Nashville statues are nice, too.

Posted on 9 September 2014 | No responses

Nashville statues are nice, too.

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I think my order for “Wild Turkey” was…

Posted on 7 September 2014 | No responses

I think my order for “Wild Turkey” was misinterpreted.

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Labor Day = Day of Labor; Mayhaps a Lesson There?

Posted on 31 August 2014 | No responses

It’s not lost on me, the irony of spending a five-day Labor Day holiday sitting at home … laboring. I took off Friday, as well as Tuesday; Monday is a paid holiday that doesn’t come out of my PTO bank.

On Friday, apart from joining the call for a quarterly board meeting for the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality, I ran a few errands and came as close as I dared to actually relaxing. Yesterday was split between prepping for this coming Friday’s inaugural meeting of the editorial committee for Caffeinated Press and doing some contract editing work for a client. Today is “me” day — and by that, I mean catching up on personal tasks and domestic chores. Tomorrow, I do a deep prep dive into the final touches for the MAHQ conference at the end of September, as well as pull together the presentation I’ll deliver in Nashville next week. And Tuesday? That’ll be spent mostly wrapping up my 10,000-word short story for the anthology to which I’ve been invited to submit.

Lots going on. And the new job brings its own expectations that I’ll do a lot in a short period of time. Challenge accepted.

Yet one thing is abundantly clear: I have to scale some stuff back. I’m doing too much for too many, without enough time to attend to the things that fall into the “important but not urgent” quadrant of Life. Some of my cigar time the last few days has drifted toward what I need to pick up and what I need to set aside — on the choices I need to make to succeed instead of merely to tread water.

Still, it’ll be good to knock a bunch of stuff off the to-do list.

In other news:

  • I now have a nerd paradise going on in my home office. My “normal” computer — a Toshiba all-in-one with a huge touch screen and Win 8.1 — sits where it normally does. Added on the side desk are the iMac I bought last week (yes, I bought an old but excellent-condition iMac 5.2 running Snow Leopard off Craigslist; the value-add was the legally licensed copy of Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection). Next to it sits my old, frail HP laptop; it’s actually a decent machine but the on-board display occasionally goes out. So I hooked it up to a gorgeous 21-inch monitor that Duane gave me, then wiped it and installed a copy of Elementary OS (a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu). I’m typing this post on the Linux machine, in fact. All that notwithstanding: From one chair, I can access a Windows PC, a Mac and a laptop running Linux.
  • Enjoyed dinner and drinks on Friday with my friend Stash. She became a manager a bit before I did; we had a lovely conversation about the leadership culture of our employer over happy-hour margaritas on the outside porch of a lovely Mexican restaurant.
  • Duane has moved to Texas. He’s an interesting fellow. Every three years or so, he develops the wanderlust bug and has to basically reboot his life somewhere else. I first met him more than a decade ago, in Kalamazoo. I hired him to join the opinion staff at the Herald. Then I helped him get a job at the hospital. Then he went to get a second master’s degree in California, then to Korea. Then I helped him get another job at the hospital. Now he’s off to be an assistant director at a small university in east Texas — and I wish him well. I helped him move a week ago, and I’m planning to pack the stuff he put into storage, into a U-Haul and bring it to him sometime in October.
  • Speaking of jobs: My friend Rick has moved on from the hospital. He’s plotting his next career moves, but he’s in good spirits and I wish him the best.
  • Last weekend, I attended the Michigan Republican state convention in Novi. I’m glad for the experience, although the event was a bit … anti-climactic. Only one round of balloting. Despite contention for the lieutenant governor role and pretty much all of the academic stuff (state board of ed, Wayne State trustees, Michigan State trustees, U of M regents), the results were sufficiently strong that the losers on the first ballot moved unanimous consent to seat the victors. All of my preferred candidates won — I’m especially pleased that Lt. Gov. Brian Calley showed so strongly despite a well-organized Tea Party effort to boot him off the Snyder ticket. Credit where it’s due: Today’s MI GOP under Bobby Shostak has shown a considerable amount of adeptness at not being complacent about potential political threats, and also for having a keen eye for optics. Dave Agema — our state National Committeeman who made waves earlier this year with his vitriolic anti-gay comments — was basically shut down for both the Kent County and the state conventions. On the upside, Rep. Justin Amash is growing on me. He was one of the few high-profile elected leaders who spent a lot of time being visible among the delegates from his district.
  • I bought a Fitbit last weekend. The biggest insight from its tracking data so far is that my sleeping patterns suck. I am averaging slightly more than 6 hours per night despite being in bed for about 7.5. I have “restless” periods around 2 a.m., and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s cat-related. (Says the guy writing a blog post while the Boy Cat sits next to me, meowing.)

