them enough, especially when I put off multiple requests for help.   About the third time I refuse to provide any information, the recruiting executive gets the message.  If you are going to engage in this activity, you have to be absolutely certain that your confidence will be protected.  This is the main reason that I resist giving references to head hunters unless I know them personally because it is hard to be certain your confidentiality will be protected.

When you are looking for a job, who will the hiring decision maker call?  What will they be told by people you used to work around?  Time after time, I have received blind reference calls.  Often, these calls are about someone that has done little if anything to endear themselves to me or to even keep in touch.  People like this generally do not return calls, ask of an acquaintance while offering nothing of value to i.e., they do not engage in networking, they do not accept meetings or referrals, they do not attend or participate in industry related networking or continuing education activities such as ACHE or HFMA.  I wonder what these people expect I am going to say about them?  And of course, all of this is above and beyond anything I might know about their acumen, experience or capabilities.   I would rather not receive these calls in the first place but I do not control who calls me.

I do not know what it is about some people.  In one case, I reached out to an executive that I thought might benefit from my insight about handling executive turnover in his organization.  He humored me then never called me back in spite of the fact that I specifically requested a call regarding a wealth of information that I volunteered.  I never heard from him and I do not expect to hear from him because his failure to take my advice was at least partially responsible for his own firing a couple of months later.  A few weeks ago, I got a blind reference call.  The guy was seeking employment with a consulting firm and I knew the hiring executive very well.  What do you think happened?

This kind of thing does not have to happen to you.  If you are smart, you will get serious about networking and building as many positive relationships as you can.  Many of these relationships come from active participation in associations, alliances and industry peer groups.  You should volunteer your time to give yourself exposure to people that you might need for a job some day and in the process help them develop a positive impression of  you.

There is a saying that there are three kinds of people;  Those that make things happen, those that watch things happen and those that wonder what happened.  You never know when someone is going to make a call to someone that you might not even know; about you – a blind reference.  When that occurs, what will the results of that call be?  If you or someone you know is having difficulty getting a job and their qualifications appear competitive, they may be the victim of blind reference checking which puts them in the category of wondering what happened.

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.

Just a nurse?

Merry Christmas.  This article is my Christmas gift to my readers, especially nurses whether they read my blog or not.  I thank you for your support and wish all of you the very best for this Christmas season and a safe and prosperous new year.

My wife sent me an article that ran in Fox news about an Australian nurse that fought back on Facebook after having her fill of hearing, “just a nurse.”

One of the saddest aspects of our society in my opinion is the general lack of regard that people have for hospitals.  It is especially demoralizing when community leaders are actively engaged in destroying their community hospital and in the process disrespecting the doctors, nurses, volunteers, leadership and hard-working employees who would do anything for them at any time, no questions asked.  It makes you wonder whether the people who engage in this destruction even care about the capability of the hospital should they or one of their loved ones be stricken with an accident or illness.  I tell audiences regularly that it is not hard to see that  people do not care about the hospital . . . . until they need it.  The same people who persecute voluntary trustees and administrative representatives of their community hospital  expect nothing but the best that medicine has to offer when they or one of their loved ones needs the hospital’s services.  Some of these hypocrites will quietly seek healthcare elsewhere while doing nothing constructive to help their community hosptial.  Sometimes I wonder if the people in the towns where these activities occur realistically believe that they can escape an involuntary visit to their community hospital when they are the victim of an accident, a heart attack or some other unanticipated serious illness?

When the people who engage in activities of this ilk intentionally denigrate their hospital, they are disrespecting all of the employees, physicians and volunteers of the hospital by inference regardless of what they say.  Just like the disgusting, duplicative politicians that commit the young people in the military to life endangering missions then withhold resources and/or engage in open criticism of the military.  This disingenuous behavior is too routine in our society when we witness the spectacle of politicians holding hands and praying together before they send the military overseas only to then undermine and denigrate military leadership and increase the number of body bags coming home by their subsequent lack of support.

I view a hospital like an aircraft carrier.  On a carrier, EVERY person aboard the ship has a job that can be directly traced to the support of a relatively small number of airplanes and their pilots.   The ratio is over 6,000 to about 100.  In a hospital, the primary  reason for every person in the organization is to support the nursing function, more specifically, bedside nurses.  The services delivered in hospitals are for the most part ordered by physicians but they are delivered by nurses.  It is the nurse that is in the building with the patient 24/7/365.  It is the nurse that will place themselves between a patient and any source of danger or threat.  It is the nurse that is the first responder to the patient’s every need.  It is the nurse that carries our their responsibilities with dignity and pride even when they are disparaged or abused by physicians and other authority figures in a hospital.  It is the nurse that is the voice of assurance when a patient is afraid.  It is the nurse that is left to pick up the pieces when a tragedy occurs.  It is the nurse that carries out the final preparations following death.

Nurses control resource utilization and therefore the cost of providing healthcare.  It would seem that executives that are interested in getting more out of nursing would see to it that nurses have what they need to do their job.  In my experience, most of the time, no one has to tell nurses what to do.  They know what to do and they will do it gladly if we will facilitate their efforts and get out of their way.   Those of us in healthcare administration should be ever vigilant to remove barriers, policies and procedures that frustrate the efforts of our nurses to give their patients our collective best.  Nurses influence patient satisfaction and patient outcomes.  One of the greatest sins in society in my opinion is activities of any kind in a hospital that undermine nursing, particularity when these activities are carried out by authority figures.

You do not have to teach or train a nurse to be compassionate or focused on error free work.  In fact nurses operate at far higher levels of performance than the rest of us usually appreciate.  Most of us would not make it very long if we had to perform at the level of our nurses.  Nurses understand the grave consequences of errors in their work.  All too frequently, a nurse that is involved in an all too common human error becomes the second victim of a bad outcome.  That these people can function at all under this stress tells the rest of us how incredible our nurses are.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my relationships with nurses over the years.  The type of people who gravitate to nursing are special.  Most of them are motivated to be in a position to do things to help other people in their time of need.  They do not allow those of us that are ‘bad patients’ to detract from their focus to give us their best.  Their attitude is always positive and uplifting even when we are in the mist of having our worst day(s) and showing it liberally.

