Ain’t No Meksis in Amerika

Ain’t No Meksis in Amerika

When I first began working with my father he had one full-time employee. The employee was a friend of his, a very highly educated Ethiopian man. On the days when my father was in office, he and this staff member would properly break twice a day. Once for lunch, where like civilized people, they would sit in the kitchen and eat their meals together; sometimes sharing when someone’s lunch was bigger than the others. For their second break, one would walk over to the local convenience store and buy coffee for the both of them. They would enjoy their meksis (afternoon/before dinner snack) and wax poetic about politics, the Church, or life back home. Meanwhile I, admittedly, was agitated that they had the nerve to have another break.

I’ve been thinking a lot about meksis. When I worked at a newspaper several years ago, in Addis, there was sort of a ritualized element behind the glorious second break of the day. Depending on your work environment and the hours you worked, you may go with your co-workers to the local cafe or beer garden and have a breather before returning to work. If you had a 9-5, you would meet up with your buddies who worked locally and maybe grab a light dessert or snack before heading home to eventually settle in and have dinner with your family. For those who would return back to work it was a good way to reset and feel a bit more energized.

For me, I would meksis because the electricity would go out and the generator wasn’t working. One time I went to the local movie theater and caught a new release film. After returning to work and finding the same conditions, I left.  At that time, I found it to be so extravagant. Almost lackadaisical. How do you just leave work to hang out? Do you really think when you get back from work you’re going to be focused or would you probably bum around the office until it’s time to go?

This week, every day (…well every other day), I decided to walk away from my desk and either take a walk or go out for lunch. What I found was that when I returned, I felt a bit more of a push to finish the day stronger. I felt less stressed and more motivated to complete whatever task I had unfinished. While on my break I felt more human. I don’t know of any other way to describe it, but I felt like I was a living thing beyond my labor. The days I didn’t break, I felt it too selfish to do so. This culture of being chained to your desk and leaving for a break, even lunch, as being extravagant is harmful. Why, in America, are we not expected to properly have a break from work?

When I was working in New York, no one took a break. You could easily work a 15-hour day and to step away from your desk for 30 minutes to take a damn breather, and when you returned people would react like you went to Neiman’s to go shopping. The reality is that hours worked does not necessarily correlate to productivity. And what many employers fail to realize is that when productivity is low, there is little incentive to increase pay which results in high turnover. In the end you are paying for the lack of compensation and not incentivizing productivity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics we are in one of the slowest growth periods, for productivity, since the Great Recession. I do not think it would be unreasonable to attribute this, in some way, to poor work environments caused by long hours worked.

If someone can perform a task in one hour, after having taken a break, versus someone who has been working non-stop that may require two hours; how much money are you wasting? A 30-min paid break is cheaper than that extra hour of paid labor. Not to mention a happier employee will likely result in higher retention rates. Employee turnover is a cost not often discussed, but the time and energy that goes into interviewing, hiring, and training; not to mention the effect it has on company morale can have an adverse impact in the long term.

While a formal lunch hour break won’t work for our office, I will be encouraging staff to take their breaks when comfortable for them. And I must absolutely lead by example, because I hardly leave my seat for a bathroom break let alone leaving the office. And while I still do have some reservations around meksis, admittedly, the act of breaking, with or without friends is absolutely integral to work productivity and mental health. So no, there is no meksis in America, and in many ways it’s to our own detriment.

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Feeling Lost When You’re the Driver

Feeling Lost When You’re the Driver

When I first started working with my father, I really had no intention of spending more than a year helping him. If someone told me that I’d have spent four, I would have been concerned. I had no vision when initially starting other than helping him get the business afloat, helping streamline and organize the existing structure, and then eventually passing the baton on to someone more qualified and experienced. I think because I did not have a vision, I lost sight.

My employees will ask me for direction or support and there are often times I really am throwing an answer out there. An educated one, but, still a damn guess. And really, there are staff with more experience than me in the business so I want to tell them, “You tell ME!”. There really are times I say this, in a more diplomatic way (obviously); telling them I believe in their decision making and that the worst decisions are sometimes just ones that have never been attempted. So sure, let’s try your idea, and worst case scenario we have to scrap maybe a few hundred dollars but best case scenario we may have found a methodology which could make or save us thousands. This isn’t a zero sum game. All “losses” are gains in knowledge. Fortunately, we found this to be a good approach internally: to encourage dialogue for staff to suggest new methods and/or implementations that would either simplify tasks or make them more cost effective.

