Monday, March 25, 2013

Gemba – Engaging upper management at the front line

The February 4, 2013, blog posting on effective leadership generated more response than is usual for this weekly blog site. Here are excerpts from the responses:

One of the questions I’d ask is what do we want upper management to do? While an occasional Gemba (Where the actual work takes place, aka the front line) walk to discuss safety, among other topics, is worthwhile, having upper management out on the floor is disruptive. They should be interacting with their direct reports to ensure that THEIR direct reports are out on the floor having meaningful, caring conversations with our employees, every day. We’ve heard that our employees appreciate it when the facility manager shows he cares about safety, but they respond when their supervisor does regular interaction at the Gemba.

I’ve found that our facility managers want to do the right thing (not a will issue, for the most part) but need and want to be told what to do. Also, since they are usually hired for their technical expertise, they may have some skill needs on the social side. We are making some progress but have a long way to go. - David

Your posting is right in line with the DOE (Department Of Energy) thinking. The main item to address is Culture. Safety Culture is a component of Overall Culture. Dr. Petersen’s six items are all addressed in the DOE “Safety Conscious Work Environment” effort. It is hard to get effective culture change and thus safety culture change from top to bottom in any organization. The working level responds to behavior, not words. If all levels of management don’t exhibit the right behavior toward safety, then the working level won’t either. All effective leading indicators are behavior based. - Thomas

What kind of “leading indicator” can you wish for in addition to a zero for injuries? What are the alternative and possible measurable “leading indicators?”  You mention in your article the six criteria for safety excellence, but I don’t think you may call them leading indicators, because they are behavioral. - Ray

And now some feedback from me. When I was in facility leadership slots I found that being consistent in floor presence was a challenge for a number of reasons: corporate demands, staff demands, too many hours away from family, social skill weakness, conflict concerns with a difficult labor force, etc. These all lead to the easy way out of avoiding floor/frontline presence.

A few blogs back (July 18, 2011) I gave an example of a friend, Major General Lewis MacKenzie, and his reality check with the impact of leadership on the front lines of military battle. Indeed, I too found that the easy way out only added to my operations and safety difficulties. I had to get out of my comfort zone. Yes, this caused some level of chaos at first, but that quickly evaporated once “each work cell, each week” became my norm, through which I checked in with the supervision to get the ops and safety status and then mingled with the most important people of the company – those who were doing the work that paid my salary. These hard working people opened up when I did, whether it was about safety, operations, off-the-job, personal interests or the like. In turn, this moved me from uncomfortable to enjoyment as we went beyond ‘yes-no’ questions to a ‘tell me about’ relationship. Morale, performance, safety; all improved as we became genuine interactive adults.

Though initially the Gemba walk can be an uncomfortable experience, good leaders must become visible, engaged, involved, real persons where the organization makes it or breaks it – the front line. I agree that there is a need for practical, one-on-one social training for leaders. At Caterpillar we addressed this need with training in giving and receiving feedback (Speak Up! & Listen Up!) as well as effective adult recognition (Recognize It!). 

Ray’s comment about the six criteria of safety excellence being behavior-based is right on target. Think of all those studies showing conditions are not the major cause of injuries. Rather, incidents are caused by actions (behaviors). Visible, value added behaviors by hourly, supervision and upper management all function to improve safety culture and downstream indicator performance. If the actions and behaviors do not correlate with improved safety culture downstream indicators, then it is time to change/improve the actions and behaviors. Safety is dynamic and we leaders must also be dynamic.

The above training tools and a personal commitment to get out of an ineffective comfort zone are critical success factors at the Gemba.


The Doc

Monday, March 18, 2013

PVI – Employees at risk because of vehicles

How many of you have been impacted as a result of a motor vehicle incident that affected you, or a family member, or a work associate?  A look at National Safety Council data for 2010 shows 3,783 job related fatalities compared to 17,500 vehicle related fatalities; we are about five times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle than at work.  This same database indicates the medical consulted injury rate on the job is 3.3 vs. a 6.4 rate for vehicles.  This all leads to a conclusion that driving is a high risk, high exposure task that our employees and their families face every day.
Our lifestyles, with the increase in social interaction as well as other distractions/impairments to driving, lead to even more risks, such as the following reductions in driver’s reaction time:

  • Texting – 35 percent reduction
  • Cell phones – 18 percent reduction
  • Fatigue after 18-20 hours awake – 14 percent reduction
  • Alcohol at the legal limit – 12 percent reduction

