Author: mikemallaro

CEO of VGM Group, Inc., a 100% employee-owned company. Interested in healthcare, golf, restaurants, insurance, public policy and life.

Optimism

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“Progress is a historical fact. The numbers show that over the past seven decades humans have become longer-lived, healthier, safer, richer, freer, fairer, happier, and smarter, not just in the West, but worldwide.” – Steven Pinker

In my last post, I tried to make the case for optimism as an antidote for fearing change. Even as I typed the words, I wondered how many of my readers would believe that things are getting progressively better with each passing year. As human beings, we often fall prey to catastrophic thinking. Rather than seeing situations for what they are, we make ourselves crazy by imagining all of the terrible ways that they could go wrong. Or, when we look to the future, we anticipate all sorts of terrible things that haven’t happened yet…and probably never will.

It doesn’t help that there is a huge over-focus on bad news these days. Most of the things that happen suddenly are bad, and in a world gripped by a 24-hour news cycle, journalists often feed our catastrophizing by reporting every sudden event in a sensationalized way as they compete with one another for viewers, readers, and followers. 2020 is an election year, and I don’t expect that to help. Our nation is more polarized that its ever been, and both of our political parties have a vested interest in keeping us that way as they compete with each other for votes.

As we begin the 2020s, I’d like to invite you to join me in realizing that the 2010s were probably the best decade in human history by just about any metric. Rather than ask you to take my word for it, I’d like to share a couple of great pieces with you that have come across my desk recently. Both do a great job of outlining the wonderful things that are happening around the world, and both make the case that we can expect even more in 2020.

The 2010s Have Been Amazing by Johan Norberg

What Can We Expect from the 2020s? by Steven Pinker

It’s not always easy to hope for the best. As you begin your weekend, hopefully this bit of light reading will help.

Letting Go & Moving Forward

Sailing Ship

Happy New Year, everyone. It’s hard to believe that it’s 2020 already. I can still remember when the year 2000 sounded impossibly far off and futuristic. There was a lot of fear that surrounded the coming of the new millennium. Most of it was driven by the increasingly large role that technology was beginning to play in our lives, the rapid pace of change that came with it, and the worry that our over-reliance on it could bring civilization to its knees.

Twenty years after the Y2K hysteria, technology continues to drive massive changes to the way that we live and work. Moore’s Law tells us that the pace of these changes has never been faster, and will never be this slow again. That means that there is a lot of pressure on our businesses and institutions to keep up. There is also tremendous pressure on individuals, who find themselves adapting to new ways of doing things, the loss of loved ones, career changes, and more with each passing year.

Some people thrive in our rapidly changing world, while many others struggle. As we ring in the New Year and prepare to see what changes it will bring, I thought I’d offer a few words of advice and encouragement to those in the latter group.

  • Those struggling with change often place very high value on things like historical precedent, their current state of being, or a particular person that they associated with “better times.” If this is you, allow yourself to grieve for the loss of what’s come before. Grieving isn’t just our emotional reaction to the death of a loved one, though that’s how most of us tend to use the word. Grief is a process of transition following the loss of anything that we hold dear. It’s all right to be sad or upset about a transition of leadership, the deterioration of your health, the loss of someone you love, or a change in the direction of your career. Remember the way things were. Celebrate it. Mourn the loss. Then, turn the page.
  • Adopt a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that you can grow, adapt, and evolve over time, and that change is one of the primary contributors to our personal and professional development. Contrast this with a fixed mindset, which says that everything is static and we can’t grow ourselves beyond a certain point. A person with a fixed mindset typically fears change because they are concerned about being left behind or consigned to obsolescence. We are all capable of growing and adapting to change if we endeavor to do so. Get out there and learn something new. View the world from a different perspective. Believe that you can get better. Because you can.
  • Take note of what’s happening in front of you. Look at what’s happening in your life, at your office, and in your community. You aren’t betraying the past by paying attention to now or looking ahead to tomorrow.
  • Stay optimistic. Just because things are changing doesn’t mean they are changing for the worse. Despite what the media may tell us, there is plenty of reason to be grateful for the changes that are occurring around us every day. People are living longer with a better quality of life than ever before. Fewer people die by violence than at any point in human history. The crime rate continues to decline. It’s easier than ever for people to stay in touch or exchange ideas. New technologies have made just about every task imaginable cheaper and more convenient than ever before. All of these are good things, and we have every reason to expect that they’ll continue to get better.
  • Stay ambitious. Establish goals. Don’t anchor yourself to the past. It’s always a bit sad to hear someone talk about their best days like they’re behind them. They don’t have to be. Always continue to dream, to seek, and to strive for something. The one who says they can and the one who says they can’t are usually both right. Which one will you be in 2020?

