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Houston, Texas …

Houston, Texas Quote of The Day

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

– Neil Armstrong

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Becoming an Agents of Adjustment vs. Agents of Change

By: Oscar L. Orias
One of the constant things in life is change. People claim to love change and improvement, but in reality change is a very difficult pill to shallow and most of them hate real change with a passion. For businesses trying to stay competitive in this globalized world change is inevitable and very difficult. Any business manager, consultant, or employee can tell you how they have at one time or another failed at a cause they champion at their company. Even when introducing well-planned and thought out change. In politics you see this all the time, politicians rallying on the moniker of change and improvement but when he or she tries to implement such changes they are met with great resistance and are vilified. For businesses and nations stability is key but adapting to change is crucial for success.

Some of the Reasons Why Hate Change
Change is like the economy, some will gain and some will lose. For many they fear that gains and losses can come in the form of losing a job or having instability in the workplace No one likes having instability in the workplace and environment. It leaves an air of uncertainty, animosity, discontent, and disconnect. A great example of this changes is the evolution in technology and automation, which resulted in comfort for consumers and increased in productivity but at the expense of jobs. Much of the unrest today you see in U.S., Middle East, and Europe is a result of loses of jobs due to the evolution of technology and automation. Most of those job will never comeback or be available ever again. In fact in the U.S., companies have gone back to near pre-recession productivity levels with a smaller workforce. Advancements in technology and business engineering have made this possible. Understanding this concept of gains and losses is important for trying to convince people of change and improvement.

Another reason why people hate change is that it implies that the job and how they did the job was wrong. Most people take pride in what they do and how they do it. One of the worse thing you can do to a person is to wound their pride or belittle their lively hood. Sometimes agents of change end up doing both at the same time. In the medical industry, administrators and clinical managers have had issue in trying to modify or make suggestions on reducing cost and improving patient care. For hospital staff and clinicians trying to adjust to new ways of purchasing and protecting resources is seen as difficult and an extra chore to their already busy lives. Many feel that their way of live and lively hood are being changed with little input from them. No one ever likes having to do more than they have to without proper additional compensation and without being properly consulted. As an agent of adjustment you have to keep these things in mind when trying to teach new and champion programs that result in deep changes in the organization.

Some Things You Can Do To Become an Agent of Adjustment

The reason I use the term Agent of Adjustment over Agent of Change is that Agent of Adjustment implies that you are merely trying to improve on an already great system with great employees. Like I stated before change is difficult and painful because it requires heavy readjusting, work, and fear of instability. Adjustment implies you are merely making suggestion to make life easier for the employee, customer, and company. This doesn’t mean you aim for a lower goal, what an Agent of Adjustment means is that you aim for that same high goal but you address everyone’s point of view. This doesn’t mean every employee or organization will get on board with you but it does make it easier to impliment real change. Like the old adage goes “If you shoot for the moon even if you miss your will amoungst the stars.”

In order to live up to the title and name Agents of Adjustment must be able to have high goals and expectations, a well thought out plan of attack, execution, and a high level of persistance in getting what you want. Here are a few pointers that will help you become a better “Agent of Adjustment”:

1. Look at things for the perspective of the employees or managers you are making suggestions to. Like professional selling you need to know the wants and needs of the people you are targeting and use it to sell your idea. People are much more inclined to listen to someone that make suggestion on improving their lives than imposing new alterations (this comes back to the adjustment vs. change argument). Always make sure that the change benefits them much more than it would benefit you.

2. Make sure the lines of communication are open between you and the people you are consulting or managing. When making adjustments make sure that you get the views and concerns of all the parties involved. One of the most common errors in implementing new ideas and programs are ignoring the needs of the people who are directly impacted by it. Don’t be afraid to get suggestions and criticism from them, they may end up saving you or the company from a flawed plan. The only thing people hate more than change is change that is ill-planned and poorly executed.

3. Identify and work with key figures and people that are resistant to change. Sometimes it takes one person to shut you down completely. When you sit down and address the person’s concerns you can get sense of why they feel that way and convince them why the change would benefit them. Most of the time the motives are reasonable and understandable.

4. Never criticize. We as human beings have a tendency to pick out people’s faults first before making suggestion. By doing that their defenses go up and they will refuse to listen to us. Criticism causes any message no matter how good it is to fall on deaf ears. As an agent of adjustment you always make suggestion with making the lives of who will be influence easier. This is why it is important to know the needs and wants of the organization and employees. Adjust your ideas to fit what are their needs and concerns.

