Monday, August 31, 2009

Phones and Dogs

I recently had a huge addition into my family and am now the proud father of five rescued Mini Pinschers. Somehow in the process of helping a rescue organization, I discovered it’s much easier to keep them than give them away. I’m still not sure if this qualifies as a “success” or a “failure.” So, why am I writing about my very happy dogs and my insane over-collection of them in relation to work?

Of the myriad of functions I perform at OptiCall, one that I am most proud of is the development of our “phone training” both in house and as part of our “ACE” program for practices around the country. ACE is our call monitoring and coaching service that helps offices improve their own call handling abilities.

At work I was struggling to improve and elevate our own internal quality and style of phone handling. Then at home, I faced five cute but high energy dogs that I was also struggling to communicate with. Admittedly I was no expert with either situation. With the help of Barnes and Noble, I armed myself with the latest pop-culture work-philosophy self-help books and a pile of dog training books as well.

As I tackled both hurdles simultaneously it ultimately led me to an epiphany. Combining principles from the “E-Myth Revisited” by Gerber, and Cesar Milan’s “Be the Pack Leader” revealed to me an incredibly complete solution. Being organized and systemized as defined by the “E-Myth” book was only half the battle. Leading the process with “calm assertive leadership” as Cesar Milan “The Dog-Whisperer” professes, was the element that actually made the systemization and implementation equation work fully, both at work and home.

It was just a few months later that I had all five of my dogs walking beautifully by my side, returning to calm submissiveness when I reminded them. Our call center also quickly transitioned to capable people handling calls in a way that made us all, our own proud example. My dogs somehow understood my energy, but more amazingly, the people in front of me were performing beautifully and with little direction. I attributed both successes to simply having a good system to follow from the start, but mostly to delivering the training with calm assertive leadership. The attitude was simply, positive reinforcement of the inevitable change that was happening now.

Part of helping outside offices to better manage their own call handling process is always out of our control. Success is a relevant term when related to goals. You get out what you put in. Like a dietician, I can lay out an incredible path of healthful eating, but can’t dependably stop anyone else from eating the 4th brownie, including myself sometimes. So, the goals and the results vary.

I can recount several success stories where the leadership “buy-in” began with participation by management and doctors at the initial implementation visit. Their positive approach was always followed by predictable success. Of course the opposite was also true.

When a coordinator once sent me into another room to fix their staff’s “problems” as she continued her work elsewhere in the building, I knew immediately where the problem was not. I also knew immediately the lack of leadership and commitment displayed would undoubtedly transcend the entire course of the program. Over time, fighting their existing and flawed system (which was never allowed to be altered), proved to be an unproductive battle, but their belittled staff I insisted, was superb. To this day, I wonder what their perception of why I was there might have been. I can’t make any assumptions on their logic or approach, but their last several reports showed over 50% lost leads.

It’s usually the doctor or the business manager that displays the calm assertive leadership that I can only hope for upon arrival. The lack of fear and pre-existing trust displayed by our best clients goes a long way towards success. When I show up to find the doctors, call center staff, and middle management awaiting my presentation, I know without a doubt that I have a winning group in front of me. It takes strong leadership to acknowledge a deficit. To allow a foreign entity into the practice to help clean up those newfound existing flaws, takes an amazing level of leadership. For the right energy to occur, the ACE program requires their leadership to be at its best.

ACE was created as a teaching tool that creates a win/win for all through simple changes and systemization. It can be used negatively to point a finger at ineptness or create fear most anywhere. However, it’s so much more fulfilling for us to increase a practice’s surgical volume by 15% to 25% than abuse the inherent power. An improperly applied ACE program serves only to derail the positive accomplishments that could be obtained. ACE can only add value to a program that is actively and positively moving forward towards a goal. Positive leadership driving that forward goal oriented momentum is the ultimate key to success.

We have had many successes when the right energy and commitment to the program is delivered from the start. Common denominators in our few ACE “failures” were a lack in leadership and/or commitment to the overall ideals of the program, or an immobilizing fear of change by those implementing the program. This is exactly why practices that obtained the best results are the ones who involved everyone fearlessly from the start. With all involved, the starting point is acknowledged, the plan is engaged, and the success that arrives becomes a positive group accomplishment.

As an observer, I now watch with a different eye as many dogs in my neighborhood drag their owners. I also listen with different ears to a lot of poorly handled calls. Awareness allows the knowing to look at a lack in training as the first solution to correct the problem. Lack of training is a positive recognition by management that is easily moved beyond with the delivery of a ready and clear solution. However, all the training in the world won’t lead to success if leadership is not present to encourage and nurture it. “A mind, like a parachute, only works when it is open.” It is often leadership that makes the difference in opening the minds of others to imagine the change that is always available.

As far as the success or failure in owning five dogs, I know a few things. Their loyalty is undying, and they now answer the front door efficiently, warmly, politely and effectively. With the way they greet me when I come home from work; I only wish I could be half the person they think I am.

By: Allan Zuckerman-

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