Anger and the job in difficult times

On Wednesday the United States set a devastating new record in the coronavirus pandemic: 3,124 people dead in one day. This was the first time the daily number of deaths has exceeded 3,000 but I fear it will not be the last. There are over 260k deaths in the US so far, over 1.5 million deaths worldwide. This is crippling, and it is difficult to go day-by-day with the pain of this suffering.

And yet, we need to work, support our families and communities. Get the job done. Amidst all that it is important to remember that is important to grieve and it is okay to be angry.

People grieve in diverse ways with different emotions, from anger, to depression to hopelessness, to resentment over what has been taken from them. Combined with the isolation of the pandemic, this is a recipe for poor mental health and poor coping mechanisms. And then there is a question of just how much and what sort of coping is good. Two-hundred-and-sixty thousand people are dead and there is a lot of evidence this is an underreport and a lot more people are going to die.

I hope you understand that I am angry. All day long. And it is a struggle not to bring that anger to work, not to let it twist my relationships. Yet that anger always exists.

I linked earlier this week to an article on mental health. It is particularly important to make this part of our organizations. Burnout must have a systematic fix.

What we need to give permission to, give space to, is a recognition that we are not in an okay state. And it may not be okay for a very long while, long after vaccines are widely available, and we return to the office.

It is okay to have taken a step back from obligations. I have not, for example, been writing much on this blog. It just did not work for me. Be kind to yourself and be okay with the things you must do less of. And when you are ready, go back to it.

Anger and Culture

Our organizational cultures are full of anger. What we must do is work to establish mechanisms to assure that anger is directed at issues or situations, not people. This will build psychological safety, enable good decisions and enhance our problem solving culture.

Some things we should do:

  • Acknowledge what is happening: Senior leadership needs to be working from compassion and generosity and taking real steps to address.
  • Treat toxic positivity as a bias: Toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset. This is especially important as we have talent discussions, evaluate performance, and perform other managerial tasks.
  • Have systems around burnout
  • Focus on decision making quality
  • Build employee judgement feedback loops

We are not done. This winter will be very hard for many. As leaders we need to be ensuring our organizations can get through this and then leverage what we’ve learned to build a better culture.

Amazon’s lack of safety culture

Time after time, internal documents and interviews with company insiders show, Amazon officials have ignored or overlooked signs that the company was overloading its fast-growing delivery network while eschewing the expansive sort of training and oversight provided by a legacy carrier like UPS.

Inside Documents Show How Amazon Chose Speed Over Safety in Building Its Delivery Network” by James BandlerPatricia Callahan and Doris Burke, ProPublica, Ken Bensinger and Caroline O’Donovan, BuzzFeed News
 Dec. 23, 3 p.m. EST

Great reporting on the purposeful decisions that led to an unsafe culture. I recommend everyone reading this.

“Those interviews, as well as internal documents, reveal how executives at a company that prides itself on starting every meeting with a safety tip repeatedly quashed or delayed safety initiatives out of concern that they could jeopardize its mission of satisfying customers with ever-faster delivery.”

It all starts with leaders walking-the-walk and paying more than lip service to principles. “delighting the customer” is a great goal, but there are other stakeholders, and employee safety is a higher principle.

This article really reinforces my opinion that while there may be useful tools we can learn from FAANG companies, by-and-large their cultures do not appear ones truly dedicated to safety, quality and excellence.

It bears repeating. If we made pharmaceuticals the same way Amazon or Facebook operated, we’d all be dead. Every-time I read about Alphabet getting involved in healthcare I become petrified. One only has to look at the safety record of Tesla (both in the factory and the safety of it’s automobile) to start feeling worried on what happens when you take the bad culture from Silicon Valley and apply it to other endeavors..

Driving for Mature Quality Organizations – FDA recent perspective

Theresa Mullin, FDA’s Associate Director for Strategic Initiatives for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research recently gave a presentation “Update from FDA CDER” at GMP by the Sea (I need to go to that that some-year).

As in other FDA presentations this presentation summarized the Quality Metrics Research Final Report by the University of St. Gallen as the appropriate steps to ensure quality maturity:

  1. Optimized set-up and cleaning procedures are documented as best practice process and rolled out throughout the whole plant.
  2. A large percentage of equipment on the shop floor is currently under statistical process control.
  3. For root cause analysis, the firm has standardized tools to get a deeper understanding of the influencing factors for problems.
  4. Goals and objectives of the manufacturing unit are closely linked and consistent with corporate objectives and the site has a clear focus.
  5. Manufacturers have joint improvement programs with suppliers to increase performance.
  6. All potential bottleneck machines are identified and supplied with additional spare parts.
  7. For product and process transfers between different units or sites,standardized procedures exist that ensure a fast, stable and compliant knowledge transfer.
  8. Charts showing the current performance status such as current scrap rates and current up times are posted on the shop floor and visible for everyone.
  9. The firm regularly surveys customers’ requirements.
  10. The firm ranks its suppliers and conducts supplier qualifications and audits.

This are some pretty low hanging fruit. They are also the pretty necessary in any organization, not just pharmaceuticals.

There was also a little discussion on the use of Q10 that really makes me wish I had been there to hear exactly what was said. I hope it was “Just freaking implement it already.”

