Appreciate the Work… and the Person!

“Thanks for _______. I appreciate it!” We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it. Perhaps we even say it a lot; after all, it’s good to let people know that their work matters. But it’s easy to forget that behind the work is a person. And people matter.

Our American culture is one of competition and achievement. Winners are celebrated and results are prized. In business, the public company focus on quarterly results drives a “what have you done for me lately” attitude towards employees from the CEO on down. In the “market” people become just the means to an end, and if the end isn’t perfect, look out. This is the market-driven culture in which we all work (to a greater or lesser extent depending on our individual situations). Do you feel continuous pressure to produce, and to keep producing? I’d be surprised if you don’t.

Well, we’d better get used to it. The culture’s not going anywhere, and results will continue to matter. So sure, appreciate the work.  But let’s also recognize the individuals behind the effort. Let’s be sensitive to their thoughts and feelings. Let’s understand that they have complex and problematic lives just as we do. It’s not easy being a person. Let’s appreciate them.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate you!

Sincerely,

Pete

PS – Two shout outs: one to executive coach Linda Cobb who helped me to learn to think like this earlier in my career; and another to Pat Morley of Man in the Mirror ministry whom I am appreciating, thereby being inspired to write this post.

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Pruning Facebook

I find controlling media exposure is important to my emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Honestly, the media companies are not our friends. Their basic business model depends on selling advertising (and increasingly data on our media habits). Our attention drives their revenue streams, and nothing grabs people’s attention like exciting their emotions. Knowing that, we can begin to protect ourselves. At our house, we’ve lived without television service for over 15 years now, and cutting the cable has proved to be a very healthy decision.

But Facebook isn’t TV. Facebook isn’t controlled by media moguls trying to control me. No Facebook is my friends, my buddies, and my relatives. I like these guys and gals; they’re my “peeps.” But just even my peeps sometimes post things I find annoying or painful. Even friends can get into arguments and, as Americans are discovering, social media isn’t a good place to have nuanced discussions of important or highly charged issues.

Also, Facebook can be somewhat addicting. It sucks me in. I find myself checking it frequently, too frequently, during the day. That little red number calls out to me – Pete, I have things here just for you! It’s hard to resist. Yet, I do enjoy being in my Facebook community – seeing Jim enjoying his grandson, chatting with Becky about her new dogs, and keeping up with the relatives in Massachusetts. It’s nice. I want to keep my friends as friends.

So I’m taking some steps to control Facebook before it controls me. As you know, I like to garden and the image of pruning comes to mind. Uncontrolled growth of otherwise lovely shrubs can produce an unsightly tangled mess. Ignoring trees increases the potential for damage from large limbs dropping in the next big thunderstorm. Sensible pruning restores the beauty and eliminate the danger.

Here’s what I’m doing:

  1. No news/pundits needed

    Unfollowing all news media sites – I don’t need to get the news on Facebook. That’s not why I’m there. Goodbye to the local newspaper and TV channels.

  2. Unfollowing all political sites, pundits – Following politics seemed fun in 2015 when the presidential campaigns were just getting started, but it’s become more and more bitter and divisive. Once again, that’s not why I’m there.
  3. Curating my news feed – The good (and also disturbing) thing about Facebook is that it does learn your habits, and you can train it. Now when one of my friends posts something I find objectionable (mostly politics), I just hide it. With time, I should see less of that stuff from them while keeping the connection.

    a helpful menu 

  4.  Turning off notifications – I’ll go to Facebook when I want to, not because it’s calling out to me with sounds or the little red number. The content is still there. It can wait a bit.
  5. Moving the app off of my home screen – Like turning off the notifications, this helps avoid temptation. Facebook is distracting. I like it but I don’t want it distracting me. Out of sight, out of mind.  Having to swipe to get to the next screen is an easy way to have it at hand but not in constant sight.

I’ve only been at it for four days now, but so far so good. I can notice a difference already, and it feels good to have a plan and take action.

How about you? Do you find Facebook a blessing or a curse? How are you managing your use of Facebook and your emotional and spiritual health? If you’re like me, perhaps some pruning is indicated.

