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I recently had the pleasure of having dinner with entrepreneur and author Danny Gutknecht and was inspired and enthralled by his theories about organizational culture and employee engagement. His research and experiences are described in his recent book- Meaning at Work, And it’s Hidden Language”. Here are a few key takeaways from the book and also where I think it fits into the broader landscape of making culture change happen.

Two barriers to engaging employee hearts and minds:

Standardization:

We may be underestimating the malaise that we create when we standardize how we manage people. The normal way we achieve economies of scale in an organization is by standardization. We standardize electronic medical record data entry, employment application processes, policies and procedures, meeting times, and organizational titles to just name a few. While this all works to create a smooth operation, the one place Gutknecht says this falls short, is when it comes to people. Employees are showing up at work with their own expectations and past experiences. If you have any doubt about this just take a look at your organization’s varied responses on Glass Door.

When we standardize how we treat people, this homogenization takes the wind out of employees’ sails. We unintentionally fail to harness the power that comes from employees wanting to feel that they matter and deeply desiring inspiration so that they can do their best work.

Top down vs. bottom Up:

Second, Gutknecht point out that culture change, like strategy creation, is usually a top down exercise. Without knowing what actually creates meaning for employees, we tend to invent a marketing brochure vs. actionable plans to engage people, instill a common purpose, and inspire the energy to satisfy customers.

A new paradigm – The Human Fugue

So, to move past these barriers and decipher how meaning is created, Gutknecht uses a model created by his friend and colleague Stanford grad and entrepreneur Bijoy Goswami. This model called “The Human Fugue”, describes four “houses” or domains through which humans operate to make meaning of their existence.   Like Maslow’s hierarchy, when these houses are laid one on top of another, there is a sense of moving from a place where there is very little autonomy (ie. being given facts and theories we are expected to adopt – The House of Phenomena) and the constraints placed on all of us by laws, policies and standard protocols (The House of Rights), to the arena where we create meaning by building and exchanging assets (The House of Resources). The ultimate pinnacle though is –“The House of Meaning”. At this level of self-actualization – culture is not inherited from senior leaders at the top, nor adopted, it is curated.

In my view, “curating meaning” is a pretty revolutionary concept and requires a bit of trust on the part of leaders. Here’s why taking the risk to allow your employees to curate (collect, assemble, translate, understand, incorporate) meaning is so important:

Curating meaning at work….

  • Allows employees to decide what resonates with them and then allows them to discard the rest.
  • Frees people up to embrace beliefs and aspirations that fit their values.
  • Fosters empathy for others who might view their work through a different lens.
  • Places accountability on the shoulders of the employee. By Webster’s definition, a curator is “one who has the care and superintendence of something”.
  • Transforms employees by the very fact that you take them on a journey to decipher the meaning of their work. In Bijoy’s words – JOurneY is spelled using these three capital letters because knowing you matter and finding this kind of fulfillment at work brings joy.

The secret sauce – Essence Mining

Lots of organizations use engagement surveys as a way to understand their employee mindset and how easy it is to operate in the environment.   And surveys, while a good start at giving employees a voice, don’t often result in much revelation. (Ever wonder why the same comments end up on your survey year after year?) By their nature, surveys are anonymous and the answers are often based on context that leaders will never know. This is why Gutknecht created a process called “Essence Mining”.

Essence mining is unique in the following ways:

  • Interviews are recorded on video and then analyzed for not only what the employees has said, but how they have said it. Through studying the rhythm, tempo, and loudness of the conversation, Gutknecht says much can be learned about the employee’s emotional state.
  • Questions begin with very early memories of influences from childhood to adulthood. Even though the interview in no way resembles therapy, these early memories and influences have helped to form the person showing up at work, so are viewed as important.
  • Upon completion these videos are analyzed, stories cataloged, and themes, mantras and patterns identified. This data forms what Gutknecht calls the Organizational Dynamic Lingua Franca – ODLF. This ODLF is the actual culture that exists vs. the one you think you have because you published a description of it on your website.

