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When you task a graphic designer to keep notes . . .

We . . . Bryan, Keith, and Andrew . . . just returned from providing a training with a group of government employees. The training, which focuses on using an interactive game to help improve communication, understand the relationship of mistakes and learning, and be willing to take reasonable risks to add to their strengths and become better team members.

Bryan and Keith were co-facilitating the training while Andrew was along to expose him to the training—since he had not participated in our past trainings. I tasked Andrew with being our tech support and quality improvement observer. The first meaning using his knowledge of gaming to help the training flow smoothly and the second to think about the strengths of the training and what needs continued improvement.

He did both jobs well.

I will share, for the fun of it, what you get when you task a graphic designer to take notes. Take a look . . .

Andrew’s quality improvement notes . . . .

Andrew’s quality improvement notes . . . .

I flipped through my entire spiral-bound notebook. A notebook I loaned him to in which to make his own notes. Page after page, nearly 40, of my own sterile, austere, notes. Just notes. Not one illustration, squiggly line, or doodle. Boring.

The amazing thing to me, is that this kid--can I still call him a kid at 30?-who obviously shares a creative talent inherited from his mother . . . and not me, had some great insights. As a result, we will have a much stronger training product through implementing several of his ideas.

If you are developing your own products, don’t forget to include an observer who can help you refine your process—and it doesn’t hurt if their ways of processing are different than yours, in fact, it might open up your eyes to new opportunities for improvement!

Below, are pictures of a couple pages of our new Training Lesson Plan developed from one of Andrew’s suggestions. We will introduce this new tool during our free training on Sunday.

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2019 Coaching Class is Set!

Photo by  Fancycrave  on  Unsplash

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

Our 2019 Coaching Class is set. Thanks to everyone who applied! . . . We are officially closing the application period.

Those of you who are subscribers to our blog may note that we had originally talked about taking applications through September. No, September isn’t over, yet. But it is time to close the applications and move forward, to put 2019’s “recruiting class in the books” so to speak. Thanks for the interest and if it didn’t work for you in 2019, we would encourage you to continue to follow our blog. We can’t promise we will do another round of coaching in 2020 but we haven’t closed the door to that yet. Stay tuned, as they used to say!

For those new to HSC—and the concept of contracting, coaching and consulting as part of a behavioral health practice —below is a brief history of our journey . . . .

We have been training students and professionals to work with organizations and businesses —through private practice contracting, coaching, and consulting—since 2006. In 2019, we will be using our proprietary developed workflow (developed for the Trello platform) to work with our coaching class. This is the next step in our ability to help behavioral health professionals diversify their services and escape the dependence on insurance and governmental sources of income.. .

Her's a quick history of training behavioral and mental health professionals to work with organizations and businesses.

  • 1998: As part of a class on Qualitative Research, Bryan and a colleague started—as part of a university class— a consulting contact with an international manufacturing company. Supported by a couple of our professors originally, the contract would be repeated in 2000 and in total cover 4 years. We were learning and HSC was off and running!

  • 1999: Bryan starts working in senior management positions in behavioral health.

  • 2002: We repeat the consulting work with the international manufacturing company.

  • 2005: Dr. Miller established Human Systems Consulting and HSC begins contracting with organizations.

  • 2006: Tasked to teach a doctoral-level course on Consulting with Larger Organizations. Continued until 2016.

  • 2008: Conducted local trainings for behavioral health professionals on consulting and coaching.

  • 2011:  At the continued urging of the students and colleagues, published Beyond the Couch: Turning your behavioral health degree into cash without losing your soul. (By the way, our Gumroad store sells this for $7.99 a huge savings over Amazon at $24.95!)

  • 2015: Published Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading difficult people.

  • 2016: Published Private Practice through Contracting: A path away from insurance dependency! (Our most popular title since it’s publication)

  • 2017: Presented our model in a day-long institute at the AAMFT national conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

  • 2017: Training professionals in a 6 hour workshop as part of the ICET conference in Louisville, Ky.

  • 2018: Re-tooled our Trello-based tool to facilitate and lead professional coaching for 2019 coaching class.

