Monday, May 30, 2011

Promotable: Developing background and leadership excellence

Over the years I have watched many safety professionals struggle to get their message across. In addition to this basic struggle another has also been common; an inability to be promoted beyond a position that just evaluates and enforces government safety regulations (regs). The safety pros I’ve worked with have been good people, yet they seem to nearly always have difficulty gaining the confidence or trust of the upper level managers who determine career advancement. What then does it take to earn the trust of your superiors? In general my model of Trust is that it comes as a result of exhibiting personal Character and Competence.



The first stumbling block for gaining trust in personal competence is our profession’s nearly single focus on regulations as the all important determinate of safety viability. Sure regulations are a fundamental building block of our profession. Yet a too tight focus on regulations as the all important tool is a nearly certain nail in the coffin of advancement with the production dominated culture that is common to many safety professional’s work environments. The production managers know about regs and yet their culture places more emphasis on getting a job done and solving problems than it does on another set of government rules. Consequently the safety pro is often stuck in a box where a single focus regs tool delivers the wrong message with respect to trust and competence. The safety pro must live a strategy that goes beyond glasses and gloves if they are to gain respect/trust and the promotions that can go with it.


This same production mentality/culture usually demands excellent presentation skills that include the ability to think on your feet and provide solutions to unexpected questions that come from the audience. Once again a regs focus that is more of a check in the box approach is not a good fit for this environment, especially if the presenter is not of the caliber that the production culture demands. Add to this the drawbacks of a “safety language” that does not include production fundamentals such as ROI and productivity. The regs language and approach is all about stopping production and productivity not about solving problems and moving on in a profit generating manner. The safety pro leader - messenger has got to:


• Go beyond regs

• Improve presentation skills

• Engage in a safety language that is a better fit for the governing production culture

• Use teamwork to engage the production personnel in finding productive solutions to safety issues


There are some different models for safety that fit in well with production cultures:

• What Causes Injuries


It’s not conditions, it’s activities. A production culture’s employees often believe that safety shortcuts are acceptable production shortcuts that can save time, and “time is money.” Such a group has a norm that continues to frustrate the regs focused safety pro. A Safety Accountability model is needed that parallels and supports the production accountability reality of always doing the right activities no matter what.


• What Safety Improvement Tools are Effective


The “usual suspects” of regs and observation programs are neither dynamic nor well enough respected; nor are they effective enough to get to a six sigma zero error rate – zero injury safety culture. There needs to be a diagnostic of the underlying safety culture and a continuous improvement approach that engages hourly and salaried production personnel in owning and solving their safety culture problems. A glasses and gloves approach just doesn’t have the power to deliver zero. And without teamwork solutions the “lone ranger” approach safety pro is lost.


• What are the Criteria for Safety Excellence


The successful, respected safety pro engages personnel from all levels of the organization:


o With individualized safety accountabilities

o That focus on activities

o That eliminate the possibility of injuries


It is not about counting things you don’t want to have happen; like injuries or items on observation check sheets. Rather it is about counting and reinforcing the excellent completion of activities that eliminate the possibility of injuries by people throughout the organization. And this requires some flexibility as well as a feedback diagnostic to determine how well the safety culture excellence engagement processes are working.


• Confronting the Brutal Facts


Author and professor, John Kotter, wrote an excellent book on “Leading Change.” Our safety pros need some of this same education that their promotable production culture counterparts have:


o What is required to overcome the complacency that so often defeats safety improvement and safety careers?

o Where is the guiding coalition that helps lead safety excellence initiatives?

o What about the people and physical obstacles that keep derailing the safety initiatives?

o How does the safety pro deliver the vision, communicate it effectively and generate a safety culture of frequent small wins?


A focus on glasses, gloves and observation check sheets just can’t deliver the kind of performance needed to overcome these common business culture obstacles.


• Turning Discipline into a Positive Force


The safety pro that focuses on punishing (disciplining) others for rules/regs infractions is missing a whole new world. This new world of performance is about a personal discipline in living a culture of excellence in all that is done, every day. A good definition of effective discipline is: Training which corrects, molds, strengthens or perfects. The production culture world focuses not on punishment, but on a personal discipline that lives and executes excellence in activities as a way of life. The safety pro needs to put an end to Theory X management and move on to much more effective Theory Y and Theory Z approaches. In this whole new world, unless the infraction is a flagrant abuse, discipline for correction becomes a culture of coaching on how to do the job correctly. In turn, this leads to a culture of a personal discipline that has employees at all levels of the organization always doing the job correctly and safely.