After things began to pick up, and my responsibilities grew, I really found myself faced with a moral conundrum. How can I build direction for a place, where I was not entirely sure where I fit? I began focusing on small goals that were attainable that could bring me closer to a larger goal. The logo needed to change: that I could work on. Our documents needed updating: easy. We had no web presence: done. We had only one insurance contract: I began contacting insurers to contract with. We needed to hire more people to handle the volume increase: challenging, but done. These small elements became a means to begin understanding, structurally, what to look for in larger goals.

I began to ask my father questions like: what were the intentions at the outset? What was the driving force behind the company? And, what are you looking to do different from other players in the market? I wanted to use the answers to frame how we could use these as our values and the driving force behind our growth. His interest was in steady growth while maintaining quality of care, a fair and ethical approach for patient treatment, and reliability for both patients and physicians. For me, this translated to patient care with a familial approach. It made sense that we market ourselves as a family business, where we treat our patients, “as our own”. That is to say, provide attention to care that is genuine.

With a sort of ethos built, I felt more confident in what the company stood for. But, strategically, where were we going? The quality of service is good, but so what?  What is the end game? Unfortunately, there is no play book in small business. There’s no one size fits all approach. But, there is a sort of road map I’ve come up with that has been helpful with steering us in the right direction. I’ll be sharing a sort of outline of this in a part two of this post.

The Three R’s to Goal Setting in a Small Business

The Three R’s to Goal Setting in a Small Business

Starting in 2017, I decided New Year’s was not only a great tradition to set for the company to celebrate the holiday season but a way to reflect on met goals and setting new ones as a team.  By looking at the year before as a collective, everyone’s contributions as a team are recognized; furthering a sentiment of cohesion and teamwork. Having our holiday party thereafter became a great way to bond and renew hope for New Year goals.

We continued this tradition in 2018 and it proved to be incredibly effective with major goals. I think a few different elements play into why this works. The first being accountability. I don’t know how many macro level goals I’ve set for the company but because they remained in my head, they never came to fruition. It is very easy to get side tracked with day-to-day operational tasks that you can lose sight of the bigger picture. Because of this, you are not spending any time on strategy and implementation. For an example, are you looking to expand services? What services are you looking to add? How are you going to add it? What is the cost benefit and how much more resources will it take to implement it?  A company should not only just function, but flourish.

Secondly, by sharing company goals with employees, you are essentially proclaiming your growth. In doing this by faith, and in works, not only do you build trust between staff and management but you’re also demonstrating the importance of follow through. Ideally, your staff should reflect your work ethic. By sharing larger goals, your team is affirmed in the necessity of drive and accountability. Essentially if you assign a project to an employee, you are expecting them to take the helm and not only orchestrate but also produce quality work in a timely fashion. But, can you do this? Leading by example is far easier than by commands.

Lastly, having a deadline matters. Even if you spend the second half of the year scurrying to meet your goals, this is better than having put in no effort come the following year. Small steps are still movement! There’s a personal goal I’ve had for this business for almost four years and it wasn’t until last year that I even started to set it in motion. Now that I have the tools, I feel more motivated to complete the goal.

To make our goal setting meetings thorough, I use the three “R’s”.  We reflect on the previous year’s goals and accomplishments (“In Review”), the New Year goals (“Resolutions”) , and then concluding with any exciting benchmarks that reflect on significant growth and/or sentimental value (In “Retrospect”).  Here is how I formatted the three R’s with some examples of bullet points:

In Review:  2017’s Resolutions

  1. Double our numbers from last year. (Did a recap of how we met this.)
  2. Gain 2+ new insurance contracts. (Cited two new contracts we gained.)
  3. Find a new, prime location for our office. (Reflected on our move and how grateful we were to find the right location.)

2018 Resolutions:

  1. Double our referrals from 2017.
  2. Gain 2+ new insurance contracts (Listed a few insurers we will tackle).
  3. Strengthen our commitment to clinical and therapeutic results. (Cited how we will do this.)

