Monday, November 24, 2014

DPE – Difficult, problematic employees

I think we have all had unpleasant experiences with difficult, problematic employees, or as we’ll refer to them in this blog, DPEs. They come in all different sizes, shapes, backgrounds, levels in the organization and education realities.  The only consistent characteristic seems to be their attitude, which causes you and others ongoing trouble.  My first experience with a DPE came right out of college when I was responsible for a toxic pesticide manufacturing operation.  I followed the union contract rules and continued to council and escalate appropriately until my DPE was one step away from discharge.  After normal work hours one day, while I was still in the office, there was a knock on my window.  The DPE’s wife asked permission to speak with me and out came a story of how their family really needed him to stay employed.  We had a heart to heart discussion as to what the problems were and how we were both boxed into a corner unless she could influence him to improve what was causing the three of us real troubles.  The next day he came into the office and laid out what he would do to change his behavior.

I wish all DPE cases were that simple.  My next experience was in an integrated metal manufacturing facility where front line supervision had responsibility for several difficult employees. The supervisors followed the contract’s progressive discipline for their DPEs’ poor behaviors.  However, at this point, upper management intervened and would not allow implementation of the discipline. From that point on, the whole mill culture changed for the worse and the supervision that stayed had to live with a cancerous culture of uncaring poor performance. 

More jobs, more industries and more experience have taught me that:

·         I must have upper management on board with what to do with the DPEs, how to manage them, how to correct them and how to discipline them if they do not turn around.

·         If I can deliver corrective actions I must then deal face-to-face with the employee and must do this in the presence of union/labor and human resources leadership.  The discussion must be factual, must have employee corrective actions and must have management and supervision accountabilities to track the employee executing their own personal DPE correction plan.

With these ideas in place, I have found about a 20% success rate with the DPEs permanently improving their own issues.  The other 80%, hourly or salaried, seem to have developed a lifestyle/attitude that they slip back into after about three months of good behavior. Once they do their performance, cancer returns and you must deal with it if your organization is to move forward. This is not an enjoyable aspect of leadership.  However, for less than 5% of the workforce it is a necessity.  And one way or another when the change occurs a number of your frontline workforce, hourly and salaried, will thank you for being firm, fair and  sticking it out with the DPE who was causing them trouble as well.

The Doc

Monday, November 17, 2014

Right Now! – Effective safety goals

I have been working with an excellent surface mining organization that has a very low injury rate. They have a Recordable Injury Frequency (RIF) of less than 0.3.  They were working on leading indicators, but still struggled with a long history and the traditional draw of injury rates.  In our discussions, they related an interesting and humorous story of how their group finally put an end to setting injury goals.   

As the hourly and salaried team discussed the next year’s safety goals, their low RIF allowed for only two recordable injuries.  At that moment of truth, a mechanic team member excused himself and momentarily returned with a sledge hammer.  He looked around, focused on the safety manager and said “Let’s get this out of the way right now!” 

The team looked shocked and then started laughing.  In short order, they agreed that injury rate goals were just plain ridiculous.  A sledge hammer mechanic became the catalyst that got them seriously on the road toward worthwhile leading indicator/safety accountability goals.  This is a reality of what will make a worthwhile difference in achieving excellent safety performance.

Is it time for you get out the sledge hammer reality and become serious about what value added goals and activities it takes to improve your organization’s safety performance?

The Doc

Monday, November 10, 2014

Excellence – an achievable goal for the safety professional

“Excellence is accomplished through deliberate actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, made into habits, compounded together, added up over time.”   This quote is from Anson Dorrance – Head Coach UNC Women’s Soccer, who is arguably the most successful soccer coach of all time.  Dorrance continues; “I want to play on the edge, to attack rather than defend, to play to win rather than to avoid losing.”  His fierce sense of mission was about developing team members to perform at their highest level.  To read more about Anson Dorrance and his success story click here.
There are clear parallels between striving for excellence and safety.  Are we about playing out the same old script of regulatory audits, collecting observation cards or surviving another boring non productive safety meeting?  What deliberate actions (accountabilities) are there to engage our whole team of employees in the relentless pursuit of no injuries on and off the pitch (job)?  Yes, there are careful fundamentals that become habits.  Yet we must go beyond safety 101 and bring in plays to develop all our players on a team to support each other and implement what it takes to win rather than defend the safety basics.  A safety culture of excellence builds on the fundamentals and beyond to be the daily winner for all of us in our ongoing game of life.  Take a look at the plays (resources) presented in the web site for many achievable challenges your safety team can accomplish once you decide to attack the numerous real safety issues and risks that face your on- and off-the-job teams and families.

The Doc    

Monday, November 3, 2014

Life – a safety career challenge

“Life is what you make of it – always has been, always will be.  There will always be challenges.  It is what we do with them that counts. I have written my life in small sketches.” The previous quote from famous New England painter Grandma Moses (1860-1961) has some real truth and a challenge for the safety professionals of our era.  As I look back over a “career” that includes some 20 organizations, there are many sketches; certainly not all are success stories.  When I talk to others who have stayed with one organization for their “real career,” they too have familiar ups and downs. 

If we add family realities, volunteer work and off the job experiences to the work environment, there are an infinite number of sketches that help weave together the real “who” we end up being.  Few I talk to are settled into the grand success plan they dreamed they would have; are you? 

