leadership dot #3868: well

Yesterday I wrote about medical debt that was in collections due in part to not being able to cover the deductible (dot 3867). You may think this occurs only for a few patients, but FDIC reports that 32% of Americans would struggle to cover a $400 out-of-pocket emergency!

Based on this information, our local credit union is conducting a “Be Well” campaign, urging its customers to be financially well by setting aside funds to cover unexpected expenses. They report that 41% of its members have at least $400 in savings — better than the national average but still dismal.

What are you doing to enhance the well-being of those you serve? The credit union has taken a broad view of wellness and has appropriately focused on fiscal health. Recently, attention has been paid to employee wellness but it can go beyond those who work for you to tending to your customers or those you impact. Consider what aspect of holistic wellness aligns with your mission — spiritual soundness, mental health, physical fitness, emotional balance, social support, or cultural well-being — and prioritize attention in this area. Everyone benefits when everyone is well.

leadership dot #3867: bandage

Everyone has heard how medical debt can be as debilitating as the disease and wreak havoc on a patient’s finances. While there have been many efforts to curb the cost of health care and to provide insurance coverage to more Americans, the problem persists. It is estimated that over $100 billion of medical debt is in the collections process.

An organization, RIP Medical Debt, has taken an unusual approach to help alleviate the burden for low-income patients — it utilizes donations to buy medical debt from hospitals and collection agencies for pennies on the dollar and then randomly relieves debt in bulk. Since its origin in 2014, it has relieved more than $8.5 billion for patients. CEO Allison Sesso noted that many of the debts are between $500-$5,000 — incurred by insured clients who cannot cover the deductibles. Not only does she reduce the patient’s financial burden, but the organization also reduces the stress that comes with being in collections or having unpaid obligations.

This strategy isn’t going to fix the problem or address the source of anything that causes it, but for the people RIP Medical Debt helps, it can be lifesaving. Is there a new point on the spectrum of a vexing issue that you can focus on? While you’re working on the root cause maybe there is an innovative way to temporarily provide some relief for those impacted by what you’re trying to solve.

Source: Buying Medical Debt to Forgive it, Interviewed by Tom Murphy, February 12, 2023

leadership dot #3866: orders

I was waiting in line at a fast-food restaurant for a very long time even though there were many employees who seemed to be working furiously. When I finally got to the counter after the line had temporarily stopped, I saw that the delay was caused by an abundance of online orders that seemed to take precedence over those actually there in person. The orders through the app or delivery service were expedited because those customers were standing rather impatiently by the register waiting for pickups while the rest of us quietly stood in the queue.

Something is wrong with this system. The app has no ability to regulate flow so it keeps accepting order after order without regard to whether the in-person restaurant is busy or deserted. There is only so much room on the food preparation line so orders can’t be assembled any faster, and the customers who order via a human instead of an app are the ones who pay the price.

If your output is influenced by multiple inputs (such as the phone and in-person), take care that you treat both sets of customers equitably, or, if you prioritize one method of contact over another, acknowledge the inconvenience and attempt to make amends. Offering free chips and queso to compensate for the delay could have made those in line grateful instead of grumbling.

leadership dot #3865: slippery slope

I slipped on the ice (dot 3864) trying to get the newspaper and fell down on the frozen grass. It wasn’t serious but I felt discombobulated and jostled from the unnatural trajectory that my body took so I decided to follow the precautions and rest for a bit before jumping into my day.

Do you know that it is very hard to be in that limbo state of “rest” without doing something or falling asleep? True rest means not reading, watching television, or looking at screens. When I sat there and did that, the natural temptation was to doze off — thus morphing from rest to sleep which is another thing entirely. Maintaining that balance to just stay at rest is actually difficult (for me anyway).

I wonder how many other ways we ask people to work within narrow parameters that are harder to meet than they sound. We’re told to do our physical therapy exercises, but not too many of them. Keep an emergency fund of accessible assets but don’t leave too much in liquid investments. Spend time with friends and family but don’t jeopardize your career growth by doing so.

The ideas of balance or rest sound wonderful until you try to put them into practice — then they feel hard to achieve. Don’t beat yourself up unnecessarily when you are challenged in doing something that sounds like it should be simple. Maintaining balance on ice or in life isn’t easy.

leadership dot #3864: iced

Unfortunately, our area was hit with ice as part of the recent Olive storm. Everything was coated with a thick, frozen layer, making treacherous passage for vehicles, humans, and animals.

Unlike a snowstorm, the drizzle that created the ice was almost imperceptible as it came down, different from looking out the window and seeing flakes. Yet, the final effect was more hazardous than a snowfall as the ice is more pervasive and difficult to get rid of. Snow can be shoveled but ice-coated branches and thick layers across sidewalks cause more lasting disruption.

I think toxic employees are a bit like ice — you may not even notice that they are drizzling their negativity into your environment until it has touched everything and hardened. You may feel it before you see it, but once it’s visible, the damage may already be done.

If your own observation or clues from others warn you that an organizational storm is forming, proactively take steps to prevent the ice from coating your culture. Turn up the heat by addressing the issue or employee directly. Put out warning “salt” by reinforcing positive norms to help lessen the impact. Accelerate the “melt.” by redirecting emphasis to focus on mission or values. Don’t let your best efforts be frozen in place by those who seek to ice you out of your leadership or influence.

leadership dot #3863: hanging

The university where I teach expects that all the adult classes will have a “learning team” or group project component so I often hear feedback about troubles students encounter with this assignment. I think they would rather do all their work independently, but learning to navigate a team environment is as important to learn as the content of their project.

