An estimated 20 to 22 veterans die of suicide each day, at an average age of 60. While it is unknown how many of those deaths occur at VA facilities, they include a 76-year-old who shot himself in a parking lot of a New York hospital in August 2016, a veteran of Afghanistan who hanged himself at age 32 in a Tennessee hospital in November 2016, a 63-year-old Navy veteran who shot himself in a car at a North Carolina hospital and a 35-year-old Marine who overdosed on fentanyl at a Massachusetts VA psychiatric facility.
Last summer, then-VA Secretary David Shulkin, who is also a doctor, addressed the so-called “parking lot deaths,” saying the veterans may choose to kill themselves at VA facilities in part because they don’t want their families to discover them.
Others have said the suicides send a message about the ongoing problems with long wait times and access to care at VA medical facilities.
“It’s more than a suicide,” said Dr. Jose Mathews, former chief of psychiatry for the St. Louis VA hospital system. “It’s a veteran making a statement about their frustration with the VA as an organization.”
Mathews filed a federal whistleblower complaint in 2013 that claimed mental health care staff treated patients only a few hours a day and artificially inflated their work hours. He quit the St. Louis system last month, and now works through telemedicine with the VA in Utah.
“I was getting tired of butting my head against a brick wall on the issue of access to care,” Mathews said.
Crews’ suicide launched investigations by the hospital and the VA’s Office of Inspector General, which will produce a public report. Crews’ health care history will also be reviewed by a medical team outside the VA system “to see if anything was missed,” said Keith Repko, medical center director of the St. Louis VA.
Security around the emergency room entrance at the hospital on North Grand Boulevard probably will be tightened, Repko said. There are currently no metal detectors at the entrance, and VA police are not permanently stationed there.
Crews had no medical appointments the day he died, and was not seeking emergency care, hospital officials said.
“It looks like he purposely came here to commit suicide,” Repko said. “It is obviously a very tragic event and our condolences go out to the family.”
Crews, who served in Vietnam with the Marines, was buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery this month.
Repko stressed that there is help available to any veteran with suicidal thoughts. Unlike other medical issues, crisis mental health care is available to any veteran regardless of his or her time served or reason for discharge from the military.
The hospital has three providers on its suicide prevention team and is working to hire a fourth. Same-day appointments are available in urgent mental health situations, officials said.
“Patients that come here get the care they need that day,” said Fred Metzger, associate chief of mental health, pointing out that the majority of veterans who died of suicide had not been under treatment or seeking care at the VA.
There have been no other suicides reported on site at St. Louis VA facilities. In 2013, a veteran in an inpatient unit at Jefferson Barracks medical center removed a ceiling tile in an attempt to hang himself before being stopped by a staff member, officials said.
An Iraq war veteran, Jerrod Kershaw, was shot and killed by police in July 2017 after a standoff on Interstate 55 near Festus. The 30-year-old was being treated for several health issues including diabetes and post-traumatic stress disorder. His mother, Cynthia Kershaw, said she is disappointed in the VA, where she took her son regularly for appointments.
“We were there a lot and we didn’t get anything accomplished,” Cynthia Kershaw said. “They didn’t take him seriously at all. They turned their back on us.”
Mathews, the VA whistleblower, blames Kershaw’s death in part on low staffing at John Cochran. Kershaw attempted to access mental health care in May and June 2017 and was denied because the hospital was not accepting new referrals, according to medical records provided by Mathews.
“That death was really troubling to me. (Kershaw) had trouble accessing care,” Mathews said.
Officials with the St. Louis VA said there is no indication that a lack of access to mental health care played a role in the deaths of Kershaw or Crews.
Three months before Kershaw’s death, Mathews sent an email to Repko, Metzger and other VA officials outlining his concerns about staffing levels.
“The current staffing is grossly inadequate to provide safe and timely mental health care at this busy clinic,” Mathews wrote. “I am hoping that you will follow up on my disclosure to remedy this situation at the earliest before an avoidable tragedy.”
Concerns about mental health care have been raised since 2012, when a federal review of John Cochran and Jefferson Barracks hospitals found that staff did not always follow up as required with mental health patients, including those at high risk of suicide.
At the time of Mathews’ whistleblower complaint in 2013, the wait for mental health treatment in St. Louis was a month or longer. A federal investigation found 12 out of 20 patient records from the St. Louis VA had been altered to shorten the wait times by marking “complete” prior to the patients’ scheduled mental health appointments.
A broader investigation found lengthy wait lists nationwide that caused delays in care and deaths of veterans. Since 2014, wait times for medical appointments have improved, according to federal reports.
Overall, 95 percent of mental health, primary and specialty appointments are made within 30 days, putting the St. Louis system in the top one-fifth of VA facilities, according to a 2016 update.
Now mental health appointments can be made within three to five days for new and established patients, local hospital officials said.
There is a full-time equivalent of 2.6 psychiatrists at the John Cochran facility, officials said. Mathews claims the number of available doctors was often lower.
Hospital officials said psychiatrists fill in via teleconference or are reassigned from other clinics to keep the same level of staffing, and that no veteran has been denied care.
