World Class Begins with Attitude

This year, I am dedicating my blog posts to exploring what is world-class in safety. As I we closed 2019, the discussion was about how some organizations like to throw the term “world-class” around when it comes to safety. They use the term as a part of marketing safety without really thinking about what it means to be best in class for protecting their people. For some, it means compliance with the law. For others, it might mean having lunches when there are no injuries for a month. When it really gets down to the real meaning of world-class, it begins with having a world-class attitude toward safety.

There is much debate about world-class safety. Does it exist? Is it measurable? Are there metrics? How is it performed? Can we compare it to other companies? Honestly, those are good questions. Honestly, I am not sure there is a right answer. I do think that there are principles that an organization can develop to create a world-class safety attitude. Before any of the metrics or processes can really be evaluated, there first has to be the right mindset. There has to be the overall compass directing the efforts and organization to the path of world-class. So, here are my five principles of world-class safety.

1. It means we care enough to focus on reducing and eliminating harm

Measuring all the injury and first aid rates does not compare to actually looking at your team as people and realizing that their pain is bad for business. There are too many stories of the zero injury companies that have a large incident. We are not chasing a zero incident rate. We are driving for solutions that prevent people from hurting for doing their job. Yes, seeking no harm will affect an incident rate. But it is not the incident rate that is the goal. We have to learn from every incident, adapt based on near misses, and improve through observation.

2. It means there are no boundaries for protecting our team

A 1987 speech from Paul O’Neill as he took the helm of Alcoa summarizes this best (Full Story Link)

“I want to talk to you about worker safety. Every year, numerous Alcoa workers are injured so badly that they miss a day of work. Our safety record is better than the general workforce, especially considering that our employees work with metals that are 1500 degrees and we have machines that can rip a man’s arm off. But it’s not good enough. I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America. I intend to go for zero injuries”.

A shareholder asks about inventories in the aerospace division. Another asks about the company’s capital ratios.

“I’m not certain you heard me. If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures. If we bring our injury rates down, it won’t be because of cheerleading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from other CEOs. It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important: They’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution. That’s how we should be judged”

If there is a solution to prevent harm to our team, we must drive relentlessly to complete it.

3. It means our people are our most valuable asset and resource

Too many companies have trouble believing that if you really care and protect your people, they will protect the company. It is a lean mentality idea. Use a good process, give it time to work, use the results to course correct the path. A good process will yield a good result. We too wrapped up in seeing immediate impacts and results. These short-term, micro-managing, profit first processes get in the way of world-class in more ways than just safety.

4. It means we will communicate openly about safety

This loosely ties to the first principle. We cannot shut down communication because we reached the goal of zero. We cannot quit driving to find other hazards to eliminate, listening to the team concerns, or seeking improvement because it has been a year since the last lost-time injury. The organization must be open and available for dynamic and honest two-way communication. If there is a hazard, it needs to be communicated and fixed. If there is a better way or new technology, it should be evaluated to see if or how it might work. If someone claims that having too many Pepsi machines and not enough Coke is a safety issue, we need to be able to say no. It is about sharing the message and keeping the team going the right direction.

5. It means the safety culture is indistinguishable from the company culture

This is where world-class begins

Beginning the Journal to World Class

One of the more interesting conversations that a safety profesional enters into from time-to-time is that of world class safety. This statement is used as part of an interview where the company is attempting to attract a better than average safety person or as part of a generic statement that makes the company sound marketable to the masses. It seems that the term world-class is thrown out a lot in many different aspects and scopes.

What I find most amusing is the idea that when someone outside of the safety profession says they want a world class safety program, it usually means they want one that meets basic OSHA compliance. Given the condition of many companies’ stance to safety that might be a very true statement. World class may be just simply meeting basic compliance. I once knew of a manager who stated that OSHA was the Cadillac of safety programs. He was looking for more of a Toyota. *heavy sigh*

I tend to believe that world class is more than OSHA compliance. A company should not use that term unless they really plan to put the money, time, and energy into that process. There are a few statistics that define world class. A couple of really large scale safety consulting firms have created the metrics and have the data to help support what drives the top 5% of all safety performing organizations. The data gives some strong indicators but I am still a skeptic at heart. I know that the methods of evaluating injuries goes back to the OSHA 300 log and the OSHA incident rate. This is a metric that can be deceiving and deceived.

What I do believe is that world class is based on a simple principle, is the company really looking out for the best interests of their workers? The data definitely shows the truth in this principle. Case studies about safety progress and turn-arounds show the same. It really is about caring about the team. A company that is really striving for world class is looking beyond compliance. They are looking for ways they can better protect and adapt to their employees’ needs

One of the first principles of world class is a functional safety committee. I have read many articles and attended various conferences that talk about what makes a great safety committee. A safety committee can lead many positive activities for a company. It is the voice of the employee, an advocate for projects, a sounding board for ideas, a public relations group, and so much more. One of the first items most companies talk about when they approach their idea of world class is starting a safety committee. My response is always, “Great! What is the committee’s capital and expense budget?” *wide eyed, mouth open, astonishment* “Budget?” They say, “we were not wanting to spend anything.”

So the not so long journey to world class begins and ends

As we enter the year, my plan is to continue this look at world class. What it is and what it is not. How do we begin the journey? What are some of the basic ideas of focusing on our employees and that real long-term, never-ending process that leads to real world class safety programs.

Culture Cannot Exist without the People

When someone says safety culture, what comes to mind?

Methods?

Systems?

Behaviors?

People?

Standardization?