Where Essence Mining (EM) Fits in the bigger picture of culture change:

In a 2012 article by Jon Katzenbach, Ilona Steffen and Caroline Kronley titled Culture Change that Sticks”, the authors describe five key strategies used by companies that successfully evolve their culture: 1) Understanding culture and matching it to strategy, 2) focusing on a few critical shifts in behavior, 3) honoring the strengths in the existing culture 4) Integrating formal interventions with informal and 5) measuring and monitoring the culture evolution.

If the goal is to get culture change to take root, Essence Mining could be deployed to not only gain understanding but also provide a safe space for employees to share their stories. The interview process in itself is an intervention that helps with group cohesion and since the “hidden meaning of language” is dynamic, and changes as you hire new employees and others leave, it can be deployed periodically to monitor the culture evolution.

Another differentiator seems to be that EM is outcome oriented, unlike other studies that end up in a binder on the top of a leader’s shelf.   Gutknecht shares that organizations have used Essence Mining to do everything from designing ways to recruit for hard to fill positions to developing cohesion among new work groups during mergers and acquisitions. And for transparency, the results are shared with both employees and leaders. It’s about producing an outcome that transforms the relationship between people and their work. In Gutknecht’s words…

By making a space for the people in your organization to be who they are and offer what they have to contribute, you become a dream weaver. You weave everyone’s passions, and the dream of what they are capable of, into a vision of getting something done for the company, the customers, and the world.”

Pretty cool if you ask me.

How do you create meaning in your work and in your life?

 

 

 

 

 

Slide1In 1998, just about the time that Wikipedia was born, and My Space was big, Alpheus Bingham and Aaron Schacht from pharmaceutical company Ely Lilly were sitting around a conference table, coffee cups in hand, trying to figure out how the internet might be useful to business. They had an idea that they could create a platform to bring together companies that had big problems to solve – they call them “Seekers”, with anyone smart or ambitious across the globe, whom them called “Solvers”. They offer a cash prize to an individual or team of people who creates the best solution to problems like, finding how to “measure the thickness of polymeric film”, or dilemmas like, how to “increase the social and community acceptance of renewable energy”.  The company that gave birth to this creative way to use the internet to crowd source solutions is named Innocentive.  Even though crowd sourcing isn’t new, each time a discovery happens as a results of this kind of process, I bet it feels like the magic is happening for the first time. At least that’s how it felt for us.

In May 2014, Community dabbled in its own Seeker-Meets-Solver experiment by bringing together 160 employees in a focus group we call an “Engagement Accelerator”. We were seeking to understand why our employees were unhappy with one of our benefits, and discover what else would make employees feel more supported. I am so grateful for the open way everyone shared their ideas and wanted to share some tips that we learned from this experience.

If you hear more than once that something is broken, that’s a sign it’s broken

Off and on our employees told us how disenchanted they were over our Paid Time Off (PTO) program. So, we did what any good businessperson would do – we looked at the market. Were we competitive? Highly. Check. Was the policy well written? Reasonably well. Check. Silly as it may sound, we discovered we were simply confusing everyone by the codes in our timekeeping system and on employee’s paychecks. Also, the discussion revealed that we had done too little to educate people about how the policy worked. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

“Before you ask which way to go, remember where you’ve been.”

This lyric, from a song titled “Stay Awake – Dreams Only Last for a Night”, appropriately describes another revelation. The grapevine said that employees wanted to donate their PTO to other sick employees. In fact, a manager had asked me to look at this request eighteen months ago, so we put it on the growing list of things we wanted to improve. During the focus group discussions we heard that a policy had been in place several years ago, but for reasons no one could remember, had been eliminated. The team felt great. This was low hanging fruit that could be acted upon very quickly.