• Recognition for a Job Done Well


Few safety pros focus on what is going right. Their normal single focus culture of check in the box regs and concentration on observing and trying to “catch and correct” what is wrong is a death knell to the safety pro’s advancement possibilities. Globally dominant organizations relentlessly pursue getting jobs done right. They are way beyond the 50 year old “catch and correct” management approach. A modern interpersonal effectiveness approach to high performance has leaders, managers and every day personnel giving feedback to others. And this feedback is about “catching and congratulating” people for doing the job right. The new culture norm is seven times more focused on positive reinforcement than negative extinguishment. Most of the activities in a normal organization are done correctly, yet seldom are these frequent successes given any recognition. Safety pros need to develop a safety culture that both meaningfully and frequently celebrates the every day wins.


• A Kaizen Culture


The relentless pursuit of zero! This is the key to success for many modern global business leaders. The Continuous Improvement tools of six sigma, lean and kaizen deliver engagement of personnel throughout the organization in a culture of success. The safety pro who will rise above the maddening (non promotable) crowd will use this excellent production culture approach to help deliver a zero incident safety culture “every day in every way.”


Trust: The result of Character and Competence. How does a safety pro develop character? I would suggest to you that it is about their taking a leadership involvement in using these common business competency tools and in so doing developing a safety culture that goes beyond glasses and gloves. It works for your production counterparts; it can work for you as well.


The Doc

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sudden Impact: Preparing to handle the inevitable difficulties

Modern safety and management theory don’t always make it into the every-day real world. Theories are great, but applying them is another story. And carrying out everything you’ve learned while your back is against the wall — during the heat of a crisis — can be especially challenging.



With more than two decades of improving management styles and the development of bottom-up management and more participative forms of leadership, we’re still seeing old-school autocratic managers lay down the law. Too often, they’re responding too quickly. It’s as if they’re reacting for the sake of … um, reacting. It’s as if 20-years of proven best practices are being forgotten.

How can you prevent “reflex management”? The best answer is preparation. Like the quarterback, it only makes sense to continuously think through all the incident scenarios and try to anticipate the many factors that could ripple downstream. It’s imperative that managers know how to quickly respond to whatever safety emergency they face. One wrong response — retribution or other hasty disciplinary measure, for example — can have a devastating effect on not only the morale, but could also erode all the progress you might have made up to that point.

How do safety managers and supervisors prepare for the worst? By sticking with the rules of accountability and protocol that help identify the event’s root causes. Beyond that, there is also a set of seven practical factors to address well before we’re in reaction mode.

1. Establish and define boundaries and then work diligently to stay inside them (e.g., should you manage case rate by the month, or should you apply the government standards (i.e., a 12-month rolling average)?) How thorough is the incident investigation process and at what point does upper management get involved? And if disciplinary consequences are necessary, make sure they are clear, defined, and fair.

2. What outside forces (union, government agencies, etc.) are required to review the scenarios that warrant disciplinary measures? How are differences going to be communicated and resolved? Do you know the rules of engagement when it’s necessary to escalate unresolved disputes?
 3. It’s essential to have a clear understanding of the weaknesses in your safety processes, procedures and culture. If you’re a safety manager, it’s your job. At any given time, you should have a prioritized list that’s part of a continuous improvement plan. Regardless of how much support you get from upper management, it’s your function to continue to push forward and demonstrate both why (and which) specific resources are essential for the welfare of people and the company.

4. Make your relationship with a mentor manager a priority. This is your go-to point person to lessen the probability of having the trap door being swung out from underneath you when a crisis manager makes a “sudden impact” decision.

5. Be prepared for the intrusive autocrat by knowing where the line in the sand is; explain to safety committee team members what is and isn’t a “non-negotiable” issue so everyone’s clear about the rules of engagement. This critical communication helps to improve needed awareness and to lessen the reaction if a serious incident occurs.