Be well,

Pete

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PS – More on pruning – At church we’re reading through the Gospel of John in some depth and Jesus words on pruning (below) suggest that we also need to be shaped, discarding unhelpful thoughts and activities. As I remain in Jesus longer, I increasingly appreciate his pruning of me.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 – Jesus (John 15:1-8 NIV)

Finding the Magic

magicLast week, at the invitation of my boss, I attended the Orlando Magic game with her, our work colleagues and various family members including my daughter. It was only the second pro basketball game I’ve seen and going was a last minute decision on my part. To my surprise, I had a great time! I don’t know too much about basketball, but the game was interesting and a helpful friend explained the action I didn’t understand. The suite provided an ideal environment for enjoying food and fellowship along with the game. (I highly recommend the dessert cart.) All in all it was a pleasant evening.

great seats!

great seats!

Honestly I hadn’t wanted to go, because I knew I wouldn’t like it. You see four years ago, in my new job role, I’d been the host for a group of internal “clients” in the same suite for a Magic game and I didn’t enjoy it. Subsequently, I’ve had many other chances to go, but declined because, I don’t like it; The game is confusing; It’s too loud; Too much hassle; I don’t find it relaxing, or another reason drawn from my prior experience. All of which were true of my first experience, but none of which were true of last week’s experience. What gives?

The context was completely different between the two events. At my inaugural game, I was highly stressed having just moved to Orlando and assumed my new position. All was not well in my business unit (which was why I had arrived), and I was hosting clients and executives, most of whom I did not know, trying to make a connection and deliver a message of improved performance to come. In that context, the game was a chore to get through. I did make some connections, but I don’t know if the event was “a success.”

In any event I didn’t like it. But now I can see that it wasn’t about the actual game. My experience was heavily influenced by my role as host, my stress level and my mental attitude. Everybody else probably had a nice time. Now I know why – they coming just to relax and enjoy a basketball game along with food and fellowship with friends and colleagues. That’s exactly what I did last week.

This has got me wondering, how much of what I like and don’t like in life isn’t about the actual “events on the ground” as it were but the action in my head? I’m thinking probably a lot. How can I better control my thoughts so that, whatever the events, I’m having a more enjoyable time? It’s all about my mental attitude, and the ultimate foundation for a good attitude is resting in Jesus, still a work in progress for me.

It’s also left me thinking that the underlying commonality of those experiences that I have enjoyed/do enjoy is being with friends and family. Be it fishing, hiking in the everglades, travel, or most other activities – being with people at the core. Even my job is enjoyable principally because of the others with whom I work. Contentment and happiness aren’t found in events or material things; they come through relationships with others. Of course I knew that, but it helps to be reminded. Going forward, I’m planning to spend more time enjoying the magic of people.

Enjoying the game with my daughter, Allison

Enjoying the game with my daughter, Allison

No Business is an Island

m1The healthcare business grows increasingly complex with each new law, regulation, and rule – not to mention advances in actual healthcare. There is so much happening, so many moving parts, that it’s hard to apprehend the whole. In a large provider system like the one in which I work, no single individual can really grasp the overall business operations in any significant detail, and no one organization can manage without relying on many others for specialized assistance.

These relationships have become critically important to many organizations. When a vendor doesn’t deliver a quality product or service on time and on budget, the organization’s business is at risk, perhaps serious risk. Naturally, managers track their vendor’s performance closely and insist on improvement when appropriate. But just how does one go about getting improvement from a vendor? It’s not that easy.

If you’re like me, you’re used to fixing things. When performance improvement is needed in your own operations, you do what’s required to make it right. You have the responsibility, and you have the authority. Not so when it comes to your vendors. Often, they’re a black box to you. You’re not sure how they work, why things are going wrong, and if they can fix it. You stand by, feeling helpless, asking or pleading for better performance, maybe even threatening contract termination and/or a suit for damages. Sometimes they come through, sometimes they don’t. Either way, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Been there, done that.

Now you have problem. Perhaps you discuss the situation with your colleagues, “This vendor’s not reliable. Let’s ditch them and find another.” It happens a lot. A firm may contract with vendor after vendor, looking for a perfect one who won’t “let us down.” The truth is there is no such vendor, and “vendor” isn’t always a helpful term. Behind the term “vendor” are people. Ultimately your business relationships depend on your human relationships.

