Dawn Hike

November 2, 2014

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Predawn November woods
Beckon me
Out of a warm bed.
Jeans, boots, jacket,
Shield my warmth
From cool autumn winds.

Striding from silent streets
Into the quiet brown forest.
Crowded tenacious buckthorn
Clings to last green leaves.
Legs and heart pumping
Up steep Coon Hill

Bare oaks celebrate the dawn
Singing and swaying
To the morning wind.
Fallen leaves crunching
Red, yellow, brown
Thick under Vasques.

Bittersweet showing off
Orange berries.
Sun below distant horizon
Sky glows orange, yellow
Turning blue with the dawn.
Cold wind biting the cheeks.

Six black crows
Silently struggle headfirst
Against a brisk south wind.
Prairie grass fervently
Bowing and rising
To first rays of light.

Tall evergreens
Quiet the wind.
Their soft brown needles
Blanket the soil.
Mind cleared
Soul refreshed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 27, 2014

grateful

A Thanksgiving Day challenge: List five things for which you are thankful.

I’m grateful for my family, both immediate and extended. They are loving and courageous.

I’m grateful for the people I work with, both clients and business associates. They are smart and thoughtful.

I’m grateful for my friends. They are encouraging and fun.

I’m grateful for the people in my church. They care about me and challenge my faith and beliefs.

 

Staffing for the Greater Good

August 20, 2014

Did you know that gathering great people around you is critical to the greater good and success of your organization? As the line from a recent television ad goes, “everyone knows that.” Gino Wickman tells readers of Traction that “People” is one of the six key components of operating and growing a successful business. Jim Collins told us “First Who, Then What” in his book Good to Great.

How do you move from talking about gathering great people around you to actually doing it? Frequently the recruiting and hiring process results in hiring someone the hiring manager likes, but ends in disappointment in results and greater good for the organization. Yet hiring managers and HR professionals cling to the same recruiting and hiring tactics even when the results they get are not what they hope for. A hiring manager urgently in need of filling an open spot who is overconfident about being a “great judge of people” combined with well-coached candidates desperate for a job combine to almost guarantee disappointment.

Here are three steps to begin overcoming frequent disappointment in the staffing process.
1. Clarify organizational values
2. Know the job.
3. Identify Keys to Success
4. Find Keys to Success in Candidates

The good “fit” of each person into the organizational culture depends on the sharing of common values. Sorting through this in the selection process is critical to a successful hire. The first step is to be clear about your organizational values beyond a set of words on paper. This requires knowing what behaviors and attitudes demonstrate the desired values and having good ways to identify these behaviors and attitudes in each candidate.

“Know the job” on the surface seems over-simplified. “I manage this job. Of course I know the job” is a frequent response from hiring managers. Are you crystal clear about the key accountabilities in the job? What are the few things that are core to the job? In staffing, like so many other areas, less is more. Go through the job description and separate the “wheat” from the “chafe”. Whittle that laundry list of tasks and duties down to five to seven key accountabilities for the job. What is most important?

Once the key accountabilities are clear then identify what success looks like in the job. What metrics must be met? What results must be achieved? Where does this work add to the top revenue line? What additions will this job make to the bottom line? Paint a clear picture of what success looks like.

Once you have this picture of success, identify what it takes to accomplish this success. What are the “Keys to Success” in this job? What qualifications, qualities, characteristics, talents, or experiences are key to success? Focus on the keys that differentiate great results from mediocrity and what it takes to get these results. Find the 20% that gets 80% of the results in the position. Again this should be a short list of five to seven key characteristics, qualifications, talents, or experiences.

Once the job and its keys to success are clear, a selection process can be built on the simple question “How will we know if the candidate has these keys to success?” It quickly becomes apparent that knowing if the candidate really has they keys to success takes more work than just asking “Do you have what we’re looking for?” The answer of “Yes!” simply tells you that the candidate knows what answer you desire.