5. Adjustments and long lasting improvements are a team effort from all levels of the organization. In order to make adjustments last, you must have a total team effort and commitment from all people in the organization and all people being directly affect by the change. This where the use of cross-functional teams come into play. You are as strong as your weakest link.

6. You should replace words like “must” to “suggestion” and “selling” to “educate” in most cases. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be persistent and direct but remember to keep the point of view and needs of your target in mind.

Final Notes
This blog is just an overall guideline to a difficult and challenging issue of addressing and implementing change. Becoming an agent of adjustment in another country and culture requires adaptability and openness. You must familiarize yourself greatly with the culture, values, and languages of that country. What works in America won’t work in Japan, Italy, or Brazil. The most important thing I want the readers to get out of this blog is that an agent of adjustment always looks at things from the point of view of the employee and to never criticize others. Always make sure that what you are trying to educate them benefit them much more than it benefits you.


Austin Outpaces Houston in Economic Growth

By: Oscar L. Orias

A new study by the Brookings Institute ranks cities around the nation and world on how well they are recovering from the recession. Looks like this year Texas is a big winner, again. Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin made the top 15 in the nation in recovering. Austin led the pack by being the best city to recover in the US and 25th in the world. Houston made the list as the 61st in the world, lagging behind the rest of Texas. Houston has gained a reputation of being of the best recession proof cities but as the studies show it is behind the other major metropolises in the lone star state. It seems that for now Austin’s economy has come out pretty well.

Austin Booming
Austin for the last decade has remained one of the leading cities in growth and stable economy. It has gotten rid of it’s reputation as being just merely a home for the UT System, Texas government, and Dell headquarters. 7 companies from Austin made Delloitte’s list of fast growing companies. There are several reason for this rapid growth:

1) Stable Economy: the huge campus, UT-Austin and Texas government are stable employers that don’t lay-off huge numbers of employees. They can’t do things like outsource to India and China. Government and university jobs are also somewhat shielded from contractions that plague the finance, manufacturing, and constructions. Those two sectors also attract skilled workers and jobs. Skilled jobs tend to be more stable than unskilled labor.

2) Skill workforce: Austin is known as the intellectually capital of Texas. The biggest reason is that more than 50,000 students attend UT-Austin. With such a huge number of students, UT plays a major role in the culture and economy of Austin. The city itself has taken measure in becoming more than a college town and developing the city. These students are choosing to stay in the city because of the industries moving to the area and the infrastructure development. Many of these jobs that attract students are in technology sector, which traditionally relies on skilled domestic labor. These companies move to the metropolis mainly for low taxes, lower wages, and plentiful skill labor.

3) The suburbs: Suburbs around Austin have also done a tremendous job in attracting industry and jobs to the metro area. In fact the suburbs outpace the city of Austin in growth. The city is growing at 13% while the surrounding community experience growth at 62% from 1998-2006. Housing in the state is also very affordable compared to other states. These inexpensive houses and skilled jobs attract families from all over the country. This has softened the blow to the city’s real estate market.

4) The Fun factor: Austin is known worldwide for 6th Street. 6th Street brings tourism to Austin, which helps the city generate revenue and grow the economy. The entertainment and restaurant industry is a major player in Austin’s economy. It brings diversity to the municipality’s portfolio and more importantly it creates jobs. The local government also does great things like hold festivals on 6th Street and cater to tourists. It also entices students and young professionals to work, live, and play in Austin. Many of these young professionals later have families and move to a house in one of fast growing suburbs.

5) Texas attracts businesses: The state’s friendly tax policies and no state income tax entices businesses to move to Texas. The state also has lack laws in employee rights, union organization, and zoning laws. These make it very attractive to businesses to set up shop in Texas. The skilled and relatively inexpensive labor of Austin attracts high-tech industries that would normally go to places like Silicon Valley in California.

What Can Houston Learn from Austin
Unfortunately not much can be learn from Austin. Both cities attract different industries and people. Houston seen as an industrial city where oil and biotechnology reign supreme and to some extent this is true. Many companies that aren’t in oil or biotechnology depend on those industries in some sort of fashion. Here are some things that the city can do improve and strengthen the economy in the future:

1) Create a better relationship with the colleges: Houston has many big and great colleges within its metro area. This benefits the city by creating and keeping an educated labor force. Unfortunately the city has not done a great job working closer with these institutions and integrating them further into the fabric of the culture. It doesn’t have to work to the extent that Austin does with UT but needs to make the universities feel a part of the community. The relationship between the city and the University of Houston has appeared distant both their histories. The relationship has gotten better over the last 7 years but more can be done to bring these two organizations together. The same can be said about the other major research institute: Rice University.

