Stooping To Greatness, Part 2

Yesterday, I ran into an “old” former colleague.  It had been years.  First thing he said: “How is that we look so old now?”  I never liked him.  Ha!  🙂

The truth is that it was great to reconnect.  Coincidentally, he’s in the midst of solving some of these same cultural puzzles for his new organization.  We talked about Part 1 over lunch.

A couple key points when beginning this new culture adventure …

  • There’s a huge difference between the sugar-rush, Diet Dr. Culture & Built-To-Last Cultures.

    Most staff have seen the Mission/Vision/Whatever that comes down from the Ivory Corporate Tower.  They are forced to attend the meetings and trainings, often delivered by corporate types or half-heartedly by facility leaders.  During those meetings, they are very quietly grabbing each others hands with a knowing nod: “This too shall pass.”  And, they’re right.  It won’t last because they (the staff) didn’t give birth to it.

No longer collecting dust on the wall.
No longer collecting dust on the wall.  You can’t make this up.  In the basement of my facility, I was looking around for some equipment.  I turned on the light and saw these artifacts from the prior facility occupants.  I don’t know what caused them to fail.  But they did.  Anecdotally, I’ve seen this play out time and again.  Where there is no vision, the people perish.  Without a vision/culture that actually inspires (or at least captures their hearts and minds), you’re programs become artifacts.
  • The GIVING BIRTH metaphor.

    I’m a guy.  I’m no expert.  I know.  But, I’m a father of 5, does that count for anything?!  Here’s the metaphor that fits so well here: Establishing your company/facility’s culture should be like giving birth.  There’s power in the creative process.  There’s a massive difference psychologically (for buy-in/commitment) if I’m able to participate in defining the culture (expectations, standards, rewards, etc.) as opposed to having Know-It-Alls present it to me.  If I go through the labor of wrestling with the words, values, mottos, standards, and behaviors that we want for our workplace, and then the delivery of agreeing to and training new hires in it, then I will be committed to the final product in a way that I simply can’t if it’s presented to me … let me illustrate:

    • Several years ago I went through this creative process for the first time at a building I ran in Orange County, CA.  Our before and after scoreboard made many in the organization take note and ask me to share our “secret sauce” as we went from worst to first in some key metrics like EBITDAR PPD.  I was more than happy to share.  It felt like I was on tour as I presented to more than 1/2 of our facilities.  I would spend an entire day with a facility’s leadership team – presenting to them the what, how, why, and when of World Class Service, which is what we labeled the culture we gave birth to.  The immediate response from those many facility teams was, by-and-large, enthusiastic.  They wanted to do the same thing at their buildings.  They wanted to do it right away.  I gave them our Mission & Standards documents.  I gave them our Orientation packet.  I gave them our Daily, Weekly, Monthly system for making the culture take root.Poster-BWC-[Converted]-Outline
    • Poster-BWC-Standards-[Converted]-OutlineAnd, then I left to the next facility.  I hit rewind and repeat.  Over and over again.  I personally felt tremendous excitement about making a difference beyond my facility.  I felt appreciation from ED/DNS partnerships who were looking for that missing thing to take them to the next level.  They found it.  They believed.  And, except for a handful of facilities, most of their efforts fizzed out within 3 to 6 months.Why?  I’ve thought a lot about that.  Ultimately, I believe two things are absolutely required in order to transform your culture into a transformative force:
      1. The Executive Director must be a “true believer(not the regional or the divisional or the owner at the home office)

      2. S/he must lead her/his facility through their own creative process.  They must reinvent the wheel instead of adopting someone else’s wheel (no matter how successful that wheel made that someone else).

If this is true, then the questions become what, why, how, and when to recreate the wheel.  The Birds And The Bees, if you will, of how cultures are made (I couldn’t resist).  Culture Birds & Bees.  That’ll be part 3 next.

“It’s About Time”

“I wish I had time for that.”
“I don’t have time.”
“There’s not enough time in the day.”

The issue of time/self management plays a major in new leaders’ ability to succeed. No matter how brilliant your ideas are, if you aren’t managing yourself effectively, your results, your work, your happiness SUFFERS. I’ve written and spoke a lot about the why & how time/self management tends to be the LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH in new leaders.