Most hospitals recognize their nurses by providing badging that clearly indicates that they are nurses.  One of my personal crusades is to make sure that EVERY nurse in the organization whether they are a bedside nurse or not PROUDLY display their RN identification so that no one will mistake these giants of humanity for any one of the rest of us regardless of their role.

What would our world be without nurses?  What would our world be without the type of people that gravitate to nursing?  What are we doing as leaders that is making life more difficult for our nurses?  Are we creating environments more or less conducive to patient safety?

The next time an opportunity presents itself, do not miss taking the time to thank every nurse you meet for their service to the hospital, its patients and your community.

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.

What is the value proposition of an Interim Executive?

Interim Executive Services as defined in my ‘About‘ page is not as common in the US as it is in Europe.  On the continent, in order to practice as an interim executive, a person needs to have a certification similar to a CPA in the US.  In the US, it is still the wild west when it comes to interim executives.  A few years back, a private enterprise in NC attempted to establish a credential for interim executives but the effort failed so now it is a buyer beware market.  There are firms providing interim services but in my experience these firms do very little in terms of either training or providing oversight for their interims.  The interims are placed and they are usually on their own from that point.  This raises the question of the value proposition of an interim executive because the proposed pricing is usually higher than the hourly rate for the employee being replaced.

In my experience dealing with buyers of interim services, the first and often most heavily weighed consideration is the cost of the interim resource.  The less sophisticated the decision maker, the more likely that they will be motivated primarily if not exclusively by cost.  This is because they do not get or choose to ignore the value proposition.  This has happened to me time after time.  Each time, I held my ground and demanded a fair premium for my services.  In each case, I told my client that if they did not find value in my services, they could terminate me without cause or notice.  Once they had a chance to experience what a sophisticated interim executive could provide, the cost issue was not raised again.  A decision maker that seizes an opportunity to buy interim services at a small or no premium should be worried about what they will be getting for their money.

I am aware of interim firms that prey on executives in transition that are desperate for income.  Some of these interims will take any job at any price.  The interim firm then sells their services based on price alone and is successful getting a markup of 30% to 50% while providing a price sensitive decision maker just what they paid for.

What would rationalize a premium for a sophisticated interim executive?  There are many considerations that a decision maker should contemplate in addition or in lieu of rate.  I am making repetitive use of the adjective ‘sophisticated’ when referring to interim executives.  There are differences in the sophistication of interim executives and the decision makers that engage them.  These differences are discussed in an earlier article.

The criteria below while useful in understanding the value proposition of a sophisticated interim executive may be equally if not more valuable in evaluating potential interim resources for fit in your organization.

I would advise against hiring the first interim you see unless you have a recommendation from a source that you highly trust.  When I worked with Tatum, they made it a habit to present at least two resources on each project so that the decision maker would have the ability to see more than one alternative and make their own choice instead of letting the interim firm sell them on whoever happened to be currently sitting on their bench with nothing better to be doing at the time.

Experience – One thing worth paying a premium for is experience.  The typical interim executive is a late career individual with a lot of experience, usually in a number of organizations.  The depth and breadth of this experience allows them to assimilate quickly an organization and to begin creating value almost immediately.  This is particularly true if the interim has on-point experience, something you should always look for.

In addition to career experience, it is worth paying a premium for an interim executive with multiple interim engagements on their CV.  The approach to a position as an interim is radically different from what one would take as an employee.  It is worth paying a premium for an experienced interim unless you already have another interim in the organization that can serve as a mentor.

Credentials – In addition to being highly experienced, sophisticated interims tend to carry above average credentials.  Things like advanced degrees, CPA certifications, ACHE, HFMA  and/or fellowships.  These credentials may or may not specifically make one person better than another but the probability that a credentialed executive is going to have a higher level of cognitive capability and an innate drive toward personal excellence is a pretty safe bet.  Another consideration is that no one requires executives to seek advanced education and professional credentialing.  In a situation where everything else is equal, I will always favor a credentialed individual because the very fact that they have obtained a credential is proof of their drive to go beyond the minimum required to get by.  In my experience, credentialed executives are always superior for this reason alone.  As most of us that are credentialed know, you do actually learn something in the credentialing process that might come in handy once in a while.

Expertise – Knowing what you are doing should count for something.  I have seen more than one decision maker hire the first resource they could find that had a heart beat only to make the situation infinitely worse when the interim executive failed.  Most decision makers I have met do not know how to supervise or manage an interim executive.  For example, I would argue that most CEOs do not have the ability to manage a CFO from a technical or risk management standpoint.  I discuss this phenomenon in an earlier article.  The risk for the decision maker is that if the interim fails, the decision maker will usually be held accountable.  The interim will go on to the next gig while the decision maker that may not have been considering relocating finds himself hanging paper from home.

MentorshipSophisticated interims are invaluable in the potential they present to mentor rising executives in an organization.  A sophisticated interim executive that knows how to mentor properly can help turn younger leaders into rising stars.  In addition, interim engagements  frequently lead to demand for additional interim resources that were not anticipated at the beginning of an engagement.  In this situation, an interim that has the capability to manage and/or mentor other interims can bring a very high value to an organization.  I have engaged a number of interims while serving as an interim myself.  I can say from experience that I believe I have delivered substantial value by making sure that the other interims were doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Judgment – You have probably heard the one liner that says, “Good judgment comes from experience that we get by exercising bad judgment.”  I would argue that having the ability to bring above average experience and judgment to bear on a problem is worth paying for.  Experienced executives, especially interim executives can be expected to have better judgment than a decision maker might be accustomed to.

Stability – A transition situation is unstable by definition.  My practice has shown me that the only thing you can be certain of in a transitory situation is that you cannot be certain of anything.  Some people have difficulty dealing with unstable, unpredictable situations.  After or arguably before a decision maker initiates a transition, they should be thinking ahead about their next steps and high among them should be an effort to stabilize the situation so that a business interruption or a bad outcome may be avoided.