2) Strengthening Infrastructure: Houston is growing and so are the needs of this huge metropolis. The city has the daunting task of trying to deliver services to such a large area. Houston will have to step up to the challenges of its size and rapid growth in the near future. Have a developed infrastructure will go a long way in delivering quality service to all citizens.

3) Smart growth: Houston throughout its boom period in the 80s and 90s was described by many at the time as organized chaos. Buildings and houses were appearing in strange parts of town and crime was high. Much of that disorganized growth was due to the lack of zoning laws. These same laws spared Houston much of the damage from the Great Recession. Houston is again described as a boom town but this time the cities growth should be more thought out and planned. I am not advocating zoning laws, just that city government must be smart in how they plan out growth. There are promising sign of smart growth with Centerpoint’s Smart Grid and the expansion of the Metrorail.

Sources:
http://www.statesman.com/business/content/business/stories/other/2009/10/27/1027cbriefs.html

http://www.forbes.com/2009/05/11/best-cities-jobs-employment-opinions-columnists-austin-texas.html

http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/news/2010/12/01/san-antonio-is-one-of-the-best.html

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Somos Houston

By: Oscar L. Orias

Latino Heritage/History month ended this year with much fanfare and Hispanics being under the microscope politically. Arizona’s proposed new laws raised many question about Latinos integration within American society and how they are compared with other immigrants of the past. In Houston, their presence is felt in all parts of the city. They are our cities political leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors, and business leaders. Latinos make up almost 45 million people in this country and the fastest growing minority group. Even with such large numbers and integration into American life and business many Latinos still face racial discrimination and other barriers in this country. Even in Houston where Latinos make a large percentage of the population they still fight for their place in proverbial political and economic table.

How Latinos Changed the Face of Houston
My father arrived to Houston in the early 80s; he described it as a mostly Anglo town with a strong Texas flavor. Houston by many was considered a backwater city with little to offer and no real diversity. Things have a lot changed over the last 30 years in this city due in part to Latin immigrants coming to this city. Much of those changes have a very visible Hispanic imprints on them.

The Spanish language one of those visible imprints. It has become the second primary languages spoken in the city of Houston and in some section it is the predominant language. In many businesses, especially the service sector, Spanish has become a must in order to serve customers. Talking to people in their language isn’t enough anymore, businesses are having website information, commercials, and marketing materials in Spanish. The language has also served as a lightning rod of discrimination against Latinos and in some ways an economy handicap. Studies have shown that Bilingual Spanish speakers earn much more than their one language counter parts.

Another visible imprint into Houston culture is the popularity of Latin American festivals and holidays. Celebrations like Fiestas Patrias, Cinco De Mayo, Cuban/Puerto Rican Festival, and Chicano Day have become an integral part of the city’s traditions. These celebrations bring all Houstonians together to relax, learn, and enjoy the regions culture and food. These festivals and celebrations also introduce new cultural ideas that will later be blended into the general culture.

Latin owned and styled companies have made a deep impact in Houston’s landscape. These firms aren’t just confined into just one section or one part of the city, they are found in different types of neighborhoods and Suburbs. More than 1/5 of all businesses in the city are owned by Latinos, much higher than other ethnic groups in the city. 19 of the largest 500 Hispanic run businesses in the nation are based in Houston.

Open for Business
Hispanics open businesses to cater to the underserved Latino market and to tap into their large purchasing power. Companies such as restaurant, food markets, grocery stores, financial firms, and clothing boutiques cater to the market well. Increasingly many of those companies have expanded their market to the rest of the general public (i.e. Fiesta Supermarket and Ninfas Restaurant). The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce estimates there are 75,000 Hispanic-Owned businesses in the city. Those firms aren’t just found in the service industry, they are visible almost every sector of the local economy.

Why does Houston have such a large amount of Latino-own businesses? Much of it has to do with the culture of the town and Hispanics. The laid back attitude and the hungry for the city to expand have allowed immigrants from all walks of life to settle here. Texas also has a very independent culture and spirit that actually encourages people to take risks and become their own boss. Entrepreneurs are celebrated for being risk-takers and pioneers. This is reflected in the state’s business friendly tax-codes and public policies. The historically inexpensive housing market also allows for new comers especially with no real monetary value to live in the city on a limited budget. Inexpensive housing helps free up capital for a start-up business down the road.