With his permission, let me share with you a recent email exchange between myself and a relatively new Executive Director (Administrator) to reinforce those principles with this real-life scenario and to take it from the conceptual to the nitty gritty


Email #1:

“Dave, what have you seen successful leaders do to be organized day by day? I feel I need a better skeleton than I’ve had – maybe I need to go to a franklin planner or something… I know everyone functions, remembers, and acts differently but I’m thinking there is a wheel out there rolling somewhere that I can jump on and customize rather than sitting over here designing a new wheel. 

To give you an idea of where I personally fall short (big fat looks in the mirror, and many partners giving feedback – these are some of my areas of necessary improvement).

  1. Giving assignments and forgetting to follow up.
    • For some forsaken reason my mind works really well in the present tense. When we talk about principles/concepts – I totally get it. You want to talk strategy or theory, I’m your guy. Along those same lines, my mind does not spend much time in the past (assignments I’ve given or received, things to follow up on, etc). I need a good system that won’t allow me to forget or hit “snooze.”  And not nearly enough time making specific plans for the future (Maybe I need to get checked for A.D.D.)
  2. Not setting clear expectations/Vision
    • When we talk vision I get excited and I’m able to get others excited about the big picture but when the details come into play there can be a lack of continuity on my part (or as partners may see it, Mark talks a good game but doesn’t  follow through with what he said he’d do, or things never materialize according to plan because everything falls through the cracks)
  3. Justification
    • On occasion I let people off the hook with a great excuse. This goes back a bit to setting clear expectations, but If I don’t do numbers 1 and 2 above I can’t possibly hold people accountable properly.

I know that there is not a quick fix for these issues, but I would love to be able to develop a strong system that can help offset my weaknesses and give me the structure I need to be an effective transformational leader… Any ideas are welcomed.

Observation: Talk about humility/trust!?  It’s a very rare leader and a very rare organization where being that vulnerable is not just OK, but expected.  Usually our EGO gets way in the way and we can’t show weakness … and therefore we don’t improve.  Impressive.

Email #2:
(My Response)

I feel your pain.  You sound like me at Desert Sky and the start of Victoria.  Almost word for word.

For me it took experimentation.  I gave the franklin planner a good few years.  I went paperless and tried everything Outlook and then the mac had to offer to get organized.  Lots of trial and error.  I’ll tell you where I’m at today because I’ve found a system I love.  No guarantee this will work for you. 

There are 5 important aspects to my work that I consider ‘blocking and tackling.’  These are the organization and follow-up responsibilities that I have historically struggled with that are somewhat related but different enough in how I prefer to experience them that I haven’t found an all-in-one solution.

  1. Calendar/Appointments/Follow-Ups
  2. Ideas/Creative
  3. Journal
  4. Calls to return
  5. Tasks (Long-term & short-term)

 Here’s how I manage each …

 1 – Calendar/Appointments/Follow-Ups

I use iCal on my mac and iphone.  Here’s what I love about this.  My wife’s computer is also a mac.  We have a mobileme account that syncs all of our contacts and calendar items.  I can make different calendars that I can click on/off depending on what I want to see.  The homerun is that Jess can see my work calendar which helps catch things (travel/meetings) that I failed to communicate.  I can also flip on the kids’ calendar for sports, practices, activities, etc. when I make my plans so I can arrange to be there more if possible.  The calendar syncs with Ensign’s Outlook server so I can send/accept meeting invites from it too which is clutch.  Having the reminders/alarms on my computer and phone is necessary for me.  If this were paper based like it has been in the past, I’d miss half my appointments and conference calls.  The image below is of my calendar for this week.  You’ll notice the checked and unchecked calendars on the far left panel.  The blue is family stuff and that is basically Jessica’s calendar.

Regarding the related item of ‘following up’ … I’ve learned to take a page out of the Monkey doctrine for this.  And, it has made a HUGE difference for me.  Anytime I can assign my responsibility of following up to someone else, it gets done.  For example, I asked “Virginia” (name changed for the blog) here at the service center for help in setting up CEO-in-Training (CIT) weekly call guest speakers.  I spent 30 minutes with her mapping out who I wanted to talk on the next dozen weekly calls.  I then gave her the task to contact all those people, send them the calendar invite (and to copy me) and to send us both reminders on the Friday before.  What used to sneak up on me each week has turned into something much more meaningful for the CITs.  No dropped balls. No “dangit, I forgot about the call.”  Just another little example … during yesterday’s CIT call, I decided to have the closest to the pin competition again.  Whoever gets closest to their projected EBT wins a dinner for two.  The old me would have taken the responsibility on myself to take note of everyone’s projections on the 31st (I would have to put a reminder on the calendar to do that) and then check the actual EBT results when financials came out.  But, yesterday I said to Mike in CO, “Mike would you run the competition for us this month?”  He said, “Sure.”  Will it get done?  Yes.  He already sent the email to everyone requesting them to send their projections to him at the end of the month — passing the monkey down the row!!  I love it.  Off my plate.  Assigned to someone else.  Bingo.  

