I did possess certain values when I first started working. Values such as a strong work ethic and extreme loyalty were very important. Yet, many of my philosophies resulted when I least expected them. I’d like to share some as follows.
My Dad’s Story
Back in the early sixties, my dad was a high school teacher at a vo-tech school. He taught two courses— English and history. He had six classes in all. Like every other teacher, he had to submit grades at the end of every marking period. And thus, four times a year, he dragged himself in on a Sunday to work on tallying the grades.
Now in the 1960s, there were no calculators, or Excel programs to help him with the math. Everything was done manually. But he did have an adding machine. It was not an electric one.
It was a big gray monstrosity with ten rows of buttons from zero to nine. You pushed the buttons of the number that you wished to add and pulled the handle. The machine would make a chugging sound before printing that number on a spool of paper. Then you would repeat the process with another number. Again, you would push the buttons and pull the handle. Following another loud chugging sound, the new number would be printed on the spool of paper.
But what was really amazing was what also resulted. Not only was the new number on the spool of paper, but it had been added to the previous number. The resulting sum was also printed on the spool of paper.
Imagine adding two numbers at once! And it only took thirty seconds to add them together! If you figure about 25-30 students in a class and six classes, you can see why calculating grades would seem like a daunting task.
Now my Dad was not the only teacher who came in on a Sunday to tabulate grades. In fact, he and another teacher (named Tony) would make a game out of it. My Dad would go into his classroom and Tony would go into his classroom. And who ever finished first would be declared the winner. The prize? The loser would buy the winner lunch— usually at the fast food restaurant across the street.
I came with my Dad this particular Sunday. It’s 9 AM. My Dad was ready to compete with Tony to see who could be the first to add up and calculate all the grades. My Dad opened his attaché case, took out his grade book, some paper, and about a half dozen pencils.
He went to the closet and placed the adding machine on the corner of his desk. He opened his thermos and poured himself a cup of coffee. Then he opened his attaché case a second time and pulled out the Sunday paper. He leaned back in his chair and read the paper— virtually ignoring the task at hand.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Reading the paper,” he replied.
“I can see that,” I answered, “But shouldn’t you be working on your grades?”
He smiled, “All in due time.” And he went back to reading the paper.
I sat there quietly and decided to read my book. I glanced up every so often. My Dad continued to sit there reading the paper. After about an hour and fifteen minutes, I decided to speak.
“Dad,” I said, “Don’t you realize that Tony has a significant jump on you? You’ll never catch up at this point!”
“Don’t worry. I’ve got a plan,” he said as he went back to reading the paper.
“Okay,” I replied as I shook my head.
Approximately an hour later, my Dad opened his attaché case and put his newspaper away.
And with that my Dad moved the adding machine to the center of his desk. He picked up his grade book and began adding grades for his six classes.
I knew my Dad wasn’t stupid. I knew he had something up his sleeve. But all I could do was sit there shaking my head.
Forty-five minutes later, Tony burst into the room.
“I’m finished,” he exclaimed, “Are you done yet, old man?”
My Dad looked up from his work. He shook his head and said, “Not even close.”
“I can’t believe it,” replied Tony, “This must be the sixth or seventh time that I’ve beaten you.”
“At least,” said my Dad.
“How far along are you?”asked Tony.
My Dad flipped through his grade book and said, “ I’m halfway through my second class.”
“Wow! You are behind. Tell you what. Let me go back to my classroom. I’ll get my adding machine. Then I’ll come and help you finish,” suggested Tony.
“Okay,” said my Dad. Meanwhile Tony left and returned to his classroom.
My Dad smiled broadly at me. I stared at him.
“What just happened?!” I asked.
“I lost,” he replied.
“I know you lost! You deliberately lost!” I paused and continued, “Why did you deliberately lose?”
My Dad stood up, came over, and sat in a seat next to me.
“You see,” he said, “ I noticed that when I won, Tony was not a happy person. He was annoyed that he lost. And he was annoyed that he had to pay for lunch. He spent the rest of the afternoon complaining. To be honest, he wasn’t a very pleasant person to be around. In fact, there were times when I skipped lunch so I wouldn’t have to spend any more time with him.”
My Dad continued, “ Yet when he won, he’s cordial, pleasant, and very happy. But the best part is when he comes in here and volunteers to do half my work! Think about it, he does all his work and then half of mine. I lost! And yet he does half my work for me. And all it costs me is lunch at a fast food restaurant.”
“So you’re better off when you lose, than when you win.” I stated.
“Yes,” replied my Dad, “By him winning he’s a much nicer person and he helps me do my work. So by my losing…”
“You come out ahead,” I said.
“Exactly,” replied my Dad, “ It’s one of my favorite philosophies: Get what you want, by letting the other person think that they got what they want.”
My Donut Theory
I was a pharmacy manager. I managed 56.5 FTEs. That’s about 80 staff members. I tried to be fair. I tried to be consistent. But let’s face it, 80 people have different needs. What one wants, another doesn’t.
Now I could have taken the easy way out and try to give the same items to all 80 staff members. But they all don’t want the same thing. And to give a reward or item that an employee doesn’t want, well, it just wouldn’t work.
