business management Tag Archive

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Changing dental insurance with a connected toothbrush

From Fortune:

…a dental insurance company, giving connected toothbrushes to policy holders makes all the sense in the world. Knowing that your policyholders brush their teeth on the regular means they are less likely to develop cavities and other issues associated with high claims. The insurer might even be able to promote more brushing or even flossing using incentives from the app associated with the connected toothbrush.

Source: Beam will change dental insurance one connected toothbrush at a time – Fortune

I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I think it is a creative and exciting way to use advanced technology to improve dental health and ultimately to improve the human condition.

On the other hand I am not at all happy to have an insurance company monitoring my brushing and adjusting my benefits based on how often I brush my teeth with their bluetooth toothbrush. Way too creepy like the “Big Brother” dental plan is watching. 1984 was supposed to be a cautionary tale not an instruction manual.

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Mediocrity Invited: how to encourage high performers

In most of our companies we have a big sign with bold letters over the main door into our building. It has been there a long time and is such a regular part of the fixtures that we have lost sight of it. Although we diligently practice what the sign says, few of us, if any, notice it as we walk in and out of the building each day. We probably can’t even remember what it says, so let me remind you: “Mediocrity Invited.”

We do many things to ensure that mediocre employees feel totally safe and secure and are not made uncomfortable. This month’s article illustrates examples of things we do to ensure that we stay true to our promise on the front door.

Accountability is uncomfortable, so ignore it.

Most companies have difficulty creating a culture of holding people accountable. When somebody has not done an action item from the previous meeting, we merely note it and move on. Holding that individual accountable on the spot is uncomfortable – both for ourselves and for the delinquent. So, instead, we don’t hold him or her accountable. By the way, who in your company would prefer that you hold people accountable? Clearly, those who are accountable. Who would not prefer it? Of course, those who are not accountable. Oh yes, I forgot the signage on the front door: Mediocrity invited. We wouldn’t want to make the unaccountable uncomfortable, would we?

Put off performance management a little longer.

Most managers who have let go of an employee will confess, when asked, that they waited too long to take action. At the same time, they acknowledge that the peers of the non-performing employee had noticed the lack of performance long before the manager even became aware of it, much less took action on it. So, the performing employees, who picked up the slack of the non-performing, have been waiting patiently for management to take action. Let’s ask ourselves who in your company would like management to take quick action on non-performing employees? Of course, all the performing ones. Who would prefer that you be cautious, deliberate and slow in taking action? I suppose the non-performing ones. Oh yes, the signage on the front door!

Don’t celebrate one person if it’s going to ruffle others.

We all like to recognize employees for good deeds done, particularly deeds that are beyond the call of duty. We want to acknowledge them publicly, but fear its impact on somebody left out. The fear of giving recognition is the fear of upsetting those unrecognized. So, we include a few more people in the recognition.

The other day one of the senior managers came back from a great industry gathering where our advertising work was featured prominently and received a lot of accolades. True to our culture of celebrating success he sent out a company-wide email sharing the joy and recognizing a half a dozen people. Just in case he had missed a few others who might have contributed, he added a caveat that he was rushed in sending the email and promised to send another with any names he may have missed. And yet, I suspect that there were probably one or two individuals who really stood out in making that advertising campaign a success. Would we be comfortable pointing out just one person? Instead, have we not diluted that recognition by including all?

In many companies where management recognizes individuals at their monthly all-hands meetings, executives work hard to ensure that everybody gets a turn to be recognized. They don’t want one name called out too often, and many names never called out at all. Who would prefer this approach? The people who otherwise would not be recognized. Oh I forgot, the signage on the front door.

Pay over-performers and under-performers the same salary.

Recently, the Director of HR in our company sent a memo to the executive team asking for input on the annual salary review process that we will undertake in a few months. Compensation has been a frequent topic in these Food for Thought articles. Although most companies espouse “pay for performance” they practice “pay for pulse.”

If you truly believe in paying for performance, ask yourself this: Does the spread of salaries among comparable employees resemble anything close to the spread of their individual performances?
Most managers will concede that a highly performing employee contributes manyfold the amount that a poorly performing employee does. Yet, is the star performer rewarded with pay that is a manyfold multiple of the poor performer? It is tough to spread the salaries of poor- and high-performing employees through meager annual salary increases. So, how can we spread the salaries to reflect their relative performance? I offer a collection of ideas, though admittedly most of them are bizarre, and end with the only practical idea that I have actually used.