6. How are you going to get the necessary information out of your front-line managers? Be quick; procrastination will only increase the chance of the “sudden impact” negative ripple effect.

7. When a serious event occurs and a rogue decision has been made by another manager, your role is to stay the course: continue to be an effective manager, present your concerns to upper management, and protect and support your employees through clarity, decisiveness, and your ability to listen.

A crisis demands a good leader. And although a good manager is not always liked by everyone, your consistency and fairness will always be respected and remembered. Be willing to admit when you don’t have all the answers, while working behind the scenes to get them. Finally, don’t wait until you’re on your heels. Prepare yourself now. Define rules, know them, and stick to them. Less stress — and a more satisfying safety management career — will be the result.

The Doc

Monday, May 16, 2011

Climate vs. Culture: Developing a permanent, excellent safety culture

Most organizations struggle with the dynamic of Climate vs. Culture in safety. To better understand this active issue in our work force – and our away from work reality – what is Climate? And what is Culture?


First a look at Culture – it is like the underlying forceful river that keeps rolling along day in and day out. Changing the direction of this strong guiding reality of an organization is very difficult. After all, we are trying to attack years and years of “We’ve always done it this way.” This river is made up of the ideas, beliefs and attitudes of your people that are firmly entrenched. All these combine into solid immoveable “norms” that individually make up the Culture.

Climate is more like “flavor of the month” sand castles that don’t stand a chance against the mighty Culture River. New Climate that comes in with new employees is quickly washed away by peer pressure. New ideas, beliefs and attitudes (both good and bad) are erased by the local “norm” that resists change.

Do people resist change? The answer is “no”…….that is as long as someone else other than “yours truly” has to change! So a better answer is individuals and groups and organizations all have their own Cultures – and they all greatly resist change.

Culture(S)? Many Cultures exist in the body – safety, production, quality, camaraderie, etc.

How do we go about changing the mighty Culture River? The sand of “flavors of the month” have little or no permanence. Rock solid principles, with strength of character, combined with commitment to long term engagement are absolute musts when it comes to Culture change. The leadership that desires to deliver Culture change must be committed to long term “Authentic Involvement.” This needs to be an involvement that engages personnel at all levels of the organization in what is viewed as (believed to be) a worthwhile effort to an agreed upon goal.

How does leadership determine what the shared needs, goals and visions are for their organization? One way is for upper management to huddle together, discuss, decide and issue a decision (edict). This short term approach that does not involve the vast majority of the employees is doomed to long term failure. Authentic Involvement requires participation from all levels of the group in question if the desired Culture change is to occur (and not be swept away as another ineffective management dictated flavor of the month).

In the safety world there are many kinds of data available to help solidify agreement across your extended family of employees. The obvious deal with “downstream indicators” or the injury, incident and near miss items we have seen so often, for so long. This reactive approach is not enough to launch a lasting Culture change. The downstream data just does not provide a clue as to what is wrong with the Culture or how to attack the malaise that exists. In conjunction with downstream data that indicates a need to change (improve) there needs to be material on what and where the Culture issues exist.

We need to find out what is going on “between the ears” of our people who are generating the downstream incident data. A good way to do this is by having your organization take a valid safety Culture survey. The best I have seen to date is the survey developed by Dr. Dan Petersen and Dr. Chuck Bailey. In this survey all levels of the organization give their truth on questions that have been statistically validated to make a difference in downstream safety performance. In turn, the questions on this survey “map” to fundamental safety processes that likewise are proven to make a difference in downstream safety performance across all of your organization.

This viable information about the state of the safety Culture is then provided to continuous improvement teams. The teams are trained in how to solve culture issues using a series of non-mathematical tools that assist in problem resolution. To ensure “Authentic Involvement,” all teams have a cross section of employees from various levels of the organization. Team members decide which survey questions and processes to tackle. They then engage in a systematic approach to problem resolution. The team functions along the lines of those that have been proven to be effective by similar teams involved with quality, production and customer service issues.