Morphing deals – Some people need predictability and stability in order to function effectively.  They are unnerved by constantly changing circumstances and seize up.  An experienced interim executive knows that as a project progresses, things will happen and changes will become necessary that were not initially expected.  The project morphs from one set of circumstances to another.  It is worth paying for experience that can not only help stabilize a situation but experience that can adapt to unforeseen challenges.

Easy to sever – I have seen interim engagements fail.  There is no way that I know of  to accurately predict in advance if the interim executive will be what was expected or whether or not they will be effective in your organization.  In the event that the engagement is not working, you should have the ability to have the interim replaced immediately without cause or reason.  I discuss this in my article about contracting.  If the interim deal is not working, it is highly unlikely that it will improve.  I have had to terminate an interim before the end of their second week in an organization.  In the event that something like this occurs, the sooner you act, the less the potential for damage.  The other side of this is that the issue may not be anything worse than a bad fit.  I am happy to be the easiest person in the organization to get rid of but if I am expected to bear this risk, part the premium I receive justifies me taking this risk.

Interim services firms will endeavor to mitigate this risk by asking for minimum engagement time periods.  My advice would be to pay the premium and refuse to accept a minimum term as explained in my contracting article.

Velocity – In my article about contracting, I talk about the importance of velocity as it relates to interim engagements.  Frequently, decision makers procrastinate about making a decision but once they make up their minds, they want the resource TOMORROW.  Providing this kind of flexibility is worth paying a premium for especially if the resource you want has been waiting for you to make a decision.  If you want a resource to sit around waiting for you make a decision and be at you beck and call at any time, you need to be prepared to pay a premium for this luxury.

Rapid acclimation – When I was at Tatum, the firm’s mantra was ‘Velocity.’  The connotation is that the firm focused on rapid response.  What I have learned from the stages of an interim engagement is that once a decision maker decides to bring an interim executive in, they want them tomorrow.  Part of the premium a decision maker pays is to get  an interim executive  to get to their site quickly,   Sophisticated interim executives also know how to assess a situation quickly.  This skill and experience allows them to become productive much faster than would be expected of an employee.  Decision makers tend to vacillate and procrastinate about a decision to bring in interim resources.  They should not be unhappy about paying a premium for a resource that can help them compensate for the time it took to get the interim on their site.

No benefits – An interim deal is simple from the perspective that it usually only involves the professional fee and out of pocket expenses.  Unsophisticated decision makers will compare the salary rate of the departed employee with the billing rate of the interim and conclude that the interim is expensive without taking into consideration that the employee had benefit cost somewhere in the range of 25% of their compensation.  Not having an interim executive on the organization’s benefit plan is clean and can be a cost saving aspect of the engagement.

Living and travel burden – If you don’t think an interim executive deserves a premium, try living in a hotel and traveling every week.  Not only does this create an expense that substantially adds to the cost of an interim engagement, it is very hard on the interim executive.  The longer the engagement lasts, the harder this becomes on the interim.  It is too easy for decision makers to forget the interim executive as they are going home a warm meal and the privilege of going to bed with their spouse while the interim is separated from their family, eating out and going to sleep in a cold bed.  This aspect of interim executive consulting by itself warrants a premium.  I accept that the burden of travel goes with Interim work but I wonder if the price my family and marriage have paid for me to do this work has been worth any amount of money.  I have lost my sensitively about what I ask for my services primarily be causes of the burden that the interim lifestyle places on the consultant.  I discuss this in detail in my article about becoming a an interim executive.

While I could take the position that it is not a problem of mine, I deeply resent the cost associated with being an interim executive.  Travel, food, temporary lodging and other costs associated with an interim executive is a significant proportion of the total cost of an interim resource.  It drives me crazy to pay these costs or incur them on behalf of a client.  This is one of the strongest reasons for making sure that you are getting your money’s worth from any interim you engage.

Hired independently or via a firm – My experience is showing me that there is a growing population of ‘free agent’ interim executives.  Firms that place interims will take somewhere in the range of 30% – 50% of the total professional fee for their overhead and profit.  In addition, because of what I would describe as oppressive government overreach, most if not all firms now require their interims to work on a W-2 instead of a 1099 or K-1.  This can result in the interim losing tax benefit in the best case and paying tax on out-of-pocket expenses in the worst case.  While free agent interims can be harder to find because you have to know how to network to find them, they can be less expensive because they are not taking a hair cut in a direct deal.  In my experience, a free-lance interim is likely to be much better than interims that come from firms for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this article.

Summary – I could go on but I trust that as a decision maker or an interim for that matter, you can see that there is plenty of justification for a premium for interim executive services.  The premiums I have seen run 50% or more over the base salary of the executive being replaced.  If you are a decision maker, you should not be afraid of paying a premium to get superior skills and resources brought to bear quickly on complex or dangerous business problems and or transitions.  Quibbling over rate can slow down the process of getting the right resource and can prevent you from getting the best possible skill in place.  One of the most profound value propositions of an interim executive is their ability to raise the probability that the decision maker that hired them will not also become a victim of the transitions that created the need for the interim in the first place.  In my experience, decision makers routinely discount this aspect of an interim engagement’s value that is in  my opinion one of the strongest reasons for paying a premium for the right interim.

If you are an interim executive, you should not ever sell yourself short.  I took a haircut on a deal that was only supposed to last 3 months to mitigate on behalf of the firm something that I had nothing to do with.  After three months, the firm would not get my rate corrected and the engagement ended up lasting thirteen months.  I will not work with that firm again because they have demonstrated in more than one case involving me that they cannot be trusted.  As an aside, from my perspective in this case, the firm detracted significantly from its value to me while adding insignificantly to the client’s value.  If you have experience as an interim, you know that one certainty is that you are probably going into a situation that will turn out to be significantly different from what was described and invariably more challenging.  You also know that there is a very high probability that you are going to be in the organization much longer than the decision maker assumes at the onset.  In my  experience once you have proven your value, decision makers will take considerably more time getting you out than they took getting you in.  I have helped decision makers over the cost hump by reminding them that hiring me is a no risk proposition.  They can send me packing the day that they decide that the engagement is not working or that I am failing to produce more value than they expected.  I am happy to take this risk as long as I am being appropriately compensated.  I have yet to be sent packing.  In every case, I have remained much longer than initially expected or planned.  Some interim firms prey on unsophisticated executives in transition by buying them at or below what they were receiving as an employee and reselling them at a market consulting rate.  If you allow yourself to be prostituted in this manner it is your own fault.