I believe it’s most helpful to consider any critical business relationship like a marriage. First, have a few dates while asking yourself, do we want to be married to this firm? Get to know the leaders, their values, skills and their capacity for commitment. Eventually you need go all in (or not). Then, together, you’ve got to make the marriage work, and “keep the romance alive.” That means no black boxes, no blaming, and no name-calling, but rather mutual openness, honesty, caring and forgiveness.

Yes, of course there will be issues, but when you’re committed to your marriage you don’t have the divorce lawyer on speed dial. Mistakes will be made. Your side will make them too. Similarly, conflicts are natural, they will come up. Resolving even serious conflicts respectfully is possible when both parties have the right attitude. And like a marriage, the business relationship will grow stronger each time you work together in a spirit of cooperation, and grow weaker with each episode of blame and recrimination. Like a spouse, the “vendor” should become a “partner.”

Start by getting to know the people behind the business.  Like the dating scene, not every firm you meet is marriage material. Leadership makes the difference. Be on a first name basis with the top executives at any business partnership you lead. Spend time understanding their business and their lives. Make the investment, and let human relationships drive your business relationships.

A Primary Care Therapeutic Alliance? Love in the Doctor-Patient Relationship

file1141234819793Recently I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Dr. Marc Braman, a national leader in “lifestyle medicine.” Marc’s an integrative, out-of-the-box thinker. He’s dedicated to serving his patients well and has decades of experience in helping patients to change for the better. Naturally, I asked him to tell me how he goes about it. So how do you help people give up bad habits and adopt new health behaviors? Marc, what’s your secret to that?

Of course, there is no secret knowledge, but Marc replied that it was critically important to form a strong and committed relationship with the patient. He likened it to the “therapeutic alliance” concept used in psychotherapy. Marc tells his patients plainly that he won’t judge or condemn them for their habits (say smoking) and won’t harangue or badger them to change. From the first appointment, he seeks to create a relationship of mutual trust and commitment where it’s safe for patients to be honest with him, and he can, over time, help them make positive changes.

We went on to share more of our ideas and experiences, but this particular idea of a “primary care therapeutic alliance” struck a chord with me, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. My first thoughts went to Dr. Scott Peck’s description of the therapeutic alliance in his best-selling book The Road Less Traveled. He had this to say:

Genuine love, on the other hand, implies commitment and the exercise of wisdom. When we are concerned for someone’s spiritual growth, we know that a lack of commitment is likely to be harmful and that commitment to that person is probably necessary for us to manifest our concern effectively. It is for this reason that commitment is the cornerstone of the psychotherapeutic relationship. It is almost impossible for a patient to experience significant personality growth without a “therapeutic alliance” with the therapist. In other words, before the patient can risk major change he or she must feel the strength and security that come from believing that the therapist is the patient’s constant and stable ally. For this alliance to occur the therapist must demonstrate to the patient, usually over a considerable length of time, the consistent and steadfast caring that can arise only from a capacity for commitment. [emphasis mine]

I believe Dr. Braman has identified a very significant issue. How committed and non-judgmental is the average doctor with respect to the average patient these days? It seems to me, that if we’re not careful to guard against it, we’re pretty likely to find ourselves blaming and shaming the patient. What does the term “noncompliant” imply about the patient and the nature of the doctor-patient relationship? Should we ever dismiss patients for “noncompliance” or missing appointments?

Beyond the attitudes and behavior of the individual physician or other healthcare provider, how is the system working to foster such therapeutic alliances? Not very well. An individual’s insurance coverage often changes from year to year, necessitating a change in their doctors. Or the insurance company drops a physician from their panel. Or, in reverse, the physician drops the insurer. Or the doctor joins a new practice across town. Provider networks are not stable these days.

Clinic practice methods are not stable either. Financial pressures in healthcare are forcing a trend for providers to operate at “the top of their licenses.” This means, doctors only do what only a doctor can do. Let someone of lesser training and scope of licensure do the other things. Sounds nice in concept, but it certainly doesn’t make for strong doctor-patient relationships. Taken to its logical extreme, why ask doctors to talk with patients about their lifestyles at all? Let the health coach do it. It doesn’t take a medical license to help someone change his or her lifestyle.