Just asking isn’t enough

One operating principal contributed more to the success of this event than anything else. We not only asked for feedback but we shared data that shows we know our workforce is smart. We shared our system finances – both a look back and a look forward. We shared the investment we make in our benefits in terms of cost. We went out on a limb and led everyone through    “The Ladder of Inference”, and followed this with a discussion of any misconceptions about the way things operate and why.

It’s a long journey but brick by brick we’re building toward our goal of becoming an Employer of First Choice in the Valley. Brick by brick.

On Wednesday May 14, 2014, Community joined dozens of other companies in Fresno and thousands of companies across the United States who are encouraging employees to put on their biking shorts in the month of May for Bike To Work Day.

1960s English Racer

1960s English Racer

Cycling has it’s own language

Although I wouldn’t call myself an enthusiast yet, I’ve enjoyed the trails in Fresno thanks to my neighbor Carlos Ramirez, who part of the Fresno Cycling Club. In a couple of Saturday bike rides I learned a few things. Such as – to say you’ll ride a “ metric century” means that you’re riding 100 miles or 12 hours. Another piece of trivia I learned is that a pack of bikers is called a “pelaton”. One member of the pack may serve as the “domestique”, or “servant” because they sacrifice their individual performance to help their teammates by carrying extra supplies like food and water. I told Carlos that I’d like to simply claim that I was the domestique to explain my slow pace. He just smiled.

Is Cycling good for your Health, or Good for the Environment?

Both. We know that exercise that raises your heart rate for an extended period of time, helps control your weight, elevates your mood, and lowers your blood pressure. But cycling is also a “Green” thing to do.   The Silicon Valley Biking Coalition says that almost 40 percent of Bay Area commuters live within five miles of their workplace and that if all these people ditched their cars and biked to work instead, it would take 60,000 cars off the road that day, and reduce vehicle emissions by more than 150,000 pounds. Wow.

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John Kass, Interim COO and CNO

John and his English Racer

I decided to ask John Kass, avid cyclist and Chief Nursing Officer for Clovis Community Hospital, how he got into biking.   He said that his passion for cycling happened when his grandpa John Kohler, who was a world traveler, bought him an English Racer. At 5 years old, he wasn’t even tall enough to get on the bike himself, so his grandfather would hoist him up, and with a quick push, he’d was off – riding in circles to the amusement of the neighbors until one of them would catch him and help him down. “Riding a bike just came naturally to me”, John said.

Now instead of riding in circles around the neighborhood, John routinely rides 60-70 mile rides on a Saturday with an elevation of 4000 ft. When I asked him to take a bike-selfie, he texted me this photo.   I replied, and said “ Retake it! You need to smile”. His response was no-nonsense. “That’s what I look like after my heart rate reaches 150 and I’ve hit 90 watts per minute”, he texted back.  Only my light bulbs at home have watts, so having no idea what he was talking about, I simply replied with a smiley face emoticon and the note- “OK”.

Is Cycling about the Camaraderie, the Competition or the Challenge?

Yes. John says that when he’s cycling he watches his bike computer and tries to drive himself, but that he also likes the teamwork and fun of biking with a group.   Despite a little incident when a car pushed him off the road and he flew head first over the front of his bike suffering a fractured thumb, John is passionate about his sport of choice. When asked how old he thinks he’ll be when he stops biking, he said, – “I can’t imagine ever stopping. It’s a part of who I am”.

Congrats 

The same spirit of high performance that makes John a great long distance cyclist is a part of why he was just named the Interim Chief Operating Office at Clovis Hospital.  Congrats John.  You’re a rock star!

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 4.17.09 PMThirteen years ago in March of 2000, Rob McEwen, who had just become chairman and CEO of a mining operation in Ontario, Canada, decided he had a problem too big to solve by conventional methods. His company GoldCorp, was in distress. The price for gold was at an all-time low, and his operating costs were extremely high. Red Lake mine was producing only one-third as many ounces as his neighboring competitor and the miners were restless and ready to strike.     It was proving to be as difficult to search Red Lake ’s 55,000 acres as it is to find Flight 370, the Malaysian airliner lost somewhere in the 28-million-square-miles of the Indian Ocean.