In closing, I believe there is substantial justification for paying a premium for interim executive services.  I postulate that the time usually lost by decision makers that struggle with the decision to bring an interim in can quickly create costs and/or losses that far exceed any premium.  As I said in an earlier article, if you are a decision maker, make a decision.

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.

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.

 

 

There is nothing that I can do for you.

 

Responding to my blog article entitled, “Why do CEO’s get fired . . . ” Bill Eikost, a long time aquaintance of mine in a comment raised the following question:

“In one facility, the hospital had contracted with a large consulting practice to come in and do an assessment of the organization.  As I understand it, when they made their presentation, which included some tough decisions be made, the board objected to it not being in the best interest of the organization or the community.  Why have them come in in the first place then?  The CEO supported the idea of the change but was met with resistance from his board. In almost all cases, I would bet the board wins.  As a result, many of the senior leadership left and they brought in or promoted new leadership to continue the course. ”

I have been mocked for having epiphanies.  People tell me they are tired of hearing some of the stories I use to make a point or illustrate a concept.

Recently, I have been dealing with some vexing problems related to matters beyond my control and entrenched, recalcitrant culture.  It was during a personal low point of frustration, depression and demoralization about these matters that I had yet another of my epiphanies.

Heart surgeons regularly carry out miraculous interventions that result in people that would otherwise be dead walking from the hospital under their own power healing of their afflictions.  One of the more difficult aspects of being a cardiovascular surgeon is case selection.  CV surgeons and their practices are continuously evaluated by all sorts of local and national statistics.  One of these statistics is mortality.  What percentage of patients treated by this physician ended up dying?  Talk about a Hobson’s choice!  On one hand, the physician is motivated to do everything within his power to give the patient the best possible chance of survival.  On the other hand, there are times when the probability of a surgical intervention being successful is nominal.  A surgeon that is too aggressive taking high risk cases will have an above average mortality rate and be branded a bad doctor.  Can you imagine what it must be like to look another human being in the eye and tell them, “There is nothing I can do for you.”  The surgeon knows that putting the patient through a procedure would be unlikely to be successful but he also knows that he is in many cases effectively issuing that patient a death sentence.  I could not do this and I have respect for these surgeons that I cannot articulate.  I do not think I could do this and live with myself.  The next time you see one of them, thank them for their service.

Getting back to my epiphany, some of the things needed to ease the stress on the organization were going to require some community leaders and Board members to step up to challenges and take on controversy they did not sign up for.  Sometimes the easiest thing to do is nothing and if this were to occur, I was finished.  I had reached the point where if this was to be the case, there was nothing more I could do for my organization (patient).  In the middle of the night I awoke in a cold sweat when this realization dawned upon me.  Suddenly, I had insight into what it must feel like for a surgeon to tell a patient they cannot be helped.  If the resolve in the organization and the Board to take on the hard work was not there, I was done.  It would make no sense to continue to play along burning up time and resources on a hopeless cause.

All of us have heard the admonition, “Do not go to the doctor unless you intend to do what he tells you to do.”  Compliance in medicine is a huge problem.  If I was at this point, I could easily log some more time but effectively it was over.

I have seen this phenomena before but I did not see it in this light.  I have seen several organizations go through this process.  In one case, an organization that had never had what I would describe as a professional materials manager expressed resolve to recruit one.  An outstanding incumbent was recruited following a long, arduous retained search.  And of course, less than six months into his run as he would say, “the defecation hit the rotary oscillator.”  Seemingly over night, the organization that said it wanted a materials manager changed its mind when the realization of what actually having a materials manager really meant starting dawning.  Sadly, the new executive’s tenure ended up being very short, his career and his family were disrupted and the organization went back to doing things as they had before.  This was the first but certainly not the only time I have seen this happen.

Time for another digression.  About the materials manager referenced above.  His case is fairly typical.  Sometimes the fit is not right but that does not mean the person is bad.  While no one would recommend anyone going though a situation like the one described, the manager emerged from this trauma a better person for the experience, stronger, wiser and with a clearer vision about evaluating opportunities.  He has gone on to have a distinguished career and currently holds one of the largest material management jobs in the entire healthcare industry and thank heavens, the two of us are still on speaking terms.

A lot of people say they want a lot of things until they fully realize what is involved or what the ‘desired’ change implies.  For example, I described what it takes to obtain an advanced role in an organization in a previous blog article.  A lot of people say they want the lifestyle and income that comes with higher level jobs until they find out how long and hard the road is to get there.  Unfortunately, I do not know of any way to assess in advance the point at which resistance will be encountered or how it will be addressed.

In my recent personal case, I have seen support I would not have believed possible come to bear in an effort to achieve the favorable change for the hospital and the community that is there for the taking.  You never know what people are going to do until the chips are down and the hard questions are on the table.

Kevin Rutherford, a trucker, radio commentator, author and producer of a trucking website ends his shows with the admonition to, “Do the hard work and master the journey.”  I like to say that you will never find the walls unless you are willing to push the limits.

Success is not measured by how long you last in an organization.  It is not measured by how  good you are at ‘staying off the radar’ when the organization is seeking to improve itself.  It is not measured in how adept you are at keeping your job.  Success in my opinion is defined by the degree to which you demonstrate selfless leadership to take your area of responsibility to the next level.  I have posed the pertinent questions before.  Are you and your area an example of the best of their type in the industry?  Are you an example of what others should aspire to become?  Are you and your area an example of best practice?  Is your expertise sought out by peers striving to improve themselves?  Do you know what data is used to make these determinations?  Do you compare favorably with all of the statistics available to evaluate your leadership?  Are you taking initiative or are you waiting for someone to come along and tell you what to do?

An honest self-assessment is very difficult but in my experience, no one that was ‘left behind’ should not have seen it coming.

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 in the menu bar at the top of this web page.
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.

