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Archive for December, 2009

The FIRST step in health care reform

Friday, December 18th, 2009

We’re holding our collective breath as Congress wrangles with what to do about the burgeoning disaster we call “health care.”  It looks like we are at the mercy of the politicians in terms of what we see in the news.

But there’s is one basic step that has absolutely nothing to do with the government and everything to do with getting this right.  Each of us individually needs to be sure our own mindset is not contributing to the problem.

In a nutshell, is this a “health care” problem?  Or a “health I don’t care” problem?  The health care system is huge and growing.  How much of that is because we use it so often and so indiscriminately?   When we fail to pay attention to our own health, we are much more likely to end up in the system.  Once you are in, it’s hard to get out.

Here’s an example.  Let’s say you’re experiencing a lot of stress at work.  That’s creating digestive problems, sleeping problems, and maybe you’re starting to notice a lot of pain in your neck.  You finally make the time to go to the doctor.   We all want to believe that “Doc” will know exactly what’s wrong and will prescribe medication that solves the problem.  Simple fix.

That’s not what usually happens though.   The more typical scenario is something like this…  After a quick glance at your chart and a minute’s worth of questions, he or she will say “We need to run some tests.”  So you go to the lab.  Then you wait for a call about the test results–until you finally call them.  “Everythings’s normal.”

Now what?  Often, the next step is to “try” some kind of prescription medicine to see if it helps.  Maybe it does a little.  So you keep taking the drug.  But it has an unpleasant side effect you need to deal with.  So the doctor prescribes something for that.  And then that has a side effect.  So you keep adding more drugs to your system to “fix” the original problem.

But the whole process is missing the first step.  What did you do to eliminate the stress on the job?  This is the part of health care that we are particularly bad at.  We aren’t very good at taking care of ourselves wisely so we can avoid needing this kind of  “health care.”

There’s a national mindset that someone is supposed to “take care” of us when we are sick.  What would happen if we did more to keep ourselves from getting sick?  How about walking to reduce that stress?  Walking doesn’t require a trip to the doctor–or a prescription.  There are no negative side effects–and some great positive ones.  You may start walking to reduce your stress, but you’ll also end up losing weight, gaining energy and enjoying your neighborhood more.

Yes, our health care system badly needs an overhaul.  Yes, the costs once you get sucked into the system are horrendous.  Yes, many of us are oblivious of those costs because we don’t pay for them directly.  (Rest assured, as a nation, we do pay for them!)  Yes, there is abuse that warrants stronger penalties and more diligent policing.

But the very first step to accomplishing real health care reform is to step up to the responsibility of maintaining our own health.  We need to stop thinking that it’s up to the system to “make us well” and start doing all we can for ourselves to not get sick in the first place.

It’s so easy to say what “they” should do differently.  But the solution lies in what we do differently.  We need to become a lot more proactive about taking care of ourselves so we can avoid the system a lot more of the time.

Help yourself thrive during “the Holidays”

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Yikes!  “The Holidays” are here.  It doesn’t make any difference whether you equate that with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, or even Festivus; this time of year has something for everyone to celebrate.  And that “something” usually brings with it a massive dose of stress.  Why?  Because “the holidays” represent a perfect emotional storm—the nexus of inviolate tradition, unplanned change, and great expectations.

To get to where you can actually have fun with “the Holidays,” you have to appreciate the force of that storm and realize you are in it.  It’s not as simple as just saying “This is complicated.”  But it doesn’t require taking a leave of absence from your entire life for the last two weeks of the year either (though this is my favorite fantasy).

So let’s look at these three “forces of nature.”

Inviolate Tradition:
The longer we live, the more traditions we have the chance to establish.  When you couple, you mesh your family traditions with his (or her) family traditions.  Even if you don’t stay a couple, quite often you end up keeping at least some of the traditions you added with the partner.  You see something on TV or in a book that looks like fun.  You add that.  You think of something fun for “this year” and then end up doing it every year.  There’s more and more and more that “we always do” at this time of year.

But traditions are like closet space.  Unless you weed things out every once in a while, you get a lot jammed together in a tight space.  And then you can’t enjoy any of it because it’s wedged in so tightly it’s hard to even get to it.

  •   Not every tradition deserves to be honored forever.  Which  ones do you really appreciate?  Which ones are you doing because you think you “have” to?  Who would notice if you let some of the latter go?  Maybe it’s time to find out.

Unplanned Change
This year has brought a mega-dose of unplanned change for many of us.  Lost jobs, reduced work hours, and lost business have affected how much we have to spend.  Heavy workloads for those who do have jobs make holiday tasks even harder to get done.  Wherever there is change, there is stress.  Most of us were already stressed before we got to “the Holidays” this year.

There’s only one good way to handle change—accept what is going on now and run with that.  This year, it’s fashionable to admit you have to change how you handle the season.   What an unexpected blessing!  It’s the perfect chance make changes you’ve been wanting to make, regardless of whether you are still be able to pull off the old routine.