These issues not only affect us, but also the other drivers on the road who are outside our personal control.  This kind of data has been a real motivator for over the road trucking companies to become very serious about preparing drivers for their most dangerous activity – being in control of a vehicle.  It also became a focal point for one of our customers to analyze its employee on-the-job and off-the-job vehicle risks.  This in turn led this organization to develop a driver safety program for all employees, replacing the previous standard of special training and accountabilities for those who annually drove 2,000 miles or more in a company vehicle.
The small continuous improvement PVI (Preventable Vehicle Incidents) team dedicated to vehicle safety came up with the following:

  • A circle check to insure the fitness of the vehicle with mandatory magnets one on each side of vehicle (one has the Journey Management Tool on it)
  • A journey management tool (pre drive personal tailboard) question system that evaluates the fitness of the driver for the upcoming drive
  • Full defensive driver training for all drivers – not just those with > 3,600 km/yr behind the wheel company drive time
  • Annual driver refresher training for all employees

Is it time for you to consider something similar for your employees?

The Doc 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Fully Equipped – The complete safety system

Karl Elsener, a Swiss designer of surgical equipment in the 19th century, worked for years on perfecting a military knife.  Today his Swiss Army Knife is associated with excellence in blades and a variety of appropriate applications.  One model includes knife blades, a saw, scissors, a magnifying glass, a can opener, a screwdriver, a ruler, a toothpick, a writing pen and more – all in one knife.  If you are out camping in the wild, this one item can certainly make you feel equipped for comfort and survival. 
Is there a parallel to an organization being fully equipped for safety performance excellence?  A recent blog article described the need for three attributes working together; Culture, Accountability and Engagement.  Our safety knife design must satisfy these three fundamental needs.  The body of this functional safety knife that holds all our tools (blades) in place is well described by Dr. Dan Petersen’s Six Criteria of Safety Excellence:

  • Visible upper management commitment to safety
  • Active middle management involvement in safety
  • Focused supervisor performance in safety
  • Active hourly participation in safety
  • Flexibility to address the various issues
  • Positive workforce perception of the safety system

With this encompassing body in place, what tools (knife blades) does such a robust safety system have available?  Here, a six-level model does a good job of describing what an organization must engage in to go beyond survival and achieve a safety culture that does not tolerate injuries/incidents; not from punitive measures, but from a participate approach.

  • Level one:  The regulations that focus on conditions that can lead to injuries.  This first level tool (knife) is all about conditions that can lead to injuries and thus require engineered solutions, education and enforcement; like PPE, guarding, safety work order completion and the like.  In many global countries regulations do not exist, however the Internet provides a plethora of best-practice solutions that mirror the regulation materials
  • Level two:  What we see and how we react to the visual dangers that that exist.  Observations on incorrect practices, near misses, inspections and the like occur every day in the workplace.  Do we live with what is evident or do we analyze, focus and execute the issues that are intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer?
  • Level three:  Safety accountabilities is the first proactive tool (knife) to deliver actions that hourly and salaried personnel do to prevent the possibility of injuries in the workplace.  Traditionally we set activities for hourly and supervision personnel.  But what about the upper-level salaried personnel who must provide adequate support to the front line workers who are most at risk?  If we need front-line activities we also need upper management support which provides the necessities that allow the front line to execute its safety requirements; emails and bulletin board postings are totally inadequate support.  Where is the visual contact and resource commitment that reinforces an excellent safety culture? Here the safety culture needs to actively live Dr. Petersen’s Six Criteria of Safety Excellence.
  • Level four:  A diagnostic that gives feedback about safety practice reality from management, supervision and hourly employees is a necessity to get a clue as to what the real issues are in your safety culture. This can be a safety perception survey or one-on-one interviews by hourly and salaried personnel who engage in value added input from all levels of the organization.  This input then delivers a reality check as to the good, the bad and the ugly of safety culture reality in your organization.
  • Level five:  Here a continuous improvement safety approach engages the whole organization in its need to improve problems evident in data from the four levels above and has hourly, supervision and management personnel engaged together to develop and deliver solutions to safety issues the organization knows exist.  This is the action culture which really analyses, focuses and executes.  They go from problem to solution in a consistent, well thought out approach similar to what Dr. W. Edwards Deming and others used to eliminate quality problems in manufacturing organizations worldwide.
  • Level six:  Passionate leadership emerges from level-five continuous improvement teams.  A small cadre of hourly, supervision and management personnel catches a cultural “infection” of the passionate, relentless pursuit of excellence.  These passionate leaders keep the safety culture excellence torch burning and help to make sure complacency does not rear its ugly head.

The Swiss Army Knife of safety has many aspects that are needed to go beyond survival and into true ongoing safety culture excellence.  Which blades do you need to add to your tool set?

The Doc        

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