So it took a little work and it needed constant attention, but I devised, “Shifrin’s Donut Theory.” My theory worked as follows:
First, I asked each staff member what they wanted. For example, if they wanted a chocolate-covered donut with sprinkles, then I got them a chocolate-covered donut with sprinkles.
Next, I told them that as they are eating their donut, they may notice someone else eating a cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cream. Now the typical response might be to exclaim, “How come they have a cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese and I don’t?!”
To which I would exclaim, “Didn’t you ask for a chocolate-covered donut with sprinkles? [yes] Didn’t I get you a chocolate-covered donut with sprinkles? [yes] Don’t be jealous that you got want you wanted and someone else got what they wanted!”
My staff knew this. They seldom got jealous or complained when they got what they wanted and someone else got something different. Some staff members wanted overtime, while others wanted time off. Some wanted to work weekends, while others wanted weekends off. Some wanted to work holidays and get time and a half while others wanted wanted them off..
With a lot of work, I was pretty much able to accommodate everyone. And my staff was very pleased because they got what they wanted.
My Expertise vs. Flexibility Rationale
I know the logic of most pharmacy managers. These managers feel that everyone should know how to do every job (within their role) in the pharmacy. In other words, every pharmacist should know how to do every pharmacist job. Every pharmacy technician should know how to do every pharmacy technician job.
The reason for this is simple. If the pharmacy is short handed for any reason, then any pharmacist or pharmacy technician can step into someone else’s role and complete the job. Thus, the pharmacy ensures flexibility.
But there is a downside to this arrangement. Think about it. How often does this happen? A handful of times a year? Is it to one’s advantage to have everyone know how to do all the jobs in the pharmacy? Or is it better to specialize?
I’ve always felt it’s better to have expertise over flexibility. Why? Because people have strengths. And these times occurred much more frequently than the times where there is insufficient staff. Thus, expertise is more beneficial.
I was the pharmacy manager of a fairly large pharmacy staff. I had about twenty pharmacy technicians. For the most part, they were very good workers.
In addition, some were better in certain roles than others. For example:
- Certain technicians were outstanding in the IV room. They were adept in aseptic technique. They knew how to prioritize. They knew how much product to batch in order to minimize waste. Many times, I felt that these technicians had a better knowledge of IV room procedures than the pharmacist they worked with.
- Several technicians were proficient in the unit dose cart fill process. They were fast, yet accurate. They could quickly fill a unit dose cart with virtually no mistakes. They were quite knowledgeable about the medications. Plus, they questioned any discrepancies, rather than just blindly filling the carts.
- There were technicians who were superior when it came to technology. Our pharmacy used technology to complete many of the department’s essential tasks. These technicians were very knowledgeable with the devices in the pharmacy. They had a keen understanding of the steps involved in the automated process. Furthermore, they were familiar with the software of the various systems. They could address the pharmacy’s needs by modifying the computer programs. In addition, they could troubleshoot the systems when problems occurred.
I would never have sacrificed expertise by transferring any of my staff members into another role.
My Reputation Image
I was being let go. I was told that XYZ hospital pharmacy had decided to go in a different direction and I wasn’t considered XYZ material anymore.”
So I resigned
Now I’ve thought about what was said throughout the years and I realized two things:
- XYZ hospital pharmacy had decided to go in a different direction. That’s fine. As a manager, I work at the pleasure of the facility that I serve. I work hard, I give 150%, and I’m very loyal. But at the end of the day, if we’re not on the same page anymore, then it's time for me to go. I’m generally not very happy when this occurs. But I understand.
- I wasn’t considered XYZ material anymore. Really?! I don’t know about that!
Even when I was being let go, I always had my reputation. It was a very good reputation. I was well-liked and admired by everyone. And I left with my head held high.
It’s been about twelve years since I worked at XYZ hospital. I’m not XYZ material? Really?! Just consider the following:
- I’m in the hospital three days a week. I’ve seen and spoken to my former COO, CEO, Rehab VP, and VP of Medical Affairs as well as many other hospital employees. They’re all pleased to see me and speak highly of my tenure with XYZ hospital pharmacy.
- I’ve met twice with one of my past colleagues— the Human Resources Manager. I contacted her when she retired and reminisced about the good time we experienced. I also spoke with her outside the facility.
- I’ve seen several staff members from the pharmacy throughout the years. They always tell me about the wonderful times they had when we worked together.
- As a Career Services Representative, I started two externship programs in XYZ hospital. One was in the Emergency Room and one was in the Dental Clinic.
- I worked with my former Human Resources Recruiter, sending her graduate students to fill certain job openings.
- I was a volunteer for XYZ hospital for a short period of time. I was sought after by the Information Desk VP and my former pharmacy VP to volunteer in their departments.
Obviously, I’ve had a lot of dealings with XYZ hospital in the past twelve years. Thus, it’s apparent that “not considered XYZ material” was just an excuse to let me go.
My wife has always said, “ There’s nothing more important than your reputation, because it always follows you.”
I’ve always been fortunate to have important values to guide my career.
Daniel Shifrin, R.P., M.S. is a recently retired pharmacist who enjoys sharing his insights about hospital pharmacy. He is proud to own one of the largest collections of Pharmacy Stamp First Day Covers.