Option 1: Guarantee a raise or resignation

What would happen if you announce to your employees that you are abandoning the practice of annual salary reviews and corresponding salary adjustments? From here on you will practice a flat salary model unless the employee requests a salary review. Tell your employees: “If you want a salary increase, just come and ask. All you have to do is ask! Come on over, anytime. All I require is that you bring your resignation with you. I will guarantee one of the two. Just come and ask. Come anytime. Come often!”

What kind of employees in your company would like this approach? The high performing, confident ones. Who would fear this approach? The non-performing employees lacking in confidence. So, why won’t we do this? Oh yes, the signage on the front door.

Option 2: Take from poor performers to reward high performers

Annual salary increases usually average a small percentage increase, say 3 or 4 percent, reflecting movement in the market and the company’s financial appetite. That small a number leaves little room to really recognize the high performer with a distinctly higher salary.

That leads us to our next bizarre idea. What if you had all employees, upon employment, sign an understanding that the offered salary is for the remainder of the calendar year? At the beginning of each year every employee’s salary will be automatically reduced by 10 percent. Furthermore, indicate in the agreement that you commit to contribute the 10% savings from the entire payroll to the pool of money available for annual salary increases. So now each year an employee’s average salary increase can be 13 or 14 percent! Of course, you intend to reach that average by distributing much larger percentages to the high performers and very low percentages to the poor performers. Again, who would like or dislike this idea? Yet alas the signage.

Option 3: No increases below 5%

Finally to something more practical, and something at least tried out by me. When management conducts salary reviews and plans out annual salary increases for each employee, they are always cognizant of the total payroll impact. It’s usually measured in terms of the (weighted) average of all of the salary increases given to the entire workforce. Seldom, if ever, does management examine the standard deviation of that distribution. Would you prefer a high standard deviation or a low figure? A high figure indicates a wide spread in the increases – some employees (hopefully performing ones) receiving large increases and others (hopefully, non-performing ones) receiving low increases. You would want a high spread.

How do you get a high standard deviation, yet keep the mean at the, say, 3.7 percent you have budgeted? Well you have to give a lot of zero increases to afford a 15 percent increase for your star performers. How can you force that? A practical idea: Require your management to achieve the 3.7 percent average with the caveat that nobody can be granted an increase between the amounts of 0 and 5 percent. So, all the increases have to be either 0 or 5 percent and above. Yet, the average must compute to 3.7 percent. You will get your desired result. Tempting as it is, I will not ask the question of who would like this approach and remind you of the sign. And so I did.

Next time you enter the front door of your building, take a look at that sign. How long has it been up there? Who takes note of it? How institutional has practicing the words on the sign become? If you want to change the signage and are wondering what to put up instead, here is a suggestion: Put up a real sign over the door that reads, “The sign that used to hang here has been intentionally removed.” Cause your employees to come and ask you what the new signage means. You will intentionally cause a conversation.

We welcome your comments on our Food for Thought mailings and encourage you to explore the Food for Thought archive. We hope your business is doing well. We’re happy to chat about the content in this article or anything else with which you’d like assistance.

Food for Thought is our way of sharing interesting concepts on corporate leadership and management with others who might find it useful. The thoughts offered are intended to be controversial and thought-provoking. They are intended to help our readers intentionally realize their potential, what we call >Potentionality.

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Third Generation Online Referrals

Third Generation Online Referrals
First generation attempts to create digital referral slips simply recreate the paper form in an electronic format, usually pdf. The referring dentist needs to download and print the form then fill in the information (patient name, practice information, tooth #, diagnosis etc.) by hand. The patient takes the form to the specialist and the data is entered just as if the patient had come in and was handed a form to fill out.

Second generation online referrals can be filled in online, no paper. However the referring dentist or the patient still needs to fill in the information by hand using a keyboard and mouse. Once the information is filled in the specialist office could access it from the Internet and create a new patient record with no additional data entry.

Third generation digital referral slips will be smart and interactive. The system will upload data directly from the electronic record without the dentist or dental staff member re-typing or pasting the data. It will include the basics we have done in the past as well as a complete medical history, patient demographics and insurance information.

When the patient shows up at the specialists office there will be no clipboard and forms they will already have complete electronic record waiting for them ready to go.


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Specific vs Diffuse: Part 2


Two weeks ago David Baker, CEO of Think.Shift, wrote a provocative article challenging axioms – statements we believe to be self-evident truths. In this article I want to use him as an example of how to intentionally use both specific and diffuse forms of communication effectively.

In a previous article I noted that some people are specific in their communication with intent to bring forth clarity of thought and others are more diffuse in their communication with intent to bring forth commonality of thought.

