Monday, February 28, 2011

A Stitch in Time – Planning ahead in Safety







Remember that old saying “A stitch in time saves nine?”Often organizations in need of improvement have put off fixing things for so long, that what would have required a band-aide had they paid attention earlier, now requires major surgery.  It seems their culture often deals more with denial of the present state needs and focuses instead on the expedient.  That is until the little things pile up and become a full on emergency. This is a leadership issue.  It can exist at every level of the organization, and therefore needs to be solved at every level of the organization.


The solution starts with the leader in charge of the problem at hand. I remember working with a Captain of a large ship repair facility. He was under strict orders to paint a huge vessel and get it out to the fleet NOW! During the process the manned snorkel equipment used to paint the ship suddenly took a five foot drop that resulted in no injuries, but definitely frightened the painter out on the end of the boom. The Captain was under significant personal and career stress to paint the ship and release it to the fleet. Instead of taking an expedient approach, he began a thorough investigation that got to root cause before he resumed the mission critical task demanded by the Admirals to whom he reported.


He did the stitch in time before major surgery was required.


Every day, every organization has things that need improvement. As I work in the field, I make a point of asking those at the workforce and their leaders what is it that needs attention? I then make a point of following up to see that this is taken care of to both their and my satisfaction before major surgery becomes a necessity. At first the list is very long, but as attention to small stitches and major surgeries takes place the culture changes from one of firefighting to a daily accountability for the attention to details that keep us all out of the hospital.


Is it time to begin changing your culture to one that focuses on “a stitch in time?”


The Doc

Credit: Image 1

Monday, February 21, 2011

Superfluous or Super Important? Safety and senior management

One of the universal questions in safety seems to be; “What role does upper management need to play?” These highly skilled people are busy helping their organizations succeed. There is seldom time for the addition of more tasks to dilute their efforts on “the really important things.” Like most of us, upper management personnel typically work inside their comfort zones of skill, passion and knowledge. Let’s face it, very few of them know much about what it takes to run a zero error (injury) safety culture. This topic is not taught in colleges and universities. OSHA, the elephant in the room, is only focused on conditions and regulations. Achieving safety cultural excellence is seldom more than a big ‘huh?’ when it comes to the top dogs in a typical organization.


A great pioneer of safety culture, Dr. Dan Petersen, spent 50+ years studying how to achieve safety culture excellence. One of his findings was ‘the six criteria of safety excellence.’ Number one in his list of six is “visible upper management commitment to safety.” Moving down one level, Dan’s second criteria is “active middle management involvement in safety.” This is partially explained by the fact that accountability for actions necessary for excellence flows up from the workforce where injuries and dangers are most predominant. Add to this the fact that upper management support is necessary if accountabilities are to be delivered on a regular basis. I guess this leads into one of Dan’s other words of wisdom-- “What gets measured is what gets done!”


But what data does management typically have with respect to safety? They get injury statistics; downstream indicators based on things they don’t want to have happen. This is radically different from the upstream indicators they get from other core functions. And what do downstream safety indicators tell them to do personally?


Nothing. There are no upper management accountabilities that go with the safety indicators which don’t give a hint as to cause or solution to the tragedies that are contained in injury statistics. Just like other core functions, we must manage by activities. These activities must involve accountabilities throughout the organization that have a positive effect at the workforce where quality, productivity and safety are first delivered. In turn, teams with salaried and hourly employee input are required to get these accountabilities correct. In essence the executives end up being responsible for delivering a certain quantity of quality value added activities in a timely matter as designed by the local subject matter experts (SME) who are doing the work.


Management’s part in achieving safety excellence then becomes an active, visible, supportive participation in developing and nurturing “a culture that just does not tolerate injuries.” Put all this together and two major factors of the problem with getting these highly talented upper managers to engage is that “they don’t know what they don’t know” and they seldom carve out any time to get the education and knowledge necessary to get themselves passionately engaged in an function in which they are so desperately needed. Once they take the time to gain the knowledge, I have never seen them do other than follow their heart which just naturally does not want anyone to get injured. Once this occurs their organization begins a journey to safety excellence that will not fail.