The person with one eye fixed on where they’ve been has only one left to see the way forward. Our world is changing. It isn’t going to stop, and the pace of change is only going to accelerate as time goes on. Embracing change can be difficult, but it can also be extremely rewarding. When the winds of change begin to blow, try to remember that they can propel you forward if you’ll just unfurl your sail and turn into them instead of desperately fighting to hold course.

Come what may, I wish you all smooth sailing in 2020.

Epidemic of Loneliness

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Despite technology creating so much connectedness around the world, we live in a time of vast disconnectedness.  People are busier than ever, under more pressure, stressed out and isolated.  We are living amidst an epidemic of loneliness in our country.  Personal relationships are a treasure.  When customers, or employees, treasure those relationships with you and other people in your company, they won’t go elsewhere.  In fact, they find ways to stay and do more of everything with and for you.

Recently a Navy vet named Ronald White was found dead in his Dallas apartment.  The coroner found that he had been dead for three years.  Think about it.  A man died, and for three years, nobody noticed he was gone.

Last year Cigna released the results of a study of 20,000 Americans.  It produced some alarming findings about the state of connectivity and loneliness in America today:

  • Half of Americans regularly feel lonely,
  • 20% of people rarely or never feel close to others,
  • Less than half of us report having one or more meaningful conversations daily,
  • Adults 18-22 are the loneliest segment of our population.

Social media platforms connect people, but it’s a different sort of connection than friendship or companionship.  It lacks authenticity and meaningfulness.  Having a thousand friends on social media actually has very little, if any, impact on feeling lonely.  Personal relationships, real ones in the real world, give life richness.  Feeling connected, feeling like you are part of something, is healthy and desirable – and it is deeply valued by people.

Customers demand compelling solutions to solve their challenges, provided at a fair price.  Employees demand a job that helps them support their families. But customers and employees also want to work with and around people who they like and trust, and who they prefer to spend time with.  People who treat them well.  People who make them feel like they belong, like they are connected and part of a community.  All people have an innate need to belong and to be treated well.  So engage, and be engaged.  Build relationships continuously and intentionally.  Do it because it’s more fun, and because it’s the right thing to do.

Do it because, more likely than not, that other person is feeling lonely.

Braiding

Braiding

One might be overwhelmed, but two standing together can resist. A three-fold cord is not easily broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:12

I began my career as a CPA in an accounting firm. One of my clients was a fishing tackle manufacturer whose lead product was fishing line.  Fishing line is made by extruding a melted plastic substance to create a thin line that is both flexible and strong.  Fishing for bigger, stronger fish requires a different line. I learned from my client that the way to make stronger line is to braid many individual lines together, similar to the way that rope is made. Braided line is incredibly strong and very difficult to break, yet it retains its flexibility.

When people work together to solve problems and serve customers, each person usually brings a unique approach and perspective to the task. I’d like to submit that a team is strongest when emulating the braided fishing line. One person with a good customer relationship is a strong beginning, but a web of people building relationships and connectivity and bringing solutions to the customer’s challenges – that’s braiding. Braiding makes the bonds between people much stronger and much more difficult to break.

Bringing the right people, services, and opportunities to our customers to solve their problems and make their lives easier is extremely powerful. Braided fishing line works to catch and keep the largest, most sought-after fish. So does the braiding of the relationships and services that our people offer to our customer.

Mom, Coffee, & Community

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I hope that everyone is having a safe and blessed Thanksgiving holiday. For many of us, these last few days have been a chance to connect and reconnect with friends and family members around the dinner table. We all have our traditions that we follow at this time of year, and our traditions and the people we share them with provide us with a sense of belonging and connectedness that we often take for granted. There’s a lesson there for us about the way we do business.

When I was growing up, my mother stayed at home to manage the household and raise her three kids. The moms in our neighborhood in Charles City, Iowa would often meet for coffee each week in one of their homes. Coffee was a time for sharing the details of their lives, supporting one another through ups and downs, and telling stories while swapping child rearing tips, recipes, and opinions. It was a supportive group outside of their own households that each woman belonged to.

