Monday, August 29, 2005

Disability; Resiliency Part #2: How Can You Become a "Resilier"?

Disability; Resiliency as a step toward becoming: an Expert Patient; a Chronic Disease Self-Manager; a partner with your health care providers in Patient-Centered health care; and, a practitioner of Self-Efficacy[1] - Part #2 – How Can You Become a “Resilier”?

In Part #1 of this series, you were introduced to Al Siebert, PhD, the author of The Resiliency Advantage. He also provides lots of information in his two websites:

In Part #2 of this series I will share with you an actual professional and personal example of how I effectively demonstrated these concepts that Dr. Siebert discusses so eloquently. AND, because I valued his insights and wisdom so much, in both instances I asked him to provide assistance to me in better assisting others in their “Resilience Journey”!

As you read the following examples, please keep in mind the definition of Resilience provided by Dr. Siebert in the book (page #5), quoted in part #1, and here:

“Resilience, resilient, and resiliency refer to the abilitly to
- cope well with high levels of ongoing disruptive change;
- sustain good health and energy when under constant pressure;
- bounce back easily from setbacks;
- overcome adversities;
- change to a new way of working and living when an old way is no longer possible; and,
- do all this without acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways.”

Professional Example – The Benj. Franklin
[2] S & L[3]

At the very end of the 1980’s, and into the 1990’s, America’s Savings and Loan Institutions were in trouble. Many of them were in so much trouble that they ended up being taken over by the “RTC”, or “Resolution Trust Corporation”. The Benj. Franklin S & L, the largest S & L in the Pacific Northwest, was one such S & L that fell into this category in 1990.

Now, the Executives, Managers/Supervisors and Employees of The Benj. Franklin S & L firmly believed, for a variety of reasons, that THEIR S & L was NOT in trouble, and, therefore, would not be overtaken by the RTC. As a matter of fact, the week-end prior to the takeover, the Executives had brought into Headquarters for a week-end conference, all Managers for a “motivational and leadership” conference! The previous week, the Executives had completed their justification for Not requiring the “assistance” of the Resolution Trust Corporation.

The absolute shock with which the Managers, remaining Executives (the top Executives were removed by the RTC immediately) and the Employees of The Benj. Franklin S & L received the takeover by the RTC was exacerbated by the high that they had experienced the previous week-end, when they were certain that they would be left alone to continue managing their Financial Institution!

So, the remaining S & L workforce was faced with an unexpected and VERY DISRUPTIVE CHANGE! How were they going to react? Fortunately, this takeover event occurred late in the workweek. The timing allowed the remaining Executives to strategize about how to regain control of day-to-day operations; how to help the S & L employees “cope” under the forthcoming chaotic times; and, especially, how to overcome their own adversities so that the RTC change would appear transparent to The Benj. Franklin’s primary asset; THE CUSTOMERS.

We remaining Executives and Managers formed two teams: MASH and SWAT. Now, remember, this was 1990, and the television show MASH was a popular TV show. Remember Hawkeye Pierce
[4] and all of the Doctors, Nurses and staff in the movie and the TV show? Well, the team focusing on the “care and feeding” of the S & L employees became the MASH team; the team focused on working with the RTC to minimize the operational impact on customers and to “research” potential Financial Institution acquirers[5] of the S & L became the SWAT team.

The MASH team’s responsibility was to supply the S & L employees with the tools that they needed to become Resiliers. I am concentrating on that team, as I was an instrumental part of that team’s success. I’ll cut to the bottomline, and then explain how we got there.

The Benj. Franklin became the only S & L under RTC Conservatorship that I know of that accomplished the following (but successes were not limited to this list only).
1) Ended up rehiring employees who initially left the institution at the time of the change, because they had discovered that in spite of the crisis of RTC Conservatorship, the employee environment was positive and rewarding.
2) Financially, the Institution MADE MONEY under RTC Conservatorship! Anecdotal information from customers was that they kept their money in the S & L because, on the first Monday of the Conservatorship, the Tellers (the Institutions front line contact with Customers) told the Customers that they, the Tellers, were fine - “…they are treating us well”.

Using the Resilience criteria from Dr. Siebert’s book, here’s how the MASH team helped the S & L employees with their resilience skills.

