Monday, September 26, 2011

Getting real with what it takes to deliver performance

A frustration of many safety pros I know deals with the fact that almost everybody believes in safety and gives safety lip service only. When it comes to doing the actual work it takes to deliver safety excellence, suddenly the ranks of safety involvement decidedly thin out. Or, as one of these friends recently lamented; they will gather round the conference table and sing safety Kumbaya, but never go out into the workplace and do anything about getting to zero.

Safety Kumbaya; singing 10, dance 0. This is not a good score when it comes to implementation. We have to do more than sing. Where are the people who will take to the streets our clearly defined system that deals with concrete facts, proven models, and sustainable results that encourage organizations to continue digging deeper?

I guess at first we need something specific, not vague language and vanilla concepts, to inspire the leaders we can find to take this revolution to the streets (work face). Do you have such a well thought plan in place? Can you communicate your dream effectively? Are you doing so?

If you have three yes answers to the above questions, then it is time to search your organization for a champion who will march forward with you and attack safety mediocrity. No, it is not time for a sit in, that wont work in the productivity world that often smothers safety initiatives. You will need a well thought out plan, followed by appropriate actions that are sustainable.

In the continuous improvement world that speaks to our post modern operations cultures, the term plan-do-check-act comes to mind. What is your well thought out plan?

Does it include:
  • A diagnostic that leads to valid improvement actions?
  • Improvement teams focused on credible data?
  • Accountabilities?
  • Appropriate training of the fundamentals of these accountabilities?
  • Measurement of value added activities?
  • Feedback based on completion of these value added activities at all levels of the organization?
In truth, there is a lot of hard work that needs to take place before you are ready to march on a system/culture that has been neglecting safety for a long, long time. Is it your time to stop singing Kumbaya safety and start the hard work it takes to change a culture of neglect that is so often apparent in our workplaces across the world?

The Doc

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Trouble with Breakthroughs -- Getting beyond the current state

Recently, I heard a quote that stopped me in my tracks: Nothing fails like success. In our profession, there is a passion for performance. Many of us have experienced the thrill of safety culture improvement, and, unfortunately, this thrill often leads to getting stuck in the rut of comfort and complacency. As humans, we all resist change to some extent. When we are presented with new ideas or concepts, it seems natural for us to try and find holes in what is different from our paradigms that are built on our experiences/successes.

I once worked with a small group of innovators who were trying to get to perfection in an important foundational part of their large company’s performance. They scheduled themselves into every seminar given on the topic and took numerous opportunities to visit and benchmark at appropriate sites around the world. When asked what they learned, I was not a little surprised at their responses. They admitted that they focused on defending their own best practices. After all, they were an industry success model, well, at least in their own minds they were.

In a progress report-out, they got torched by a V.P. who forced them to stop defending themselves and start doing some R&D (Rip Off and Duplicate). Where could they steal shamelessly, run some trials to prove the new concepts and get breakthroughs instead of defending status quo?

Are there some different concepts that may help improve safety which have been percolating in your mind? Maybe it is time to think through the possibilities, develop a pilot trial and see if a minor (or major) breakthrough can be the result of getting out of your personal comfort zone.

The Doc

Monday, September 12, 2011

Developing industry wide solutions for safety excellence

The cynic’s comment on this challenge might very well go along the lines of “How to solve world hunger.” Sounds impossible and yet there is at least one model that has been successful globally. In the 1960s Dr. W. Edwards Deming approached American auto makers with a proposal to improve their product quality and sell more cars. Dr. Deming was shown the door. In general, people and organizations resist change.

Dr. Deming did not give up. He continued the search until he found a willing partner to try new approaches that were foreign to the conventional wisdom of the auto industry. That willing person was headed by a Japanese man, Mr. Toyoda. The Toyota organization took the Deming concepts and began experimenting with them and improving them with the assistance of knowledgeable guidance. Over a period of years Total Quality Manufacturing (TQM) was developed with results that broke the status quo performance of the rest of the world’s conventional wisdom mindset organizations.

As other manufacturing organizations decided to try these new approaches they too had paradigm breaking success that were evident to all consumers and competing manufacturers. And the ball started rolling from one manufacturing organization in one country to others worldwide. As they were playing catch up, Toyota continued the relentless pursuit of zero errors with the Toyota Production System (TPS) and thus this leader continued to stay far ahead of the followers and conventional wisdom masses.