What McEwen did to solve his problem was unprecedented. He decided to publish all of Red Lake’s proprietary data on the web and committed to giving a cash price of up to $105,000 to anyone who could tell them where they’d find the next 6 million ounces of gold. He nicknamed this project “The GoldCorp Challenge” and the response was big. Over 1400 scientists, engineers and geologists from 50 countries decided to participate.

The winner ended up being collaboration between two firms in Australia who had agreed to split the prize. Neither firm had physically visited the mining site, but instead had analyzed the data to produce a 3D graphical depiction of the dig sites.

It’s About Making a Difference

When the winning team members were interviewed, they said that they didn’t compete because of the prize money. In fact, the prize money barely covered the hours invested in their research. Yes, they had wanted the recognition that would come from solving the puzzle, but most of all, they wanted to open the eyes of their industry to a new way of doing exploration. In short, they invested the time because they wanted to make a difference. In the words of the winning team leader, “This has been like a beacon (of hope) in a sea of darkness,” for the mining industry.

This story, published in Fast Company Magazine, is yet another example of what James Surowiecki calls the “Wisdom of Crowds”. About 18 months ago, Community used crowd-sourcing, by bringing together 250 employees to discuss and debate what kind of culture and benefits we need in order to attract and retain the brightest minds, the most committed and loyal hearts and souls and the most highly engaged employees on the planet. Like McEwen, we struck gold and these ideas generated a powerful action plan that turned into measurable outcomes

Mining Expedition Scheduled 5-14-14

Employees at the 2012 Engagement Accelerator

Employees at the 2012 Engagement Accelerator

We know that we need to continue to innovate though so we will are going to tap employee input once       again, on May 14, 2014 when we will be hosting an “Engagement Accelerator.” We’re inviting 160 randomly-chosen employees to attend this event and discuss how the PTO/sick time policy works and how to improve it, as well as, brainstorm other changes to create an innovative, transparent, mission-oriented, results-driven culture. We’ll be reporting back about the nuggets of wisdom we gain from this session and of course, the action steps. So stay tuned.

(This blog post was originally published on the Community Medical Center website – The Forum)

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In February, New York Times writer Thomas Friedman wrote an article that lit up the internet almost as much as when Ellen DeGeneres took down Twitter with her Oscar Night selfie. Its title was “How to Get a Job at Google“.

In it, Friedman interviews Laszlo Bock, Google’s Vice President of People Operations, about the kind of attributes (characteristics, traits or personal qualities), you need to get hired.  Surprisingly, it doesn’t all depend on your GPA or even your past experience.  As I read the article, it made sense to me that this recipe is one that hiring managers in healthcare should be paying more attention to, if we’re to weather the healthcare storm that’s at our doorstep.

Using the Google-Way to get hired (and promoted)