“Any veteran, if they’re in a crisis situation, we will help them,” Repko said.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
For individual managers and employees, a merger or acquisition is not just a corporate strategy; it’s a personally disruptive—often traumatic—event. What C-suite executives and consultants euphemistically call “postmerger integration” is typically a period of tension, uncertainty, and even chaos. Workloads ramp up, as do pressure and stress. You may have to quickly adapt to unfamiliar policies, practices, and politics; work with strangers from different corporate or even national cultures; or report to new bosses who know nothing about your track record or ambitions. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee of a job with the resulting organization, let alone a long-term career.
In such situations, most people tend to fixate on what they can’t control: decisions about who is let go, promoted, reassigned, or relocated. But in our studies and consulting practices, we’ve found that individuals faced with organizational upheaval have much more power over what happens to them than they realize.
If your company is involved in one of the tens of thousands of M&A deals struck annually around the world, you can respond in a few ways. The first option is to keep your head down, focus on the tasks at hand, and hope that everything turns out OK. A second tack is to polish your résumé, reconnect to your outside peer network, and start looking for alternative employment. But we recommend a third and perhaps more constructive choice: Embrace the dynamic, intense integration process and use it as an opportunity for introspection and growth.
We’ve met and worked with hundreds of professionals who’ve taken this approach and say that as a result, their M&A experiences were exhilarating—maybe even “the best thing that ever happened” to them. Not all individuals were able to shape every decision in their favor or get their desired jobs; indeed, some had to retool themselves to succeed at their new organizations, and a few were ultimately forced to move on to different employers. But nearly all felt that they emerged from the process as “winners,” equipped with greater self-knowledge, heightened visibility, and new skills.
Change is usually inevitable, so you’ll need to figure out where you stand.
To achieve the same, you must first assess your strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats presented by the deal. The next step is to make yourself a more valuable employee by taking on deal-related assignments that will help you hone and highlight your abilities in three categories: project execution, innovation, and collaboration. In this article we outline both parts of the process and describe how four managers went through it.
Assessing the Situation
Upon learning that your company is joining with another, you might feel some anxiety. The first step in overcoming that is to take stock of the situation. Some mergers have little or no practical impact on employees—for example, when one company buys another primarily as a financial investment and keeps the target’s operations fairly independent. More often, however, change is inevitable, and you’ll need to figure out where you stand before you can plan where to go. We recommend a tried-and-true framework: the SWOT analysis. That involves considering the following:
Strengths.What in your personal makeup and career background could be an asset in your new situation: your technical expertise, your interpersonal skills, or maybe your unique knowledge about a particular business line? What is the value of your network within your company and industry, with suppliers or customers, and with those on the other side of the merger or acquisition? What makes you a “keeper”?
Weaknesses.What aspects of your personal situation could be a deficit for moving forward in the integrated firm? Are you uncomfortable dealing with uncertainty? Do you worry about getting along with new colleagues or having to learn new ways of doing business? Is your boss too fixated on his or her own survival to support you and your fellow team members?
Opportunities.Where are the potential landing spots for you in the combined entity—in product areas, marketing and sales, business development, operations? How much do they interest you? Do you see a path to advancement? How will the consolidation affect your firm’s position in the industry, its reputation, and its financial standing? Will it create a stronger company with new pathways for growth?
Threats.Where are there apt to be staff reductions? Are you in a corporate function that may be duplicative (such as legal, communications, or human resources) or a business line in which the other company is dominant? Will the combined organization be a place you still want to work?
Tom Hall, a senior finance director at pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough, conducted this sort of analysis when he learned that his company would be acquired by a rival, Merck. One strength was Hall’s previous experience managing during a merger: He’d been in the tax department of Warner-Lambert when it was acquired by Pfizer. In addition, he was a solid performer whose star was rising at Schering, and after nine years at the company, he knew all its financial ins and outs. Yet his back-office function would surely be merged with Merck’s, so redundancies were a threat. And since his bosses and most top Schering executives were moving on, he would have few supporters left at the combined organization. New opportunities for him were unclear.
“Mary Holt,” a logistics manager at a labeling and packaging supplier, also did a SWOT assessment when her company was purchased by a larger competitor. (We’re using a pseudonym to protect her confidentiality.) At first Holt saw only weaknesses and threats in the situation. She assumed that managers from the buying firm, many of whom had international experience, would have an inside track on jobs after the merger. But she soon realized that she was far more knowledgeable than her new peers about the logistical nuts and bolts, so she was in a position to improve the combined firm’s practices. She now had a strength and an opportunity to focus on.
“Jason Richards,” an up-and-coming executive at a large professional services firm, provides another example. Richards (again we’re using a pseudonym) had his sights set on leading the company’s South America region—until top managers announced the acquisition of another big player in the industry. Suddenly there were other high potentials and senior executives competing for the position he coveted, and the only “promotion” being offered to him was as an integration manager, a role he didn’t fully understand. He had to quickly evaluate whether it was an opportunity that would play to his strengths or a threat that would further weaken his prospects for getting ahead.
Finally, consider Rob Michalak, who led the public relations function at ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s prior to its acquisition by Unilever. Shortly after his company went up for sale, Michalak conducted his personal SWOT analysis and concluded (rightly) that new owners would want to steer the PR function and reduce its ranks. Accordingly, he left Ben & Jerry’s to learn more about how different companies link social responsibility to their business goals.