Remember the 2 rules for monkeys: 

1) anything you assign yourself or accept from a subordinate that you don’t do is PROCRASTINATION.  Anything your supervisor (and you could make the argument, your cluster partners) gives you that you don’t do is called INSUBORDINATION.  

2) An inferior job done by a subordinate is infinitely better than a superior job procrastinated and never done by you. 

Therefore, I also give the responsibility to follow up on things my subordinates.  Meaning, if I give an assignment that I need to follow up on I will also assign the subordinate the time and place for them to account for their work.  “Great.  Thank you so much.  Will you let me know on Thursday by the end of the day how it went?”  I then put a reminder on my calendar at 3:00pm to call/email F/U the issue.  I can’t talk about Assigning work/To-do’s (below) without talking about monkeys.  The more you have time to just work on your stuff, the more effective you’ll be.  If you find your subordinates checking on your commitments, you’re working backwards.  Whoever says, “How’s it coming?” is the supervisor! 

I handle the next 4 in a bit of an unconventional way … 

2 – Ideas/Creative

3 – Journal

4 – Calls to return

5 – Tasks (Long-term & short-term)

I love my Moleskine.  Pictured below at Amazon.  I use it for all 4 of these parts of my work.


4th Quarter Projects/To-Dos/Monkeys I’ve accepted, given myself, or been given on the left page.  Calls to return on the right page.  I will recreate this several times per book.


Idea, brainstorming generation … In a previous moleskine I have the notes, drawings, etc. that formed the eprize.  I treasure some of these a-ha moments and I’m stoked I have them all in one place.


My personal life and work life interact all the time.  I use the moleskine for both.  Below is a song I wrote Jess.  Here’s what I love about mixing work, personal, and church note-taking, brainstorming, tasks, etc. all in one.  This is the ultimate journal.  Yes, I write formal journal entries about my life in here too.  But, it will show my kids/grandkids more than just what I wrote about my life.  It will show them what I did.  What I worked on.  Who I supervised and who supervised me.  It will show what I dedicated my time to.  It will show them a creative/professional side to me that they don’t see as just their dad.  And, it is an awesome record for me to keep of my life for all aspects of my life as well.  At the end of the year, I look back page by page and reflect and lift my sights and set goals.  Having one notebook like this also makes it easy to not forget it.  I take it with me everywhere.  And, it’s way skinnier and lighter than a franklin planner.  Also, the free-form vs. day by day approach is better suited to me.  I never liked the day by day franklin format b/c there would always be some days where I would need to take 7 pages of notes and then weeks without needing the notes section at all.


I really hope this helps in some way for numbers 1 and sort of for number 2.  Unfortunately, I’m an expert at #3 as well …

This one is more personal.  It’s less about tools and more about a shifting of mental/emotional/leadership gears that I was forced to learn the hard way.  The reason I let people off the hook was, looking back, more about me than about them or results.  I wanted to be liked.  Very much.  Not wanting to hurt feelings b/c I wanted to be liked.  Not holding people accountable b/c I feared I would lose their admiration or lose them altogether.  Ironically, that philosophy/practice is incredibly undermining and ineffective at getting people to like me.  With each subsequent facility I ran I became more and more rigorous with my standards and expectations and accountability.  And, again ironically, I would venture to say that each subsequent facility ‘liked’ me more than the last.  I stopped worrying about myself and whether or not people liked me and instead focused as much as possible on results.  That creates an environment that people really appreciate and respect.  Letting people off the hook isn’t for them, it’s for me.  I stopped doing that b/c I realized that I was hurting them and myself as a leader.  It’s not easy, but it’s become very natural now for me to be frank, direct (you can still be kind and encouraging), and quick in my feedback and/or correction.  