Use the following methods to answer the question “does the candidate have the keys to success?”: proven past behaviors and results; observation; open-ended questions; reference checking; work samples or demonstration; and assessments or tests. Incorporate these tactics into your selection process will lead to better results and greater good for your organization.

Engage People – Grow Profits!

July 19, 2010

In this age of quickly advancing technologies and light-speed communication, competitive advantages in business are very hard to maintain. One competitive advantage that sticks is people. High-performing people in the right positions will give you a prolonged edge over your competition. Many business owners and managers know this. However, knowing it is one thing and doing something about it is very different. This is a sustainable competitive advantage because so few business leaders figure out how to effectively engage people in ways that build and maintain a competitive advantage.

Effective engagement of people, done right, will never be a program, a “flavor of the month”, or another trendy idea. It will build an organization into a group of people with a common purpose and mutual respect who love what they do and do it well in ways where everyone benefits. While effective engagement can be difficult to accomplish, the formula is simple: 1) have a mission and plan; 2) connect the right people with the mission and plan; and 3) foster an environment of high expectations and regular feedback.

Step 1: Mission. Successful organizations of all types have a clear purpose for their existence which creates something good and valuable for others. These organizations also have leaders who can tell the story of the mission in compelling ways that get others excited. The most successful of these organizations create a legacy of purpose that is greater than any one person and will outlast any individual in the organization

Step 2: Connecting Individuals with a Mission. Many organizations have a mission. It may even be compelling. But without tangible connections to individuals and their activities in the organization the compelling mission is little more than clever words on a poster. Connections to individuals are made by translating the big picture of the mission into bit-sized pieces that are meaningful to individuals in their daily work. Effective translation usually takes the form of good operational planning and effective managerial leadership in the heart of the organization that creates clear purpose for individuals in their day-to-day work. This also requires effective managers and systems that find the right people, place them in the right jobs, and provide meaningful connections among people throughout the organization.

Step 3: Inspiring People to Exceptional Performance. The final piece required for exceptional results and lasting competitive advantages is to inspire great performance. To do this you must foster and maintain leadership and managerial habits that create high (not unrealistic) expectations; that regularly measure progress; that give constant feedback; and that create an environment of success by consistently accomplishing ever increasing goals.

Take these three simple but challenging steps to effectively engage people in your organization to drive profits to everyone’s bottom line.

Ready for Reform? Changes Coming to Health Care Insurance

April 29, 2010

In March Congress passed and the President signed into law the US Senate bill that reforms health care.  Most of the reform deals with health care insurance.  Employer-sponsored insurance plans must begin complying with the new law beginning in October 2010.  More changes and reforms take effect later – especially in 2014.  Unfortunately, the changes will very likely result in a significant double whammy of higher health insurance costs and higher taxes since benefits and coverage are significantly expanded with almost no provisions for any cost controls while at the same time significantly higher taxes and fees will be collected.

Some changes are discussed in the popular media.  Some changes are more obscure but still will have an impact on businesses.  It must also be noted that not all the details can be know until the regulations for the reform are finalized by HHS which may not happen for some time.

Here are some of the legislation’s provisions that will be effective this October:

  • Prohibits lifetime benefits limits on health care insurance;
  • Prohibits rescission of health insurance coverage;
  • Prohibits excessive waiting periods;
  • Requires family plan coverage for children until age 26 (regardless of dependency) (unless they have an offer of employer-sponsored coverage).
  • Prohibits pre-existing conditions exclusions for children under 19 (prohibits all pre-existing condition exclusions by 2014);
  • Mandated appeal process;
  • All plans required to provide first dollar coverage for preventative services.