Looking forward to 2019! Last year we were in Georgia and Kentucky, next year we are in discussions to finalize agreements for training in Nebraska and Missouri. With these commitments, we will limit our out-of-state commitments to 1 or 2 others in 2019.

Hope your 2019 is a great year!


P.S.— BTW, Facilitating trainings can be an interesting and fun way to enter into contracting—while providing high visibility for your organization, develop a position as a thought-leader or resource, and open up new possibilities for contracting. If interested in facilitating a training in your area using HSC’s expertise, just contact us!



Louisville . . . famous sons and daughters . . . and learning!

When I was a kid, the only things anyone wanted was a Louisville Slugger.

When I was a kid, the only things anyone wanted was a Louisville Slugger.

Well the Interactive CE Training spring conference is done and so is my short stent in Louisville.  Isn't it interesting how we develop a perception of what place . . . even through we have never been there?  My vision of Louisville, while not at all thought out, was something of "blue grass, horse races, and basketball."

Arriving in the airport, I was greeted with posters like this . . .


It came as a bit of a shock. "Wait . . . What?  Muhammad Ali was from Louisville?"  Yes, he was. Other "big names as well."  Tom Cruise, Paul Hornung, Jennifer Lawrence. Maggie Lawson, Diane Sawyer, and Johnny Unitas all called Louisville home at one time.  I had no idea.  George Clooney and Johnny Depp spent time nearby.  Louisville is bigger than I imagined more metropolitan than "down home" in the fell. Yet, everyone has that southern friendliness and sense of hospitality.  For example, people providing service in the midwest never say, "You doing okay, Hon?"


But I wasn't here to conduct an anthropological analysis of the city. I was here to train a cohort of therapists how to add a new toolbox to their skill set . . . the toolbox of contracting and consulting with organizations.  Once again, I heard professionals talk about how the debt of education, low insurance fee schedules and other factors stress today's professionals and make them contemplate if they should "do something else" just to be able to pay their bills.

My goal for the training?  I told that attendees that the best outcome for me would be to get an email in 6 or 12 months telling me that they had a signed contract and that that contract had allowed them to . . . replace an old commuter vehicle, start a college fund for their kid, create or fund a 401K, or perhaps just take a weekend trip with their family.  That's what it's all about helping these professionals benefit from the value that they give to others.

It was especially fun to reconnect with friends from the past . . . former students and colleagues from my days of teaching.  Thanks to everyone who attended and participated in the training!  Thanks to Interactive CE Training for brining us to Kentucky! It was a great day and a great event.  Looking forward to continuing to support these great professionals throughout 2018 and beyond.




Next month we'll be attending the Prairie Family Business Association's annual conference. An exciting event that supports people in family businesses (like HSC) and the providers that help support them. 


Free Private Practice through Contracting eBook.

We are now accepting inquiries for our 2019 Contract and Consulting Coaching. For more information, or to apply, email Bryan.



Preventing and Handling Conflict in Family Business

Plan or fail. Is your family business proactive about protecting the family in the business?

Plan or fail. Is your family business proactive about protecting the family in the business?



The following is an excerpt from our free eBook. Family Legacy: Protecting Family in Family Business.

Preventing Conflict

Rarely do families implement guidelines or procedures for managing family interactions within a family business. However, in many consulting situations, ground rules for communication are a helpful tool. Consultants who work in emotionally-charged groups will often set up guidelines for communication to help the consulting process succeed. Thus a simple rule such as “Refer to titles not people” or “Only speak for yourself” can help to reduce the risk of escalating conflict, as a comment like “Everybody knows that Robert is failing as a leader” can become “We need more leadership from the President position.”

Family businesses often do not implement structures that could prevent conflict. Suggestions regarding setting up a family constitution, holding regular family councils, or annual family assemblies are often met with resistance. “We don’t have time” or “I don’t want to mix family and business” are two of many reasons cited not to formalize the family’s interactions with the business and ownership dimensions. Even more resistance can be felt when the suggestion is to bring in an “outsider” in the form of a “family expert,” as many see this as unnecessary at best and a threat at worst. Attitudes persist that “good families” don’t need help. Unfortunately, most wait until problems have festered for years or decades and much damage has already been done.

