Whose responsibility is Debbie's mother?

Debbie’s mother has called me 32 times over the past three days. She started calling on Monday night when the storm kicked in.

The storm wound down last night, not as bad as predicted. But Debbie’s mother keeps calling. Six times this morning.

Debbie’s mother has the wrong number. I am not Debbie.

I explained this fact to her during several calls. But still she calls. So I looked up the incoming phone number and found that it was from Cedar Crest Nursing Home.

I called the nursing home to tell them that one of their patients (residents?) was upset and desperate to talk to Debbie. Could they please help her find the right telephone number for Debbie?

“I'm sorry. We have three floors of patients here. There’s no way I can find the woman you’re talking about,” the Memory Loss floor supervisor told me. “Patients on my floor don’t have access to phones so it’s not one of mine. It must be someone on another floor. Sorry, I’m just too busy here.”

“Could you make a call to your colleagues on the other floors?” I ask.

“I’ll try,” said the Memory Loss supervisor and then hung up.

Debbie’s mother is trying to find Debbie. But Debbie’s mother is lost inside the nursing home. There is no one to hear her or help her, except for me, the wrong number.

When managers are like the Memory Loss supervisor

In my work with big companies I often feel that people are lost, calling those in positions of responsibility with ideas, cautions, and worries, and getting no response. They feel like Debbie’s mother.

“I thought if I raised this issue, someone would be there to listen and do something about it,” people think. “I thought this was the year we could finally start to make a dent in doing work that would make a difference. But I guess not.”

After a while people stop calling, realizing that no one is going to pick up. They become complacent, doing as the floor supervisors request, and yet worrying nonetheless.

We need people at work with the tenacity and hopefulness of Debbie’s mother. Maybe this time the call will go through.

We also need floor supervisors who care as much about helping people in their company who are lost and searching as they do about maintaining order in their small organizational silos. What might happen if more managers truly cared about EVERYONE and not just “their employees” or their patients?

I have a lot to do today. But perhaps the most valuable thing I can do is to drive to the nursing home and find help for Debbie’s mother.

In work and in life we are often called to do things that we think someone else should be handling.

Responsibility is never neat and orderly.

My phone is ringing again. It’s Debbie’s mother.