There’s another kind of change that’s more subtle.  What’s changed with your loved ones?  Maybe one of your kids moved away for a job.  Maybe your sister has married a man with seven kids and his own traditions.  It’s not fair to insist everyone else still do all the things “we’ve always done for the holidays” if they aren’t in the same place with their lives.   But letting go of traditions you cherish can be hard.

  •   Are you insisting everything stay the same because it suits you–even if it’s more difficult for other participants than it used to be?  Are you being honest about others’ needs with your holiday extravaganza?  Are things different for you this year?  Respect and accommodate changes.

Great Expectations
Let’s face it.  We’re all still kids when it comes to this time of year.  Maybe we aren’t waiting for the pony or the new bike anymore, but we do want “the Holidays” to be magical, perfect, and totally satisfying.

That’s just not realistic.  Things go wrong in life–often at the worst possible moment.  People who are already stressed about 100 other things over-react more easily.  Grand plans with a lot to get done become overwhelming at the last minute.  It’s just a holiday season—not the sum total of your life’s accomplishments.  Throttle back for heaven’s sake!

  •   How can you streamline things so there’s more room to enjoy what’s going on?  Do what you can comfortably and be joyful with those results.

That’s the bottom line on this particular time of the year—JOY.  Usually, things are so hectic we never feel it.   Maybe a look at these three things can help you bring it back.


Job Insurance — SEEK Performance Feedback

Friday, December 4th, 2009

When it comes to job performance, most of us would prefer to be in the dark.  We see even the best critique of what we are doing for the company as criticism that isn’t fair or necessary.  But there’s gold in getting that feedback.  Knowing what you need to improve makes it a whole lot easier to…well...improve.

Younger workers want to believe they know it all when they’ve only had the chance to scrape the surface of being good at the work they do.  Older workers can get complacent just as easily.  So anybody who wants to be really good at what they do (which is the best job insurance you can find) needs to have good systems in place to avoid both of these airless places.

There are three realms of information that you can use.

Formal Performance Reviews:  Large companies have policies and procedures that require some kind of employee review, typically annually.    Most of us dread these.  (And often rightfully so becuase there is so little done to help supervisors do them well.  But try not to dread yours–even if your boss is awful at them.  They are a place to start.  Then don’t let that one feedback session be where you stop.

Take in what’s said, ask questions, and try to avoid the “yes but” reactions.  Supervisors are not always right, but arguing about the quality of your performance is not the way to change his or her mind.  To do that, you have to perform differently.

So be sure you understand what you’re being told needs to change and then pursue additional information from other sources to confirm and expand on that.  Make a plan for how you’re going to improve and have another conversation with your boss about your intentions.  Then follow-through, even  if you are the only one keeping track of it.

Ideally, a supervisor gives feedback on performance on an ongoing basis.  If you are blessed with this kind of miracle, pay attention to what you’re being told.  But if you are not being told anything, don’t assume all is well.  Often it’s a matter of supervisory timidity, not super-competence.  But being good at what you do makes a huge difference in your job security.  Take responsibility for it yourself.

Input from Peers, Clients, and Vendors:   You work with a lot of people on your job.  If you are paying attention, they are offering you feedback all day everyday.  Did one of your clients call Shipping directly instead of asking you to figure out what’s going on as your job description indicates?  Ask what made them feel that was a better way of doing it.  Encourage your customers to give you feedback.  Saying something like “I’m working on being sure I’m as accessible as my clients need.  Have there been any problems with you on that?” will both give you important information and create a better bond with that client.

Getting gentle feedback all along about things you need to improve on avoids that “hammer over the head” of being let go because you weren’t pulling as much weight as you thought.    It also mitigates the “this is wrong and this is wrong and this is wrong” dump that performance reviews can be.  Keep your ears open and follow up when you have the chance to learn what you could have done better.

It’s very comfortable to hear the nice things people see in you, but that’s not the feedback you really need.  Listen for when you could have done better and then figure out how.

Numbers, Ratings, and Reports:  Every job has something that you can quanitify and those numbers can help you keep track of how well you’re doing.  But be careful with this stuff.  Looking only at sales figures (or some other trackable performance number) isn’t wise.  Numbers have a quick, “snapshot” quality to them that makes them great for doing comparisons over time.  You can compare to yourself, to others in your company, to those in your profession in the US or the world.  Numbers have an authority that you need to question though.  They are not error-free.  They are not supreme

What dimensions of your job can you track?  Sales calls? Billable hours? Test scores of your students on what you taught them?  Time between ordering and receiving the espresso drinks you create for customers?  Find ways to measure what you are trying to improve on though.  If existing numbers are irrelevant tracking yours is a waste of time.  Keeping track of something will only help you improve if  the number relates to that aspect of your performance.

Bottom line to all of it is this:  Feedback on how to do you job better is far more important to your career than the “atta boys” we all love and seek.  The best job insurance is to be good at what you do. And to do that, you have to learn where you need to improve.

There are ways.  Lots of ways.  Use them.