1) Cope well with high levels of ongoing disruptive change. Over that first week-end, we remaining Executives and the Managers revised our “Human Resources” strategy, and were prepared to communicate this strategy to Employees BEFORE they met the customers.
- We suspended job descriptions, and allowed employees to work to their strengths.
- We told employees that we wanted them to stay with the S & L and delight the customers far above ever before, and we would make their “conservatorship experience” the high point of their career, also preparing them for a new job. BUT, if they didn’t think that they could, or wanted to stay, we would help them find another job, outside of the S & L. As stated above, some employees who initially left, came back, primarily because of the MASH team’s initiatives.
- We, along with the SWAT team, went to the new RTC leadership, and came to an agreement to work together to retain employees, processes, and funds.
- We all agreed to treat the employees CONSCIOUSLY as customers, each and every day!
2) Sustain good health and energy when under constant pressure. This resiliency category was where we used Dr. Siebert’s help directly. He was asked to come into the home office and meet with as many employees as we could get into meetings, to help them vent, recognize what could not be changed, and refocus their energies into constructive actions and not destructive actions.
- Dr. Siebert had them make lists of what they HATED about the takeover; how unfair it was, and actually vent.
- He then asked them to make lists of what GOOD they thought could possibly come from this change. I fully remember a representative from each session hesitantly (because this type of input was NOT usual in the previously “staid” Financial Institution!) coming into my office with the group’s list of positive change suggestions!
- One of the most significant suggestion that fostered good health and energy was adopted, and became “Friday at Four”. One Friday, each month, the S & L closed an hour early, and all employees celebrated and played! The first event was a Carnival, held on the top level of the parking garage. It even included a Dunk Tank! AND, the RTC leadership agreed to take turns (along with remaining S & L Executives) in the Dunk Tank. Imagine the significance of employees actually being allowed to throw objects at the primary focus of their anger!
3) Bounce back easily from setbacks. As each day brought new challenges we as a group worked together to do what was best for the customers and the employees. We accomplished amazing things for our employees so that they could continue their benefits after they left the S & L. I’ll never forget one employee coming up to me after a meeting where we discussed what we were doing for employees. What he said pretty much sums up why what we did for employees resulted in Operational success, and led to each of us who went through this experience to grow stronger.
“Carolyn, my wife is 8 months pregnant, and my 10 year old daughter was just diagnosed with cancer. I know that my job will not ‘flow over’ to whoever acquires The Benj., and I was frantic about retaining benefits for my family. With what you guys have done to make sure we keep our benefits, I’ll be able to provide them for my family at this critical time. I’ll do anything for a company who thinks ahead to help me and my family like this!”
4) Overcome adversities. We had many employees who had worked for The Benj. for over 20 years, and had never had to write a resume, let alone look for a job!
- We hired one of the premiere Outplacement Companies in the Pacific Northwest, and had them conduct classes not only in the home office, but in the branches as well. The classes provided a lot of skills including, but not limited to: resume writing; interviewing; identifying strengths; learning how to convert “weaknesses” into “developing strengths”, etc.
- To better instill confidence into employees, and to better prepare for whatever institution acquired The Benj., each department was encouraged to develop their “PLAN”. This PLAN
[6] consisted of: departmental successes; departmental ongoing operations; departmental challenges; etc. The Plan was to answer the following question: If the members of the department were to acquire one like it, what would they want to know to become as operational and successful as possible in the shortest amount of time.
5) Change to a new way of working and living when an old was is no longer possible. As can be seen from the examples above, we created an entirely new, inclusive, dynamic, organic, ever-changing, and positive working environment for the employees. While still a difficult, chaotic, and frustrating time, for many of the employees, it was the best working experience they had ever had!
6) Do all this without acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways. In my humble opinion, what we accomplished the first week-end, followed-up by the “Friday’s at Four” and the hiring of the Outplacement group, allowed the employees to learn and/or hone resilience skills that they may not even have known that they had! Again, we were the only S & L that I know about that made a profit while under RTC Conservatorship!

When I finally received the conclusive diagnosis of “Chronic Progressive Multiple Sclerosis”, I knew that I had to figure out all of this “benefit stuff” like Long Term Disability and Social Security Disability Insurance. So, I did! The Disabilitykey Workbook reflects the actual process that I used to become successful.

About this time, Dr. Siebert contacted me about appearing with him on a local television show to discuss how people with Disabilities can use the same coping skills that Survivors or Resilers use. It was my pleasure to appear with him and provide actual examples of success.

On his website, Dr. Siebert asks the following:
“How do you react to unexpected difficulties? Healthy, resilient people have stress-resistant personalities and learn valuable lessons from rough experiences. They rebound from major setbacks even stronger than before.
When hurt or distressed, resilient people expect to find a way to have things turn out well. They feel self-reliant and have a learning/coping reaction rather than the victim/blaming reaction that is so common these days.”
He then provides a set of questions that you can use to see just how resilient you are.

Finally, I strongly believe that these concepts are, in part, what served as my foundation, allowing me to become an Expert Patient; a Chronic Disease Self-Manager; work with my health care team in a Patient-Centered environment;, and, to achieve Self-Efficacy. You too might find that Dr. Siebert’s books and websites can help you.
If you have read Dr. Siebert’s books, I’d love to hear from you about what your experiences have been.

[1] Here is the definition of self-efficacy used in the context of chronic disease management: Self -efficacy is the belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the sources of action required to manage situations associated with one's chronic illness.
[2] Yes, this spelling of “Benj.” is the correct name for the S & L, and not a typo. The S & L was named “Benj. Franklin” instead of Benjamin Franklin, as “Benj.” was how Mr. Franklin signed his name on the Constitution of the United States. Hence, the name of the S & L as “The Benj. Franklin S & L”.
[3] I became a Management Consultant while on my first year of LTD, helping to establish a new firm. The late CFO for The Benj. Franklin S & L provided me with this recommendation, in part, because of the success of this professional example: "I have known Carolyn Magura from oversight of her outstanding performance in developing and managing human resource programs in a complex organization with hundreds of employees. Whether it is with hundreds of employees, or with much smaller workforces, Carolyn may be counted on to bring to bear practical cost-effective solutions. You can rely on her attention to the employer's parameters, the legal necessities and care of the employee's needs.” The late Ian D. G. McKechnie, Retired CFO, The Benj. Franklin S & L Assn.; Chair of the Oregon State Housing Council

[4] Coincidentally, Dr. Siebert’s early work culminating in his book The Survivor Personality: Why Some People Are Stronger, Smarter, and More Skillful at Handling Life’s Difficulties…and How You Can Be, Too, referenced Hawkeye Pierce of MASH as a perfect example of a “Survivor Personality. I believe that it was my early internalization of these concepts that allowed us to fall back upon this as one of our core concepts at this significant time of Crisis.
[5] Bank of America became the ultimate successful acquirer of the S & L; it, along with 2 or 3 other Financial Institutions carefully reviewed us during our conservatorship.
[6] I still have a copy of the Human Resource Department’s “PLAN”, and have used parts of it in subsequent organizations.


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