These aren’t quick fixes like you said.  I’m stoked you’re looking hard in the mirror on these things though because I believe that these make up the ingredients needed to fill the gap between new leader and game changing CEO.  I’ve see it in myself and countless others here at Ensign.  Good luck hermano.  Let me know if I can help with anything.


Email #3


Worth the wait. Thank you. As you can imagine, I didn’t wait in taking action on these issues as I have really felt the pain and want to bring relief asap. I am attaching my first attempt at being able to keep myself more organized and structured on a day to day basis. In reading up on time management techniques recently (including re-listening to Monkeys) I determined that I am only going to focus on quadrant I and III with the things that I even allow to get to my list. So I start each day by bringing forward my quadrant I and III from the previous day and new additions. I type in the new items from yesterday and remove items that I accomplished yesterday. I print this out and put it in a binder that I have labeled with days 1-31 so I can track day by day what I’m accomplishing as well as when something that was supposedly urgent AND important hit my quadrant I and why it is still there. I have a column for assignments/monkeys so I can follow up on assignments I have made as well. I keep this binder open on my desk and hand write in new additions and check off accomplishments. It has been a little slow going since my initial list of Q I and QIII have accumulated for quite some time. I find that I am having much more success making assignments and avoiding “Procrastination” then I have done in the past. This is not a perfect system, but so far it is really helping me know where I am and where I need to be.

I LOVE the idea of integrating the home/work calendar. My wife uses the Mac and this could help me both at work and at home.

Moleskine: I’ve been using disposable notebooks and transferring the info that I accumulate, but I can see real value in preserving and reviewing from all aspects of life. I think I will find myself incorporating that one as well – dig it. 

#3 – Work in progress still. I relate very much to your statement on this one. Not holding my team accountable is a “me thing.”  I’m resolved to change – some of my team have already commented about a few little things with me. Its encouraging. There will be more pain I think, maybe even some rebellion. I’m getting kind of excited and looking forward to it – that might sound kind of sick, but I’m ready to take it on and stop running in circles.

Thanks for this – I’ll be touching base on it. I’d love some follow up – you can put it on your people to email list for a few weeks/months down the road.

Several takeaways for me from this exchange …

  1. Without humility and vulnerability on the leader’s part, his growth is stunted.

  2. Without a culture that makes it safe to be vulnerable and reach out for help, the leader’s and organization’s growth is stunted.

  3. Self awareness & humility is often the differentiator between those who get second and third chances and those who don’t.

  4. Managing time is impossible.  It marches on no matter what you try.  We can only manage ourselves.  We need to take it seriously and experiment until we find what works with our unique personality.

I hope this helps you get a better grip on how you organize and manage yourself.

Pat Lencioni: Stooping to Greatness

I’m a fan of Pat Lencioni.  I’ve used his ‘5 Dysfunctions of a Team’ and ‘3 Signs of a Miserable Job’ many times over the years.  While he certainly points to ‘things’ to watch and focus on as a leader, he also subtly makes the point that the influence of the leader is great.  His December newsletter (below) makes that same case — without blatantly making it.  The leader(s) of the organization’s personality (passion, measurements, values) has a direct impact on the organization s/he leads.

I’ve become far less worried about having ‘secret sauce’ stolen b/c, at the end of the day, it’s the people living and executing that secret sauce that really makes it happen.

It’s this SOFT stuff that separates the good from the great.  Anybody can grow census.  Anybody can manage expenses.  Anybody can provide adequate care.  But, to become great takes a concerted effort to synthesize the values & desires of a leadership team into a common mission and way of work.  And then … to stick to it no matter what.

Pat’s December newsletter:

Stooping to Greatness

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to spend time with the CEO of one of America’s most successful companies, a legendary organization known for its employee and customer satisfaction, as well as its financial performance. I attended their company’s management conference, listened to various presentations about their culture, and the extraordinary, homey and sometimes slightly wacky practices that distinguish them from their competitors.

Overwhelmed by the organization’s simple and powerful behavioral philosophy, I asked the CEO a semi-rhetorical question. “Why in the world don’t your competitors do any of this?” The CEO thought about it for a moment and said, “You know, I honestly believe they think it’s beneath them.”
And right away, I knew he was right.