I was recently at a conference with some peers and a great discussion started about global, organizational culture. I do have to note, I loved the way they talked about their company culture, not just safety culture. Safety was conveyed as an integral piece of the overall culture. In other words, they had no company culture without safety. 

The discussion was focused around creating a system that would create a company culture for their global network. Also, the company had been around for decades. So, they were a highly diverse company. They wanted everyone to use the basic tools, principles, and essentially speak the same cultural language of their company. The basic idea was to take that amazing diversity and create a single culture that could function in synchrony. Their goal was not to take away from the diversity but to use it to sculpt what would become the organizational culture. 

This is what got me to think more about culture across this scale. Can there be nuances of culture (specifically for me the safety component)?

Safety culture is like any other cultural component. It can be based on so many people based factors: location, age, education, and so many more. From the creation of a safety culture standpoint, this is where I feel we fail as companies. The company is driven by a laser focus on lean mentality to standardize. So much so sometimes that the tools and processes are forcefully integrated into the culture. They forget that lean is about having tools to eliminate waste and using the right tool for the right process. The local culture is not a waste. It is something that needs the right tool to be applied. 

Here is a rough example. The idea of peer-to-peer observations has always been a tremulous path. So often, it is not used or implemented in a way that reaches its full potential. If a culture of the location or region is one that does not bode well to that type of interaction, why force it? There are other observation and hazard recognition tools available that can be just as effective.

I love the story of a very dynamic supervisor I worked with. He was amazing. He loved uplifting his people. He was very handshake, high-five, pats on the back, energetic leadership. There was a subset of our team that culturally did not like to be touched. He had to adapt his energy to their culture. And he did! And he continued to be super successful! He did not force his method. He used other motivational tools to achieve the same goal. The overall company culture of inclusive and positive leadership was fully working. There was a nuance to the culture. 

So, how do you create the organizational culture and still allow you sites, regions, and people to maintain their culture? There is no silver bullet approach, but there are some basic principles that will help.

  1. Create a cultural vision statement, and use it as the litmus test.

  2. Teach the tools. Expect the right tools to be used. Don’t expect the same tool to be used everywhere

  3. Focus the culture on embracing problem-solving and continuous improvement.

  4. Talk to the front line employees about culture regularly and ask if it is working

  5. Invest in training and reinforcing the principles and tools of the culture

Culture is the culmination of the people that make up the workplace. A company should have a company culture and should work to educate and reinforce that culture. The organization should also remember that cultures have little differences that make them special. These differences should be inclusive to the culture and embrace those aspects of the people.

Part 3 of Failure vs Success: The Evader

Sometimes an Evader is born. Sometimes an Evader is made.

In the spectrum of success and failure, The Evader one who is doing all they can to avoid failure and not one bit concerned with seeking success.

Before you judge the Evader’s motives, I have three semi-rhetorical questions:

  • How many times does your success not be recognized before you don’t care about it anymore?
  • How many times does an organization attempt to prove your success was not one before you quit trying?
  • How frequently do you simply wish to be “off the radar?”

The life of the Evader is a slippery slope and can be enabled through organizational climate.

There are so many stories of organizations trying to do the right thing, but end up creating a whole systemic group of Evaders.

The company that has the top five worst performers and the top five best performers work together to find solutions and both groups have to develop and overly complex presentation and documentation. Why does the top performer have to do all the work of the worst performer?

The company that forces all annual reviews to be in a bell curve. The lowest get fired, the highest get to participate in an inquisition on why they deserve the honor.

 The company that has meetings to discuss low performers only to change the metrics at random to make sure everyone “has an opportunity to improve.”

 The company that claims to be a “learning organization” only to call every non-success a complete failure publically. Where learnings have to be defended with the utmost passion and authority.

 The company that requires that your good idea has to be the good idea of your boss and boss’s boss or it means nothing.

In safety, the company that wants compliance but nothing more.

 Each of these scenarios creates a culture that seeks refuge in the middle. The best are punished right alongside the worst. It’s a different punishment, but it is still an organization method to not have to reward those that are actually seeking success.

Ultimately, the Evader is a direct result of their motivation. There are extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivators are those things that are outside of our control yet have a relatively minor impact. While intrinsic motivation is very personal, hard to change and make a big impact on us.

I find myself, at times, falling into the mold of The Evader. It is easy to do when intrinsic motivation is low and the perceived extrinsic motivation is high. It is through self-reflection and calibration that changes can be made. Here are my tips to make that mental shift back into success seeking rather than failure avoiding.

  • Focus on your intrinsic values/motivation
    1. Do you believe in a higher power? If so, is our work not to serve that rather than a company? We should do our utmost with what we are given.
    2. How would your family, friends, those that you respect feel about your current performance?
    3. You have something/ are someone to be proud of! Make your personal brand mean something. Don’t let someone, some organization, or something take that away from you. You are the only you there is. You bring something wonderful to the company. Don’t let them dim the light you shine.
  • Calibrate the extrinsic motivations
    1. Talk to someone you trust in the organization and see if they see the same issues you do. Maybe it is just a perspective issue and not an organizational one.
    2. When encountering negative stimulus to learnings or positive items, professionally point out how they are good. Emphasize what works and how to sustain it.
    3. Never miss a chance to talk about what you do well. Keep that 30-second elevator speech ready and keep it current to the great things you are doing.

Each day we have the choice to make on how we engage the day . . . hour . . . situation . . . moment. As safety professionals, there are real and personal consequences to what we do. We must keep trying to keep our motivation up.  Even though our work may not be recognized, we must remind ourselves constantly that our work is for a greater good.

It sounds sappy, but it is true. Take pride in what you do each day to make our workplaces and homes safer.