Living in the Now

By: Clint Maun, CSP

Look around at the place you work and see how different people live in different periods of time. They are living in the Past Now, Current Now or Future Now.

Being around people living in the Past Now is depressing. They believe something great happened in the past, but nothing is going to be right in the future. Not only do people get stuck there, lots of organizational structures are stuck in the past too. "If we had only done this... If, if, if...." Living in the past is a nonproductive way to live.

Seemingly fun people, but equally dangerous, are the Future Now people. They're waiting for good things to happen. "As soon as we get the new computer, have all staff vacancies filled, as soon as Aunt Matilda dies and leaves us the inheritance." The waiting game they play is very dangerous. Nothing gets done while they wait.

Maybe you know some of the organizations that are playing the Future Now game. "As soon as we get the regulations changed, as soon as this or that happens." Living in the future is as fruitless as living in the past.

The key to a productive life is to be firmly rooted in today's NOW. If you want to be in charge, are you making sure that the shift or unit spends all of its time focusing on today's issues? What did we learn from the past that will help us now? What are we going to do now to make it better in the future? That is how you deal with the past and future.

It starts with the person in charge, because if you are out of focus, there is a good chance people who report to you will be out of focus, too. You'll have negativity if you wait for the future. People will sit around and wait for something to happen. And if you spend time talking about how great the past was, you are neglecting to deal with today's issues.

What do you need to work on as it relates to how you and your organization live each day? Is it to make specific plans to link the current to the future? Is it to get people who are sitting around playing the waiting game out of the past?

Expectations, Results, Resources

Unless people know what's expected of them on the job, unless they know how to measure that success or failure, and unless they have the ability to control resources, it's unlikely they will be motivated to get the job done. Remember to ask the following three questions when taking charge:

  • What are the expectations of employees? What are they supposed to accomplish?
  • How do they measure their own success or failure against those expectations?
  • How can they control the resources needed to get the job done?

Expectations Defined

If you are going to have people focused on the Now, they need to know what's expected for that day. Sit down with employees and communicate what success looks like. For example, "There are 14 things that must be accomplished today. These are..." and then be specific about the documentation, rehabilitation, socialization and medication actions that must be taken.

Somebody is going to say, "We should do 32 things" and somebody else will say, "We'll be lucky to get two done". Throw out those comments and stick to the middle ground. Talk to everyone first, and then make your decision. Problem solving is participatory. You get better decisions if you get input on what are the 14 (or whatever number you determine) things your department needs to accomplish.

Teach Self-Measurement

How do you know you're on track? There should be checks after one, two or three hours. Don't wait until the end of the shift to find the staff is behind and will need to again work overtime to make it up. Determine what the pace of work is that will allow everyone in the department to meet goals and divide the day into performance goals. Once the time to accomplish work is determined, each person will be able to measure her or his own performance against a standard.

Make out the assignments each day customized to that particular group of residents/customers. Not only will you define expectations, but also everyone can measure their own success or failure.

Americans need to keep score. That's why if you don't give people ways to keep score, they'll develop their own score-keeping system, which may or may not be productive: "Well I got more heavy care people than she does." "How come we have to do that that way?"

Nobody plays the game without keeping score. In fact, most golfers keep individual side scores on each hole. In measuring for your organization, you don't measure people all day. People measure themselves.

It's an important distinction. You can check people with a quality assurance audit or run down the hall and see if jobs are done, but as a person in charge, you need to allow people to check themselves. Teach people to be up-front and honest with you, and you'll know if they are on track or if the schedule needs to be adjusted before the end of the shift.

New employees especially crave the ability to know how they're doing. At the same time, do not worry about managing the entire unit around several problem people. That's not the appropriate commitment.

Controlling Resource

After you have defined the expectations and given employees ways to measure themselves, let them have some control of the resources to get the job done - supplies, equipment, flexibility on schedule, or ability to adapt.

I find a lot of leaders want to manage the one thing that doesn't count: who can get the keys... who can get into the supply room... who needs paper clips and pens. We don't need to spend our time that way. We need to help people of caliber manage their own time, resources, supplies and equipment, and then let them know how they're doing.

If you want a commitment, tell people what you're trying to do, act in today's now, act like you're on charge and work on expectations, measurements and control of resources.

Select Goals, Be Firm

If you spend your day worrying about one or two problem people, it doesn't leave time for you to deal with the good people, the people who want to produce success for your customers. Quit worrying about making those few problem people happy.

Start with the idea you'll have a good day and likely you will. But let other people bring in their conflicting belief systems and chances are the day will not start right. Be committed to guiding the first 10, 20, or 30 minutes of the day in an organized approach to allow people to know which way you're going.

You need to pick one or two goals that are important for this week, this month, this shift, and this period of time and stick with them. Remember, meeting two goals is better than striving for two hundred.

Whatever the specific goal or program involves - customer intervention, a program, documentation - decide that's what you are going to work on. Talk about it and show people you're going to keep score. Let them know you plan to succeed in meeting goals, and they day will start with a direct, solid effort. Some people not on board will come on board when they see where the place is going and they can follow the solid leadership you provide.

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