A recent conversation will illustrate this sad situation. The author had a family business owner referred for possible consultation due to the fact that three siblings were beginning to “lawyer-up” for a fight over the assets of the parent’s estate and business holdings. The discussion was about how the siblings had reached the point where two had retained lawyers and the third was feeling compelled to “do something.” As we discussed the situation, the brother decided that it was unlikely that he could engage his co-owner siblings in a consulting process. He stated forlornly, “We should have had you come in years ago.” It is a sad comment family business consultants hear far too often.

When families are passive about the family issues, when they delay acknowledging tensions, and do not avail themselves of quality help, they often allow resentment, bitterness, conflict, and separation to grow and congeal. Businesses develop plans, engage in strategic thinking, hire experts to assist them . . . families deserve no less consideration and support. 

“Strong fences make good neighbors.”  Old Saying

“Love thy neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.” Benjamin Franklin

Robert Frost, in his poem “Mending Wall” bemoans the division that barriers represent. He indicates “something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.” Most of us, especially in our families can agree. We want connection, not separation. But . . .

Handling Conflict

Family members need to understand what it means to be a good bystander. When humans experience conflict they often respond in one of three basic ways: avoid, freeze, or fight. When a family member sees conflict between two other family members, the tendency is to try to determine who’s right or assess who needs their loyalty or protection. This usually serves to broaden the fight from a two-person problem to a three-person problem, or even a whole-family problem.

Yes, there are times when assessing and acting if someone behaves in an unfair, unethical, or aggressive way—and confronting that issue—is necessary. But with most family conflicts the problems are less black and white and usually come from real differences in opinion, experience, or coping strategies. 

How to Protect the Family: Structure and Process for Family Businesses

Researchers have found that families benefit from structure, routine, planning, and communication. Recent attention in the news to findings like the positive impact of families who eat at least four meals together a week would be one example. Family businesses benefit from these structures as well. Here are some of the vehicles that family firms use to protect and help the family succeed:

Family Constitution or Mission: A document created to state the family’s values and goals. Used to continue to provide an anchorage for the family to return to as the family business grows and changes.

Annual meetings: Annual events, often combined with a family reunion, to engage the family and inform them of the strategic planning and performance of the family business.

Family Councils: A representative group meeting regularly to develop plans, policies and procedures for the family business; with a particular focus on creating good communication and interrelationship between the business and the family.

Succession Planning: A process to create a plan to guide, sustain, and promote the health of the family and business as ownership, management, and family roles change and pass from one generation to the next.

Sadly, the old adage, "those who don't plan . . . plan to fail" is still often proved true, even  often in the modern day family business where information and resources are widely available. 

Help your family business or the family businesses you serve. Get our free eBook: Family Legacy.





A little something for therapists who want to do "more" . . . or do "something else"


It was a pleasant surprise. Earlier this month, I got a message from a former student (see below) just to say, "Thanks!" "Thanks for what?" you ask. For introducing her to the idea that a professional, in the "world" of mental health, has developed a skill set that can be used for more than "just doing therapy."

The message came at the perfect time. Why? Because I had just decided--working with my graphic designer/social marketer expert--to offer, for a limited time, the book I wrote on the subject for free. This was the same content that students, like this one, told me I should put into a book. So, I did.

The book was published, used as a textbook for my course, and has been selling bit-by-bit for the last five years. (You can check it out, if you want--but don't buy it! I am going to give it to you free, remember? Here it is on Amazon)

Since publishing the book, a number of students and other professionals who read the book, have recognized the potential and have started contracting and working with organizations and businesses. For some it has been offering therapy services--such as an Employee Assistance Program--for others it has been business coaching or consulting. But "some" is not enough. There are so many organizations and businesses who could benefit from the support of a professional who understands complex human systems and who has "people skills". . . that I continue to doggedly "preach" to my colleagues the benefits of acting as a consultant.