Anyway … full plate this “vacation,” but the upside is that it’s better to be busy making progress than lazy being complacent.

A 90-Day Lookback

Posted on 10 August 2014 | No responses

I haven’t posted a general update in almost exactly three months. So here you go, in no particular order.

Joint Statistical Meetings. Last week, I attended the Joint Statistical Meetings in Boston, Mass. The conference was lovely — as always, it’s high on theory, but there are enough applied sessions to keep things interesting. I chaired a session for the Section on Statistical Learning and Data Mining that included an eclectic mix of various “Big Data” subjects. I also presented a poster summarizing the 30-year history of the Quality and Productivity Section (for which, I serve as the webmaster). My colleague Erica attended with me; one night, we had tasty sushi in Chinatown then walked around Boston Commons and the Public Garden. One nice thing about the convention center — it has a Sam Adams brewpub inside, so you can have beer between conference sessions. Overall the food was good: I had several bowls of chowdahhh as well as a plate of lobster mac and cheese that was more lobster than pasta. The one downside of the trip was the return flight — the Detroit-to-G.R. leg featured a broken airplane, a confused plane switch and unfortunate attempts at humor by Delta employees. Compound this with a late-night schedule and screaming toddlers, and patience wore thin.

Scuba Diving.  Last month’s trek to Gilboa was aborted at the last minute on account of thunderstorms sweeping through NW Ohio that weekend: As a general rule, it’s imprudent to play around 40′ below the surface during an electrical storm. We rescheduled for this month. Just yesterday, however, Tawnya and I dove Lake Versluis in Kent County. Visibility was awful at less than five feet. The lake did have a lovely thermocline, though, and we accidentally came across the diving bell. I don’t think we went too deep — I’d be surprised if we ever got below 30′ — but it was good prep for Gilboa.

Higher Education. Although I was accepted into the graduate-certificate program in applied statistics at WMU beginning this fall, I’m going to ask to defer to January. I’ve got way too much going on through the end of the year to add a class or two in Kalamazoo to the mix.

Publishing. Work on the publishing house, now named Caffeinated Press, Inc., has largely concluded — at least, for the start-up phase. We now have a C-corporation with a five-person board of directors. In addition to serving as chairman of the board, I’m also chairman of the editorial committee. Lots of work involved in starting a company — and even more when it’s a full-blown corporation with other people involved. I am confident that we’ll have our first work released generally before Christmas.

Writing. The first project for Caffeinated Press is an anthology with content based on the writing prompt of “all goes dark.” I am submitting. I’m not sure what I think of my story, but it only needs to be around 10k words so … I can do it. I’ve also met with Kiri to begin a two-person writer’s group. Should be fun.

“Data Analytics.” Earlier this year, I participated in a Delphi session in Chicago for the National Association for Healthcare Quality, related to NAHQ”s project to define the next generation of professional competencies for health quality practitioners. The larger framework having been completed, NAHQ is now diving into two competency areas — data analytics and population health. I’m chairing the former group, with work to unfold over October and November as a rapid-cycle project. Exciting stuff.

NAHQ Conferences and Webinars.  Speaking of NAHQ, next month features that group’s annual conference in Nashville. I’m attending, and am both presenting a session (on the effect of ICD-10 and the ACA on data trends) and co-leading a breakfast session that’s closing in on 175 attendees. Wow. Concurrently, I’m working with NAHQ’s staff leadership on a national webinar program. My colleague Linda and I co-led a webinar in June that received good scores from the roughly 100 participants.

MAHQ Conference. The annual conference for the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality convenes in late September. I’m chairing the planning committee. We’re in a busy spot right now — planning for medical continuing-education credits, soliciting vendors/sponsors and prepping brochures. I’m really looking forward to October: Conference planning is hard work!

Mini Hiking Trek. Looks like my brother and I will do an overnight section hike of the North Country Trail in mid-September. Should be fun. I think we’re going to do a full off-trail camping experience, too. We might put in at a specific trailhead, hike until dusk, set up camp, then return the same way the next day.

Mom’s 60th. Tomorrow my mother turns 60. Wow. And in five weeks I turn 38. Time, you accursed trickster! I clearly remember my mother’s 30th.

Contract Auditing. One of my clients, a national service-journalism company, has brought me in to do a different kind of post-production audit work that’s much more in-depth. I’m finding the process illuminating. And with the new work that the company is issuing, the last few months have been lucrative.