 

 

An old epiphany AKA my Barbara Mandrell story

A few years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to spend the better part of a week in Nashville, TN.  While there, we decided to check out the Fontanel Mansion.  Fontanel was Barbara Mandrell’s ‘cabin in the woods.’  As of this writing, Fontanel is number 4 of 209 things to do in Nashville according to Tripadvisor.  Barbara named Fontanel after her youngest child.  I will leave it to you to look up the meaning of the word and to see if you can see the inspiration.

I highly recommend visiting Fontanel if you are in the area.  It will leave a lasting impression.  Barbara’s ‘cabin’ is some 27,500 square feet in size.  At the time of its construction, it was the largest log structure on earth.  It is still in the top five.  The magnitude and scale of the mansion defy description.  As I said, you need to see it for yourself.  The mansion is so large, the Mandrell family regularly lost their children in the house so everyone had to carry walkie-talkies to stay in touch.  A huge indoor swimming pool, indoor shooting range, 5,500 square foot ‘great room’, arcade, commercial kitchen, lavish finishes and irreplaceable casework and finishes overwhelm the visitor.

At the time I visited Fontanel, I was struggling personally with what I perceived to be a lack of ability to have the degree of favorable transformational influence in the organizations I served as an interim executive.  I knew what needed to happen.  I knew what it looked like when it is right and what it looks like when it is not right.  I was frustrated by  the fact that the organizations just did not seem to be as interested in changing as I expected.  Many of my recommendations either fell on deaf ears or were humored then subsequently ignored.

You can easily spend an entire day at Fontanel.  There is a lot to see and do.  It takes a while to begin to comprehend the magnitude of the mansion.  To me it was as impressive if not more impressive in its own way than the Biltmore house.  Late in the day we had an opportunity to hear Barbara’s daughter Jamie speak.  She stayed with the new owners of Fontanel as an interpreter and her comments brought the place to life.  I was standing with a group of people listening to Jamie talk about her childhood experience at Fontanel.  She was explaining that she had to reach high school age where she started getting out into friends’ homes before she realized that her childhood experience was any different than that of any other child.  She and her brothers assumed that their childhood experience characterized by wealth, maids, butlers, chauffeurs and the like was no different than the childhood experience of other children.

It was at this second that I could have been knocked over with a feather.  I was overwhelmed by a wave of dawning realization that nearly overcame me.  In one second, I got it!  In the blink of an eye, I finally understood the problem I was experiencing.  The reason that I could not get people in the organizations to see my vision for what they and their organization could be was that the environment they were in as dysfunctional as it might be is their sense of normalcy.  They cannot see the possibility of something so much better because their view of the world is characterized by their role in their environment.  They frequently see little if anything that needs to be fixed.  It is normal for me to hear, “Everything here was fine until you showed up and starting changing everything.”

In one organization I served, the Vice President of Finance told me one day that she was there when I came and that she would be there after I was gone.  She went on to explain that she had ‘broken-in and trained’ five CFOs and had survived them all as she would survive me.  We managed to co-exist for a few months primarily because as an interim, I resist  taking personnel actions that will alter someone’s career unless I am forced into a situation where my options have been reduced to one.  In this case, the first thing my successor did was rid himself and the organization of this caustic cancer of an employee.  I have seen multiple examples in organizations that I have served of shock and awe when the degree of dysfunction, sub-optimization and loss were revealed.

The only thing worse than a dysfunctional culture is a toxic culture.  A dysfunctional culture fails to meet the needs of the organization while a toxic culture is more detrimental to the organization because it characterized by active degradation.  There are a number of characterizations of dysfunctional or toxic culture many of which are obvious to independent, disinterested observers while being transparent to the people that are a part of the toxic culture.   These phenomena are more easily recognized to the degree the observer is viewing the situation academically or clinically without personalization of the circumstances or any of the people involved in the issue.  The problem with this is that people rarely change.  In fact, most of us are extremely resistant to change.  The observation of this phenomena over a long time spent in a variety of organizations has led me to the conclusion that achieving a change in culture without changing the cast of characters is generally a fool’s errand.  Ascension Health is the largest not-for-profit healthcare systems in the US.  Ascension is also the largest US Catholic healthcare organization.  Ascension places high value on the worth of individuals and in my experience errs on the side of doing the right thing by people in its employ.  I have seen the focus inspired by this culture in Ascension hospitals lead them to make substantial investments trying to salvage leaders that should have been long gone.  Sadly, more often than not, these efforts fail and the person ends up leaving the organization anyway.

How does this apply to leadership?  Every time an organization is presented with the opportunity to fill a leadership position, it needs to think about the role and function that now needs new leadership.  In the case of senior executive positions, I strongly recommend that an assessment be conducted to document the degree to which the previous incumbent and the function was meeting the needs of the organization.  Some organizations have a stronger bias than others to promote from within.  While I support this organizational value, it can be problematic.  There is no substitute or alternative that I know of for the enriching experience of working in different organizations, cultures and climates.  This experience provides insight and perspective that is un-achievable for persons that have grown up in the organization with most or all of their experience being in that organization.  They have no capacity to see things differently than how they currently exist.  In some cases I have seen, internal candidates have been victimized by poor or weak mentorship or leadership in the organization.

This is not to say that an internal candidate should not be considered.  The internal candidate does have the experience and insight to know the history of the organization and the location of every closet where a skeleton is hung and the site of every grave.  They can be up to speed immediately while it can take an outsider months to come up to their full potential.

The moral of this story is to be cognizant of your culture and the degree to which it might be impeding your ability as a leader to move your area of responsibility forward.  You need to ask yourself the very hard question of the degree to which you might be part of the problem.  This is one reason that continuing professional education is so valuable.  You need to be concentrating on improving your education and skills continuously.  In this process, you will begin to gain clarity as to how you may have been sub-optimizing.  This is also an example of how consultants can be very valuable to your personal survival probability.  Use them for their subject matter expertise but ask them questions and listen to them very carefully.  You have experience in a few organizations.  They have experience in many organizations and are uniquely qualified to help you understand where your organization might be missing opportunities to improve.

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 in the menu bar at the top of this web page.
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.

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How do I get ahead?

A frequent question I get is how do I advance my career?  How do I get ahead in the organization?  This is a question I asked myself a lot earlier in my career.