Why does such an approach work to achieve the difficult task of changing the mighty safety Culture River? There are a number of reasons. And these all boil down to: all people from all levels of the organization being actively involved in:


• Determining what the real underlying Culture issues are via the safety perception survey

• Deciding what Culture issues to work on

• Resolving the agreed upon issues

• Training others in the solutions to these issues

• Auditing the results of the team developed solutions

And in the end, continually deciding on what to do next as they engage in a relentless pursuit of a zero incident safety culture with a rock solid approach that is able to overcome the mighty safety Culture River that does, and will, resist change

The Doc

Authentic Involvement, Dan Petersen, NSC Press, 2001, ISBN 0-87912-232-3

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Seven Unforgiveable Sins: What kind of discipline is appropriate?

Discipline: What does this word mean to you? To some it brings up memories of punishment; a time of unpleasant and severe consequences for some action, not necessarily based on guilt or severity of the supposed offense. To others the word speaks of personal responsibility, i.e., self discipline; the personal value of doing a job or acting or even dressing appropriately.

What part does DA (Disciplinary Action) have in your organization? As groups struggle with what their position is on correcting its members for inappropriate activities they sometimes consider the root word of discipline: disciple. What is a disciple? Common definitions include: A student, or one who learns from a master and who spreads the culture of that teacher. In this manner we are all disciples of some kind of culture. How we were brought up is played out in our beliefs and actions throughout our lifetime. We tend to pass on the good of our upbringing and, unfortunately, the bad as well. The environment in which we live and work also influences our position on discipline. As you think of this, consider the various organizations you have worked for and you will “see” the philosophy they had on discipline (punishment) and how it affects your own stand on this matter.

As I have talked to organization leaders throughout the world, most struggle to some extent with the ‘what’, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of discipline as it is to be applied to employees. The range of punishment is wide: from 20-60% discipline for injured employees to less than 0.5% discipline for any and all circumstances that involve employees.

Most organizations believe that 80+% of injuries are the direct result of employee error. One organization did a study and found that only one of there last 200 recordable injuries was not directly attributable to unsafe acts. If it is the employees’ ”fault” that they were involved in an injury, shouldn’t they be punished for their mistakes? On the other hand isn’t the injury itself consequence enough for the action that led to the hurt that was received? What about an example that needs to be made so that others will be more careful and not be personally sloppy enough to do the same thing?

I once discussed this matter of discipline for actions to injured employees with the famous safety pioneer, Dr. Dan Petersen. He gave me a unique perspective: Management often builds traps into the workplace that “catch” the worker and lead directly to injuries. Examples of this include: significant overtime, inappropriate work schedules, ineffective training, poorly designed workstations and the like. In other words, “It’s no wonder some employees get injured considering some of the things we ‘ask’ them to do.” When a thorough multiple root cause analysis is done (including the “5 whys”), in all honesty how do management traps (mine fields) play out in the events and injuries?

What part of discipline is adult correction, i.e., actively trying to disciple our employees, or use a modern improvement approach of coaching? This is a question that is more and more frequently being asked by upper management as they struggle with what it takes to achieve a zero injury workplace. What is the best policy or process to address mistakes that can or do lead to injuries? What is the best way to help reduce the painful injuries that affect employees and the bottom line? If one considers the concepts put forth in the accident pyramid; a result is that most mistakes do not lead to injuries, but rather go unseen and unaddressed for a variety of reasons. There is often an “unnoticed culture” of close calls that goes on and on. If an organization is to get to a zero injury culture, these continuing errors must be given focus and resolution. We can’t allow them to be driven underground through fear of reprisal.

If the overwhelming majority of injuries are caused by human error, what percentage of them should lead to punishment? One of the companies we worked with had executive leadership that wanted never to punish their employees, and yet had site leadership that felt a standard is necessary in order to get a consistent message and consistent execution of policy across the multi-shift, multi-site, multi-country workplace. In an effort to do so, one of their continuous improvement teams decided to propose “the seven unpardonable sins” for which Disciplinary Action will always be given. Here they are:


1. Willfully or deliberately creating or ignoring a safety situation or condition that has the potential to harm any individual on company property.


2. Knowingly falsifying a company document. – Including but not limited to time cards.


3. Fighting on the job. – If you retaliate you’re both gone. Walk away.


4. Possession of alcohol or illegal drugs on company property. Prescription drugs not written to the possessor are considered illegal in this situation.


5. Reporting to work or being detected while on the job under the influence of alcohol or any illegal drug. Prescription drugs not written to the user are considered illegal in this situation.