Now, we are offering you this tool--a free tool--to help you jump start your thinking and consider what more you can do. Feel free to share it with other colleagues. (The book has paid for all it's publishing costs!) We want to see more and more organizations and businesses using professional "people experts" to help their work teams and organizations. We can't leave the role of "expert advisor" to business experts, accountants, and lawyers alone. They are very good at what they do--their areas of specialization. But so are we. They know business, we know people. Expertise in both is necessary for leaders and the organizations they lead, to be highly successful.

What is it? The book, Beyond the Couch, is over 200 pages of information, encouragement, and tools to help you begin to think and begin to engage in the role of a human systems consultant. It includes information on:

  • identify potential clients
  • develop proposals and get them funded
  • decide how much to charge
  • conduct and analyze projects
  • utilize the skills you already have
  • manage a consulting practice
  • learn how organizations and leaders think about people

My student, as you will see below, decided to throw herself into full-time consulting work. Others have done the same. But most professionals have continued as therapists while adding contracts to their work. Either way, the book will give you a basic understanding of how to get your first contract and begin to help people Beyond the Couch.

One last thing. I will be hosting a video chat in the next month to tell you more about my experiences and answer questions for those who want a little more advice. When you enter your email to download the book you will be added to our list and we will let you know when the video chat will take place. This will also let you email any questions you would like me to address in the video chat.

Finally, here is the student's note (It is unedited except to protect confidentiality. Used with permission.):

Good evening, Dr. Miller, I was one of your students at _____ in the MA in Counseling program. I wanted to share something with you. By the time I took your class, I had already started my clinical internship and, to my dismay, I didn't like it. I spent most of my time doing paperwork and very little of my time actually helping people. Even when I was helping people, each hour felt like I was doing the same thing over and over. It was challenging, but only because I was so bored. The problems people faced were results of systems larger than themselves - and I wanted to tackle systemic problems. However, I was about to finish a degree in counseling; didn't that mean I should become a counselor? I was frustrated and a bit panicked. Then I took your class. In class, you discussed that you did consulting on the side. After class, you spent a little bit of time with me explaining the consulting work and it piqued my interest. I did a lot more research after speaking with you and tucked the idea in the back of my mind - mostly like wishful thinking. Fast forward. I have been working for a little over 3 years now for ______ with their Organizational Consulting unit. I work with an I/O psychologist and have consulted with NUMEROUS organizations - both public and private. The changing projects, brilliant colleagues, and constant challenge is a much better fit for me. I would even love to start my own consulting group some day. I say all of that to simply say thank you. I knew I wanted to help people and I knew I was skilled in understanding complex relationships, but I wouldn't have thought to use those skills in consulting had you not shared your experience with me. I wish you all the best.



What the expert doesn't do . . . CAN hurt you!

The old MS 260 on bottom. (See the new screw in the brake handle just above the label?) The new saw, a 251C, on top. Now, I'm good to go!

The old MS 260 on bottom. (See the new screw in the brake handle just above the label?) The new saw, a 251C, on top. Now, I'm good to go!

A "Not So Old" Saw

I had a problem. My chainsaw, a new-ish purchase in the last few years, suddenly had the anti-kickback bar (the mechanism that cuts the power to the chain if your saw recoils toward you) dangling by one end. The problem? It had lost a screw . . . or so I thought. Therefore, I dutifully quit cutting and made the trip to, let's call it, the Local Shop that sells, among other things, Stihl saws.

I go to this Local Shop because it is convenient--it takes 10 minutes to get there. It's in a moderate-sized town and they have sold me oil, chains, and other chain-saw essentials. I didn't buy my saw from them but had noticed that they sell Stihl saws and do have a shop.  (A few years ago I took my first Stihl saw to them for a repair and they pronounced it "dead"-now I'm wondering about that diagnosis . . . based on the experience in the rest of this story!)