The first question to ask is what does it mean to you to ‘get ahead?’  Success is not always best measured by career accomplishment.  I have learned that life is full of trade-offs.  If you wish to advance your professional career, you are going to have to pay a price.  The price is measured in short-term sacrifice for longer term goals, moving to where the opportunities are, pursuing advanced education and professional credentialing among others.  These ‘prices’ are higher than many people are willing or able to pay.  The effect is that they get trapped in roles where they can not realize or achieve their full potential.

When I was coming along, I was always looking up and ahead.  I was the first in my family to earn a college degree.  My parents did not understand college but they did recognize that people with college educations did better.  In college I was exposed to people that had achieved much personal and professional success.  I was inspired to replicate what these people had done so that I could enjoy the niceties of life that they had earned.  When I started working, it seemed to me that given the chance, I  could do better than the people ahead of me in the organization.  I set myself to learning what they had done to become qualified for their roles and I started closing the gaps of experience, expertise, knowledge and credentialing.  Before long, I was given consideration and started achieving my goals of reaching advanced roles in healthcare administration.

One of the things that occurred to me along this road is that the key thing organizations select and reward leaders for is cognitive skills.  Decision making in my opinion is one of the most if not the most valuable skills a leader can develop.  The better you are equipped to make decisions, the more responsibility the organization will bestow upon you.  The larger the responsibility, the more substantial the risks and rewards associated with the decisions you are called upon to make.  These risks and rewards are ultimately reflected in the remuneration for which you are eligible.

In my practice as an Interim Executive, I learned that the primary factor differentiating organizations that were doing well from those that ended up with challenges and transitions is less than optimal decision making.  Show me an organization with challenges, operational difficulties and unacceptable financial results and I will show you leadership that has compiled a poor record as a result of questionable decision making.

As I have reflected upon this phenomenon, it has occurred to me that as we progress through our career and through increasingly responsible roles, the nature of our work changes.  This has led to the development of my ‘Model of Career Progression.’

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Early on in our career, the amount of ‘work’ we do is how we are measured.  The work is usually measured in volume and it frequently requires a high level of technical skill but not much cognitive skill.  For example, what field on what page do I access to find certain information?  How many ‘activities’ can I complete in one day?  I once had a senior leader ask me if I had reviewed certain accounting journal entries.  I told him that I did not know what drawer the journal entries were stored in.  I did not know where the journal entry pad was and I could not remember whether the debits went by the door or the window.  What an outrageously stupid question!  I have not reviewed journal entries since I was a Controller over thirty years ago.  I am not paid to review journal entries, I am paid to assure that the organization’s financial statements are timely, materially accurate and that they fairly state the position and operating results of the organization.  Can you see the difference?

As you advance in an organization, technical skill becomes less important and decision making skill becomes much more important.  At higher levels of responsibility, you become more of a generalist because you are not evaluated based on how much ‘work’ you do.  You are evaluated based on the results of your leadership, particularly as it relates to the outcomes of your decision making regardless of how much time and effort you expend in the process.

In my opinion, the development of cognitive ability is what will launch or limit your ability to advance in an organization.  How do you develop cognitive ability?  All of us are limited at some level by our basic intellect but I do not think that is what constrains most people.  The reason is that people like Earl Nightingale and others have said that most of us rarely use more than 10% of our mental capacity so I am not buying the theory that people are not ‘smart enough’ to do higher level cognitive work.  The way you develop your skills is to invest in yourself by seeking advanced education and professional credentialing in your area of expertise or interest.  Continuous self study helps you to cement your position when given opportunities to function at higher levels.  Experience in multiple situations is also helpful.  You do not necessarily have to leave the organization to gain this experience.  I have counseled numerous young people to seek opportunities in other ares of the organization to learn as much as they can about how the enterprise functions and to see where their areas of greatest interest or gifts lie.

There has never been a time in healthcare that more and better leadership is desparately needed.  There are plenty of opportunities available for those who wish to advance their careers.  All you have to do if you are one of these people is to start investing in yourself.  I can assure you from my own personal experience that investment in yourself is the best investment you will ever make.  I don’t care how cliche the phrase is.  It has served me and a number of other very successful people I know extremely well.

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 in the menu bar at the top of this web page.
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.

 

Are you afraid?

Fear – Feeling of anxiety, frightening thought, reverence or worry.  Synonyms include terror, dread, anxiety, horror, distress, fright, panic, alarm, trepidation and apprehension according to the dictionary.

My wife is the strongest and bravest person I know.  Like many women, she had a fibroid tumor.  The tumor was causing increasing hemorrhaging every month.  She barely recovered from the prior month when the cycle would start again and each was worse than the last.  Like so many women, she could not bring herself to face surgery.  In addition to not wanting to scar her perfect, beautiful body, she like most of the rest of us was horrified of the operating room.  Her fear was such that she was practically willing to die rather than submit herself voluntarily to surgery.  Nothing I said or did had any effect on Jo Ann.  She was not going to have surgery as long as she could cling to the hope that the natural process of menopause might ultimately solve her problem.

One morning, I awoke around 5 AM to find Jo Ann gone from our bed.  She was not in the bathroom.  As I got up to see where she was, I found her; on the floor beside our bed in the middle of a large pool of blood.  I was horrified, I thought she was dead.

A few hours later, Jo Ann found herself at Northside Hospital in Atlanta under the care of Dr. Benedict Benigo, Jr., one of the nation’s best gynecological oncology surgeons.  She was told that there was no alternative to surgery as she received blood to strengthen her for what was to come.

The family was allowed to accompany Jo Ann to the pre-OP holding area.  The anxiety of anticipation was building by the minute nearly past the point that a human can bear.  There were prayers and hugs but nothing seemed to be having much effect.  Then Dr. Benigo came to her bedside and what happened next changed my life forever.  He took her hand.  She was trembling with fear.  He asked her if she was afraid.  With a heartbreaking voice that was cracking, she told Dr. Begnio that she was so scared that she did not think she could bear what was coming.  Looking gently into her eyes and squeezing her hand, Dr. Begnio said with confidence and empathy I cannot adequately describe, “I am not afraid.”  He went on to say that he had done this procedure hundreds of times and that everything was going to be OK.

