Communication is about the who

My own arrogance gets in the way of my objectives much more than I would like to admit.

This post will take some time to explain. But if you make the journey with me, I promise that I will make a point 🙂

Throughout my career and life, a common theme continues to emerge. Yet, I always keep doing exactly what keeps causing me grief. And even knowing that today, I am not sure that I will really embrace the change.

In high school, I was in speech and debate. I was pretty good at it too. My real ability was to be able to BS. Give me a topic and watch me ramble on about items that were like the topic but not really the topic. I competed in two different categories. Both were limited prep speech processes. One was a formal persuasive speed (extemporaneous), the other was informal and more laid back (impromptu). I really loved impromptu. It gave me a lot of joy to talk about fun things of my own interest. The problem was that I wanted all my speeches to be impromptu. It was later in college when I went back as a coach and really saw the difference. My coaches in high school would explain and explain that extemp needed to be very fact based, formal, scripted almost. I always chose to do it my way. This limited me. I did well but never as well as it could have been. Why? I wanted it my way refusing to change my style to what the audience needed.

In college as a chemistry major, there were very different types of methods that I was taught. Quantitative, qualitative, and organic chemistry were very different in their approaches, even in the way they kept lab books and wrote up findings. In a typical me fashion, if I found one way of writing something up that I liked I kept using it. I would just write it like I wanted to. My professors would comment on my writing style and try to guide me. Again, I wanted it my way.

In my first safety job, I would write reports and send emails just like a scientific write up and then wonder why no one read them. I had to have it my way. Eventually, I learned better, but I was slow to learn that lesson (and still am as you will see).

When I began work on my masters in business, I wrote my papers just like a scientific paper. Again, I did good but not great. I had to learn to write based on the topic. A statistical review is (or should be) different from a leadership case study.

In another job, I became interested in safety training. I took on a mentor as part of a company program. I deliberately wanted someone in instructional design. I was paired up with an amazing person, who again, made me focus and reflect on not only what I needed to say but who I was saying it to.

My greatest challenge was my dissertation. It was an APA format paper. During the many, many revisions there were parts of the paper that continually gave grief to my mentor, my committee, the department chair, and multiple editors. I kept wanting to cite safety information as part of the work. From a psychology perspective, it confused those not in the safety field and was very hard to format. I, being a tenured safety person, refused to change that information. Quick sidebar for background: The dissertation format was 5 chapters. Each chapter was reviewed and revised between 2-4 times. My full dissertation of all chapters combined was on revision 11 when it was accepted for publication. What made revision 11 so different? I took out the safety citations that did not add real value to the psychological study. I could have potentially completed the work sooner if I had just not been so stubborn about communicating the way I wanted. What is even worse is that my dissertation was about creating meaning in safety training. The findings pointed to making the information pertinent to the employee. Evidently, I struggle to learn from my own work. 🙂

Why have a blog? Because I want to communicate the way I want.

That was a really long story to make a simple point. One that I still struggle with everyday. Before your next email, training, talk, or paper take a moment to really consider your audience. Is this what your audience needs to hear? Is it what they expect to hear? Is it something that makes sense to them? Is it meaningful for them? Will it have meaning for them? Are you delivering it in a way that helps them see the meaning in your communication?

Making Success the Focus

Success and failure seem like such simple ideas, but the way that we engage those two terms as safety people and as leaders make a big difference in the way our organization functions. The views in which the leaders take toward success and failure drastically shape the landscape in which we operate. It is a key influencer in work patterns and overall cultural climate. Those that lead have to be aware of how their decisions affect those that are around them. Their methods shape the way that their people will engage issues at the functional level. In safety, it is ever so critical that we are always seeking how we can improve our processes, so that we create methods to protect our people.

Hopefully, the success and failure exercise helped to gain some insight to your team and how they think about those terms. It should have also help to see who is working toward success and who is avoiding failure. Their answers can be very informative in how they perceive their work, your leadership, and the overall culture of the organization. The answers lead to the four categories of the team in regards to failure or success, superstar, accepter, evader, and burnout.

Everyone wants the superstar as part of their team. This is the one who is willing to make a mistake, but not from negligence. They are seeking better knowledge out of their desire to find the most successful route. I recently finished the book by *Amy C Edmonson called “The Fearless Organization.” In the book, there is a discussion about the types of failure, preventable, complex, and intelligent. Your superstar is making intelligent failures. These are ones categories by “forays into new territory.” They are measuring the risk and taking calculated steps into the unknown for the betterment of the organization.