We still have some sketches left to paint.  As a safety pro, and even more so as a person, how can we make these final sketches clear, long lasting and satisfying to the others we interact with on and off the job? Ongoing employment or retirement can have meaningful value to you and those with whom you interact. What is needed from us is to focus on delivering a meaningful, personal sketch in what we are doing in our current stage of life.

The Doc 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Repeat warnings – eliminating boring safety training

“Caution, the moving walkway is ending, Caution, the moving walkway is ending.”……..  If you have ever been on an automated walkway at an airport you have heard this kind of announcement repeatedly.  Why do airports repeat this announcement over and over?  The reason is to ensure safety and protect them from liability if someone were to be injured.

Repeated announcements can be annoying, but they do have value.  Have you ever become annoyed or bored with the same old safety message you are giving or being given?  I know I have been on both the giving and receiving end of this kind of mind numbing, non-engaging, zero attention kind of safety message.  I also know that repetition of warnings and safety preparations/precautions is an absolute necessity in every workplace.  We must give detailed attention to safety at the start of every shift. When we see or experience a change of state or incorrect activity, it is time for repetition of what is correct.  We must give refresher training. The real issue becomes the who, what, when and how. We have plenty of leeway with these four.  How can you be creative in the safety presentations so you avoid inattentiveness and tedious messages such as the ones delivered in the moving walkway announcement? 

Our people need to hear and heed important safety messages and we need to be creative in our delivery so we catch and engage their attention.  What can you start doing creatively and differently in the important safety messages we must deliver?

The Doc

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hardship – making the best of your circumstances

Like many towns, Enterprise, Alabama, has a prominent monument, but it is unlike any other. The statue doesn’t recognize a leading citizen; it celebrates the work of a beetle.  In the early 1900s, the boll weevil made its way from Mexico to the southern US.  Within a few years, it had destroyed entire crops of cotton, the primary source of revenue.  In desperation, farmers started growing another crop – peanuts.  Realizing they had been dependent on one crop for too long, they credited the beetle with forcing them to diversify, which led to increased prosperity.

The boll weevil is an example of something that comes into our lives and destroys what we have worked hard to accomplish.  It can bring devastating results - sometimes financial, emotional or physical, all of which can cause fear.    We witness the end of life as we know it.  But as the people of Enterprise learned, the loss of what is old is an opportunity to discover something new.  Hardships can be a way of getting us to give up bad habits or learn new talents.   Our thorn in the flesh can stop us from striving to preserve old habits that are no longer effective. 

From a safety perspective, have we become comfortable with mediocre performance that once used to be viewed as excellent?  When forced into a job change, can we branch out to do even better with the new opportunity and challenges before us?  When dealing with the injured, can we help them to discover a new life that fits within their new personal realities? 

We can view every hardship as an opportunity to cultivate a new virtue in us.  Bitter experiences can help make us better.

The Doc

Monday, October 6, 2014

The biggest loser – Getting to safety excellence

There are an endless number of techniques and products that can assist a person to lose weight.  Many of these products have guarantees of five or ten pounds of immediate weight loss.  It turns out that for most people, the first ten pounds is relatively easy.  If you wish to lose more weight, the going gets tougher. In turn, this requires a whole different long term, sustainable diet and exercise plan.  As you shed more weight, the work to get to the next level becomes incrementally harder. It requires an increase in intensity, responsibility, accountability and likely even a support group that helps in the required long term commitment.

I find a parallel between losing weight and improving safety for organizations.  Caterpillar’s safety improvement journey has somewhat mirrored this reality since committing all of the various global organizations to a safety culture that continually eliminates injury.  At the beginning of the injury loss journey, the set of tools used to decrease the Recordable Injury Frequency (RIF) from around 6 to 4 was a two year focus on equipment/facility related fixes.  As RIF improved and then plateaued at 4, it became apparent a difference initiative moved the responsibility and accountability from the safety department to operations with safety becoming a resource instead of the responsible party.  After about two years of this consistent change, the next RIF plateau was around 2. To break through the plateau, the focus shifted to ergonomics and continuous improvement teams.  Once again, noticeable improvement occurred when this tool set was added, and then a long, five year plateau occurred for the above approaches at a RIF of 1+.

The next safety improvement approach was a deep dive which involved in depth Rapid Improvement Workshops (RIW).  This RIW approach engages teams of hourly and salaried employees with cross functional experience to focus on developing and error proofing upstream safety processes.  The improved processes delivered from the RIW include value added safety responsibilities and accountabilities.  The proposed solutions are first piloted to ensure their robust character and then rolled out with appropriate monitoring of the critical process characteristics. The improved process with its focused responsibilities and accountabilities is then adopted as a part of the safety culture by all levels of the organization no matter what country or business unit is involved.  To date, our RIF using the previous improvements and this more intense, more engaged relentless pursuit of a zero incident safety culture continues a yearly decline and is currently less than 0.75.

The injury loss reduction safety journey described above occurred while the employee count at Caterpillar has more than doubled to nearly 150,000 people.  Across this decade long ongoing commitment to safety culture excellence the number of medical injuries shed is more than 51,000, meaning that greater than a third of our total workforce has been able to avoid severe injury.  Serious weight loss and serious injury loss plans require far more than a short term commitment to doing whatever it takes to lose what we should never have allowed in the first place.

The Doc  

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