Cat Personalities. As my little fuzzies sit on their pillows on my desk, it occurs to me just how different they are. Fiona is the aggressive huntress, welcoming of humans and willing to cuddle next to me at night. She rarely meows, but she will chirp when I get home. Murphy is shy and almost codependent, but he’s more adventure-seeking. He’s also the most loquacious feline I’ve ever encountered. Much to my amusement, he doesn’t like it when his sister fails to fully cover her droppings in the litter box, so he does shovel duty after he hears her use the box.

Social Stuff. I’ve been super busy since … well, last October. Lately I’ve had a few social events worth noting. I saw Guardians of the Galaxy with Duane last weekend. The week before that, I hosted a cigar night at my house featuring dry-aged steaks supplied by Scott; we had seven guys over for nearly five hours on a weeknight. The weekend before that, AmyJo hosted the annual writer’s cookout at her house. Regrettably, though, I haven’t been able to hit a Game Night because a certain someone (*ahem Brittany*) insists on scheduling them when I’m not available.

Music & TV. I’m still on a strong 30 Seconds to Mars kick, but I recently discovered some Shinedown stuff I wasn’t previously familiar with that I’m digging (Cyanide Sweet Tooth Suicide is just fun, and I got chills the first time I heard the acoustic version of 45). I gave the newest Chevelle album another listen, but as much as I like their early stuff, the most recent album has not a single track I like. On the TV front, although I don’t have time to watch much, I’m looking forward to Capaldi’s run on Doctor Who and I enjoy my “fangirl chatter” with Jen about Teen Wolf and Supernatural even if Julie rolls her eyes. Otherwise, Netflix is slowly passing through Haven.

OK, all for now.

Boston! Another nice statue, in the Public Gardens.

Posted on 5 August 2014 | No responses

Boston! Another nice statue, in the Public Gardens.

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Boston! Nice statues.

Posted on 5 August 2014 | No responses

Boston! Nice statues.

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Boston! Statue#3.

Posted on 5 August 2014 | No responses

Boston! Statue#3.

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Photo Bomb!

Posted on 20 July 2014 | No responses

Photo Bomb!

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Running! Or, A View from the Porch ….

Posted on 8 July 2014 | No responses

I spent probably three hours on the front porch tonight. The first half was spent enjoying a premium cigar and a dram of Scotch, whilst reading the sundry news of the day. The second half was spent on the phone, catching up with my friend Duane.

I was struck by two things.

The minor thing was a door-to-door visit by the incumbent candidate for my district for county commission. She stopped by, we chatted briefly, she moved on. Left a favorable impression — she’s a somewhat middle-of-the-road Democrat. I don’t see much door-to-door campaigning in my area, so her personal touch was appreciated. This area is pretty much a solid Dem lock, so if I have to pick among three Dems for the job, I’ll end up picking the one who actually asked for my vote.

The major thing was the runners.

My neighborhood is infested with mid-to-late 20s grad students and professionals early in their careers. They sometimes party, but never obnoxiously. They run. A lot. I see them all the time from my office, which overlooks the road.

But I noticed that these young, fit things go on “runs” that … well, they’re short. They festoon themselves in tech apparel, hook up their iPhones to their armbands, do their stretching exercises on the sidewalk and look for all the world like they’re about to embark upon a half marathon — and then they’re home in about 15 minutes or less.

In my day, when you went for a run, you ran. When I lived in Kentwood, I’d lace up my shoes, thrice weekly, at 10 or 11 p.m. and wouldn’t get home until after 8 miles ticked off the odometer (54th/Division south to 60th, east to Kalamazoo, north to 44th, then back).

Kids these days. They’re not as tough as they used to be.

Baking a Career from Scratch in 10 Easy Steps

Posted on 6 July 2014 | No responses

Fourteen years ago this Thursday, I began employment with Spectrum Health, and this week I celebrate an altogether different kind of opportunity within the company as the result of a promotion. This new direction in my career prompts some reflection on how younger workers get from Point A to Point B.

But first, gather ’round kiddies, because grandpa has a story ….

I applied to Spectrum Health in the spring of 2000 on a bit of a whim, as yet another company to which I could shotgun my resume. Those early working years were a bit chaotic. I started in 1994, at the tender age 16, working for Meijer Inc. as a grocery bagger, eventually moving to roles as a cashier and as a service-desk associate. I worked for the company for five years at two different stores; in the middle, I also spent two years working for the now-defunct Michigan National Bank.