Seizing Growth Opportunities
The second key to making the most of an M&A experience is to insert yourself into the integration process in a way that highlights your strengths or allows you to develop new ones. Most merging companies set up a “transition structure”—a temporary but formal organization made up of dozens of committees, task forces, and teams charged with realizing the expected merger synergies. If you participate in this work, you will have a chance to show and build your project execution, innovation, and collaboration skills.
Those involved in integration must be able to craft an effective plan and get it rolling, distinguish between critical and “nice to have” activities, overcome unforeseen obstacles, measure results, and display a host of other execution capabilities. If you have—or you’re eager to develop—expertise in those areas, you should volunteer for the transition team.
Tom Hall did just that, agreeing to serve as the right-hand man to the Schering integration leader. Thanks to his deep knowledge of the company’s costs, staffing models, forecast systems, and balance sheet, as well as his relationships with people throughout Schering, Hall soon became the go-to person when Merck’s senior executives needed help with plans for putting the two entities together. He assumed that once the integration process was over, he would lose his job. But one of his new colleagues supported him in applying for and securing a role leading the strategy realization office. Although Hall no longer had a clear career path, he was able to get to know Merck and its senior managers. A year later he was tapped to become one of the chiefs of staff to the newly appointed CEO, while retaining his strategy role. Eventually he was promoted to associate vice president of strategy and then associate vice president of financial planning and analysis.
The change brought on by M&A often opens the door to all kinds of innovation. Teams and individuals who might ordinarily have no chance to present ideas to senior leadership suddenly find themselves with access to a receptive audience, and those who are willing to speak up get noticed.
Mary Holt recalls rallying people on both sides of her company’s merger to step up to the plate with in-depth proposals for creating a world-class logistics capability in the combined organization. She made an impression on top executives when she bluntly characterized procedures at both firms as “half-assed” and doggedly used the deal as a catalyst for improvement. Once the integration was complete, the logistics unit was divided geographically, and Holt’s reward was being named head of Atlantic operations—a role that meant working with suppliers and distributors in Europe and participating in top-level strategy meetings.
Rob Michalak, the PR executive who left Ben & Jerry’s when it went up for sale, also stood out as an innovator. When he moved on from the ice cream maker, he used his time to increase his expertise in cause-related marketing and to advise organizations on being more socially responsible. A few years after the deal with Unilever closed, he was asked by the new CEO of Ben & Jerry’s to “come home” and serve as the director of social mission. The position included reconsidering some of Unilever’s integration decisions that were, as Michalak put it, “sucking the life out of our brand.” Armed with fresh ideas and experiences, he helped move Ben & Jerry’s (and other Unilever subsidiaries) toward a more activist social agenda.
A merger forces you to quickly learn how to work productively with people who may have different perspectives and processes, come from different corporate and national cultures, and even speak different languages—and who may not want to work with you. It’s a great laboratory for showcasing and sharpening your collaboration skills.
Take Jason Richards, the rising star set on a regional leadership role. After his company acquired a competitor and he was asked to be one of two full-time integration managers, he was initially distraught. Such a shift would take him out of contention for his desired promotion, disrupt his career momentum, wreak havoc with his annual bonus calculation, lower his status with his peers, and keep him away from his family during the several-month move to headquarters. He accepted the assignment reluctantly, but like Hall and Holt, soon realized he had a chance to expand his knowledge, broaden his network, and prove he could execute and innovate.
A merger provides a great laboratory for showcasing your collaboration skills.
Perhaps even more important, he picked up new interpersonal skills as a result of being paired with a co-integration manager who was in many ways his opposite: a Latina HR director from the other company. The relationship was frosty at first: Richards’s firm had a macho, hierarchical culture, and he was dubious about working with a woman who came from a “soft,” non-revenue-producing function and was unquestionably his junior. But as the two got to know each other and scored some early wins helping struggling transition teams, they began to see their differences as complementary. They developed a good cop/bad cop routine, learned to adapt their styles when necessary, and formed a strong partnership. Richards became more comfortable guiding instead of controlling. He interacted with all parts of the business and with a wide range of people. His evolution as a leader gave the CEO enough confidence to later name him president of the combined firm’s North American region—a much larger role than the one Richards had initially wanted.
Finding Your Opening
How can you communicate your desire to be part of the integration process if you haven’t been invited to participate on a transition team? Depending on your situation, discussing it with your supervisor might not be the best approach. When companies are in the midst of mergers, some bosses are consumed with their own survival and not inclined to help subordinates. Furthermore, they may not embrace the notion of losing one of their solid contributors at a time when their work group’s output might be scrutinized.
If you have had a good relationship with your boss and feel that he or she is more likely to support than impede your participation, by all means start a conversation. Otherwise, seek out a trusted colleague in HR or another staff function close to headquarters, talk to current members of the transition teams, or consult the integration manager.
If the CEO or another senior executive is making an integration-related road show stop at your location, raise your hand after the speech and ask how to participate. Better yet, walk right up to the person as the meeting adjourns. No matter whom you approach, sell them on how you can contribute. Don’t be shy about promoting yourself or your capabilities—there is a lot going on for all involved, and you may need to turn up the volume to get noticed. Even if you don’t see a future for yourself in the post-transition organization, you can make a case that contributing to the integration process will be more valuable to the company than sitting around like a lame duck.