When Mom died in 2008, most of her coffee friends were there at her funeral. None of those ladies lived in the old neighborhood anymore. Times had changed, and so had they, but the powerful bonds of their tiny coffee community from long ago remained strong.

Every organization should seek to create a strong sense of belonging among its customers. You must provide compelling services and innovative solutions to customer problems at a good price. That’s a given, but successful organizations know that they’re dependent on more than a series of transactions. We need people to choose to belong with us over the long haul. To do so, we have to make sure that they feel valued.

Build personal relationships. Connect your customers to their peers, to experts, to solid information, to innovative ideas, and to keen insights. Leave them with great feelings about the experiences that they share with you. Make them feel like they belong with you.

People want to belong. It’s an innate human need. They want to be part of a community. It was true among the neighborhood moms in Charles City, Iowa in 1970. It’s true for all of us today. The people you do business with want to belong to a group, a community which benefits them both quantitatively and qualitatively. The bonds of such a community are strong and lasting. The bonds we share over the Thanksgiving holiday keep us coming back year after year. The bonds of Mom’s coffee group lasted decades after the coffees had ended and her friends had moved away.

That’s the power of community. If we can provide our customers with that sense of belonging, they’ll stay with us forever.

Choices

Choices

 

We all exercise freedom of choice every day of our lives. We choose our partner, how to spend our time, and where we buy our groceries. We choose the shows we watch, which religion we’ll follow (if any at all), and which sports teams we’ll cheer on.

The people you serve in your organization exercise their freedom of choice every day as well. Every person you do business with has a choice. They can choose to work with you, or they can choose to do business with someone else. They can also choose to pursue new ventures that simply don’t include you. What they choose ultimately determines the fate of your company.

Your employees have choices to make each day as well. They can find another job tomorrow and leave you with the task of finding a replacement for them. They can opt into your mission and your values, fully engaged with their work, or they can put forth minimal effort and just collect a paycheck.

You must make your organization the easiest and best option all of the time, not just on the date of someone’s hire or at the point of sale. Seek to create an environment, a community, where customers, employees, and teammates make “permanent” choices. You want them to choose you in much the same way that you and I have a favorite team or a favorite style of music. Those things don’t change from game to game or each time we listen to music. We choose them once, or once in a while, and then we stick with them.

Creating that kind of loyalty isn’t just about building a brand. It’s about building a community where people are welcomed, where they are comfortable, and where they know they can count on you to be there for them.

63%: A Cybersecurity Story

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When I wrote about cybersecurity last week, I attempted to sound an alarm bell for healthcare providers about the magnitude of the threat we face as we seek to protect our businesses and their data from cybercriminals. Today, I want to follow up with a story that should scare you. It definitely scares me.

Our company invests heavily in IT security, and we’ve done a pretty good job of making our systems and data secure. One of the things we do is hiring an outside firm to do system penetration testing. Essentially, we hire a professional hacking team to try to break into our systems however they can, and then we use their findings to enhance our security measures and reduce our vulnerability. It’s something that everyone should have done on a regular basis.

During the test, our security consultants tried to crack as many of the passwords established and used by our employees to access our network and systems as they could. We were fairly confident in the strength of our passwords. After all, we require them to be at least eight digits long with a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. We also force all employees to change their passwords every ninety days.

Our confidence was quickly revealed to be hubris. During a 48 hour period of focused effort, our consultants were able to identify 63% of our 1,000+ employee passwords. They “guessed” the private passwords of nearly two out of every three employees! OMG.

After the test was completed, I was informed that many of our employees, perhaps most of them, had chosen passwords that are easy to remember. They use things like “Packers#12”, “Hogwarts!23” and “Fall2019!” for ease. Unfortunately, a password that is easy for an employee to remember is just as easy for a hacker to crack. We’re fortunate that we also use multi-factor authentication as an added layer of security, but we’re taking steps to improve our passwords as well.

I raise this issue today so that you, like me, can be energized to pay more attention to cybersecurity before you have a major incident. You can refer back to my last post for specific recommendations. You can also check out and download the cybersecurity playbook written by Jeremy Kauten, VGM’s CIO. It contains a wealth of information about who hackers are, why they want the protected health information that our businesses collect, and what you can do to stop them from getting it.