In general, useful slides, I recommend going and checking them out.

Overcoming Subjectivity in Risk Management and Decision Making Requires a Culture of Quality and Excellence

Risk assessments, problem solving and making good decisions need teams, but any team has challenges in group think it must overcome. Ensuring your facilitators, team leaders and sponsors are aware and trained on these biases will help lead to deal with subjectivity, understand uncertainty and drive to better outcomes. But no matter how much work you do there, it won’t make enough of a difference until you’ve built a culture of quality and excellence.

The mindsets we are trying to build into our culture will strive to overcome a few biases in our teams that lead to subjectivity.

Bias Toward Fitting In

We have a natural desire to want to fit in. This tendency leads to two challenges:

Challenge #1: Believing we need to conform. Early in life, we realize that there are tangible benefits to be gained from following social and organizational norms and rules. As a result, we make a significant effort to learn and adhere to written and unwritten codes of behavior at work. But here’s the catch: Doing so limits what we bring to the organization.

Challenge #2: Failure to use one’s strengths. When employees conform to what they think the organization wants, they are less likely to be themselves and to draw on their strengths. When people feel free to stand apart from the crowd, they can exercise their signature strengths (such as curiosity, love for learning, and perseverance), identify opportunities for improvement, and suggest ways to exploit them. But all too often, individuals are afraid of rocking the boat.

We need to use several methods to combat the bias toward fitting in. These need to start at the cultural level. Risk management, problem solving and decision making only overcome biases when embedded in a wider, effective culture.

Encourage people to cultivate their strengths. To motivate and support employees, some companies allow them to spend a certain portion of their time doing work of their own choosing. Although this is a great idea, we need to build our organization to help individuals apply their strengths every day as a normal part of their jobs.

Managers need to help individuals identify and develop their fortes—and not just by discussing them in annual performance reviews. Annual performance reviews are horribly ineffective. Just by using “appreciation jolt”, positive feedback., can start to improve the culture. It’s particularly potent when friends, family, mentors, and coworkers share stories about how the person excels. These stories trigger positive emotions, cause us to realize the impact that we have on others, and make us more likely to continue capitalizing on our signature strengths rather than just trying to fit in.

Managers should ask themselves the following questions: Do I know what my employees’ talents and passions are? Am I talking to them about what they do well and where they can improve? Do our goals and objectives include making maximum use of employees’ strengths?

Increase awareness and engage workers. If people don’t see an issue, you can’t expect them to speak up about it.  

Model good behavior. Employees take their cues from the managers who lead them.

Bias Toward Experts

This is going to sound counter-intuitive, especially since expertise is so critical. Yet our biases about experts can cause a few challenges.

Challenge #1: An overly narrow view of expertise. Organizations tend to define “expert” too narrowly, relying on indicators such as titles, degrees, and years of experience. However, experience is a multidimensional construct. Different types of experience—including time spent on the front line, with a customer or working with particular people—contribute to understanding a problem in detail and creating a solution.

A bias toward experts can also lead people to misunderstand the potential drawbacks that come with increased time and practice in the job. Though experience improves efficiency and effectiveness, it can also make people more resistant to change and more likely to dismiss information that conflicts with their views.

Challenge #2: Inadequate frontline involvement. Frontline employees—the people directly involved in creating, selling, delivering, and servicing offerings and interacting with customers—are frequently in the best position to spot and solve problems. Too often, though, they aren’t empowered to do so.

The following tactics can help organizations overcome weaknesses of the expert bias.

Encourage workers to own problems that affect them. Make sure that your organization is adhering to the principle that the person who experiences a problem should fix it when and where it occurs. This prevents workers from relying too heavily on experts and helps them avoid making the same mistakes again. Tackling the problem immediately, when the relevant information is still fresh, increases the chances that it will be successfully resolved. Build a culture rich with problem-solving and risk management skills and behaviors.

Give workers different kinds of experience. Recognize that both doing the same task repeatedly (“specialized experience”) and switching between different tasks (“varied experience”) have benefits. Yes, Over the course of a single day, a specialized approach is usually fastest. But over time, switching activities across days promotes learning and kept workers more engaged. Both specialization and variety are important to continuous learning.

Empower employees to use their experience. Organizations should aggressively seek to identify and remove barriers that prevent individuals from using their expertise. Solving the customer’s problems in innovative, value-creating ways—not navigating organizational impediments— should be the challenging part of one’s job.

In short we need to build the capability to leverage all level of experts, and not just a few in their ivory tower.

These two biases can be overcome and through that we can start building the mindsets to deal effectively with subjectivity and uncertainty. Going further, build the following as part of our team activities as sort of a quality control checklist:

  1. Check for self-interest bias
  2. Check for the affect heuristic. Has the team fallen in love with its own output?
  3. Check for group think. Were dissenting views explored adequately?
  4. Check for saliency bias. Is this routed in past successes?
  5. Check for confirmation bias.
  6. Check for availability bias
  7. Check for anchoring bias
  8. Check for halo effect
  9. Check for sunk cost fallacy and endowment effect
  10. Check for overconfidence, planning fallacy, optimistic biases, competitor neglect
  11. Check for disaster neglect. Have the team conduct a post-mortem: Imagine that the worst has happened and develop a story about its causes.
  12. Check for loss aversion