Kerrying On

Kerrying On: Six Dollars an Hour

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Kerrying On

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On a generosity scale from one to ten—one meaning “painfully cheap” and ten meaning “delightfully generous”—my kids think I’m a one. For years I thought all the “You’re Number One” cards, trophies, and plaques my children gave me on Father’s Day celebrated my best-ness. It turns out it was code. They were mocking my cheapness. In fact, they think my entire generation is cheap.

Now, before you Gen Xers, Millennials, and other Post-Boomers join forces with my children in condemning my generation for being inordinately thrifty, take a walk in our slippers. See what life was like growing up as a teenager in the 60s. One look at a typical school day and you might replace your contempt for my generation’s penny-pinching with an appreciation for our financial conservatism. Stranger things have happened.

When I was in high school, I would get up every weekday morning and face the same question: Should I pack a lunch? My parents were unwilling to give me money to “throw away on fast food,” so if I wanted a noon meal I would have to make my own lunch—and it had to be sandwiches. This would have been fine, were it not for the fact that in order to save money, Mom generally purchased tongue, heart, liver, and other internal organs to be used as lunchmeats.

So here was my typical school day. I would peer into the fridge and immediately reject tongue. Whenever I ate tongue, I couldn’t figure out who was tasting whom. Heart and liver were also out of the question because the mere sight of them freaked out my lunch mates. If I went so far as to take a bite of, say, boiled heart on raisin bread, it caused an epidemic of shiver-gags. I don’t even want to talk about the scene a tripe sandwich could cause.

Later on as lunchtime rolled around, I’d be famished and, for reasons you now understand, without a sandwich. This presented me with the second question of the day. Should I take the quarter my parents had given me to ride the bus home and use it to purchase fast food? Or should I save my quarter for the bus and avert the hike home? If I sprang for fast food, my quarter would buy either a see-through milkshake or a tiny, pretend hamburger that contained no actual organic materials.

Given these options, I typically skipped lunch, but to no advantage. At the end of the school day, I would again face the “eat vs. ride” decision. Only now, a bakery that sat next to the city bus stop made the choice even more difficult. It sold (and this was just plain cruel) twenty-five-cent cream puffs.

While waiting for the bus I’d stare longingly through the bakery window at the delectable treats—fiercely gripping my quarter as if it were the key to Donald Trump’s safe deposit box. Eventually I would step out from under the bakery’s awning to see how hard it was raining. If it wasn’t raining too hard, and if the cream puffs looked particularly scrumptious, I would surrender my quarter, wolf down a cream puff, and walk home.

Oh yes, one more detail. I didn’t merely walk home. I walked home while lugging a stack of textbooks. I completed this feat (as did all teenage boys in the 60s) by cocking my right arm unnaturally high and tucking my books into my armpit as if to say, “Look at me and my many muscles that can easily hold aloft these heavy books.” This ridiculous balancing act was extremely difficult to maintain and made me think twice about walking anywhere.

So, if it was raining hard and I had a lot of books to carry, I’d have to be a nitwit to give up my bus fare—which, I’m ashamed to admit I did regularly because I adored cream puffs and possessed not a trace of willpower.

But not without consequences.

Once I had given into the allure of French pastry, I’d grudgingly hoist my books to their unnaturally high position in my armpit and trudge a mile and a half up the hill to my house. Within a few minutes a city bus would mockingly cruise by while the kids inside pointed and laughed at the self-indulgent sap lugging books up the hill in the rain. All of this took place because I couldn’t stand tasting a sandwich only to have it return the favor.

Now, keep in mind, this drama was about a quarter. Two bits. Twenty-five cents. You can only imagine what it took for me to spend a lot of money. I did earn money through various jobs, but every cent of that went to buying clothes. When it came to the frills, I had to skip lunch and walk home—sans the high-octane fuel of French pastry—often for days on end. For instance, during my senior year when I elected to go to the prom, for over six months I hungrily walked home in the rain, lugging my books like a stevedore. And while I did, here’s what I’d be thinking:

“Let’s see, my date wants a purple orchid to match her dress—five bucks (or 20 quarters). The prom tickets cost four dollars (16 quarters). Photos are another four. Dinner—please don’t let her order steak!—fifteen bucks (a whopping 60 quarters). Plus there’s the tuxedo and. . .”

I hadn’t thought about that prom until one day over thirty years later when my mother produced a piece of paper she had set aside the day after the dance. It was an itemized list I’d made of what I had spent. At the bottom of the list I had calculated the total dollar figure and divided it by the number of hours the date had lasted—revealing that the prom had cost me six dollars an hour.

I know, I know. The fact that I calculated how much the prom cost per hour brands me a hopeless cheapskate. Nevertheless, having just walked in my slippers, I hope you now understand my cautious ways. You know that as a young man I rarely had any money or a chance to get any. That is, unless I walked a mile and a half uphill in the rain carrying a stack of books jammed under my armpit.

