I spent some time this week coaching a physician informaticist on some of the less-exciting aspects of running a team. At first, he was very excited to be the leader of a team of optimization specialists to work with clients across the south. He didn’t understand what he’d have to deal with as far as the actual logistics of managing people though – vacation approvals, travel authorizations, and the dreaded expense reports.
We talked through the idea of creating some team policies and procedures beyond the standard corporate policies in an attempt to manage the chaos. He has more than 20 people on his team, which is a lot to handle when you’ve never managed people.
Some of the problems were simple solutions. For example, processing the vacation requests 1-2 times a week based on a published timeline for the team, and then ad-hoc for last-minute issues. For travel authorizations, processing daily at mid-day so that his team could complete booking tickets before the travel agency closed. That way he felt less fragmented and less like he was in and out of different software applications all day long.
Creating a strategy to manage his team’s expense reports became the highlight of my day. I have to admit that in reviewing some of the problems he is dealing with, I developed an appreciation for the level of shenanigans his employees were putting forward. Several were pushing the limits of the daily meal allowance, logging the wait staff gratuity as a separate line item under “cash expenses” so they could expense an extra cocktail on their dinner checks without hitting the cap.
Another’s expense reports can only be described as stream of consciousness. Despite traveling to the same client every week, he files reports in a random way that doesn’t seem to line up with any of the scheduled trips. A third consultant included airport hotel bills for the night prior to his travel, “just in case the weather was bad” even though he only lives 20 miles from the airport.
The winner, though, was the consultant who repeatedly stops to purchase a single beer at the gas station next door to the rental car pickup. The timing seemed a little odd, especially since he stays at a hotel where you can purchase single beers in the lobby. It makes me wonder if he is drinking it in the car as he heads to the hotel. All things considered, and especially working for a healthcare company, I’d probably just pay for that out of pocket and not try to expense that $2.85 worth of my day. Not to mention that my client may want to encourage his employee to purchase his beverages at the local package store and pass the cost savings onto their customers.
We had to do some back and forth with the corporate expense people to find out whether some of the outlier expenses were prohibited or acceptable but just tacky. Not all of his employees were gaming the system, though. Several use coupons for their airport parking to save the clients’ money, and at least five of his team members were spot on with their expenses. We’re using those good corporate citizens as an example to the rest of the team and plan to leverage a couple of them to teach the others how to file an expense report that doesn’t drive the reviewer mad.
Another challenge was coaching him on what to do with some of his new employees who are having challenges with professional behavior. That’s always rough when you inherit a team from someone else, or when candidates are hired without your input.
One is struggling with professional dress. My client mentioned that he never thought he would have to tell a field trainer that wearing a fishing hat to the client site isn’t appropriate. That was mild compared to the employee that he described as a “predator” based on reports from multiple clients. Apparently, this trainer would meet members of his training classes at bars after class, with all the imaginable bad decisions taking place. Whether you go to medical school, business school, or any other school, nothing prepares you for having to deal with employees on the prowl, especially when they’re propositioning your clients. The employee is currently on a performance improvement plan, but it’s surprising that people are having to deal with that type of behavior after all the stories we hear about sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.
One of the most egregious examples of unprofessional behavior was the team member who asked a client physician (the CMO no less) whether he could write her a script for some Ambien because she left hers at home. Her previous manager left the incident hanging out there for my client to deal with when he inherited the team, an act which is unprofessional in its own right. Clearly the employee didn’t find asking a client to write a controlled substance script to be a problem, so it’s likely to be an interesting conversation when the inevitable counseling occurs.
I could never work in human resources because I don’t have the poker face to deal with some of the things that come through the door. One of the funniest books I’ve read in the last few years is Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. There’s a chapter about her past life as a human resources staffer that will make your head spin. (Warning: language may be inappropriate for the workplace, although common.)
I sincerely enjoyed working with this new client this week and look forward to several more sessions in the coming months. It’s always fun to see someone who is idealistic and enthusiastic who hasn’t been beaten down like so many of the rest of us. I’ve enjoyed teaching him my favorite Jedi tricks around email management and getting through days with high volumes of meetings and little productivity. I hadn’t imagined myself as an elder statesperson in the realm of corporate survival, but it seems that I may have arrived there. It’s definitely a new adventure.
What’s your best story about bogus expense reports? Email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.