The superstars are those who are always seeking success. They know through calculated failures and risk that they can learn and improve. As a manager, it a duty to allows these team members to explore and experiment. From my experience, those that create barriers or discourage the process are not usually the direct manager. It will be those that control other facets of the organization. It is our duty to help shield them and assure they get the resources they need to continue excelling in what they do. This is where being a servant leaders is best applied. Be a resource for the superstar and help them feel secure and able to get their best work done.

*Check out the book here from Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/2Hfsmo1

Success vs Failure and a Method of Reflection

When it comes to internal motivation for a professional, I feel that safety has some unique aspects. The discussion last month was about Success vs Failure. I had a lot more questions than answers. When it comes to working in the safety industry our customers are varied and sometimes have very different ideas of what deliverables or items are important. Our company, our employees, the environment, and the community are just a few groups that rely on good judgement, proper ethics, and proper education from the safety person. When it comes to managing or understanding the cultures that make a safety person seek success or avoid failure, there are many aspects and variables that can be evaluated and understood.

 

The first step to managing is understanding.  Something that I enjoy doing as part of a group activity or even as a method of self-reflection is to conduct a survey of defining success and defining failure. It has been my policy to share my results with the team and allow members of the team to share on a voluntary basis with others. I do required that I get to see the results either as part of a one-on-one or through a text correspondence, which ever make them most comfortable. I even allow typed sheets with no name to be left in my office. I will say, though, that has never happened. They should feel comfortable expressing their opinions. Your team should have a level of comfort and safety with you for this to be effective. If you are a leader of others, I have found this exercise to be insightful and value added in understanding your team and their principles.

 

By understanding and observing the team, it becomes more apparent of their grouping in success seeking vs failure avoiding. I hope this is helpful and insightful in better engaging and understand your team. There are so many impacts that affect the life of a safety person. Culturally, organizationally, and individually, the safety person is impacted. This shapes the response to issues, the implementation of policy, and general attitude. It is should be the goal of good leadership to observe and impact these variables when possible to create the most effective HSE process.

Here is the basic format of the exercise:

DEFINING SUCCESS ACTIVITY

suc·cess                                                                                                               fail·ure

səkˈses                                                                                                                 ˈfālyər

noun                                                                                                                     noun

accomplishment of a purpose                                                                    lack of success.

 

INSTRUCTIONS/BACKGROUND:

A key component of a lean system to work towards a goal. This is usually phrased as “what does good look like?”

Once someone knows how “good” looks and is defined, the process can be changed to become closer and closer to good through improvement.

The same can be said for success. Unless we define success, we cannot know if we achieved it.

In this exercise, I am asking you to define success for you as an individual contributor to define what you see success is for the organization in EHS.

With every endeavor there is also a chance for failure, and that must also be defined. I am again going to ask that you to define failure for you and the organization around EHS.

For each question, there should be one to three answers that are no longer than a sentence long. Success and failure should be simple, gradable metrics.

These will not be shared among the group unless you choose to share them. I will use these as part of our one-on-one discussions to help us focus on where the direction needs to be heading.

ACTIVITY: DEFINE SUCCESS

1) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what success is for you as an individual contributor to EHS.

 

2) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what success is for our organization for EHS

 

ACTIVITY: DEFINE FAILURE

1) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what failure is for you as an individual contributor to EHS

2) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what failure is for our organization for EHS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I say safety culture, what comes to mind?

When you think of your organization approach to safety, what picture comes to mind? As a safety professional or someone who is committed to safety, take your personal opinions away. Take the 50,000 foot view of the culture. If your safety climate had a mascot what would it be? What would it look like? Was it good? Was it bad? Was it funny? Was it sad?

 

Your organization is a series of micro cultures of the pockets personal experience. The individuals working each day are a key determination of how that culture functions and its motivation. Here is another vision question: On any given day, how you categorize or picture the typical leader in your organization? What is their mascot? What is their theme music?

 

These are strange questions, but they create an interesting outcome of what your safety climate is telling you and how that culture is affecting key results.

 

I love the lean process. Here are a few quotes from W. Edwards Deming that will help illustrate the point that I have not yet made. 🙂

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”

“Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting”

 

In my experience, there are really four key organization that are present based on the people that are leading those pockets of influence.

SuccessPIc

The Superstar

The Evader

The Accepter

The Burnout

 

I hope that we can all agree that a safety person or even a safety team cannot be the key safety cultural influencers in the organization. It is the leadership and the front line supervisors that make those decisions and drive the safety climate of a site, company, or organization. Each day with each decision, the safety culture is shaped and molded into the presentation and personality of those leaders.