In mid-1997 I left both Meijer and MNB and began a series of gigs with various temp agencies. Some of them were literal day jobs while others (like a year-long stint doing quality assurance for one of Tower Automotive’s metal-stamping plants) had a bit more substance. By early 1999 Frey Foundation hired me out of a temp assignment, but internal restructuring led to my departure in the spring of 2000. Not long thereafter, I began work on the golf course, but that kind of job really isn’t a steady year-round opportunity — not during Michigan winters, anyway.

I was still pursuing my bachelor’s degree so I needed something flexible. At Spectrum Health, the hospital’s Resource Center functions like an internal temp pool, so I was hired in July 2000 to do part-time, on-call secretarial work. I could note my availability and then be scheduled for work within my preferred timeslots. At first, I got short-term assignments: A few weeks doing medical-records filing for Peds General, a few weeks supporting process-improvement initiatives for Periop, etc. I eventually landed a pair of concurrent longer-term assignments, one doing weekend intake for Care Management and the other doing donor-records processing for the hospital’s foundation office.

That Care Management assignment led to a transfer from the part-time/no-benefits job in Resource to a full-time, full-benefits job supporting the department director. Over time, my role with Tracey evolved from secretary to data analyst. By 2006, I was a measurement and evaluation specialist in her area, coordinating various data-analysis efforts related mostly to hospital-based case management and care transitions. I earned the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality credential that year and joined both the National Association for Healthcare Quality and the American Statistical Association.

Health care, as an industry, isn’t stagnant. Between 2006 and 2012, our division underwent substantial change — with our entire mission and org chart sometimes being rewritten semiannually. But by 2011 I was appointed the team leader of the Revenue Cycle Informatics group, a passel of nine analysts servicing the registration, scheduling and coding areas of the facility.

In 2012 our CFO left and the new guy had different ideas. My team was disbanded, Tracey moved from the hospitals to the medical group, and one colleague and I were involuntarily transferred into the I.T. department to help staff a new business-reporting group. Fiscal 2013 was the year I had six separate formal supervisors in the payroll system. I stuck it out for nearly a year, but by June 2013 I had applied for, and was granted, a position as a medical informatics consultant in the quality-improvement team at Priority Health. PH is Spectrum Health’s insurance arm — same corporate CEO but otherwise a different world altogether.

Last week, my boss promoted me, so when I head into the office tomorrow, it’ll be as the new manager of quality improvement analytics for Priority Health. Six members of the team will report to me and I got a nice little raise out of it.

During my time with Spectrum Health, I’ve enjoyed other work, too — I was a newspaper editor at the Western Herald in the mid 2000s and I’ve run a part-time communications consultancy since 2008. This year, I’ve joined the board of Caffeinated Press, Inc., a local micropublisher of books and (eventually) literary magazines.

Yet a 14-year journey from part-time secretary to department manager in the same large organization isn’t a small thing. As I look at where I’m at right now, I can share several valuable lessons for early-career professionals plotting their own long-term trajectories.