There’s no question that mergers and acquisitions leave many victims in their wake. But you don’t have to be one of them. By proactively evaluating your situation and seizing leadership opportunities created by m&a, you can set your own trajectory. For some managers, like Mary Holt and Jason Richards, it’s onward and upward to higher-level jobs in the combined company. For other employees, like Tom Hall, it’s inside and ready with enhanced skills and visibility, poised for the next available promotion. Even those who soon find themselves out of a job believe that embracing the M&A process leaves them better equipped to succeed in different organizations—or perhaps, like Rob Michalak, to return to their former one with an even higher profile.
Thanks to the TSA’s Webby-winning Instagram account—made famous by the agency’s late social media guru Bob Burns, who passed away in October—officials have kept track of the wackier things airport security agents saw in 2018. Every year, the TSA screens about 700 million travelers across nearly 450 airports. That’s more than 2 million passengers each day. And while most people pass through security checkpoints without incident, a handful of travelers are stopped every day—sometimes for attempting to lug some truly bizarre items to their departing gate.
It might resemble something Wile E. Coyote would have concocted—and it may be 100 percent fake—but it’s still not allowed through security at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Anything that remotely resembles a weapon will cause intense security checks. (In this case, the security checkpoint was closed for 19 minutes, inconveniencing countless passengers.)
Please excuse this brief announcement: Don’t carry firecrackers—or anything else that goes “boom”—in your hand luggage. Especially a brand that has the word “Killer” in it.
4. Wedding-Themed Hand Grenades
We’ll let the TSA’s Instagram account explain why these are a bad idea: “When our officers spot a potential explosive on the monitor, they cannot just open the bag and take a looksee to find out if it’s real or not. A TSA explosives specialist or a police department bomb squad must respond before the bag is ever opened. This can lead to costly evacuations, delays, and missed flights. These types of items can also lead to hefty fines and arrest. Contact your preferred shipper about your options, because they can’t travel via commercial aircraft. So even though they aren’t real, they can cause a lot of headaches.”
5. Freddy Krueger’s Hand
There is no loophole around the TSA’s knife policy: You may not bring any knives in your carry-on. You especially can’t bring them if they’re affixed to your fingertips. As the TSA elaborates, “While worn out fedoras and tattered green and red sweaters are discouraged in the fashion world, they are permitted at TSA checkpoints.” (You may stow a knife in your checked luggage.)
6. Giant Scissors
Unlike knives, scissors are allowed in your carry-on luggage—as long as they are shorter than four inches from the fulcrum. These ceremonial ribbon-cutting scissors found at Nashville International Airport didn’t make the cut.
7. A Phony IED
This fake improvised explosive device caused six checkpoint lanes to close at Newark Liberty International Airport. The TSA later learned that “the man carrying the IED in his carry-on bag was traveling to Florida to participate in a training event focused on X-ray detection of explosive devices.” Thankfully, the agents already had their training.
8. Bullet-Shaped Whiskey Stones
It’s OK to transport a gun and ammunition on a flight as long as it’s properly stored in checked luggage. But placing it in your carry-on is a big no-no. In 2017, the TSA discovered nearly 4000 firearms at security checkpoints—most of them loaded—and that number is expected to rise when 2018’s numbers are finally tabulated. To say the least, the TSA is strict when it comes to anything that remotely resembles a weapon. That’s why these ammunition-shaped whiskey stones (usually used to chill a drink without watering it down) weren’t allowed.
9. An Inert Mortar Round
People try to bring inert weapons of war, like this mortar found at Evansville Regional Airport, through the security checkpoint more than you think. (Case in point: Somebody tried bringing rocket launchers through Hawaii’s Lihue Airport.) When security officials spot something like this, they have to bring in explosives experts to ensure the device is actually inert. Delays ensue. So just leave your faux bombs at home.
10. A Live Cat
There are proper ways to transport your pet to your destination. Haphazardly stuffing your furry friend into your checked luggage is not one of them. At Erie International Airport, a security screener discovered this kitty (named Slim) stowed in a Florida couple’s checked baggage. Slim was turned over to the Humane Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania. The couple, meanwhile, was charged with animal cruelty.
To see our 2017 roundup of the TSA’s strangest finds, click here.
For nearly four years, Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, has been ravaged by war. With on-the-ground reporting still difficult, the death toll from fighting and bombing — currently over 60,000 — is thought to be vastly underestimated. Beyond that, starvation and disease have killed 85,000 children, and cholera alone has cost 2,600 lives.
Since October 2016, Yemen has been in the grips of one of the worst epidemics of cholera seen in modern history: From April 27, 2017, to Oct. 31, 2018, 1.3 million suspected cases were reported, and as recently as October 2018 the WHO estimated about 10,000 new cases were added every week. Cholera is caused by a water-borne bacteria, meaning water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programming is essential to stopping its spread. But that means such projects can be effective extremely quickly. In fact:
A $395,000 WATER TREATMENT PLANT RESTORATION, ALONG WITH PROGRAMS TARGETING THE REGION’S INFRASTRUCTURE, SENT CHOLERA CASES IN THE REGION PLUMMETING BY AN ESTIMATED 92 PERCENT.
