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“Collect facts & have data” With Dean Calhoun

The first suggestion I would make is to make sure you have collected the facts and have data. Hearsay evidence won’t carry much weight, so make sure it’s undisputable. As a manager, you should make it a weekly routine practice to weekly write down notes about an employee’s performance. Again, focus on both the positive […]

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The first suggestion I would make is to make sure you have collected the facts and have data. Hearsay evidence won’t carry much weight, so make sure it’s undisputable. As a manager, you should make it a weekly routine practice to weekly write down notes about an employee’s performance. Again, focus on both the positive and the negative.

As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dean Calhoun.

Dean is the Founder, President and CEO of Affygility Solutions, an occupational health and toxicology service provider to the life sciences industry. He leads a fully remote international team, providing services to life science clients in over 60 countries.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Sure. I’m the youngest of two children and I started out at an early age working for my father, who was also a small business owner in a commercial construction related industry. Like a lot of other entrepreneurs, I grew up being part of a family-owned business. Even though construction wthat type of work didn’t interest me, it did teach me a lot about hard work, problem solving, getting up early, and working in difficult conditions. When I was younger,At that time in my life, my real passion was racing motocross, but after blowing out my knee it became a short career. I eventually ended up going to college and getting an engineering degree. After graduating from college, I began working in the hazardous waste remediation industry. That’s where my interest in occupational health and safety began (it (which was a hot field at the time). After several job changes, I became the Associate Director of Environmental, Health and Safety for Gilead Science. WThen when Gilead sold off their assets in Colorado, I decided to start my own company in 2002 and here we are today — a global consulting company. Funny where life leads you!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I believe what makes Affygility Solutions stand out is that we “bake” technology into everything we do and we are intentional about that strategy. This provides us with the ability to scale the business without having to hire a lot of people headcount and provides us with proprietary knowledge how and technology. Without technology, it would be extremely difficult to serve clients in over 60 countries with just 12 employees. For example, our online report delivery service minimizes the amount of touch points necessary for serving the client, thus providing 24/7 delivery and reducing costs.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Probably the most interesting one was — happened while working in the Los Angeles area. M — the time my co-worker and I chased down a car hijacker carjacker who stole an 84-year- old man’s vehicle. I jumped out of the company vehicle with a roll of duct tape, we tackled the suspect, and I taped up his wrists and ankles with duct tape. The police showed up a little while later and arrested him. I heard later that the suspect ended up going to prison for five 5-years. I guess sometimes you need improvise andto not overthink things and improvise. At that time, duct tape did the trick. It made the company internal newsletter and I got poked about it for years.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well I’m sure I’ve made lots of mistakes along the way, but probably the funniest one was when I was really late for a client meeting in Japan. I had taken the train as far as I could before I had to get a cab for about another 45-minute ride. Well, I jump into the cab and of course the driver can’t speak any English and I can’t speak any Japanese. I’m holding up Google Maps on my iPhone and pointing to the screen to show where we need to go. So, off we go and after about an 1-hour, he stops and, points to a building indicating that’s the spot. I get out, pay him, and he takes off. I go up to the building and it’s the wrong place. I try waving down another taxi, but nobody seems to want to stop. In the meantime, the client is calling and asking, “Wwhere are you?” I said, “I have no idea, all the signs are in Japanese.” Finally, he texts me the GPS coordinates, and I’m about two 2-miles from where I needed to be. With no other choice — on an unusually warm day, in a small Japanese town where no one speaks English — I ended up hiking through the countryside for two 2-miles in a suit, dragging my suitcase behind me. Leadership lesson learned here, always plan for the unexpected, and, when in foreign country, always get the directions in both English and the local language as well as the GPS coordinates. We deal with a lot of different cultures. W, we have to adapt to their culture, not the other way around.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

I believe that there is’s no prescription for every employee. You have to treat each one as their whole self — both their work life and private life. I know the term “emotional intelligence” seems overused, but you do have to be very perceptive and tailor each approach to the specific employee. Coaching employees is like raising kids, you have to be honest and sometimes brutally honest with them. Some CEOs are afraid to go that deep. On a high level, I do have to remind employees to take care of themselves and use their PTO.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

While I could give you the textbook definition of “Leadership,” I believe that “leadership is the ability to move a group of people in a specific direction, purpose, or to achieve a common objective.” However, on an individual level, leadership is the ability to help a person achieve their fullest potential. Even if yoJust because you made a huge positive difference in only one person’s life, it doesn’t make you any less of a leader.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Great question. First off, I always make sure I’m prepared, that my presentation has been practiced many times, that I’ve done thorough background research, and I know as much as possible about the issue at hand. I don’t go in cold. Secondly, I try to get an adequate amount of sleep, exercise every day, and eat right.