After all, every one of those competitors, the vast majority of whom are struggling, knows exactly what this company does, how it works, and how much it has driven its financial success. The company’s cultural approach has been chronicled in more than a few books. And yet, none of them tries to emulate it. In fact, based on numerous interactions I’ve had with employees who work for those competitors, I’d have to say that their attitude is often dismissive, even derisive, toward this company and its enthusiastic employees.
And this dynamic exists in other industries, too. A fast-food company I know has remarkable customer loyalty, as well as unbelievable employee satisfaction and retention, especially compared to the majority of their competitors. The leaders and employees of the company attribute most of their success to the behavioral philosophy and attitude that they’ve cultivated within the organization, and the unconventional yet effective activities that result.

One example of that philosophy is the action of the CEO, who shows up at grand openings of new franchises where he stays up all night with employees, playing instruments and handing out food to excited customers. Few CEOs would be happy, or even willing, to do things like this, but this executive relishes the opportunity. These, and other activities that most MBAs would call corny, are precisely what makes that company unique.

This happens in the world of sports, as well. There is a well-known high school football team where I live that is ranked near the top of national polls every year. They play the best teams in the country, teams with bigger and more highly touted players, and beat them regularly. The secret to their success, more than any game strategy or weight-lifting regimen, comes down to the coach’s philosophy about commitment and teamwork and the buy-in he gets from his players. That philosophy manifests itself in a variety of simple actions which speak to how the players treat one another on and off the field. For example, players pair up every week and exchange 3×5 cards with hand-written commitments around training and personal improvement, and then take responsibility for disciplining one another when those commitments aren’t met.

And yet, whenever I explain this and similar practices of the team to other coaches who are curious about their success, I encounter that same sense of dismissiveness. They get a look on their face that seems to say, “listen, I’m not going to do that. It’s silly. Just tell me something technical that I can use.” As a result, few teams actually try to copy them.

Some skeptics might say, “come on, those companies/teams are successful because they’re good at what they do.” And they’d be right. Those organizations are undoubtedly and extremely competent in their given fields, and they have to be in order to succeed. But plenty of other organizations are just as competent and don’t achieve great levels of success, and I honestly believe it’s because they’re unwilling to stoop down and do the simple, emotional, home-spun things that all human beings — employees, customers, players — really crave.

What’s at the heart of this unwillingness? I think it’s pride. Though plenty of people in the world say they want to be successful, not that many are willing to humble themselves and do the simple things that might seem unsophisticated. Essentially, they come to define success by what people think of them, rather than by what they accomplish, which is ironic because they often end up losing the admiration of their employees and customers/fans.

The good news in all of this is that for those organizations that want to succeed more than they want to maintain some artificial sense of professionalism (whatever that means), there is great opportunity for competitive advantage and success. They can create a culture of performance and service and employee engagement, the kind that ensures long term success like no strategy ever could. But only if they’re willing to stoop down and be human, to treat their customers and one another in ways that others might find corny.

Idaho Healthcare Association

I thoroughly enjoyed the Idaho Healthcare Association convention in Boise during in  July.

I was invited to speak on how to create your own unique culture within your facility or company.

Thank you to Robert & Jill for the invite and warm welcome.  I was totally impressed with the organization and our colleagues in Idaho … making a difference!

My presentation consisted of a few case studies on the topic.  We discussed what we learned from each and ended with a how-to-map for repeating the steps at your company/facility.

The phrase, “I’m passionate,” is certainly over-used.  Nevertheless, I’m passionate about this topic.  It goes far beyond theory or academics for me.  I’ve seen amazing results from getting serious about owning the culture for myself and for others.  I shared cases at USA Olympic Hockey (The Miracle), The Ensign Group’s (my company) ‘anti-corporate’ office, my most recent facility, and we ran out of time to share the Johnson & Johnson case.  All these cases teach us …

  • The How-To: Pain, Engage, Define, Commit, Flywheel.
  • The culture starts and stops with ‘the’ leader.
  • Cultural transformation requires hard work and pain.  There are no shortcuts.
  • Team chemistry is better than a group of individual all-stars.
  • You have to draw lines in the sand and commit to not cross (or let anyone else cross) that line.
  • Cultural transformation is too-often treated (by the leaders and the employees) like a new program.  Programs fade in 2 to 3 months.  For the transformation to ‘take root’ it must be treated more like a conversion to a new religion.  The most outstanding organizations are those who have a fanatical commitment to their stated culture.
Download presentation PDF here