  • Fail Forward Fast: The phrase “fail forward fast” was popularized by management guru Tom Peters, but is explained most vividly by hockey great Wayne Gretsky who said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Bock is saying that Google wants people who take the shot, and when failure occurs demonstrate “intellectual humility”. Translation – Failure spurs learning which ignites success.  In it’s most productive form, if you’ve failed, you have a story to tell about what you learned.  You will have an edge against your competition because self-awareness is a rare commodity.  And even more rare is a quality called “learning agility”, which is the ability take the lessons from your past, and apply them to new and different challenges you are facing. Learning Agility is the new black.
  • Avoid the Genius-Idiot Syndrome:  Bock says Google looks for people who don’t blame their failures on other people but also rarely take sole credit for success.  Healthcare is a business so dependent upon a complex web of interrelationships that this advice could make or break your career if you are looking to move up.
  • Approach work with an equal balance of Big Ego and Small Ego:  At Google and in the new healthcare we’re trying to solve complex problems so this means that we’ve got a mix of people in the room when we collaborate.  At Google, it’s engineers and design people and finance wizards and marketing goddesses.   For us it’s physicians and nurses and operations experts and finance gurus, just to name a few.  Smart people often hold fiercely to their opinions but according to Bock, you also need to be able to step back and change your mind when presented with new facts.   Bock calls this emergent leadership. So if you have your eye on growing your career in healthcare, make a point to have a big enough ego to argue vehemently for your position, but be confidant enough to change it when someone makes a valid point.
  • Be a Dot-Connector:  Google hires people who have a skill in pulling together dissimilar pieces of information and creating something new.   In healthcare, we also need to fill our jobs with employees who can connect the dots between their own job and goals for quality, safety or financial outcomes.  People who are connectors, value and build relationships and think about things way above their pay grade.  When we encounter these people we need to protect and grow them.  If you want to be one of these highly valued and promotable people – be a dot-connector.
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James McCurley, Financial Analyst
Community Medical Centers

James

Here’s a case study at Community Medical Centers in Fresno that shows Google is right.  James McCurley is a Facility Financial Analyst at Community Regional medical Center.  He had no healthcare experience when he was hired two years ago but he did have something that a lot of candidates don’t – a degree in physics, an MBA and an insatiable curiosity.  The way James explains it, the combination of science and business has really helped him in his job. “Both physics and math are just about problem solving”, he says.  “You have to lay out the problem in an organized fashion to figure out how to solve it.”  In his quest to improve his problem solving ability James taught himself to computer program.  He’s currently working on a project to create patient “stories” that help physicians do problem oriented charting.  The project that James is most of fond of though, is one where he is working with Dr. Michael Mellenthin to identify ways to increase the utilization of the surgery suites.   He says it’s fun and that he loves working with people who have, “way more expertise than I do”.  Where does James see himself in the future?  If you asked him 2 years ago he would have said- I don’t know, but today he says, he’d like to be a Chief Operating Officer or Chief Executive Officer.

All I have to say is  – leave him alone Google!  He’s ours.

Love in the Workplace

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I recently met with new employee Melissa Phelps to hear why she joined Community Medical Centers, and what she loves the most about her work as an office assistant and scheduler in the radiology department. By the time we had finished lunch I ended up hearing not only how much she loves her job, but also learning about her personal love story with her husband Josh.  See the blog post “Love Letters“.

Valentines Day is a time to celebrate love for our husbands, wives, partners, children, parents, pets and yes, …our jobs.  This feeling of attachment and connection is so important, it deserved a poem of sorts, so I wrote a knock off of 1 Corinthians in celebration of Valentines Day.

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Done well, work is Love.  Work is kind. It allows us to accomplish things in service to others, it allows our hearts to swell with pride and our voices to sing praise of goals met.  Work done well does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, it praises in public and criticizes in private, it is slow to anger and it keeps no record of wrong doings (except of course those that violate policy).  Work delights in excellence and rejoices in customer satisfaction. Work done well always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.  Work done well –  is Love.

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A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to attend a presentation called “How to Fail at the New Healthcare: The Masters Class,” at the beautiful H. Marcus Radin Education Center on the Community Medical Center campus in Fresno.  Healthcare futurist Joe Flower has spent 30 years studying the way healthcare works and challenged us to think about the risks of 22 strategic choices we might make about how to operate in the future. The “ways-to-fail” list include things like failing to build a new business model by sticking with fee for service, failing to engage patients and physicians and forgetting to build trust.

My natural focus, in both life and in business, is to explore and reveal the positives.  I am a proponent of strengths based learning and development, emotional intelligence, and the power of positive thinking.    But just this once, I thought I’d see what happened if I explored what my friend Chris Slater, who is an artist calls, “the importance of painting the negative space.”   So, here are 10 things you can do if you want to be completely and totally miserable at work.