Changes coming later than 2010:

  • The value of employer-sponsored health insurance must be listed on employee W-2;
  • Flexible Spending Account (FSA’s) contributions limited to $2,500;
  • New limits, restrictions, and penalties for Health Savings Accounts and Flex Spending Accounts (most over-the-counter medications will be excluded, penalties for non-qualified expenses double to 20%);
  • New requirements for annual IRS form 1099 reporting of every business-to-business transaction;
  • Annual fees on health insurance providers begin in 2014 and escalate to more than $14 billion by 2018;
  • “Cadillac Tax” imposed on health insurance coverage in excess of $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families.
  • Individual taxpayer deductibility for medical expenses raised to 10% of AGI from current 7.5%;
  • Increase in Medicare payroll taxes
  • Health insurance exchange is established;
  • Individuals mandated to purchase health insurance or pay penalties;
  • Employers mandated to provide health insurance or pay $2,000/employee penalty (employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempted).

There is much information about this bill available on various website, however, it is difficult to find good factual unbiased information that is helpful to employers to know how to implement the required changes.  Employers and other plan sponsors must work closely with agents, brokers or other benefits consultant in preparing for the required changes. 

Here are some resources with more detailed information, one biased on the side of the current administration, the other biased on the side of business:
www.HealthReform.gov (US Department of Health and Human Services)
www.uschamber.com/chambers/healthcare (U.S. Chamber’s Health Care Tool Kit)

Integrating Our Digital and Physical Worlds

November 17, 2009

Not too long ago we all began a journey of exploration into the digital world of cyberspace.  This journey began in the middle part of the last century with a few folks interacting with large computers in climate-controlled rooms.  Soon, the reach of those computers extended out to a few desks with “dumb” terminals, then in the 1980’s we welcomed the arrival of personal computers on our desk putting real computing right at our fingertips.  Then portables and laptops unleashed the computer from desks.  Most of us now carry around in our pockets more computing power, more data storage, and more connectivity than existed in most climate controlled data processing rooms of 30 years ago. 

So what’s next on this journey?  Pranav Mistry, a PhD candidate at MIT, is doing some very interesting work that point to a likely next step – a more physical interface providing a deeper integration of our digital and physical worlds.

The laptops unleashed the computer from the desk, the mouse freed us from keyboards, the internet connected us to the world, smart phones freed us from the office, all of this has integrated computers more effectively into our lives, it appears Pranav Mistry is leading us into a new level of integration between the physical and the digital worlds.

 Watch is video to find out more:  TED Talk on SixthSense technology

More information about SixthSense technology.

Important Question in Health Care Reform

November 5, 2009

One of the most important questions in the current health care reform debate is this: How should we, the richest, most technologically advanced and well-educated society in the world, respond to the silent cries of the Uninsured?  

We have allowed thousands of our fellow citizens to die unnecessarily.  Studies show a 25% higher risk of death among the uninsured compared to those with health insurance.  That may be as many as 45,000 uninsured US citizens dying each year from preventable conditions. (Health Insurance and Mortality in US Adults , 2009) 

We have allowed thousands to face financial ruin when they experience unexpected health care cost.  Reports show 62.1% of bankruptcies in 2007 (500,000 individuals or families) were due to unexpected medical expenses.  (David U. Himmelstein, 2009).  

This past doesn’t have to be our future.  Working together we can find ways to get proper health care to everyone without big tax increases.  Here are two places to start:

Unlink health insurance from employment.  About 180 million US citizens have their health insurance tied directly to their employment. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009) Each one is just one pink slip away from losing their health insurance.

 Simplify and Reduce administrative and insurance costs.  Other industrialized countries provide quality health care to all their citizens at much lower total costs and much lower administrative costs than here in the US.  We have the most complex health care and insurance systems in the world.  Let’s learn from other countries where the health of the population is better than ours and health care is simpler, more effective, and cost less.

Working together we can solve this!  We can’t let politics and egos get in the way of changes.  Contact elected officials and demand they get real reform passed.

Betting On the Family’s Health

September 25, 2009

A local teacher complained to the school board about difficult choices and high costs of health insurance and betting that his family will remain health for seven years with a $10,000 deductible and an HSA.   The teacher is not alone in his wagers with health insurance and his family’s health.  All of us are facing similar dilemmas.  Many are facing much worse choices.  It’s likely a safe bet that most of the school board members are facing these same difficult choices.  Unfortunately, the problem is much bigger than a local school board can address.  The simple shifting of costs from individual to employer is no longer an adequate solution. 

