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?

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.

Our data is speaking. Are we listening?

I distinctly remember combing through near miss data one day and having an “a-ha” moment. I could see that trouble was on the horizon. I was for sure thinking that the site was choosing not to report safety issues that really mattered because they felt it was not getting fixed. I had the data to show this was occurring. I had safety committee minutes that seemed to also indicate the same. I had the opportunity to run with my theory and make some dramatic proclamations and changes.

 

Then I took a few deep breaths . . .

 

I asked a friend and co-worker his thoughts. Together, we decided that we would go out and ask a few simple safety questions to see if interviews had the same conclusion as the data. To my absolute surprise, there was not an issue. There was not a deeper underlying organizational issue. The employees were not angry or dissatisfied with level of attention to safety. Sure, there were things they wanted fixed. It was not, though, the level of safety climate failure that I was projecting. I was so close to making a very large leap of faith and being completely wrong. First, I thanked my co-worker for his input. Second, I learned to validate and verify my data.

 

We in the safety profession have a great luxury at our finger tips that we sometimes forget is there. The data we look at every day is living, breathing, people who we can interact and ask questions of on a daily basis. Data is good. It helps in finding opportunities and making recommendations. Validated data is better, and we have that ability at an instant.

 

Each day there is a real chance to better understand the aspect of our data. Building on the SQDC process of business metrics, safety is the only one that can actually talk and explain the real issues that occurring at that moment. Quality, Delivery, and Cost metrics do not tell a story every day nor do they have the ability to literally tell you what is creating their positive and negative experiences.

 

There are many times that I have to remind myself to stop, think, and go interact. I know that sounds terrible, but think of all the times in your safety career that you are asked for metrics. What’s our OSHA Rate? How many lost time injuries? What does the trends in the behavioral observations say? How many people are trained in that process? How must waste did we generate? My guess is that you are aggregating this data daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. Along with any time there is an issue or problem solving event. It is easy to get lost in creating, communicating, revising, and managing numbers. The truth is that each number we crunch is a person that can help us understand it better.

 

Our safety data (aka our people) is talking to us almost constantly, are we really listening?