Continuous improvement teams expanded from quality focus to productivity and into customer service initiatives. Those who committed to using this globally proven employee engagement problem solution approach in all areas of their businesses began to pull away from the competition as they error proofed the upstream processes that delivered the downstream results in all that they did……except safety.

Conventional wisdom maintained a death grip on safety, the same way conventional wisdom organizations spun into a death spiral when they resisted the improvement culture that went beyond doing what they had always done, while expecting different results.

For decades we have used three safety tools; regulations, observation programs and psychology. These tools deliver safety statistics that used to be acceptable, i.e., industry average. In the 1980s Dr. Dan Petersen researched a radical new approach; focus on the underlying culture issues that have been shown to be statistically relevant and develop value added personal accountabilities in safety at all levels of the organization. He started getting paradigm breaking downstream safety indicator (injury rate) results with his clients. Dr. Petersen found pioneers who were willing to break out of the conventional wisdom trap and focused his scarce resources on the leaders who helped deliver safety excellence.

Along the way, some of these same customers added an enhancement to culture and accountabilities; they introduced continuous improvement teams focused on safety along the lines of those they were using in the operations culture. As a result their downstream safety results got even better, much more quickly. A globally proven approach used by future state focused organizations worked in safety too; just like in the quality revolution organizations that were willing to commit to take the risk of being on the leading edge have found ways to eliminate the risks involved with people who work every day in our global world. However, just like with Toyota, there are a very few who are willing to break out of decades of conventional wisdom mind block. And yet, as the downstream safety indicators continue to significantly improve quickly, others are beginning to take notice.

What then is the solution to safety world hunger? I believe it is to focus on the usage of this new tool set that has been proven to deliver safety excellence beyond conventional wisdom. These approaches will be tried by leading edge organizations. In turn, these organizations will tweak the tools and techniques to get even better, even quicker. These solution approaches then must be publicized and more organizations will be influenced to go beyond doing the same thing and expecting different results.

We must go beyond the battle for more regulations, beyond using just another observation program, beyond more psychology. None of this conventional wisdom of more regulations, more quality inspectors, more caring helped deliver low cost, high quality and on-time products. The organizations that improved significantly all engaged their people in a structured approach that had them focused on a relentless pursuit of zero errors. Injuries are errors. More and more leading edge organizations are discovering that Drs. Deming and Petersen were right and that this (relatively new) approach works incredibly well in safety.

To change an industry worldwide?

1. Define what needs to be done
2. Train the organization leaders how to do this
3. Measure how well they do it
4. Recognize them for performance
5. Continue to have them improve the tools
6. Significantly publicize the results and in so doing influence others to get on board

The good news is that items 1 through 5 are all in existence for a few safety leaders.

The Doc

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Safety Purgatory – Escaping the monotony of status quo mediocrity

Safety Purgatory: Safety people stuck between a rock and a hard place. They don’t have the authority to really lead the group and the executives are sending messages that undermine the safety efforts. They are just sitting around and waiting for things to go all to “heck” (I’ll thank the Dilbert cartoon creator Scott Adams for this phrase).

How’s that for a definition? I imagine many of you in the readership audience (myself included) have had this purgatory experience on more than one occasion. Over the years, I have learned some approaches that have helped me in escaping this kind of purgatory. Remember the blog articles a while back on “Island Hoping,” “Boundaries” and “Complaint Equals Goal?”

I look for what options are available to me and the team with which we can make a positive difference. The first one is what group is open to getting out of the box (purgatory) and willing to put in some concerted effort to improve their performance. This is the island I hop to and start dedicating our scarce resources to help them escape the drudgery of mediocrity. No matter where I have worked there has always been an island of people who are willing to take this kind of chance. However, I do have to put in the effort to discover who/where they are. They don’t just jump up and pound on your door begging you to enter in and help them.

Next comes discovering where in the boundary limits we can start this initiative. Once again there has always been an area in which the leadership is not micromanaging or actively trying to crush initiative. After all “they” cannot be everywhere all the time. There is at least one little corner in your culture of “heck” that can be worked on.

What do we do with our island of opportunity within our boundaries of possibilities in order to escape safety purgatory? Some inspiring words from Eric Clapton provide guidance: “It has been up to me to inspire me.” Where is the focus for this inspiration? Go back a few blog articles to “Complaint Equals Goal.” You now have the team, the target and the method (hard work within a limited scope).

With a little knowledge we can ask the right questions and lead in a way that opens the doors to true excellence. We can both know the truth and can practice it in such a way that we can be set free from all kinds of purgatories including those in the “heck” of safety mediocrity.

The Doc



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