 

It is clear that our health care system is seriously ill.  Here are the symptoms:

  • In 2009, we will spend about $2.5 trillion on health care – over $8,100 per person or 17.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) up from about $150 per year per person in 1960 or about 5% of our GDP.
  • Without significant change our spending on health care may double again to about $5 trillion in about 2020.  This will be nearly $15,000 per capita, accounting for 25% of GDP.
  • Since 1980 health care expenses have increase about twice as fast as inflation each year (average annual CPI increase was 3.96% while average annual increase in health care expenses was 7.79%) (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005)
  • Compared to other industrialized countries, we in the United States are spending from 50% to nearly three times more per capita for our healthcare. (California Health Foundation, 2008)
  • For all we spend, our health in the US is mediocre at best and getting relatively worse.  For example, compared to other countries in 2006 the US ranked:
    • 31st in life expectancy, down from 23rd in 1990;
    • 39th in infant mortality, down from 27th in 1990;
    • 43rd in adult mortality, down from 39th in 1990. (World Health Organization, 2009)
  • More than 60% of bankruptcies filed in the USA in 2007 were linked to medical expenses and three fourths of these people had health insurance. (Himmerstein, et al., 2009)
  • About 50 million people (one in six) in the US have NO health insurance coverage. (US Dept of Health & Human Services, 2005)

 

I encourage everyone to contact their representatives in Congress and the Senate to demand a complete examination and an immediate and robust treatment plan for our health care system.   It may already be too late for a modest treatment plan to cure the ills of our system.  It seems President Obama was correct in his comments to Congress that the needed treatment to cure our system may be too disruptive to be practically implementable.  However, without significant changes very soon, our health care system will arrive at the emergency room with symptoms so severe as to require admission to the intensive care ward.  If this happens, just as with individual people, the problem becomes significantly more expensive and much more difficult to fix.

 

There are multiple options beyond what we currently have available to us right now.  Many systems in other countries across the world get better results than our system at far less cost.  Let’s learn from them and adopt the best practices.  Call your Congressional representative and US Senator: demand that they work together to find and implement solutions.  Political bickering will only delay solutions and will likely send our health care system to the emergency room.  Let’s tackle the problem and address it now, before the illness is terminal.

Health Care: A Moral & Ethical Dilemma

September 15, 2009

We in the United States decided many years ago that K-12 education is a basic value of our society and a right of all citizens.  Is health care so different from education?  In K-12 education why do we think that the open free market won’t work?  Isn’t it because the free market doesn’t work effectively to provide universal education?  Why is health care so different?

We must think of health care first as a moral and ethical question.  Should health care be available and affordable for all citizens in the USA?  If so, how do we most effectively and affordably provide it?  If not, then how should we as a society respond to those who can’t afford to pay for the care?  And what will we do as significantly larger and larger portions of our population are unable to afford health care or health care insurance?  (Keep in mind that health care currently cost over $8,100 per person per year and rising much faster than the consumer price index.)

Should we accept that nearly two-thirds of the bankruptcies in 2007 in the United States were due to a family’s inability to pay medical bills?  That’s up 50% since 2001; and up from only 8% of the bankruptcies filed in 1981 after serious medical problems, (Medical Bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: Results of a National Study)

We must find the best in ourselves and in each other to accomplish this effort!  We must work effectively together to fix this problem.  We can’t fight against each other!

What do you think?  Please add your thoughts about the critical issues in health care reform.

Health Care in Other Countries

September 4, 2009

People on each side of the Atlantic both praise and criticize their own and other countries’ health care systems. If you are interested in learning more about the United Kingdom’s system, here’s a good resource:  

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/story/2009/08/lets-attack-the-nhs.html

How about other countries?  Look here:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sickaroundtheworld/countries/