1) Lack a sense of humor

Life is messy so one of the quickest ways to hit bottom is to be dead serious, all – and I mean all – of the time. If you are working on a project with your peers and the DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) fails to act on one of their accountabilities, take advantage of this by blaming them, talking behind their backs or snubbing them the next time you meet them in the cafeteria.  Healthcare is a serious business right?  Falderal and silliness just causes mistakes and we can’t have that, now can we?

2) Be self-centered 

I know you think it’s all about you but really it’s all about me.  Heighten your quest for misery by focusing really hard on ignoring the people around you.  I mean, geez – how needy are those people!?  They want to be communicated with constantly.  They’re always asking for help. They are clingy and want to spend quality time together. They use reverse psychology to get compliments for themselves by saying nice things to you!  They can’t think for themselves so they’re always asking for your input. You can fix all this by saying, “Leave me alone, so I can do my work and get out of here.”

3) Think the sky is falling

Catastrophizing is an excellent way to bring on that dull prolonged sense of unhappiness.    When I hear about the innovative plans to expand our bed capacity, I know by gosh, that there is no way in H-E-double-hockey sticks that the idea is gonna work.  Seriously, things are never going to get better – EVER – no matter how hard any of us work.  See?  Uh, are you getting that sinking feeling yet?

4) Stop learning

Remember that saying, “Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten?”   It’s true. There’s no reason to spend any time developing new skills.  That’s too much work.  And besides, if you are properly executing strategy #2 (Be self-centered), the teammates you are snubbing in the cafeteria will get the hint and just do those things for you.

5) Believe you’re the smartest person in the room

It’s really difficult to work amidst such a large number of low functioning people. But you must so just buck up.  Remember, things will be ok because you are the only one who really knows what’s going on.  Asking others for their insights just clouds your thinking.  This strategy works best when combined with some physical behaviors like frowning while crossing your arms in front of you, or the ultimate – the eye roll.  Use a mirror to practice.  You’ll know you’ve got this one down when people stop sitting next to you in meetings.

6) Distrust everybody

Surely you’ve been watching the news and have heard how the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting all the phone numbers you’ve been dialing and gosh, who knows – maybe even listening to your calls.  People are sneaky.  It’s just the human condition so watch your back.  Don’t share any personal details with the people you work with.  I mean not even the names of your kids.  Why would they want to know that stuff any way?

7) Create a hit list

If you’ve developed your proficiency in #6 (distrust everybody), you’re definitely going to want to create a hit list.  Luckily on this one, we all have a great role model to follow in the Governor of the great state of New Jersey.   Step one – gather the names of everyone who has ever disagreed with you on anything and put it on a list.  Step 2 – find a way to make their life a living hell for as long as possible.  Don’t worry about the collateral damage of impacting people you never intended.  Think of it this way – if Governor Christie had been worried about the elderly having their ambulance show up on time, he never would have been able to properly make his point.

8) Talk a lot

Since #5 is true and you “believe you are the smartest person in the room,” it just makes sense that everybody else should listen to you.  Find a way to monopolize conversation.  Truly, it doesn’t matter if you know all the facts.  It’s your opinion that counts.  Oh, and go ahead and interrupt if someone else is talking—that’s always good.

9) Go it alone

We enter this world alone and we leave it alone. Our DNA is obviously programmed so that there is no need to lean on another human being for support.  Be stoic.  Hold in your feelings until you think you’ll pass out.  Remember that no one else has problems like yours – absolutely no one.  Even if someone wanted to help you they would not know the first thing about what to do.

10) Play it safe

Don’t listen to that song “Brave” by Sarah Bareilles.  Being brave just puts a target on your back.  Stay in the shadows. Don’t be direct or transparent or real or honest or committed.  Don’t express your feelings, don’t be passionate, don’t dance as though no one is watching, or love as though you’ve never been hurt or sing as though no one can hear, or live as though heaven is on earth.  What good would that do? Honestly!