In Retrospect:

In 2017 PRHSInc experienced the incredible benchmark of hiring two new full-time employees and finally being able to add the owner to our payroll. At the core we want to maintain an ethos of quality over quantity. We are a family and do not want to lose the cohesion and heart that we’ve put into the foundation of this business. Remember that you are a member and your presence matters. We are looking forward to 2018 and going into it with much hope and faith.

After our meeting we went out for dinner and drinks. The New Year represents reinvigorated hope and purpose. To share this with those you spend such a significant part of your days with reinforces perspective. Scripture tells us “Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9-11). When you set goals by faith and action, even if you are not religious, what you are doing is habituating trial and error. When a goal that you made does not turn out, despite persistence, it is easier to regroup and try again when it has been quantified. If you have a destination to go to by a certain time, and there’s a road closure, do you go back home or do you use your GPS to find another route? You may be late but you will still arrive at your destination!

Here’s to hitting the road running in 2018 and being able to see how far you’ve gotten by 2019. Happy New Year!

Holiday Gift Guide for the Lazy Boss

Holiday Gift Guide for the Lazy Boss

Not only am I lazy but I’m also tired. We’ve added two new hires and it’s our busy season. I’m tired.

Here are great gift options on Amazon that don’t break the bank, maintain religious sensitivity, and if you order them today, will make it in time for Christmas, before the end of Hanukkah, and just in time to seem like you really do care. In no particular order:

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Gold Monogram Coffee Mug

I just recently bought this for an employee and it’s just as beautiful as it appears. Great for coffee or tea drinkers. Make it more festive by adding some instant coffee packets, a tea variety pack, or a gift card to Dunkin or Starbucks. Boom.

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Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker

These are awesome. I’ve had mine for a year now and it still holds a great charge, range is good, and the volume and sound quality are great. Cost is delicious.  A perfect unisex gift. If they have one already, it’s a great gift to re-gift anyway. 

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Electric Massager

You know that one person who has a new ailment every week? I’m sure they’ve complained about back pain or some sciatic nerve issue. This guy is rechargeable, small, and packs a punch. Get it in black for Dante, or in pink for Susan. Throw it in the bag!

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Ganesh Leaf Incense Burner & Incense Variety Pack

Perfect for that employee who is about that relaxation life, or needs to be about it. I bought this for a gentleman caller who no longer exists. The holder looks nice and the incense variety pack smells great.

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Bluetooth FM Transmitter

It’s 2017 and there’s no reason why you should be forced to listen to the radio. The sound quality on this guy is excellent. There’s hardly any issues with static and it’s easy to set-up. Give it to Charlotte who still drives the car they got in high school. (It’s me, I’m Charlotte.)

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Phone Case with Kickstand & Flip Cover

I bought this for an employee and it’s so pretty. This particular one is for the Galaxy, so obviously augment to fit the person’s phone. But there’s no reason why in the year of our overlord Trump 2017, anyone should be walking around with a cracked phone. Get it in black for Bob, or in purple for Bob.

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Scratch Off World Map

I bought a comparable version for a dear friend of mine and it’s the perfect gift for the intrepid traveler. It, aesthetically, looks really beautiful and elegant as well. Great for dude or dudette.

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Amazon Gift Card

Give Bezos his coins and keep your sedentary lifestyle. You can have a card in a box shipped, have the card e-mailed, or print it. Gift cards in general will save you a lot of strife and energy. Best of all: a lot of other retailers offer an e-mail or print option so you won’t even need to move your legs. I’ll be buying myself, on behalf of myself, a gift card to Sephora.

If you are stuck on what to get your boss; I want a massage. You guys can all pool in and collectively get me one. Thank you. Happy Holidays!

My Father is Not Your Baba & Other Funny Stories: Tale of the Redneck

My Father is Not Your Baba & Other Funny Stories: Tale of the Redneck

There’s no HR friendly or PC way to tell this story and fortunately no one was harmed in the making of this incredibly awkward exchange…

My father has been in this country for over 30 years, but there is only so much nuance and cultural literacy one can own in the absence of having not been born and raised in this country. And even then, many people still either choose to, are not exposed to, or find it difficult to understand how various races and cultures operate linguistically.

That’s enough of a preface, so boom:

My father and a white employee of ours were working hard in moving a shipment of oxygen tanks to the basement of our previous office. This was hard work. They were both up and down stairs carrying these cylinders that are heavy and that you also have to take care not to bang up. Our employee was working their ass off and my father was really impressed.