So what do we do? I don’t know. Some of the structural shifts in healthcare (like “top of license”) that interfere with relationships aren’t going away. I do think that provider networks will become much more stable over time. Maybe the design of the system will not allow for the typical patient to have a therapeutic alliance with his or her doctor. But patients need a therapeutic alliance with someone! The patient needs a constant, stable, loving ally from within the healthcare system. It may not have to be the doctor, but if not the doctor, then who? Could it be a health coach, ARNP or social worker? Possibly. I think it depends on the individual person as much as the degree or training.

As a healthcare leader, I’m asking myself some questions – How do we design therapeutic relationships into our healthcare system? Where will healing happen in the future system we’re building? How do we love our patients like Jesus loves us? If you’ve got ideas, I’d love to hear them.

No Kindness at Amazon, Avoiding False Gods at Work

DCF 1.0You’ve probably read the recent New York Times article on Amazon’s corporate workplace culture and performance standards for white-collar workers. Reading it Sunday morning, after my Saturday meditation on the kindness I’ve experienced at work, made it particularly impactful. An hour later my pastor preached on this scary passage:

Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

 You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you.  James 5:1-6

which further added to the impact, and I’m still thinking about it.

The article is intense reading, but worth it for those of us who like to think about leadership, work, faith and living an integrated life. It’s too long and too well written for me to it justice in a short summary, but here’s the bottom line: Amazon sounds like a nasty, cruel, and generally inhumane place to work. Long hours, covert criticism and backstabbing, forced annual rankings resulting in terminations of the lower ranks, and refusal to acknowledge that employees are humans with lives and needs outside of work.

Here’s just one short excerpt:

Even many Amazonians who have worked on Wall Street and at start-ups say the workloads at the new South Lake Union campus can be extreme: marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends.

You should read the whole thing.

And it’s not just the corporate HQ, white-collar workers either. Check out this story (excerpted below) of Amazon’s abuse of its warehouse workers in Allentown Pennsylvania.

Perhaps the biggest scandal in Amazon’s recent history took place at its Allentown, Pennsylvania, center during the summer of 2011. The scandal was the subject of a prizewinning series in the Allentown newspaper, the Morning Call, by its reporter Spencer Soper. The series revealed the lengths Amazon was prepared to go to keep costs down and output high and yielded a singular image of Amazon’s ruthlessness—ambulances stationed on hot days at the Amazon center to take employees suffering from heat stroke to the hospital. Despite the summer weather, there was no air-conditioning in the depot, and Amazon refused to let fresh air circulate by opening loading doors at either end of the depot—for fear of theft. Inside the plant there was no slackening of the pace, even as temperatures rose to more than 100 degrees.

On June 2, 2011, a warehouse employee contacted the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration to report that the heat index had reached 102 degrees in the warehouse and that fifteen workers had collapsed. On June 10 OSHA received a message on its complaints hotline from an emergency room doctor at the Lehigh Valley Hospital: “I’d like to report an unsafe environment with an Amazon facility in Fogelsville. . . . Several patients have come in the last couple of days with heat related injuries.”

On July 25, with temperatures in the depot reaching 110 degrees, a security guard reported to OSHA that Amazon was refusing to open garage doors to help air circulate and that he had seen two pregnant women taken to a nursing station. Calls to the local ambulance service became so frequent that for five hot days in June and July, ambulances and paramedics were stationed all day at the depot. Commenting on these developments, Vickie Mortimer, general manager of the warehouse, insisted that “the safety and welfare of our employees is our number-one priority at Amazon, and as general manager I take that responsibility seriously.” To this end, “Amazon brought 2,000 cooling bandannas which were given to every employee, and those in the dock/trailer yard received cooling vests.”

No one reading either of these two articles could remotely conclude that “the safety and welfare of our employees is our number-one priority at Amazon.” It’s obvious the organization’s priorities are elsewhere. Clearly at Amazon, performance, production, profit and prestige take priority over people. And why? Is Amazon saving lives? Relieving the suffering masses? Making the world a better place? All through a better shopping experience?

Maybe… You be the judge. Here’s another excerpt from the NYT piece:

Last August, Stephenie Landry, an operations executive, joined in discussions about how to shorten delivery times and developed an idea for rushing goods to urban customers in an hour or less. One hundred eleven days later, she was in Brooklyn directing the start of the new service, Prime Now.