Latinos come to this city in search of new opportunities, financial and political independence, and a stable place to raise a family. Citizens face a lot of barriers when opening industries in Latin America. These barriers range from the large amounts of administrative red tape to corruption in obtaining business licenses. Inhabitants see their own governments as a liability not an asset to start-up businesses accord to a Gallup Poll done this year. According to the poll 2/3 of residents say that government doesn’t make getting permits and paperwork easy to obtain. The next reason cited is the lack of businesses being fearful of making profit without government intrusion. This highlights the tension and distrust between private business and nationals governments.

Nuestro Futuro (Our Future)
The outlook of the Latino in this metropolis and country depends on them flexing their political and economic muscle. Until now they have been an important swing vote but not really an influential voting block. They are an important market but not a market shaker or changer. This new generation of American-born Latinos still faces obstacles like discrimination, culture clashes, political legitimacy, and poor education. The dropout rate for Hispanics in High School still stands a whopping 18.3% according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This number is alarming because education today is the key for social mobility and economic success. This statistics and other factors must change if this country is to succeed in the long-term. The future of the Latino and the future of this country are indissoluble.

Sources:
http://www.gallup.com/poll/143966/latin-americans-barriers-entrepreneurship.aspx
http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16
http://iserp.columbia.edu/research-initiatives/working-paper-series/no-entiendo-effects-bilingualism-hispanic-earnings
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston
http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/stories/2008/06/02/daily58.html
http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hispanic/hispanic_pop_presentation.html

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Hospitals Celebrate Unsung Heroes

By: Oscar L. Orias

Lets the Celebrations Begin
The Texas Medical Center along with other hospitals around the country are celebrating Supply-Chain Management Week (Oct 4-10). This was a week created by AHRMM (Association for Health Care Resources and Materials Management) as a way to congratulate the tireless efforts of material managers and their staff. In a time of shrinking budgets, growing demand, and government intervention in medical industry hospitals are turning to their supply-chain for cost savings and efficiency solutions. Material costs are only second to labor costs in the hospital so controlling the flow of materials and bringing down costs has become imperative. The task is not any easy one for supply-chain managers and their staff. Hospital departments traditionally are very silo and tend not to cooperate with other departments and the corporate level.

Importance of Supply-Chain
The advent of material management has made hospitals much more centralized and has lowered the cost of buy goods. Now medical facilities have a whole department dedicated to getting contracts, purchasing, and monitoring supplies. In a complex hospital environment that can be very difficult to do. Another variable that adds to the complexity of a hospital is that they can’t reject customers that need treatment. Any other industry can afford to exclude a segment of the market if it feels it the cost and resources will outweigh the profit. Hospitals’ don’t have that luxury since countless lives depends how well it delivers services. For example; hospitals routinely loses money on Medicare and Medicaid patients since the government has very strict sets of payments. If a treatment cost more than what the government says it will pay then it is up to the hospital has to absorb the cost. This is one of the reasons why supply-chain management has gotten more attention over the last decade.

Even with the extra attention the tiring job of material management staff doesn’t get easier. The supply-chain is continously under pressure to have materials always on-hand, increase the fill rate, lower costs on supplies, expedite orders quickly if needed, resolve legal matters, and work with staff to solve materials issues. As one director of a hospital put it, “Job security isn’t guaranteed. You are only as good as your last fill rate.” This puts the stress on the value-chain to perform at the highest level at all times and to do it on a shrinking budget.

GPOs and distributors like Owens & Minor also share in the stresses of the medical supply-chain. They work hard to hammer contracts with manufacturers, bring down material cost, match the right orders with the facilities, quickly resolve any backorder issues, expediate supplies quickly if needed, and work with medical facilities on improving its material management. It takes the combined effort of many different people and companies to make sure that resources get to medical staff in a timely manner and those hospitals get the necessary items at the lowest price.

Tipping My Hat Off to Them
Doctors, nurses, and other practitioners work endlessly to deliver the best care to their patients but there is another group of administrators also doing the same. There job may not be glamorous nor visible but they make sure that doctors get all the resource they need to take care of you. Supply-chain management serve as bridges that makes sure the needs and goals of clincians and the hospital are both aligned and met. In a time of economic uncertainty especially in the medical industry they are the first and best line of defense in delivering effective, affordable care for all. Next time you are in a hospital and you run into an employee with a badge that says Materials Management take a second to thank them and if you can tip your hat off to them, I know I will.

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