6. Willful destruction of company property.


7. Insubordination.


As you consider the workplace discipline issue what is your well thought out position?


The Doc

Monday, May 2, 2011

Boundaries: What are your real constraints?


What are boundaries? A practical definition is “the lines or limits that are not to be crossed,” such as not passing a school bus when its red lights are flashing and one doughnut per week. We all create boundaries, some less rigid than others, but they’re meant to benefit and protect us without getting in the way of what we want to accomplish.


Nearly all of us struggle with effectively engaging others in getting our own desires to become reality. There are lots of things we’d like to accomplish, and in general, they require others’ buy-in. By setting up boundaries and rules, we’re often faced with objections. It’s natural for people to push back on our “reasonable limits/boundaries” in order to “get ‘r done.” We can expect resistance whenever our expectations are perceived to inhibit others’ actions and wants. Yet some limits are needed. To help overcome this normal human behavior, it is necessary to have open, candid communication on boundaries, expectations, and common goals.


To illustrate this concept, I’m reminded of the boundaries that were once diagramed by a former boss of mine. I knew he meant business because he asked that I close the door before taking a seat in his office. He sketched the following on a white board:


He carefully (and with some intensity) laid out what was bothering him about my work behavior. The four sides to the box represented his boundaries; inside of which were his comfort zones; he told me I needed to stay inside them. The four walls included safety, ethics, legality and lost-profit potential. He explained finite limits in each area and that he viewed all of them essential — to the company, to his career and to my role as a manager. As I looked and listened, I could understand his points, even though my boundaries in some cases differed from his. We agreed that I had never crossed any of his boundaries. (Had I done so, the discussion would have been about the end of my career for violating his rules of engagement.) Instead, he explained what was bothering him: I was operating at (or beyond) the edge of his comfort (buffer) zone.


Although I didn’t cross the lines, his personal reality was that he had a buffer or comfort zone that I was operating beyond. In truth, I needed to give him a “mental comfort zone” that wouldn’t keep him awake at night or worrying about mishaps that might jeopardize the success of the business, have legal implications, or even cause embarrassment.


From a rational management standpoint, buffer zones are a boss’ friend. They allow some leeway for those subordinates of us who can operate too close to the edge. On the other hand, there are bosses who keep too tight of a leash; they’re never fully comfortable with decisions their charges might make. These are the micro-managers of the world. Fortunately, my boss was not one of those.


My boss’ point of view made sense, and in my mind there was much more to the diagram than what he initially drew. I began to see all kinds of different boundary diagrams. Among the obvious ones were things like personal credit card debt or excessive speed. Another intriguing set of boundaries involves the raising of a teenager. Our kids kept pushing the limits until they found out what truth really was. What they were doing was testing both the limits and the buffers of my wife and me. A “no response” from either of us set up a laissez-faire family culture that was potentially dangerous to our children, our family and others.


What do the boundaries have to do with safety management? A prime example is the whole area of OSHA regulations. Here the boundary system appears inverted. Often the bureaucracy doesn’t seem to care what we do as long as we put a check in the “regs” box. This is not the type of culture that leads to high performance. A healthy safety culture needs more than a “check in the box mentality.” Standards & Regulations are only part of the equation.


In conclusion, I had never thought of my actions as out of the norm. For me, they weren’t. It was just that I was more comfortable than my boss was when it came to operating on the edge. Rather than fight the proverbial City Hall (which never works), I decided to give my boss a buffer in each of his sensitive areas. In the end, there was little difference in what I was doing or how. I was allowed to continue a very similar strategy and tactics, but with a slightly longer time frame to achieve the goals we both needed. Had I not changed to fit the boss’ boundary buffers — his realities — it is doubtful that I could have kept my position much longer.


As I have worked with people and organizations around the globe, dealing with boundary limit realities has proven to be very beneficial. Whether or not he or she realizes it, every boss has a mental boundary and buffer diagram that is not a perfect square. There are some areas in which you have almost total free will, and others that are very well defined. I challenge you to use a reasonable approach to identify the real limits as soon as you can. By doing so, you can extend your personality and passion into near unlimited performance . . . thereby making your life, job and organizational experiences much more rewarding than living in a virtual, unexplored box of mediocrity.


The Doc

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