Those figures were taken from the electronic disease early warning system (eDEWS), which showed that in the month of August 2017there were 15,020 suspected cases of cholera, 59 deaths and 958,668 people thought to be at risk. The plant became fully operational in September 2017, and by January 2018, these numbers had dropped to 164 cholera cases and zero deaths.
Explore inside the restored water plant in Yemen with this 360 VR video:
Al Barzakh is one of around 10 water treatment centers in Yemen, and it serves four different districts in Aden, in southern Yemen, as well as the Lahij and Abyan governorates. After conflict damage in 2015, however, it was only partly operating, meaning just a portion of the population was getting served and that the water wasn’t getting thoroughly cleaned. UNICEF undertook the plant’s restoration two years ago, while also analyzing the infrastructure needs of the region.
As Aref Ahmed Abdullah, the supervisor of chlorination at Al Barzakh, explains, his main task is to chlorinate and sterilize the water tanks daily. Previously tablets were added to the main water tanks — but it wasn’t enough to eradicate germs, so now they add chlorine, which eradicates all forms of cholera-forming bacteria.
Matteo Minasi, filmmaker for OCHA, the U.N.’s humanitarian agency, explains, “Cholera can spread from both water and food and even just very basic household practices like not washing a container properly.” That means education is key, and UNICEF’s $2 million program also involved going door to door to show people how they should wash their dishes. While Minasi says these efforts may have contributed to reducing the spread of water-borne disease, the new chlorination system killed 90 percent of the germs.
The UNICEF team visits each home in Bani Harith, Sana’a, to check if there are people there affected by cholera, and to raise the awareness of cholera prevention techniques.
The project began in 2016 but encountered a number of difficulties and delays. The country is still in conflict, with Houthi rebels fighting the Saudi-backed government with the help of coalition forces, recently the subject of a recent U.S. Senate vote overwhelmingly favoring the withdrawal of American support. Government bans on essential materials like adequately-sized water pipes or chlorine meant U.N. advocacy was required to get basic supplies, according to UNICEF’s Robert Kizito Ojok, a water and sanitation specialist in Aden. But now there are more hiccups: “The willingness of the population to pay their water bill is one [issue] that is dragging on,” Ojok says, so his team is working to establish what affordable tariffs the general public might be willing to pay to help sustain it. The WHO recorded cholera outbreaks in several other countries in 2018 — Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Somalia among them — and the plant’s success in Yemen underscores the importance of water maintenance in other affected regions.
Meanwhile, Ojok notes that internally displaced persons have been fleeing the north of Yemen for Aden, settling in the fields from which the plant extracts water. Their presence ups the risk of contaminating ground water, so the U.N. is working to advocate for an alternative space for them. Further next steps for the WASH program will depend on the next round of donor funding.
While peace talks to attempt to resolve conflict in Yemen have taken place in Sweden, water isn’t an issue that can wait. It’s increasingly used as a tool of war that can be used strategically to target the enemy, by poisoning or destroying infrastructure — as in Syria, where the government has been accused of war crimes for bombing the water supply of rebel-held Damascus in 2016. Aden is currently stable, but Al Barzakh is guarded by the Yemeni government’s military. Should it be targeted again, the entire region could be back to square one on fighting disease.
Until recently, apps in the screen-time-shaving category were for the most part tricked-out egg timers that would block access to websites. It’s a hard-core solution for prying young eyes from their screens, but along with it comes the nagging, tech-withdrawal-fueled backlash of jilted children.
The cross-platform unGlue app goes beyond basic site blocking by introducing a barter system through which kids can earn screen time and budget it as they see fit. For example, a child can wash dishes or fold laundry in exchange for 15 minutes on their device. That earned time can then be divided into, say, five minutes on YouTube and 10 minutes watching their favorite live video game streamers. Or a kid can alternatively save all of their earned time and splurge on a Netflix binge.
THAT TYPE OF DIGITAL SNITCHING IS A PLEASANT SURPRISE, ESPECIALLY FOR FOLKS WITH SLICKER KIDS WHO MAY TRY TO GAME THE SYSTEM.
“It’s not enough to give parents a button that turns off their kids’ internet,” says unGlue’s CEO and co-founder Alon Shwartz. “This may work for young kids, but a brute-force approach doesn’t work for preteens and teens. They simply know more about technology and will find a way out in 60 seconds or less.”
Setting up unGlue is straightforward and doesn’t require a computer engineering degree to figure out. Under the hood, the app connects to another mobile device through a virtual private network to monitor and control all of its internet activity. Initial setup takes about 10 minutes if you’re less than tech savvy, and about half as long if you already know your way around a gadget or two. UnGlue’s dashboard design is clean, informative and simple. It shows all of the important stuff like a kid’s internet usage along with quick options to add time and total shutdown of access to websites and services you’ve predetermined.
Communication between devices is solid, with instantaneous alerts. For example, if the child device’s battery runs out of juice, an immediate alert is sent to the parent device that it’s off the grid. That type of digital snitching is a pleasant surprise, especially for folks with slicker kids who may try to game the system. Still, it can take a few days for some kids to get used to it — in our house, it was a bit of a change from the usual impromptu street-market-style haggling sessions over precious YouTube toy review videos.