As an example, prior to a conference in Singapore, I practiced my presentation out loud every day for two weeks straight. I wanted to know exactly what I’m going to say, the timing, the proper voice inflections, and know the answers to possible questions. I don’t just want to be good; I want to nail it. I often see people heading to a conference, at the last minute, working on their presentation on the plane. It shows in their delivery.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

I started managing a team back in the late 1980’s. At that time, it wasn’t too high-level, just managing and mentoring several college interns. However, I must have done something right. I’ve managed numerous interns since then and all of them have gone on to successful careers. After that, the size of teams I’ve managed has grown progressively larger to where I am today — with employees in 3 different countries. During these times, I’ve had to give countless performance reviews, hire a few and terminate a few employees. In my experience, the majority of the time it’s not deficiencies in skills that are the problem, it’s the work ethic and interpersonal issues that get most people into trouble. Those are also the most difficult ones to give feedback on and correct. Employees not playing nice in the sandbox is very subjective.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Employees cannot and should not read your mind. Spell out your expectations for them. If you want the strategy of the company executed, don’t be wishy-washy and use a bunch of MBA-speak. Tell them in no uncertain terms what the goals of the company are and the tactics t will be used to get there. Don’t be a passive-aggressive boss, if the answer is “no” then say “no.” Don’t say “let me think about it” and never get back to them. Give them direct feedback when they do something right and when they do something not up to expectations.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Sure. The first suggestion I would make is to make sure you have collected the facts and have data. Hearsay evidence won’t carry much weight, so make sure it’s undisputable. As a manager, you should make it a weekly routine practice to weekly write down notes about an employee’s performance. Again, focus on both the positive and the negative. Second, as mentioned before, make sure you are having periodic one-on-ones with each of your direct reports. That way issues don’t pile up and become overwhelming when you say, “we need to talk.” Third, ask the employee for permission to provide candid feedback and let them know that you are trying to help them be successful. Fourth Forth, present the facts and the data. When you have hardcore, undisputable data, it’s hard to argue against that information. And finally, listen…listen some more…and then even more.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Feedback via email is a real killer and I rarely provide constructive feedback that way. Of course, if it’s something really easy and straightforward I will, but otherwise, I will just make a note of it and discuss during a video conference call one-on-one. Which, by the way, when working remote only, weekly or bi-weekly video conference calls with each direction report is critical. Giving feedback through email can often be misinterpreted, and sound too critical or harsh. It is difficult to convey emotion through email.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

I really hate to use the phrase “it depends” but it really does. However, if it is the case of a behavioral issue, such as being argumentative with other employees, immediate feedback is always best. Otherwise, I just make short performance notes and then discuss them in the next one-on-one.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

I believe a “great boss” is someone whothat helps employeesyou grow to their fullest potential. Sometimes people confuse a “nice boss” with a “great boss,” but if the nice boss never challenges you or gives you candid feedback, they aren’t doing you any favors. When I first started working in the EH&S consulting industry, I turned in my first report to my boss for review and he bledbleed all over it. However, after about a dozen times of that experience, I became a much better writer.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Great question! But the issue that bothers me the most is how inefficient the pharmaceutical supply chain is structured. To make a final drug product that is ready for consumers takes numerous organizations throughout the world. Any disruption at a single point, can cause a huge shock wave throughout the supply chain. With artificial intelligence, machine learning and continuous manufacturing, we need to could be much smarter. The end result would be increased access to critical drugs at a much lower cost.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Probably my fmost favorite “Life Lesson Quote” is from Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots for Google X, who once said “A change in perspective is so much more powerful than just being smarter.” I’ve been very fortunate and have had the opportunity to travel to many different countries and experience a lot of different things. As a CEO, a husband and a father, I believe it’s important to communicate to others that not everyone thinks like us, in fact most people don’t. Just because someone has a different opinion than that you, doesn’t make them your adversary.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

If you just search for “Affygility” on any of the social channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Snapchat, or TikTok yetc. you’ll find me.

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

You’re welcome. This has been great.

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