The store where I bought the current Stihl, Nick's Farm Store, is a one-and-a-half hour round trip. It's in a very small town (which may disguise their true expertise . . . or expose my bias toward larger town repair shops), since they have always seemed very knowledgeable, very service-oriented, and their shop looks like a serious shop--for instance I noticed this time that they have a wall full of 55-gallon drums filled with various weights of oil and a large sign that reads, "Notice: Do NOT leave while filling!" (I immediately looked at the floor for signs of a past deluge of oil but if there was one there is no evidence. The shop floor looks clean and dry.)

I arrived at the local shop and tell them about my problem. The helpful clerk immediately consulted the computer, located the needed screw, secured the part and we attempted to install it. No go. He got a flashlight and we investigated further, "It looks like the screw broke off down in there," he said. I groaned inwardly. "This isn't good," I said to myself. He began to take apart the housing . . .  .

I will spare you the details of the process, however, the result was that he called the "shop-guy" who looked it over and tried a few things while making a few comments such as, "I thought we might be able to get to it, but it's broken off down in the aluminum block.." later, "I guess a guy could try to use a reverse drill-bit and see if they could get it out of there," then, "I not sure it's going to be easy to find a small enough bit and getting it centered so that it might back out could be tricky." His final solution? To suggest that I could try to drill it out myself or they could repair it but they might have to get a new block and the labor would be expensive enough that "you might as well buy a new saw."

It didn't seem right to me. They are after all  . . . the experts. it seemed reasonable to assume that they, unlike me, who has only dealt with this kind of problem once before, would have some experience with "broken-off screws" and a few "tricks up their sleeve" on how to approach the problem.

They didn't seem to be very interested in finding a solution or, perhaps, they were not confident that their solution would avoid spending a lot of time for which they would want to be paid (no argument there).

So, with great trepidation (I am not overly-optimistic about my mechanical skills) i went home, found some 1/16th inch left-handed drill-bits (not an easy find) on Amazon and ordered them.  When they came, I began, aided by my wife, to try and get the drill-bit centered and to drill out the offending screw. Ringing in my head were comments made by the expert . . . "It would be easy to ruin the aluminum block," and "it's not going to be easy to get a small-enough bit or to get it centered," and "you might get lucky!" 

After an hour, or more, we had made no real progress.  There were two holes in the screw stud. One, a bit off-center, and deeper. The second, more central, but shallow. I got the feeling we were going to keep slipping into the deeper hole which was getting dangerously close to the threads I feared. The screw had not moved at all.

My wife, no more confident in my skills than I have in myself (having a father with Svengali-like knowledge, skills, and tools in all handy-man areas), said, "Maybe you should just take it back to where you bought it and see what they say." That was all I needed. It is what I had been thinking but I had not wanted to admit defeat, or make the time-consuming and potentially costly trip--remember it was going to cost as much as a new saw according to the expert! But the lack of success and my wife's encouragement ended the doubt. I packed it up and left immediately.

I'll spare you the rest of the painful journey, except to say that at Nick's I bought a back-up saw so now I have two in case one breaks down again, and I'll jump to the end of the story.  They looked at the broken screw, said "Yep, we''ll have to drill that out of there." Kept the saw for a week. Called that it was finished and I went down to fetch it.  The bill? $43. Yes, $43!  To replace the saw I had would have been almost $700. The "back up saw I purchased was only $400 plus change.

Moral of the story? Not all experts are the same. Nick's Farm Store have experts in repairing Stihl saws. My local guys? Not so much.  Undoubtably they are experts in other things but I won't consult them on my saws again. In fact, the next time I make the trip to Nick's I may take that old broken saw (I've kept it out of nostalgia . . . it was my first!) and see what they think of it. Maybe it's not dead. 

A Business Parallel

A parallel? In the consulting work I do, it is always interesting to me who leaders rely upon to help them with "people issues." Usually, it is a business consultant from a one-man shop or a large corporate consulting business. What expertise do they really have in understanding human systems?  Often, based on the recommended solutions, they remind me of the "local guys" they propose generic solutions that leaders themselves could implement, they warn that the solutions might be "too costly," they are content with-or limited to-proposing a solution that requires the leader to do the work and they leave them with a solution that may or may not work.