The biggest aggravation I hear is that one team member does not pull their weight or even participate at all. My response: teams, as with any partnership, are never equal. Hopefully, they aren’t totally lopsided but sometimes you have to do more than your “fair share” for the project to succeed.

What should you do when (not if) you face a dysfunctional team member? If possible, talk with them face-to-face and clarify what they can do. While you need to focus on the end product, it is just as important to preserve the relationship. If you don’t make it safe for them to share their reality, create conditions for them to save face, or allow them to say “I am swamped all next week and can’t do anything” then you wreck the relationship AND the work product. “Never promise more than you can perform” were words I used often. It gives the person an out.

It goes back to Covey’s Circle of Concern/Influence — you only control what you can influence, not what is your concern. You have to rely on faith that the boss will know what is really going on and take action separately to correct the situation or enact appropriate consequences. That is not your direct concern. Your job is to accomplish the end product so knowing a team member is able/willing to do nothing is FAR better than having them promise to do something and then leave you hanging.

leadership dot #3862: something’s fishy

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, so for many Catholics and others who follow the practice, it means eating fish today and on Fridays. As a result, the fish fry has become a popular Lenten fundraiser for many organizations.

Our local entertainment guide published a list of the events and restaurants that serve fish and it seems that everywhere offers cod on the menu during this time of year. In a town of 60,000, an incredible 108 entries were included, many offering all-you-can-eat buffets and special fish offerings just for the season.

But the practice actually calls for Catholics to “abstain from eating meat” which is different than eating fish. It provides many more options for people: salads, eggs or omelets, vegetables, plant-based products, rice, beans, vegetable lasagna, chickpeas, tofu, etc. But nowhere do we see salad fundraisers, pancake dinners, or seafood pasta fundraisers. It’s all fish.

If you are attempting to capitalize on a practice, take a broad view of the opportunities it presents for you. You may be successful in offering fish fry #109 or you may be better off providing an alternative menu that helps you to stand out apart from the crowd.

leadership dot #3861: inertia

At a recent forum about arts and culture in our community, the director of the art museum referenced Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion, which states that a body moving at a constant speed in a straight line will keep moving at a constant speed in a straight line unless it is acted upon by a force. His point was that it is easy for organizations to become complacent and do things the way they have always done them. “We need to build capacity to overcome our own inertia,” he said.

It’s true not just for arts groups where the temptation is to offer the same type of events every year or to produce the annual fundraising gala. Individuals as well as other types of organizations fall into routines and become comfortable with doing things the way they have always done them. This leaves two choices to prevent demise: have the initiative and courage to create change within or respond to the environmental change that is imposed.

A few strategies that were raised in the arts forum as ways to be inertia-busting may be applicable to your organization:

  • Go beyond just promoting an event and actually invite people to attend it
  • Take programming out to other locations — if you go to them and provide a “small introduction to the large” they may be more willing to come to you later. Show up where you haven’t been
  • Create programs that look like the people you want to attract
  • Encourage people to participate at all levels of the organization, not just as audience members
  • Promote giving arts as a gift to expose people
  • Create meaningful engagement with people you have traditionally not had relationships with

Even if you have nothing to do with arts or culture, you are still subject to the same laws of organizational physics. You need to intentionally deploy strategies to alter your routine or you will be ruled by it. What can you do today to shake something up?

leadership dot #3860: receipts

Over the weekend I spent some time sorting receipts for my taxes. It’s not my favorite task but it did provide a forum for a bit of reminiscing. Looking at the receipts I saw charges for a favorite restaurant that has gone out of business, trips that I took, gifts I bought, and big household purchases I made. The exercise confirmed that dogs are expensive, I am a regular at the Post Office and I’m a good bargain shopper!

You can tell a lot about a person — or an organization — by looking through the expenditures for the year. Where we spend our time and money is a window into our values and priorities and the ledger or box of receipts makes it clear what is in favor.

When you do your taxes this year or partake in the annual audit, do more than look at the numbers on the page. Take some time to reflect on what the expenses are saying about you and whether that reflects the way you wish to live or do business. Spending time to learn about your spending habits can reap big dividends for you.

leadership dot #3859: charging

Back in the day, phone booths in airports were at a premium. Travelers needed to utilize the pay phones when they were passing through and securing a booth in the limited time of a layover was important.

Obviously, phones have evolved and I doubt most airports have more than one pay phone, but phones are still an essential tool for travelers. Now, the premium commodity is an outlet for charging smartphones.

Maui airport has melded the past with the present by converting its pay phone booths into charging stations. The booths are plentiful and in convenient locations, making them perfect spots to provide both power and a sound-absorbing buffer to lend an element of privacy for making calls. The airport even provides chairs for weary travelers to sit on while they wait.

Many travelers may have never used the booths for their original purpose — or even know what they were for — but they can benefit from the adaptation.

Can you repurpose a space or tool in your organization that is no longer needed for its intended use? Rather than get rid of it or let it collect dust, maybe there is a way you can call it something else and meet the needs of a new generation.

Thanks, Lynn!