There is no drug that that could have had the effect of his simple, empathetic words, “I am not afraid.”

The surgery was successful, a benign tumor the size of a cantaloupe was removed and Jo Ann recovered to be more vibrant and vivacious than she had been in years.  I emerged from the experience with a totally different view of my work in hospitals.

Years ago, I made a conscious, career and lifestyle choice to go into Interim Executive Services.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into, how I would be changed and what a wild, crazy and fulfilling experience my life would become.  Since then, I became so enamored with my work that I went back to school to obtain a doctorate degree in healthcare administration focused on evidence based leadership. My dissertation, the only one of its type is on Interim Executive Services.

A transition is a scary experience in a healthcare organization.  A senior executive leaves on short notice, then another, then another.  The nightmare this induces seems to go on and on.  I know of cases where multiple leaders left concurrently and I worked in a situation where nine executives departed on the same day.  What is happening?  Why is it happening?  Who is behind the events?  Who is next?  When will it stop?  What is the organization trying to accomplish?  The fear this produces can paralyze an organization.

As an Interim Executive, I do not have a ‘job’ in the traditional sense in the organization.  My role in a transition is to stabilize the situation and help the organization to move forward through assessment, recruitment and on-boarding of new leadership.  I have addressed transitions in my previous blogs.  I have talked about the opportunities they create.  I have addressed the question of what  the leaders in the organization should be doing.  I have addressed the process and course of executive transitions.

In this article, I want to discuss fear.  Fear is a natural reaction to a perceived threat that is not fully understood.  It is a natural human instinct that can have a favorable effect.  I have learned that I am at my best in an environment where there is fear and uncertainty.  Why?  Because I AM NOT AFRAID.  Sometimes, I might be one of a very few or possibly the only member of the leadership team that is not afraid.  Why?  Because I have nothing to lose in the transition.  I am not rooted in the town and I come into an organization as others are exiting.  Actually, I do have some fear.  Voluntary Boards of Directors and most senior executives have little or no experience with transitions.  My fear is based on concern that I will not reach the requirement of need for leadership created by the transition event and the Board’s hope that I can lead a healing of the organization and make it better.  I have seen Interim Executives fail and that is a bigger disappointment to a Board than the event that precipitated the need for the Interim Executive in the first place.  I am human too.  I have a larger fear of failure than most people know or that I let on most of the time.  I am just not afraid of losing a ‘job.’

I endeavor to bring calm and order to a chaotic situation because I have nothing to lose.  I have but one objective and that is to help the organization get through the transition and on with its life, hopefully better for the experience.  I have found my calling.  Most executives have only one or two organizational transition events in which they are a leader during the course of their career.  I have been through a number of these events.

The ability to manage fear separates mediocre leaders from excellent leaders.   When an event precipitates fear, the Executives that are capable of leading the organization to the next level quickly distinguish themselves from those that cannot.  I discussed a situation that created absolute horror for the participants in a previous article.  It is an amazing phenomena to see the behavior of executives in an organization during a transition.  The difference between those that are paralyzed with fear and those that see and are striving for the opportunity created is palpable.  Some people rise to a challenge while others are frozen when the environment starts demanding more.  Some people relish change and opportunity while others mourn what used to be.  Some people need structure and predictability.  When structure and predictability are disrupted or eliminated, they panic and seize up.  Unfortunately, all too often this places them on the bus that is headed for the transition destination.  Interestingly, this phenomena is not the fault of the organization.  The transition may be induced by the organization but it has no control over how people will react.  The people react as they will forcing the organization to make adjustments because the Board will see to it that service to patients and fulfillment of the mission will continue in spite of personnel turnover.

It is easy for me to to tell you to not be afraid.  I can say from having experience in transitions and having been through more than one as a ‘victim,’ it is not fun.  ‘Still and yet,’ we must press on.  We are charged to make every aspect of our organization better.  It is being demanded by the environment and the patients we serve.  Fear is good.  It gets the adrenaline going.

An interesting aspect of combat is that there is no way to predict how humans will react in a combat situation.  The big he-man is reduced to a blithering idiot frozen in place sobbing for his mother while the meekest of the group steps up and says, “I have had enough of this,” as they demonstrate super-human courage and leadership.  Similarly, organizations cannot predict who their best leaders will be during a transition.  Some people are energized and come to life in an unstable situation and others hunker down.  Excellent leaders make themselves known when the chips are down and their leadership counts.  A moron can run something when it is in good shape and the environment is stable.  The essence of leadership is manifested and tested when it matters.

What kind of leader are you?  You have to acknowledge that fear is normal.  Everyone has fear.  Get over it.  Get up and get going.  Inspire those that are looking to you for clues as to how they should be responding.  If you have fear for your job, the best way to lose it is to fail to step up when the organization needs your leadership.  Fail in this situation and you have voted yourself off the island.  An administrative assistant once told me that the only leader the organization had ever had that was worth a hoot was the CEO that did not need the job, did not want the job and did not care whether the organization kept him or not.  His singular focus was to make the place better and he was comfortable doing the right thing for the organization without regard to his job and letting the chips fall where they would.

One of my favorite quotes is from Dr. Claire Lewicki (Nicole Kidman) in the movie Days of Thunder.  If you have not seen that movie, it is full of excellent principles for living and leading in organizations.  Substitute the word fear for control and see what you think. “Control is an illusion, you infantile egomaniac. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen next: not on a freeway, not in an airplane, not inside our own bodies and certainly not on a racetrack with 40 other infantile egomaniacs.”

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” – FDR

“Letting sleeping dogs lie is for fear of the dogs.” – A friend

“The Lord is with me, I cannot be afraid.  What can man do to me?” – The Bible

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Rosevelt

Google the words “Fear Quotes.”  That will keep you busy for a while.  There are thousands of concepts for you to contemplate and mediate upon.

Fear is a natural and normal reaction to instability and the unknown.  In order to be a successful leader, you must master this emotion and harness its energy to focus your efforts into being a better and more effective leader.

What is your mantra?  Mine is that, I AM NOT AFRAID.

