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  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Half – Avoiding a safety pitfall

Most things that begin with the word “half” are bad news.  Half-baked is not good for cakes, cookies or creativity.  Half-done means you still have to do as much as you have already done.  Half-dead is never the look you desire!  Half-alive makes you think, which half?  Half-price makes you wonder, what’s wrong with it?  Half-crazy means just sane enough to be out on the streets. 

Recently, a close family member had a heart attack when the lower half of the heart stopped functioning.  The emergency room experience, surgery, post operative treatment, changed life style and more certainly convinced us that half-hearted is a very bad reality.  Perhaps the worst “half” we encounter is half-heartedness.  None of us wants to be on the receiving end of a half-hearted gesture, a half-hearted compliment, or a half-hearted commitment.  There is a message here that none of us should be satisfied living half-hearted lives that limit our ability to love, to give, to obey, to rejoice, to celebrate a job and a life worth living. 

We each have numerous choices each day as to how we will engage in the many different aspects of life.  The old cliché, “Any job worth doing is worth doing well,” among other considerations, comes into play at the family level and most certainly at the job level for the safety pro.  How are you engaging when it comes to improving the safety of those under your responsibility on and off the job?  Let’s not be half-hearted, rather let’s commit to being “all in.”

The Doc       

Monday, September 22, 2014

What now? – Using a survey to improve safety culture

I recently received a request to comment on how an organization could improve their safety culture by focusing on three key safety drivers which were identified in a safety perception survey a local university delivered to their employees.  The results of the survey said their employees scored low on: Safety Importance, Safety Engagement, and Safety Communications at the frontline.  These are topics many organizations struggle with as they get deeper into improving their safety culture and performance results.  Here is my short reply to their inquiry.

  • Safety Importance:  The issue becomes getting safety to have a priority greater than or equal to production demands.  Our teaching in this area is based on the work of Dr. Dan Petersen, renowned safety culture expert, writer and consultant.  His “Six Criteria of Safety Excellence”


  • Top management is visibly committed

  • Middle management is actively involved

  • Front-line supervision is performance-focused

  • Employees are actively participating

  • System is flexible to accommodate the culture

  • Safety system is positively perceived by the workforce

These same six are also truly a foundation for operations and quality performance excellence.  The solution here is about understanding how to develop this kind of engagement across the organization.  The focus is on developing and living a culture of value added safety accountability throughout the organization and how this fits in with quality and operations accountabilities which must also be in place

  • Safety Engagement:  How do people in a workgroup help each other live a safety culture of correct?  For more than a decade Caterpillar has studied, developed and honed a Rapid Improvement Workshop (RIW) process which engages hourly and salaried personnel in a relentless pursuit of zero errors in operations, quality and safety.  The focus on achieving a zero incident safety culture has required the RIW process to be improved and intensified.  This includes hands on training in what it takes to engage a core group of workgroup personnel from throughout the organization in going beyond one-off issue solutions and into upstream process error proofing which delivers downstream metric and safety culture excellence.

  • Safety Communication:  Interpersonal communications that have workgroup personnel and management speaking up about safety issues, learning from the speak up engagement and reinforcing those actions which actively live a safety culture of correct.  This requires a very interactive, hands on learning and practicing of work group safety communication:

    • Speak Up; how to give effective safety feedback in an adult manner  which corrects improper actions and activities

    • Listen Up; how employees process safety feedback and commit, on an individual and personal basis, to improving the weak and dangerous activities which must always be performed correctly and safely

    • Recognize It; the safety communication at the front line needs to go beyond just correcting improper activities.  Organizations that achieve excellence also engage in a coaching model that reinforces what is being done correctly. The concepts and training focus on how to reinforce safety activities which are done correctly by workforce personnel

Does your organization have similar safety culture challenges that can be addressed by the above approach?

The Doc

Monday, September 15, 2014

Writing – a process to deliver consistent safety excellence

In William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well he mentions that many writers suffer from “the tyranny of the final product.”  They are so concerned with selling their article or book, they neglect learning the process of how to think, plan and organize.  Their work is jumbled when “the writer, his eye on the finish line, never gave enough thought to how to run the race.”  There seems to be a concern only with the fruit and thus ignoring the root out of which the fruit springs. 

In my experience, there is a definite parallel in safety initiatives which react to the latest event.  In doing so, we do not put in the time and effort necessary to develop, train, measure and give feedback to the well thought out accountabilities which when practiced eliminate the possibility of injury.  This detailed plan is what helps deliver the fruit of a practical error proofing approach to fundamental and advanced safety processes.  The careful attention to the important roots of our safety tree must come from our people who have to live with our safety processes.  Their careful, well thought out detail to what really happens in the field assists our people to live a zero incident safety culture.

Each of these well thought and well executed safety processes include the necessity for all our people, on and off the job to stop, think and act.  If you see it, you own it.  We must do it safe all the time.  And this requires careful well thought out processes with practical accountabilities which help eliminate the possibility of incident or injury.  These processes with appropriate safety accountabilities then form the path of root to fruit in a safety culture of correct.  From this well thought out plan comes a safety culture that can go beyond reacting to the next inexcusable injury.      

The Doc

Monday, September 8, 2014

Trustworthy – A key to safety performance

Trust is a relatively simple word with a meaning that is challenging to achieve both in the workplace and off the job.  We all evaluate the people we work and associate with as a part of being human. Often, we evaluate our level of trust with things other than human behavior including animal behavior or machinery / equipment. We all quickly judge what and who we interact with as to how much trust is justified for the various situations in which we interact.  What does it take to be worthy of the trust we value in others?

Just as with the critical success factor of leadership, the business world has written an incredible amount of material on another critical organizational attribute; trust.  Recently, I was reading some of Stephen Covey’s thoughts about developing, establishing and gaining trust in the workplace.  Trust is a character trait that results from four fundamental practices. When these practices are consistently demonstrated by a person, it results in a trustworthy character:

  • Integrity and honesty that results in a consistent reputation for telling the truth

  • Excellence of intentions which do not deceive or protect anyone and are without hidden motives or agendas

  • Capability, expertise, knowledge and skills in their areas of expertise

  • Consistent delivery of positive results over time to establish trust

Living these criteria for being trustworthy is a good objective for safety leaders in all that they do on and off the job.

The Doc 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Smarter – Improving safety performance

Recently my son and I were in a hardware store to purchase a new wax seal for his family’s leaking toilet.  It had been a while since I last had to replace a wax seal and therefore was surprised to see a range of technologies that were available for this pretty basic household element.  As we discussed the options with the sales person he expounded on his formula for success in any endeavor; “You have to be smarter than what you are working with.”  He then added “In this case, I think the two of you will be able to successfully change out the toilet seal.”  Hmmm, was this a compliment or a sarcastic put down?  We did some push back about this, had some light hearted laughter, then went home and successfully and safely conquered the toilet challenge.

However, the dialogue about being smarter than who you are working with just doesn’t sync with my personal experience in safety or management.  Successful continuous improvement teams have good people who individually excel in necessary attributes like leadership, practical problem solving, execution, communication, etc.  As with any well performing team, no one person knows it all, or is superior in all aspects of what it takes to successfully execute the challenges before them.  Success has each member contributing to their best in the difficulties that the total team must wrestle with. 

I have worked on many teams with numerous people who were far better than I was at the individual tasks we faced.  However, together with each of us doing our part where we had individual expertise we succeeded way beyond what one superior person could have done.  This is true in operations, quality and most definitely in safety where a wide spectrum of knowledge, skills and capabilities are necessary.

The Doc

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