Engaging upper management in meaningful safety culture training is a need that unlocks the power that delivers the solution to an organization’s safety culture. This training goes way beyond level one regulations and level two observations which is about all that is ever taught to them. And so when I go into a new organization that wants ‘to get to zero’ I insist on a day of highly participative safety cultural excellence training for upper management. Just like the great quality pioneer, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, if the executives won’t carve out the time to learn why and how to get to a zero error culture, I decline the assignment and move on to an organization that can provide executives who will invest a day to find out what they do not know and then do something about it.


It’s not the words, it’s the message lived by the actions of senior management.


The Doc

Monday, February 14, 2011

Practice Makes Perfect – Are we sure we are doing the right things?

Like many of us, I was brought up with parents who repeated cliché statements they meant as examples for me to follow in becoming a successful adult.  As I went out for sports, or worked on homework problem sets, or learned a musical instrument “Practice Makes Perfect!!”  was a mantra I often heard.  Then one day I met a professional golfer who gave me a very different perspective.  Ben related his experiences with amateur golfers who “pounded golf balls at the range day in and day out” with little or no improvement.  Why?  Because they were practicing the wrong techniques.  They needed coaching in perfection, not just the “same ol’ same ol’” so he told me.

This brought to mind a personal teen age lesson of mine after I rolled my father’s automobile one late, rainy night coming home from Tecate, Baja California, Mexico.  Indeed I had been practicing a number of the wrong things.  Once I got off probation, which included paying for repairs to his vehicle, each time I got the privilege of driving his vehicle Papa told me:  “Try and keep it right side up this time son.”

And now as I work with organizations that are trying to develop and live a zero injury safety culture, they too have to address their old practices and processes that just aren’t good enough to deliver zero error performance.  As Ben told me:  “Perfect practice makes for perfect performance.”  Where do you and your organization need to perfect the “good enough” of the old culture that keeps you from getting to great?  Indeed “Good is the enemy of great”  and we need to perfect what is no longer good enough for the excellence we now need to achieve.

The Doc

Monday, February 7, 2011

Death: Management Excuses that Kill Safety Performance

Over the years I have met with quite a number of mangers who had safety as one of their “agenda items.”  Some were serious about making improvements, but unfortunately most were complacent about the safety performance of the organization for which they had responsibility.  Unless there was a “trigger event” that could not be ignored. Then they typically searched for someone to punish before slipping back to a state of BAU (Business As Usual).  Without facing a trigger event here is a partial list of the “Usual Suspects” (Excuses) I have heard:

We don’t have time to work on these minor issues, we have higher priorities
People get injured
It’s not my job
Diagnostic surveys and subsequent actions cost too much money
I don’t like/trust consultants
 It will never work for us
I get paid for ….. not for safety
We didn’t use to have these problems
No matter what we do the government regulators will fine us anyway
We’ve never tried this approach before
Talk to HR, safety reports to them
It’s easier to demand and control than to try and involve others in the    process
The cost of injuries is inconsequential

I imagine many of you have heard some or all of these excuses to justify the status quo.  So what is to be done with this kind of organization leadership?

 I often consider “the voice of sarcasm” which goes something like, “When the IQ reaches 50, I suggest you sell.”

 “So your organization follows the classic model of insanity when it comes to safety?”

 However, I find that this is not really effective, so I then make two internal comments before leaving:  “Don’t bother to cast your pearls before swine.”  “Without a guiding coalition any significant change initiative does not occur.  I guess we will have to wait for a significant change in management.”   And these unspoken comments are then followed by my verbal closure: “If there comes a time you would like to work seriously on improving safety, please contact us. We’d like to help you in this effort.”

Mentally it hurts, but sometimes you just have to shake your head and walk away.  There is no value added change that comes from expending your own scarce personal resources in “wrestling with pigs.”

The Doc

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