 

Now think of which of these four categories your supervisors fall into. What about the company? What about the organization? How does each feed into the other? How do these traits affect the overall safety system that is in place? What does it mean for the future of the safety system?

 

I have lots of questions. These are the same questions that I ponder each day. It is through understanding that we as safety people can start to make adjustments in how we manage. This drives the evolution of the safety systems.

 

For the next few months, I will focus more on these drivers of success and/or accepters of failure, some of the tools I have used, and some of the adjustments that can be made to help adjust, improve, or accelerate the culture of the team.

One Simple Improvement for Safety Training

Mind blowing idea: Not all training is created equal

 

You probably already knew that, though.

 

Imagine a simple idea that would lead to better employee engagement, improved training, and safer behaviors. Sadly, it is a commonly overlooked aspect of health and safety training. The answer is to let people know they are receiving training that is for their safety.

 

I am a huge fan of the research conducted by Dr. Kristina M. Zierold. Some of the works focus on the young workforce as they enter into the labor market for the first time. They receive training, usually on-the-job-training. They are told these are the ways things should be done. But there is no distinguishing the safety aspects of the training from just the way to do the job. In some cases, there is no safety training at all. That, though, is for another time.

 

So, imagine entering the workplace for the first time. You are given training that is based on the work that you are doing. This is not a bad thing. It helps in building real world cognitive learning of how to perform the job. But, there is not distinguishing what parts of the job are there to protect you, what parts of the job are to help in quality to the customer, or what parts of the training impact other functions. This is where things get sticky.

 

Safety is not an inherent trait. Safety is something that is learned and observed. With later generations not as much working manual labor at home, being part of shop classes, working on farms, etc. there is a loss of that “common sense” approach to knowing safe from unsafe. As they enter the workplace there then has to be a focus on teaching safety.

 

For someone new to the workplace, safety systems and protections can appear to slow work down or even seem cumbersome if one does not understand why they are doing it. For a new employee if they do not know it is a safety system, then it is something that could be ignored. They may hear the talk that safety is the most important thing they do every day, and that may very well be true. The trouble is that if they do not know that something is in place for their personal health and safety, then how do they know that they need to always use it.

 

That is why it is absolutely critical that when training is conducted, the safety features are pointed out. The trainer has a very important role is setting the new employee up for success not only productively but in creating that first feeling of the safety climate. In some places, the standard work can be posted right in front of the workstation. The safety items can be highlighted in green or have a green cross beside those important protective steps. They still need to be trained, educated, and understand why it is a safety feature.

 

How do we make our safety training more effective? Make sure that as we conduct the training, we communicate effectively the procedures, processes, equipment, and PPE that is place to help protect our employees. Safety training has to exclusively dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our team.

Cognitive Dissonance in Safety

The next series of posts will focus on a social psychology theory called Cognitive Dissonance. This series could also be called “Maintaining and Changing Safety Attitudes.” When people encounter information that goes against what they believe, a mechanism in their behavior makes them want to find a way to maintain the current belief.

Here is a very generic example that would demonstrate the theory in practice. An experienced safety professional comes to a new company and realizes some equipment does not have lockout-tagout information posted. Even more so, no one is locking out the equipment when performing minor maintenance or unjamming. After the equipment has instructions created, the training begins. During the training, the safety person encounters significant pushback from employees.

Typical responses would be:
“This will take too long”
“We’ve never had any trouble”
“Why do we need this now”
“This will add too much work”
“We will never have time to make the product”
“Another example of safety slowing things down and causing problems”
“We’ve never had much trouble with these machines”

Just to make the story more interesting, let’s also assume that there have been minor finger amputations and OSHA citations from the same/similar equipment. All information points to that the change to make the equipment safer as a good thing and yet they are firmly resistant to the improvement

Now let’s add a new aspect. During this training, someone else in the room speaks up, “at my last job we had to lockout everything every time. This makes sense to me.” The safety person takes this opportunity to talk about the injuries associated with the equipment and the OSHA citations. Now people cannot believe that they had never had those procedures in place.

This is the heart of cognitive dissonance. When someone is confronted with facts that differ from their belief, they create inconsistencies with the facts so that they can maintain their prior beliefs. It is not about presenting the facts. It is about to modifying attitudes and behaviors. There are various facets of the cognitive dissonance theory that can be explored in regards to safety and how to overcome those thoughts from a negative perspective while enhancing the positive. Cognitive dissonance can be a tough process or it can be a new method of motivation.