  1. Be smart about what kinds of work you do in your late teens or early 20s. Why bag groceries or flip burgers when you could get an entry-level or summer job doing something closer to your intended career path? If you are interested in veterinary medicine, work as a “gopher” at the local zoo. If you want to be a dental hygienist, work as a dentist’s receptionist or file clerk. Even if you can’t find an ideal entry-level position, getting something close enough can help differentiate applicants for their first real full-time jobs. As a hiring manager, given two academically similar newly minted statisticians, I’ll hire the one who worked as a data-entry tech for a marketing agency before I’d hire the fry guy from Burger King. Working in many different settings for a temp agency also makes sense — it’ll increase the list of industries and settings you can say that you’ve encountered; this diversity of experience makes for a more well-rounded applicant.  It’s never too early to think about the place and nature of your earliest job experiences.
  2. Expand your resume with your extracurriculars. Things around the periphery of a person’s working life matter. Volunteer. Do exciting things that earn awards. Write stuff that gets published. Earn industry certifications. Invest in hobbies that lead to credentials or outcomes you can note on your resume. I’ve had several discussions with recruiters specifically about my amateur radio license and scuba certifications because they set me apart from others even if they weren’t directly related to the job at hand. Such items aren’t obvious and often overlooked, but they paint a picture of a person who achieves goals outside of the office — a subtle but important signal for employers. Diversify the skills and experiences you can share with employers to fill in the white spaces of an early-career resume.
  3. You only need to be a half-step smarter than the next smartest person in the room … Always learn more than you need to know about the kinds of work that you do. Experts say that continuous learning matters, and it does — but it matters insofar as you can justifiably claim the expertise to be invaluable to others and to remain current on industry trends. But there’s a point where you can be too smart: Earning a Ph.D for a job that can be done by a B.A. may make it difficult to get your foot in the door. Over-specialization can lead to stereotyping that ultimately leads to a loss of opportunity. Learn enough to be broadly useful but don’t get so specialized that you become a permanent niche player.
  4. … but being a know-it-all is a surefire career killer. One of the chief lessons I learned from Tracey was that even though I often already knew the answer to a problem within five minutes of starting a meeting, I’d earn more goodwill with colleagues by subtly guiding the conversation and letting someone else claim the “aha! moment” at the end of the discussion. Such a strategy proved more prudent than asserting a solution up front and leaving others to feel embarrassed about not getting there as quickly as I did. Few acts inspire such deep but silent resentment as being made to feel stupid by an overconfident whippersnapper. The smart folks usually nurture understanding within a group, instead of wielding their erudition like a poison-tipped stiletto.
  5. Keep your commitments. If you say you will do X activity on Y date, do it. Even if blowing the deadline doesn’t matter and even if you have to work late to get stuff done, do it. Younger workers, in broad relative terms, lack the urgency and punctuality of folks currently in senior management ranks. Earning a reputation as being someone who only sporadically meets agreed-upon targets will kill a career almost as fast as a sexual-harassment allegation will. Never fail to meet expectations.
  6. Fit in with your targeted peer group. Dress and speak the part of your peer cohort. If your intended peer cohort is several ranks higher than you, aim for that level. The guy who wears sloppy jeans and ill-fitting Hawaiian shirts on Casual Friday — even if everyone else at his level does the same — puts himself at a cultural disadvantage if he aspires to break into the group who dress as if Casual Friday is a misguided sop to the underlings. Speak carefully and respectfully, without gossip and without betraying confidences. Think five times before saying something catty. Structure criticism in terms of opportunity instead of defect. Praise others in public and in private. Comport yourself like an executive.
  7. Never say no. Responses like “that’s not my job” or “sorry, I can’t help you” are never acceptable. Instead, outline the things you actually can do to help. Whether the task is as trivial as shepherding a customer’s phone call, or as complex as negotiating deliverables when someone cashes in an IOU chip, the right answer is to help frame expectations about what you can and can’t do, and on what timeframe. Skilled practitioners can give a “yes” that’s effectively a “no” through a respectful process of engaged and honest level-setting of expectations.
  8. Brush up on your psych and communication skills.  Master the awesome power of behavioral economics and human psychology, and leverage your understanding of human psychology (Maslow’s Hierarchy, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, etc.) to speak to people in a way that resonates with their specific needs and inclinations. Effective interpersonal communication is the chief way people fertilize relationships that ultimately nourish careers. For example, you wouldn’t explain the failure of an automated report in the same way to a tech-savvy perfectionist boss as you would to more forgiving boss who has trouble with the Intertubes. Study basic readings in human psychology and apply that newfound knowledge to your interactions within the workplace.
  9. Network. I’ve sat on too many hiring committees to believe that the best resume always wins. Opportunities are given to people, by people, so expanding your circle of fellow professionals you “know, like and trust” is vital to getting ahead. For example, my volunteer work within the National Association for Healthcare Quality and the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality gives me access to a large number of peer professionals I can speak to about best practices, new ideas or approaches to vexing problems — and since we’re all working for different companies, we aren’t really in competition for anything nor do we have to manage hierarchical relationships. I’m acquainted with a heck of a lot of vice presidents and directors of quality at health systems across the country; if I am in the market for a higher-level role in five years in a different state, you bet your bottom dollar that I have “binders filled with people” who would recognize my name when my cover letter hits their inbox. And, significantly, vice-versa. Get involved early and engage vigorously with various national, state and local industry affiliation groups and connect with people at conferences.
  10. Play chess when others play checkers. Being successful in the long run requires solid strategic-thinking skills. Managers, it’s often said, handle day-to-day operational tasks, whereas leaders think about what tasks will be necessary five years down the road. Especially in fast-paced, rapid-turnaround environments, thinking about long term improvements proves more a luxury than a daily requirement. Yet it’s vital to encourage strategic planning. What good does it do a company, for example, to buy a new, pricy software app that only runs on Windows 7, when you know that in the next 18 months, the company will migrate to Windows 8? A respectful voice pushing against the fierce urgency of now, demanding that attention be paid to the ironclad demands of tomorrow, engenders more respect than the go-along kid who blindly follows others down avoidable dead-ends. Younger workers can employ what-if hypothesizing to introduce new ideas into a short-sighed project plan.

I look forward to this new chapter in my career that begins this week, yet I cannot help but wonder where I’d be today if my first dozen years as a working adult had been managed with greater care.

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