Leaders, if your problem is a business problem then by all means find a real expert who knows business.  But if your problem is a people problem then don't trust the "local" expert who knows about business, finances, legalities . . . and works with people . . . find someone who knows about people.  You see I need an expert in chain-saw repairs not in chain-saw sales. Get over the fear. Finding the right expert may NOT cost you more time and money.  A real expert knows how to solve the problem. They have the tools, knowledge, and skills to work efficiently which helps the bottom line. In the end, a $43 repair to salvage a good saw is better than "junking it" and making a $700 purchase-especially when it leaves you with only one good saw..


By the way, I mentioned that I bought a back-up saw at Nick's. Since they knew how to repair my MS 260, I knew my "second saw" did not need to be a professional grade saw. So I bought a "step down" from my original saw--a savings of over $240. For less than $500 I now have two quality saws.

The Local Store didn't totally lose out entirely. They sold me the screw for the handle and some oil. But they could have sold me a new saw and a repair. While I'll continue to buy my emergency bar oil and 2-cycle oil at the Local Store, I will continue to make the trip to Nick's Farm Store for any "important" purchases!

The day I finished this blog post I got a postcard in the mail.  Here it is . . .

Postmark . . .

Postmark . . .

Message . . . what a great store!

Message . . . what a great store!





Consulting and the Cold Hard Truth

Statue of Veritas, Goddess of Truth, Wikipedia

Statue of Veritas, Goddess of Truth, Wikipedia


Avoiding the Truth

How hard is it to ignore the obvious? Well, if you work in a field that causes you to work closely with people that are having problems you would know . . . it's not that hard. As an example, I remember working with a lady who was dealing with end of life issues with her 80-plus year old mother. As we talked, she repeatedly aid "if she dies" then . . . as a therapist I gently kept reminding her that it was not "if" but "when" she died . . . we have a remarkable ability to see, or not see, uncomfortable truths. As a consultant working with organizations you need to ruthlessly make yourself, and often your clients, deal with the reality of their situations . . . not the dream of how it could, or should, be . . . .

I once worked with an organization where the outside experts had worked for a year with leadership to bring them to a "path forward."  They had created an agreement. They had endured a great deal of conflict, the loss of several of their board of advisors, had their primary leader go through an evaluation and remediation process and finally to the construction of the "agreement.". They were ready to go forward. Except they weren't. An hour of listening to them talk about the history and the creation of the agreement told me, "this leadership team is still split into two camps . . . those for, and those against, the current executive."

Risking Change

So I said it. "It doesn't seem like this leadership team is on the same page." My next thought was, "I'm so fired!" You see it's my firm belief that many people do not appreciate those who tell them hard truths. I often underestimate people in that way. To there credit, they were able to say to me, "You're right!" The hierarchy of the corporate structure and local leadership supported the conclusion and we threw out the agreement plan. Instead, we worked on a time-limited plan to see if we could get the leadership team on the same page or separate amicably for the good of the organization.

Speaking Truth . . . Anyway

I am aware it does not always end well if you risk speaking the truth.  I've had one manager who, when given the results of interviews with her employees (which were a mix of positives and negatives) exploded with "What is my manager going to think? I promised to share the results with him!" While uncomfortable, these moments allow for you to continue to guide leaders into confronting the truth . . . "Did you think you would only hear positives? Wouldn't your supervisor want you aware to the challenges to your team's success? or if you are in a coaching situation with that leader maybe it is a more personal "What makes you afraid of what your boss is going to think?"

Truth is the Only path to Change

Many experts on business have noted that leaders have to have an accurate picture of where they are and a vision of where they want to go. It is consultant's responsibility to help leaders look at all the facts of where they are in the present--without distortion or fear--and enable them to focus on how to take realistic steps toward the preferred future. In this, consultants themselves must model a willingness to confront the truth of their own involvement with the leader or organization. This includes the fact that your own view of the "truth" may not match the of the leader or organization. Do not run from this! When these views collide you very well may be at the moment of peak effectiveness to make change happen. A non-anxious presence of someone speaking truth at that moment can be transformative!