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 in the menu bar at the top of this web page.
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.

More sadistics

In my last blog post, I made a grievous, amateur error.  I will be lucky if UAB does not repossess my degree.  I made the most common mistake know in the world of statistics.  I said, “and does the thing I think is causing what I am seeing really have anything to do with it?”

If you ever learn anything about statistics, it must be that no amount of statistical analysis can prove a cause and effect relationship between anything.  All you can prove with statistics is that things are ASSOCIATED with each other.  The best example of this I can think of is the debate around smoking and disease.  As far as I know, no one has proved a direct link or causal effect between smoking and disease.  No scientist can explain why some smokers get disease and others do not.  No one can explain why one smoker gets cancer while another gets heart disease.  No one knows exactly what about tobacco is unhealthy.  No one can explain how George Burns lived to be 100 years old smoking a cigar every day.  Of course smoke has bad chemicals in it but so does the air we breathe and almost everything we consume, especially since the government approved drugging livestock and feeding them (and us) genetically altered food.  We do know with a very high degree of certainty that there is a strong ASSOCIATION between smoking and disease.  We just cannot explain the causal factor(s).  If we could, we would do something about it.  I never did believe the attacks on the tobacco industry were justified because no one can prove cause.  The attacks are about money and not much else.  The tort liability vested upon tobacco manufactures served only to raise the price of the product while creating a windfall for States that as far as I know have not spent much if anything of the appropriated funds they received on smoking prevention.  If the government is really serious about smoking, it would not give Medicaid cards out to smokers.  For that matter, it would use EBT to incentivize people to engage in more healthy lifestyles in order to reduce Medicaid expenditures down the road but that is the topic for another blog.

If you are now boiling mad at me for making these assertions, I have you where I want you to make a point about statistics that you might remember.  To cite just one example, there is similar controversy about diet drinks.  There have been a number of studies that show that diet drinks may be as bad or worse for your health than cigarettes.  “Researchers from the University of Texas found that over the course of about a decade, diet soda drinkers had a 70% greater increase in waist circumference compared with non-drinkers. (1)”.  “Drinking one diet soda a day was associated with a 36% increased risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes in a University of Minnesota study.  Metabolic syndrome describes a cluster of conditions (including high blood pressure, elevated glucose levels, raised cholesterol, and large waist circumference) that put people at high risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes (2).  “Using diet soda as a low-calorie cocktail mixer has the dangerous effect of getting you drunk faster than sugar-sweetened beverages, according to research from Northern Kentucky University.  The study revealed that participants who consumed cocktails mixed with diet drinks had a higher breath alcohol concentration than those who drank alcohol blended with sugared beverages.  The researchers believe this is because our bloodstream is able to absorb artificial sweetener more quickly than sugar (3).  “Just one diet soft drink a day could boost your risk of having a vascular event such as stroke, heart attack, or vascular death, according to researchers from the University of Miami and Columbia University.  Their study found that diet soda devotees were 43% more likely to have experienced a vascular event than those who drank none. Regular soda drinkers did not appear to have an increased risk of vascular events.(4)”  All of these citations were from just one article.  If you do not believe me, do your own internet search.  This makes me wonder why the government and the tort lawyers are not after the soft drink industry if its products CAUSE all of these maladies?

Now I am going to bring back nightmares from your college statistics course by reminding you about something you forgot long ago.  Remember regression?  For those of you that have not been initiated, regression is a procedure utilized to determine the degree of ASSOCIATION between things.  In a simple regression, you are looking at two things (an independent and a dependent variable).  In a multiple regression, you are looking at multiple things (one dependent and multiple independent variables).  I know some of you are thinking that the only kind of regression you understand is what happens when people are appointed to C-Suite roles in healthcare organizations but bear with me for a minute.  Among the various statistics produced as a result of a regression analysis is the effect size measurement of R Squared.  The R Squared statistic is alternatively described as the coefficient of determination or correlation coefficient.  Start dropping these terms at a cocktail party and watch how fast people start treating you like you have the plague.  What this statistic describes is the degree of association among the variables.  Its values range from 0 to 1 or 0% to 100%.  If there is no association between the variables, the correlation coefficient will be low.  If there is a perfect ‘fit’ (in other words when one variable zigs, the other zigs by the same magnitude. They also zag together) between the variables, the correlation coefficient will be 100%

People that fall into the trap of believing that statistics prove cause and effect would draw the incorrect conclusions from the following examples of extremely high statistical associations.  These associations are described as spurious correlations where the statistics say that things that cannot be related are associated with each other.  Uninformed analysts or liars would infer or imply that there is a causal effect.  What do you think about these examples?

US spending on space, science and technology correlates with suicides by hanging.  The correlation coefficient is 99.79%  Maybe people are actually killing themselves when they come to the full realization about how much money the government is blowing.

Per capita cheese consumption is very strongly associated with the number of deaths occurring when people became entangled in their bed sheets.  R Squared = 94.71%

There is an association between the per-capita consumption of margarine and the divorce rate in Maine.  The coefficient of determination is 99.26%.  Some would conclude that in order to eliminate divorce in Maine, all we have to do is outlaw the consumption of margarine.

Drownings resulting from falling out of a fishing boat can be explained by the marriage rate in Kentucky (R Squared = 95.2%)  In other words, in order to eliminate drownings in fishing accidents, we need to outlaw marriage in Kentucky.  I guess the Supreme Court recently took care of that.  I would recommend that fishermen start wearing life vests.

There are a number of examples of spurious correlations on the internet.  The point of these examples is to sensitize you to the fact that statistics do not and can not PROVE cause and effect.  Sometimes associations found in statistical analyses are spurious.  This is why you are paid the big bucks – to understand what you are looking for, to not fall into this trap and to apply cognitive analysis to anything you see to prevent you from drawing the wrong conclusion(s).

As I have said before, as leaders we are not paid for what we do.  We are paid for what we know and more than anything, we are paid for our decision making capability.  My point in writing this is to argue for the use of more analysis and evidence in executive decision making in healthcare administration.  They even have a Doctorate of Science Program at The University of Alabama at Birmingham that focuses on this very concept.

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 in the menu bar at the top of this web page.
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.