While they are up and down, I’m minding the phone lines. And as they are working I can hear their conversation both because I have the ears of a demigod but also because the walls were paper thin. All of a sudden I hear my father say, “Wow you are a really hardworking redneck!” To which she responded with a laugh.

I just…

After the panic subsided I immediately pulled my father aside for a hushed conversation and told him to never use the word again. He was shocked! He said he thought it was a compliment. And sure the denotation of the word is based on the premise that when a white person is working hard outside, and their neck is exposed to the sun, it gets red. The connotation is what gets us in trouble. I had to parallel the use of the n-word; because while not nearly as offensive, the same rules apply. If you’re not of that race, just don’t use it. Put in that context he felt horrible and said he would make it right.

I then heard him approach the co-worker and ask her if the term he used was appropriate for the circumstance because he wasn’t sure. He mentioned that all his white friends used it, so he thought he could too. She went on to tell him that she used it all the time and it was okay that he used it. But, that sometimes people may get offended. But she wasn’t. He apologized and said that he did not know the term could be offensive and that he really wanted just to convey how much he admired her strength. She laughed and said that there was no issue.

She came to me laughing and began to tell me the story so I too could have a good laugh. I acted as if I knew nothing and then made sure she saw that I was mortified. I immediately apologized to her and told her that he probably didn’t understand the meaning behind the use of the term.

In a way, I can’t blame my father. When you are black and an immigrant, and you come to a country like America; is there much that can verbally harm white people? In a nation built for the gain of whites, what stones can you throw to dent their exterior? The reality is that white people in America have never been slaves, subjugated, or maligned. There is no white subaltern voice in America because they have always maintained hegemony. The language reflects this. The language of the colonizer, unless dismantled or altered, will always inherently favor them. This is why the employee laughed, because ultimately what’s a redneck to a nigger?

In any case, this serves as a beautiful example of immigrant acculturation. There’s only so much our environment can afford us, outside of seeking that information ourselves. We still laugh about the whole thing. And fortunately, my father can now avoid such a faux pas in the future.

Entrepreneurship is a Love Unrequited

Entrepreneurship is a Love Unrequited

Imagine giving your all; your nights, your weekends and even your sleep to something and not seeing your return for days, weeks, months, or even years. You spend the dreams of your days and nights working, thinking, and re-imagining dilemmas, new approaches, and ideas for this thing. But, nothing gives. All that stands is what you’ve given and there’s no take off. There will sometimes be a glimmer of flight, but then it doesn’t sustain. So again, you go back to the drawing board and think, where’s the damn love?

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” – T. E. Lawrence

Business ownership is often touted as possible for everyone, withstanding through time, passion inducing, exciting, and even sexy. But, just like that ex, it’s got no love for you. A small business does not care how much time or energy you’ve given. It doesn’t care that you’ve told everyone you love about them. It doesn’t care that you have given the most precious thing a human can: time. It does not care that you have the education, experience, network, capital, or drive.  It’ll take, and take, and take and look at you like any parasite does: pathetic.

About two years ago my father and I prepared for two weeks for a major bid submission. It was two weeks of 12-14 hour days mulling over contracts, cost analysis, vendor research, and combing through verbiage. I ended up sick during this time and between the piles of tissues, stacks of documents, and going cross eyed we treaded on. By the end of our submission we were wiped. We stood back and looked at the marvel. We felt so proud. This bid was our baby and we just loved the damn thing.

A year later that baby looked at us brand new and rejected us. Yes, sir. We did not win that bloody bid and we felt so defeated. We gave it our all; our snot, sweat, and tears and we lost. How? I mean, we were perfect for it, in every possible way. It was going to be our major break. We prayed over it, our family prayed over it, our friends did as well. And there it went: our time, energy, and hopes. In the weeks following we heard of other competitors who won and couldn’t help but wonder, “but they couldn’t love or treat you better than we could”. Ha!

All jokes aside, we heard that the bid was a bust and that those who won were being paid very little and being enforced by rules and regulations that were strict and daunting. Reimbursement for services would allow most to break even and the demographic was not necessarily desirable. In the end, the loss was a win. All that time and energy we put in, the several months after we remained faithful and envisioned a future with this win, and in the end it served us better to be without it.