So, dear friends, forgive me my frugality. Show patience as I—and others from my generation—ask the restaurant cashier for change for a quarter and then return to the table to leave an exact 15 percent tip. Smile knowingly when we refuse to turn on the air conditioning, buy discounted label-less cans, and wash and reuse the plasticware that comes with fast food. Take pity on us old codgers who, on occasion, can appear to be a tad cheap.

We have our reasons.

Influencer QA

Q&A: Influencing an Entire Department

David Maxfield

David Maxfield is coauthor of three New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Crucial Conversations

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

I am the manager of a small intensive care unit. I struggle to get staff to commit to using a tool that would make our patient care rounds more efficient and ensure that we cover all aspects of care. How do I hold sixty-seven crucial accountability discussions?


The Messenger

A Dear Messenger,

Good question! Most managers, whether they work in healthcare or not, face this challenge. How do you implement process improvements that require new and reliable behaviors? Holding sixty-seven crucial accountability discussions sounds too time consuming and inefficient. I’ll suggest some strategies.

Work through a team. You’ll need the support of two groups: formal leaders and informal leaders. The formal leaders include all of the supervisors and managers in the affected area. The informal leaders include the opinion leaders throughout the affected area. Focus a disproportionate amount of your efforts on these two groups of people. Once you’ve gotten their whole-hearted support, ask them to help you bring everyone else on board.

Share your path. Don’t just share your final conclusions. Take the formal and informal leaders along the path you took as you learned about the process improvement. Tell the story of your initial doubts, your data collection, your evaluation, and what it was that eventually convinced you.

Identify obstacles and objections. Ask the formal and informal leaders to help you identify all of the obstacles and objections the process improvement could face. For example, Lisa, a brilliant nurse manager at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, MI was working to implement bedside reports—a process that involves patients and their families in shift-change handoffs. This influencer actively collected every concern she could find. Some of her findings included:

1. Overly involved families

2. Verbiage to use in front of patients

3. May not know Plan of Care

4. Addressing patient needs in the moment

5. Cognitive status issues

6. Time management

7. Meal prep interfering with rounds

8. Psychosocial issues

9. Sharing information that might be embarrassing to patient/family

10. Drug-seeking behavior

11. Worry about creating two reports

12. Every patient needing something when you are in the room

13. How to have time to review the Kardex?

14. How to find people to get/give report to?

15. Is this going to take more time?

16. Physician rounds interfering with report

17. What information can I share?

18. Use of phones during report

19. Transfer of patients during report

20. Waking up patients

Find solutions. Take people’s concerns seriously. Work with the formal and informal leaders to create convincing answers for each. Lisa asked her team to suggest solutions to real problems. For example, they decided to get phones for technicians so nurses wouldn’t have to leave during bedside reports.

Answer objections. Many concerns people have require answers, rather than solutions. They reflect a lack of understanding, rather than a flaw in the improvement process. Lisa asked her team to create two-minute answers to every concern. These answers were usually three to four bullets long. Here is an example:

Concern #9. Sharing information that might be embarrassing to patient/family

• We will already have permission from the patient. We’ll know what we can share and what we can’t.

• We will be the ones who ask family members to leave.

• Sometimes, the embarrassment is really ours rather than the patient’s.

Make sure all of the formal and informal leaders are confident they can answer these concerns. Ask them to take the lead in answering them.

Bring everyone on board. Hold a meeting—or a couple of meetings—to orient and educate everyone who needs to change or support the process improvement. Make sure the formal and informal leaders play important roles in these meetings. Remember, they are the people who will tip the balance.

Analyze and adjust. Anticipate and prepare for setbacks. Take extra care to find and quickly solve problems during the first few weeks that people use the new tool. Use the formal and informal leaders as your eyes and ears. They will learn about problems before you will. You won’t be able to anticipate every problem in advance but you can mitigate many issues by including this preparation in your plan.

I hope these ideas will help. The basic idea is to involve formal and informal leaders in a systematic way. Use them to first refine the improvement tool, and then to advocate and educate after it has been implemented. This process will be far more effective and efficient than sixty-seven separate conversations.

Good Luck,


Sucess Story

Success Story: Newmont Mining Uses Influencer Training to Enhance Workplace Safety

The Challenge

Workplace safety has always been a value for global mining leader Newmont Mining Corporation. The company utilizes many proven safety practices such as investigating incidents and taking corrective actions, creating proactive safety standards for management, and providing standard safety and technical training. As a result, the company achieved an enviable Total Recordable Accident Frequency Rate (TRAFR), the industry measurement of safety incidents that occur on the job per number of hours worked.

Still, the company continued to experience fatalities and serious injuries and, in early 2010, Newmont’s board of directors requested that the executive leadership team develop a plan to work toward eliminating fatalities and serious injuries in the workplace.

This directive led to the creation of a Safety Task Force, which developed six recommendations. First among the recommendations was to focus on Safety Leadership Behaviors. This meant company leaders had to figure out how to change behaviors to ensure that choosing safer behaviors became part of the company’s culture.

The Solution

Read our case study to learn how Newmont Mining used Influencer Training to identify vital behaviors, improve safety, and get the right results.