Both styles have value, and the value is enhanced if you’re intentional about your natural style and the style appropriate for your audience. While my natural style is specific, David Baker is able to use either style based on what is appropriate for the audience. Let me provide two examples of David’s writing to illustrate this point and speak to the value of being intentional in your communication.

In the last Food for Thought article Caution: Falling Axioms, David wanted to respect the provocative nature of these articles.

To be provocative and controversial, you need to be specific in establishing your point of view and contrasting it with alternative points of view.

In analyzing the axiom, “If you are going to bring me a problem, make sure you bring with it a solution,” David points out that the traditional view contrasts an employee who is building with an employee who is throwing rocks. Having been specific in that contrast, he switches to the other side and provides concrete and convincing arguments as to why you should promote and encourage employees raising issues for which they have no solution. His style of specific communication is very effective.

A couple decades ago, I learned an interesting lesson. Trained as an engineer, with a background in math and a passion for logic, I have always been specific in my communication. But, while listening to my VP of marketing tell our sales force about a new series of products we were introducing, I learned that diffuse communication might achieve your results better than being specific. He drew an X-Y axes, labeled the horizontal axis with old products and new products, talked about how the old products had floundered, spoke about the amazing value of the new products and drew a sweeping graph that zig-zagged from the bottom left to the top right, proclaiming that our new products are going to take our business to new heights.

Questions came to my mind: What was the X-axis? Products? How were they arranged? By introduction date? What was the Y-axis? Units? Dollars? Was this a cumulative graph? If so, how did the graph go down with the current products? I was trying to figure it all out. Meanwhile, our sales force had heard the rallying cry. They were pumped. They cheered! Had my marketing VP not accomplished his goal? How does it matter if the graph didn’t make any sense? Being diffuse might have been the best way to communicate to that audience at that moment!

Let’s come back to David Baker. In his monthly blog, David wrote an interesting post titled “What is Normal?” He pointed out that, while most people try to fit in and be normal, it is the outliers that get noticed. To make his point he drew this picture.

by Think.Shift

by Think.Shift

Of course, I had a plethora of questions: What does the line mean? What is represented by a circle on the left side versus the right side? How about circles above and below? Are circles above and to the right better because that is the way we think? And what do the size of the circles mean? Are bigger circles better? Yet, in spite of all my questions, I understood what he was saying in the article. The picture communicated it. Was he being diffuse? Absolutely! Was he effective in his communication? Superbly! In a blog, where the intent typically is to connect with people rather than provoke them, diffuse communication allows for each reader to interpret as they choose and find common ground.

It’s important to understand both specific and diffuse communication.

Each has its value. Each is more effective in different circumstances. Each of us has a preference in our own individual style. Yet, it behooves us to be intentional about using the right style for the right situation.

On this topic, my good friend and colleague, Glenn Mangurian, pointed out that the appropriate style not only depends on the circumstance, but the speaker-listener chemistry. Glenn and I developed the following model for what might happen based on whether the speaker and the listener are specific or diffuse:

  • When the speaker and listener are both specific, they are likely to assert and evaluate. On the positive side, they might find clear agreement or find disagreement and extend their thought process. But the same conversation could turn into a debate, with each of them arguing and trying to prove that he or she is right.
  • When the speaker is specific and the listener is diffuse, they are likely to assert and consider. The listener respects the speaker’s point of view and learns. But the speaker could also be viewed as being arrogant and opinionated, with the listener agreeing in pretense.
  • When the speaker is diffuse and the listener is specific, they are likely to explore but evaluate. The listener is likely to ask for clarification and agree or offer a different point of view. Alternatively, the conversation could turn into an argument where the listener browbeats the speaker for specificity that the speaker either does not have or is not willing to offer.
  • When the speaker and the listener are both diffuse, the conversation is likely to explore and agree. Both the speaker and listener could become innovative and the conversation could become generative. Or the conversation could meander without reaching conclusion, with both the speaker and the listener agreeing without understanding.
by Think.Shift

by Think.Shift

In each case, conversation can take on a positive tone and create value or a negative tone and destroy value.

It is useful to acknowledge the natural tendency the speaker and listener and intentionally drive the conversation toward the positive, value-creating outcomes.

I want to end this article by recognizing David’s ability to switch modes when appropriate and thank him for letting me use his example to illustrate the value of being intentionally specific or diffuse. I encourage my readers to read David’s monthly blog.

We will be elaborating on these concepts in a webinar on
Wednesday, May 27th from 10:30 am – 11:30 am (PDT).

Two special guests will be at the webinar, David Baker and Glenn Mangurian, who will chime in with their thoughts on specific versus diffuse. We encourage you to sign up and attend; please visit the event registration page here for more details.

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