The dashboard gives you a snapshot of all of the important stuff in one place.
The free version of unGlue for iOS and Android allows for monitoring only. You’ll need a yearly ($84) or monthly ($9.99) subscription to unlock all of the app’s featureslike scheduling screen time and site blocking. While a basic snapshot of activity is cool, it’s worth the annual fee to get everything since there aren’t any features that would go to waste.
Shwartz says there will be updates, but he couldn’t go into detail. This isn’t to say that unGlue isn’t feature-rich enough as it stands; it will just be interesting to see how far team Shwartz is going to take it. “[UnGlue] also teaches kids the value of time,” he adds. “It creates a great win-win with their parents that will gladly give 15 more minutes for a clean room.”
“Using absorption costing to monitor efficiency can lead companies to make poor production decisions,” says Ranjani Krishnan, professor of accounting at Michigan State. “A company that does this could seem to be growing less efficient when demand decreases. If a factory makes fewer cars this year than last year, for instance, its cost per car will look higher, and it may then overproduce in order to present itself more favorably to shareholders, consumers, and analysts.”
Not only can absorption costing lead to poor decisions, that is exactly what happened at Chrysler and General Motors in the months leading up to the recession in 2008. Professor Krishnan and his co-author Alexander Brüggen recently published their research paper on the causes of the demise of these two car companies. Their paper* shows that all the “big three” US automakers consistently overproduced their cars and created massive excess inventories in dealers lots across the country. The primary reason for this excess production was the need to absorb overhead costs delineated in their standard costing system. Everyone knew the demand for their automobiles was drifting down but they continued to push production through the factories owing to the pressure to absorb overheads. If you absorb overheads – even by making cars no one wants to buy – your company can show increased profits that are not really there. This is not fraudulent practice; it is a pernicious side-effect of standard costing.
I work with a lot companies in the area of accounting, measurement, and decision making processes within manufacturing, distribution, and the supply chain. All these companies are involved in a “lean journey or transformation” and have recognized the need for new approaches to accounting, control, and measurement. There is often some push-back when we suggest the elimination of standard costing and I cite (among other things) these over-production issues caused by overhead absorption. The operations people state firmly that they would never over-produce just to keep monthly profits high!! They are a sophisticated company. And yet, I see evidence of this in most companies we work with.
It is common to see production and output increase towards month-end. You often see the planners building up extra inventory and sales people offering generous incentives for customers to take more deliveries by month-end or quarter end. This is specially true when the inventory is (poorly) controlled by two-bin or max-min replenishment instead of pull systems or kanban.
IMHO overhead absorption is a very dangerous habit within manufacturing companies. It creates huge amounts of waste. The waste of over-production. The waste of inventory. This leads to large batches and long lead times.
But there is an underlying and more serious problem. This practice leads to the attention of the managers being focused on short-term profit and stock-price rather than value for the customer. According to Krishnan and Bruggen, in the case of Chrysler and GM, this was exacerbated by a bonus system that rewarded executives for achieving padded profits on the income statements. This contributed to both companies bankruptcy and “bail-out” by the hardworking US tax-payer.
Absorption costing viciously violates all five of the principles of lean thinking & practice. Art Byrne, in his new book “The Lean Turnaround”, asserts that “absorption accounting … twists behavior by making shop-floor managers more interested in hitting absorption goals than [in] making what the customers want.”
* Ranjani Krishnan and Alexander Brüggen and Karen Sedatole
Drivers and Consequences of Short-Term Production Decisions: Evidence from the Auto Industry
Contemporary Accounting Research
Volume 28, Issue 1, pages 83–123, Spring 2011
There is no shortage of advice for those who aspire to be effective leaders. One piece of advice may be particularly enticing: if you want to be a successful leader, ensure that you are seen asa leader and not a follower. To do this, goes the usual advice, you should seek out opportunities to lead, adopt behaviors that people associate with leaders rather than followers (e.g., dominance and confidence), and — above all else — show your exceptionalism relative to your peers.
But there is a problem here. It is not just that there is limited evidence that leaders really are exceptional individuals. More importantly, it is that by seeking to demonstrate their specialness and exceptionalism, aspiring leaders may compromise their very ability to lead. The simple reason for this is that, as Warren Bennis has observed, leaders are only ever as effective as their ability to engage followers. Without followership, leadership is nothing. As one of us (Haslam) observed in a 2011 book coauthored with Stephen Reicher and Michael Platow, The New Psychology of Leadership, this means that the key to success in leadership lies in the collective “we,” not the individual “I.”
In other words, leadership is a process that emerges from a relationship between leaders and followers who are bound together by their understanding that they are members of the same social group. People will be more effective leaders when their behaviors indicate that they are one of us, because they share our values, concerns and experiences, and are doing it for us, by looking to advance the interests of the group rather than own personal interests. This perspective identifies a major flaw in the usual advice for aspiring leaders. Instead of seeking to stand out from their peers, they may be better served by ensuring that they are seen to be a good follower — as someone who is willing to work within the group and on its behalf. In short, leaders need to be seen as “one of us” (not “one of them”) and as “doing it for us” (not only for themselves or, worse, for “them”).
