Daily Proverbial, 16 December 2011

He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue. Proverbs 28, verse 23.

Today is the final day of a project I have been blessed to lead for the last eight weeks. It hasn’t been a very large project and I haven’t led a large team, only three people. We’ve conducted forty-six interviews with business and technical experts at a health plan in Michigan in preparation for the mandatory ICD-10 coding upgrade that is coming for all American health insurance users in 2013; if you want to know more, email me or Google “ICD-10.” If you participate in the healthcare process, whether as a doctor or as an insurance company user, you’ll be affected by the nationwide effort.

The project has found no shortage of things this particular health plan must do in order to prepare for the upgrade. Some of them are large and some are small; some will have wide ranging impact and some affect only a tiny part of their business. By my calculations, it will cost millions of dollars for this plan to become compliant. My small team has spent every workday (and then some) looking at systems, data, reports, and jobs to find thousands of items that need to be addressed.

Some of what we’ve found is not good. In fact, without giving away their secrets, I’ll say that there are some business processes my customer is doing that are wrong, counterproductive, and unnecessarily costly. Nothing illegal is happening, but there are problems with the way this company is working with its data. Today, I get to stand in front of the company executives and carefully, politely, but firmly tell them these things. I’m a bit nervous about it and ask you to pray for me.

I ask you to pray because I know prayer works and I know that, like the verse says, I will have to rebuke without a flattering tongue. My team was commissioned to find these things, determine their impact, and report back. We’ve spent much of the last three days fine-tuning our deliverable documents and executive presentation. The opinion of many people is that CEOs are over-paid fat cats who don’t do much yet earn mountains of money. I know different. I work with executives on a daily basis and find them to be ‘working men’ just as much as the blue collar factory worker who forges steel or assembles a car. The work is different, but it can be tough. For anyone to say otherwise shows ignorance.

From my perspective, it can be tough to tell them that much of what they are doing is wrong and that there are many entrenched risks in the way they are using their systems. Without some dedicated change, they will not be able to become compliant with the many Federal mandates regarding the ICD-10 codes. That would drive many millions of dollars in fines, delayed reimbursement of doctors, delayed action on patient claims, and more: all because of findings presented today by yours truly, the nervous consultant.

Yet I hope for the best. I hope because I know we have done good work and that I believe my audience will be receptive to what we say. Like I said, we’ve spent much of this week polishing our presentation. I insisted that we would not in any way compromise the data or refuse to present negative findings. Hand in hand with that, I also said that they know their board better than we do and that we wanted to present our findings in the manner best suited for them to take constructive action on them. This we are doing.

I also have hope because I trust that God will put the right words in my mouth at the right time. There will be some rebuking, and I have the hope, the promise, that God will instill into me the knowledge to present facts, to not editorialize (hard for me to do), and to present solutions. God is a god of solutions. He never hammers us, and He never allows the hammer to fall without offering a way out. That’s just the way He is. Because of that, when I have to deliver bad news (bad news that will drive deep, painful change here), I trust that God will help me deliver that news in a way that best serves the people paying for our services.

That’s my job. I believe there are no coincidences in life; God doesn’t do coincidences. God gives grace. Therefore, I believe this verse was put here today for my use. God wrote it for you and for me because we need to know it right now. It’s good advice and something of a platitude, but He knew, eons ago, that we would need to know it here today, in this place where you and I live and work. I firmly believe God knew from the start that I would do this job today and that I would need to know He is with me as I get to deliver good and bad news, then recommend ways to help turn a harsh lesson into the potential for success.

I will admit: I’m not doing this to gain favor. I’m doing it because it’s my job, though I’ll also admit that being in the favor of your customers isn’t a bad thing. I want people to remember that we did good work here so they will think of us the next time they need our kind of help. That, and not the greedy cabal is at the heart of what is called “capitalism:” providing for yourself through earning a profit by satisfying the needs of others. In my reckoning, whether you’re doing your best on a production line or doing your best standing in front of executives, he who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue. You don’t try to snow ‘the man.’ You tell ‘the man’ what he needs to know and you do it with confidence in your abilities and faith in your heart. You do it as a service because that’s what God wants you to do.

So please pray for us today, my friends. Pray for the people who work here, for their leaders, and for their customers. It’s been an honor to work here and to meet the people I’ve met here. I’m thinking the best approach is sort of Mary Poppins: a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down. Pray that they receive it well and then take wise action to correct what’s wrong and build on what’s right.

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