“A customer was able to get an Elsa doll that they could not find in all of New York City, and they had it delivered to their house in 23 minutes,” said Ms. Landry, who was authorized by the company to speak, still sounding exhilarated months later about providing “Frozen” dolls in record time.[emphasis mine]

That becomes possible, she and others said, when everyone follows the dictates of the leadership principles. “We’re trying to create those moments for customers where we’re solving a really practical need,” Ms. Landry said, “in this way that feels really futuristic and magical.”[emphasis mine]

Cool, they’ve developed a “futuristic and magical” delivery service for dolls, and they only have to mistreat 100,000 Amazon employees to make the magic happen.

I know, I know… I shouldn’t be so snarky.  It’s easy to call out others, but what’s my point? I don’t own stock in Amazon, and Jeff Bezos is probably not reading this blog. I’m not in authority over him, and he’s going to do whatever serves his gods. The question for us as leaders is what are we going to do? How do we choose to lead? How will we treat our people? Who or what will we serve?

In any business, profit is critical. Production and performance are also important, but none of them are to be worshipped above God – and God likes people! God values people. Human beings are made in his image. If you place profit above the humane and loving treatment of people, you had better rethink your priorities. Consider this,

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:20-21

It’s very simple – If you don’t love people, you don’t love God. If we love and honor God, we are to love and honor people, and, if our lives are integrated, we’ll do that at work as much as in church. We can still run our businesses profitably and productively. We can still let people go when necessary, but we do it humanely. Recognizing the humanity, and the divinity, in our brothers and sisters, we can try to help them flourish at work and in life. I think a lot about how to do that at my little part of Florida Hospital, and I know our top leaders do too.

We have to think about it. It has to be intentional. You and I are subject to the same temptations as Jeff Bezos. We can also go wrong, putting profit or other worldly desires ahead of God. (Fame and fortune sound good to me!) So we must lead with humility and in the context of our discipleship, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance and letting other Christian leaders advise us and hold us accountable.

Even then of course, we will frequently go astray.  We too will treat people badly from time to time,  making selfish or self-serving decisions. Fortunately we live under grace. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We can freely admit our shortcomings and, hopefully, do better in the future.  We will never “get it right,” but Jesus does not expect us to get it right. He does expect us to trust him and to try to love people as he loves us.

Keep trying!

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NOTE – I’m going on vacation this weekend and taking a break from blogging.  See you Saturday August 29th. – Pete

Appreciating Kindness as God’s Grace

file000533175307How do you feel when people are kind to you? I can get pretty emotional about it, and lately that seems to be happening a lot. Maybe because I’m experiencing more kindness, or maybe because I’m recognizing it more, or perhaps some of both. In any case I seem to be surrounded by kindness. My wife is kind to me. My boss, my coworkers, and my friends are kind to me. Even people I don’t know all that well have been extending their kindness to me, and all that has me thinking about kindness.

What is kindness anyway? I know it when I see it, but trying to exactly define it is challenging. Here’s one dictionary entry I found.

noun: kindness – the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

That sounds about right, but might it be just a little bit “flat” or understated? As I’m experiencing it, kindness is an extraordinary level of being friendly, generous and considerate. That sounds better to me. Kindness is out of the ordinary, unexpected, something unusual. You don’t find it everywhere.

Where you do find it, you can be sure that God, the source of all goodness, is at work. So-called “random acts of kindness” are not for Christians. Rather as we follow Jesus we are commanded to become kind.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31-31

Fortunately, we know that God changes us from the inside to get us there. All we need to do is cooperate with him.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

As God works in us, kindness doesn’t just show up by itself. How can one be kind without being loving, without true care and concern for others? And doesn’t kindness also require empathy, an appreciation for the other person’s feelings? Is it possible to be kind without being gentle? A moment’s consideration shows us that kindness is just one part of the total package of the personality makeover God has for us.

That insight, seeing kindness as God’s love in action, gives understanding to my sometimes intense emotional reaction to kindness. Why shouldn’t I get teary eyed with gratitude when experiencing God’s grace? Seems natural actually. What better to be grateful about than the work of God in my life? I praise God for the kindness I’ve been shown, and I pray to become a kinder person myself.

Of course I’m not only grateful to God, I’m grateful to those individuals who have been and are kind to me, many of whom may be reading this blog. You know who you are. Thank you for your kindness. I appreciate you.