In a recent paper, we set out to test these ideas through a longitudinal analysis of emergent leadership among 218 male Royal Marines recruits who embarked on the elite training program after passing a series of tests of psychological aptitude and physical fitness. More specifically, we examined whether the capacity for recruits to be seen as displaying leadership by their peers was associated with their tendency to see themselves as natural leaders (with the skills and abilities to lead) or as followers (who were more concerned with getting things done than getting their own way). For this purpose, we tracked recruits’ self-identification as leaders and followers across the course of a physically arduous 32-week infantry training that prepared them for warfare in a range of extreme environments. This culminated in the recruits and the commanders who oversaw their training casting votes for the award of the Commando Medal to the recruit who showed most leadership ability. So who gets the votes? Marines who set themselves up as leaders, or those who cast themselves as followers?
In line with the analysis that we present above, we found that recruits who considered themselves to be natural leaders were not able to convince their peers that this was the case. Instead, it was the recruits who saw themselves (and were seen by commanders) as followers who ultimately emerged as leaders. In other words, it seems that those who want to lead are well served by first endeavoring to follow.
Interestingly, though, alongside these results, we also found that recruits who saw themselves as natural leaders were seen by their commanders as having more leadership potential than recruits who saw themselves as followers. This suggests that what good leadership looks like is highly dependent on where evaluators are standing. Evaluators who are situated within the group, and able to personally experience the capacity of group members to influence one another, appear to recognize the leadership of those who see themselves as followers. In contrast, those who stand outside the group appear to be most attuned to a candidate’s correspondence to generic ideas of what a leader should look like.
This latter pattern tells us a lot about the dynamics of leadership selection and helps to explain why the people who are chosen as leaders by independent selection panels often fail to deliver when they are in the thick of the group that they actually need to lead. It also has the potential to complicate the picture for aspiring leaders. The reason for this is that in organizations that eschew democratic processes in their selection of leaders, employees who are seen as leaders (by themselves and by those who have the power to raise them up) may be more likely to be appointed to leadership positions that those who see themselves as followers.However, as our Marines data suggest, this elevation of those who seek to distance themselves from their group may actually be a recipe for failure, not success. It encourages leaders to fall in love with their own image and to place themselves above and apart from followers. And that is the best way to get followers to fall out of love with the leader. Not only will this then undermine the leader’s capacity to lead but, more importantly, it will also stifle followers’ willingness to follow. And that can only ever be a path to organizational mediocrity.
Nestled in the Silicon Sentier district of Paris, the Villa Bonne Nouvelle (“House of Good News”), or VBN, initially appears to be another new coworking space. But what sets it apart is that only half of its 60 occupants are freelancers. The remainder work for Orange (née French Telecom), which launched VBN in 2014 to teach its programmers and engineers how to work with and learn from people outside of the company. The experiment succeeded: Teams temporarily stationed there worked better and faster than colleagues elsewhere, and they reported greater satisfaction and engagement (along with bouts of depression upon returning to the office). Even the HR executives managing the space were surprised by their bonhomie. More villas are now in the works.
Orange describes its approach as “corpoworking,” a cousin to coworking. It’s not alone in trying to jump on the trend of shared workspaces, of which there are now around 19,000 worldwide. Dozens of companies, ranging from telcos (Sprint, AT&T), to tech giants (SAP, IBM), to automakers and insurance companies (MINI, State Farm) have launched similar experiments. The real revolution in coworking may have less to do with freelancers or startups than with employees of large companies working beyond the boundaries of their organizations.
A case in point is WeWork, the provider of coworking spaces, which has grown its enterprise customer base in the last year by 370%. As of June 2018, corporate occupiers make up roughly one-quarter of WeWork’s members and revenues. It’s also creating stand-alone locations for individual clients such as IBM,UBS, and Facebook. It’s typically assumed these companies are seeking a jolt of hipness. But our research and reporting show this isn’t the case. We’ve separately toured and interviewed principals in more than a dozen corporate coworking spaces in the U.S., South America, and Europe over the last three years. We’ve found that these companies and their employees are searching for the same qualities freelancers and entrepreneurs report from their experiences in shared workspaces — learning skills faster, making more connections, and feeling inspired and in control.
In addition to coworking spaces for individuals and those that partner with employers, we’ve identified two types of corporate coworking. One is what we call open houses, in which companies offer workspace as a public amenity, typically for brand-building. In Brooklyn, for example, MINI, where one of us works, runs A/D/O, a combination coworking space, café, concept store, and fabrication lab. Its mission isn’t to sell cars, but to attract and learn from local designers. The other type we call campsites — internal, invitation-only spaces where teams from one company co-locate with peers from another. Campsites are temporary, affording coworkers stationed there opportunities to learn, ignore org charts, and collaborate across corporate boundaries. Orange’s VBN is one example; another belongs to a large telco in Silicon Valley, where its teams huddle alongside those from customers to prototype products and services. Projects that would have taken months of calls are finished in weeks, demonstrating the importance of co-location in innovation. Some companies are aggressively testing both. SAP’s HanaHaus in downtown Palo Alto is an open house that charges walk-ins $3 per hour, or roughly the cost of their Blue Bottle coffee. (Notable visitors include Mark Zuckerberg.) A few miles away, at its Silicon Valley campus, is AppHaus, one of five such campsites worldwide, where SAP engineers work with local customers and startups to explore consumer software.