The moment we let go other opportunities and contracts became available. And, because of the crash course we experienced, we shaped up our own policies and procedures. The experience made us better, and in the end we were rewarded with better opportunities because of how we grew from the experience. It’s funny, because now, if offered to us on a silver platter, we’d kindly decline that bid. Maybe not kindly, but we’ve got better having to do less. So, bye.

“Perfect behavior is born of complete indifference. Perhaps this is why we always love madly someone who treats us with indifference.” -Cesare Pavese

I believe, this is often why so many business go bust within the first few years. You cannot unwaveringly love someone without knowing them to their core. In business terms you’ve got to know the industry, you have to know the market, you’ve got to offer something new or different, you’ve got to have the startup or be willing to work for free, and finally have the kind of focus and ethics that will ingratiate you to not only your consumer base but any partnerships you forge within or outside of your business. Just like you know that love like the back of your hand, you must have a command of your industry. You know who that person may be seeing or have an interest in; know your competitors and what they offer. You know that your ex is a compulsive liar; market on that weakness and market integrity as your leverage.

The business itself has eventually learned some reciprocity. The toxic relationship it once was is now turning a bend and offering a return for our tireless commitment. But it’s a love not meant for everyone. It’s an endless endeavor that carries you beyond the computer screen and into your bed. It’s there in the meals you miss, the social activities you cannot go to, the bottles of wine you empty, and arguments you regret. It’s there, a pit in your stomach, that you cannot pass.  Entrepreneurship is for the unrelenting; for the kind of formidable force that will not recoil at “no” and retain hope in the face of seeming failure. It’s an endeavor not for most for it’s a love that even when seemingly won, requires constant attention.

If in the face of failure you leave and look elsewhere, a 9-5 working under Bob or Sue may be better for you. Otherwise, if picking back up and taking failure as leverage excites you like the sadist you are, entrepreneurship is an adventure to eventually grip the reigns of. A love to not see as hopeless, but always on the horizon.

My Father is Not Your Baba (and Other Funny Stories)

My Father is Not Your Baba (and Other Funny Stories)

Inevitably, when working with your family, there are going to be cringe worthy moments of either complete embarrassment or disaster. Before embarking on joining my father, I wasn’t sure what to anticipate as far as our work relationship was concerned. Would he be a totalitarian and dictate to me how he wanted things? Are we going to fight over every important decision? Will we think likeminded and maintain professionalism? How would our work and home life balance?

Suffice to say, working with my father has probably been the easiest part of this experience. We discuss and analyze options and directions logically and try to maintain compassion for our customers/patients without getting personal or taking anything to heart. This doesn’t mean faux paxs and mild arguments don’t occur. Sometimes we do take work home and to the dinner table. There have been times I haven’t spoken to him and vice versa at home, but upon entering the office doors, we resume communication. But really, he’s probably the easiest person I’ve ever worked with.

Honestly, the best anecdotes are the funny or embarrassing ones. The very first incident being the story behind this post title; which I think I may turn into a series where I compile all the embarrassing, cringeworthy, and/or funny moments I’ve experienced working with my father.

For around the first two years of my joining the business, it was only my father and myself. We did everything. From my scrubbing the toilet to interviewing hires, to him visiting his patients to going to business meetings; it was just us two keeping the ship afloat. As such, the environment was more familial than professional. I got used to yelling across the office, “Hey Baba, did you get a chance to…” or, “Baba, I thought we were going to…” In turn he’d respond or call for me by my full name: Kalkidan. It was, after all, just us.

As business grew we made our first hire. This person has come to be an important part of our team, but at the time was simply an employee who was neither kin or kinfolk. Simply put: she’s a white woman. Okay? So, she joins our team and we begin to build our workflow and rhythm for our day-to-day. Well, one morning she knocks on the door to come in for the day and my father opens it. All of a sudden I hear her say, “Hi Baba, thanks for opening the door.” Maaan. We definitely had a good laugh.

I no longer call my father Baba in the office, but by his first name. And because my full first name is not used by Americanas, he started calling me, “Kallie”. There is a lot of intimacy in language and this was a lesson we both had to learn for the sake of professionalism. Not that my full name is unprofessional, or that my father should not be called endearingly, but that the way you communicate with one at home is not for your professional world to be invited to. If you can’t pronounce Kalkidan, don’t try because I’m not amused. And don’t call my father Baba, because he ain’t your daddy.