But what are the goals of these corporate coworking spaces? Who uses them? And what do they look like? Here’s what we’ve learned.
The purpose of these spaces can vary widely, but they typically fall into one or more of three groups: transformation, innovation, and future-proofing. In the case of transformation, the space is designed to be a Trojan horse, sneaking new ways of working into an otherwise staid organization. This is explicitly the goal at Orange’s VBN, which Ava Virgitti, an employee experience lead for Orange, describes as an “HR lab” to test and learn how teams behave in the presence of leaner and meaner startups.
Innovation is the goal at other campsites, where diverse stakeholders are assembled with specific tasks and equipped with special facilities and methodologies (say, design thinking) to achieve them. Future-proofing is more open-ended; these spaces are designed to generate new contacts or ideas, which seems to be the thinking behind HanaHaus.
For these reasons, users are typically quite diverse in rank, role, and affiliation, and are present for only a few months before rotating out or back into the company. This is a critical feature of campsites in particular — a revolving door means a constant stream of fresh insights and expertise. Orange’s VBN uses nine-month “seasons” to reset the space; others switch participants as necessary.
While the focus of many spaces is to create new digital products and services, evidence from broader coworking surveys suggests other roles could benefit from this practice. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, for instance, Grid70 houses design, business innovation, and product development teams from a grocery chain, shoe retailer, and consumer goods manufacturer — no coding required.More important is curating the mix of employees, startups, entrepreneurs, freelancers, researchers, and even academics present. While open houses welcome almost everyone as part of their marketing and outreach efforts, campsites carefully vet participants according to expertise, personality, or cultural fit. The latter is crucial. While the cultures of these spaces vary according to industry, geography, and so on, they are always different from their parent organizations (and often opposed to them). This is unsurprising given their goal of smuggling the benefits of coworking inside. In interview after interview, community managers stressed the importance of members’ initiative, openness, curiosity, and trust, as well as esprit de corps, or what one called “family spirit.”
The role of community managers in fostering this culture can’t be overstated. Traditionally nonexistent in corporate America, they typically help select, vet, onboard, and connect new users with existing ones while organizing the space, arbitrating conflicts, and hosting events. User satisfaction surveys consistently rank them as the favorite aspect of corporate coworking.The other important aspect in creating these spaces is their physical design. Like the culture, which the design complements and enhances, the layout and amenities of these spaces are a far cry from cubicles. Nothing is stationary — whiteboards, movable walls, and flexible furniture are common. Amenities and kitchens are strategically positioned to “engineer serendipity” and conversations across organizations. And writing on the walls or floors is encouraged, as making a mess is considered a precursor to innovation.
Now, do these spaces work in promoting innovation? This seems to be the case, although, as with coworking in general, their effectiveness is difficult to measure and only quantifiable indirectly, through user satisfaction surveys and interviews. A few companies we spoke with also offered examples. Orange’s VBN reported a 92% user approval rating of the space, and pointed to the long waitlist for future seasons. At Grid70, one tenant reported a 30%–40% reduction in product development time after a redesign of their workspace. According to researchers at the University of Michigan, the most common reasons people seek coworking spaces are interaction with people (84%), random discoveries and opportunities (82%), and knowledge sharing (77%). Corporate coworkers seek the same.
As one might imagine, demonstrating the ROI of this is difficult — most don’t even try. Some eschew metrics altogether, gambling they will learn as they go when it comes to measuring what’s important. Many prefer the soft metrics, such as satisfaction and engagement mentioned above, and still others defer measurement into the future, minimizing expenses while awaiting a business case to emerge.
For this reason (and others), strong executive sponsors are crucial for corporate coworking. HanaHaus was instigated as the personal urging of SAP cofounder Hasso Plattner; Grid70 was conceived by a cluster of local CEOs. Orange’s VBN has the firm backing of senior HR executives, and so on. With the metrics so hazy, the decision as to whether these spaces are worth it is being made on a case-by-case basis.
Just as coworking was seen as a fringe phenomenon less than a decade ago, its corporate variant risks being perceived as a vanity project. But in light of the trends animating creative work today — increasingly flexible arrangements, cross-firm collaboration, and employees’ thirst for agency and authentic connections — these spaces hint at a future far beyond WeWork.
We’ve identified a few principles to keep in mind if your company is interested in exploring corporate coworking.
Be clear about your goals at the outset. Is it a Trojan horse for corporate culture, a cross-firm skunkworks, or a public branding exercise and serendipity engine? This decision will drive every facet of the project going forward, including participants, design, sponsorship, and ROI.
Community managers are the key to success. Hire carefully at the outset, involve them at every step of the design and recruitment process, and give them broad latitude in shaping the culture and programming of the space. Your project will likely fail without a strong community manager, and learning how their role could scale elsewhere in the organization is an incredible opportunity.
Don’t overthink the design. Focus less on foosball or Ping-Pong tables, and more on good overall layout principles. Co-locate teams in adjoining spaces for easy conversations; centralize amenities such as kitchens to increase serendipitous encounters (yes, even the unplanned can be planned for!). Empower users to make the space their own, and cut through red tape during construction — no one wants to spend nine months in just another project team room.