When implemented Continuously, Minor Improvements can have Large Effects on organizations. Master Facilitator & Master Black Belt David Galloway observes how strong leadership, innovative thinking, and lean six sigma principles can be used to drive significant safety and process improvements.
Harry couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was shift change. Rob was leaving the locker room and headed toward the operating floor. His colorful athletic shoes were in stark contrast to the soiled and well-worn boots of the other guys around him.
Rob gave a slight nod of his head as he approached Harry, one of the shift supervisors.
“Hey, Harry. Did the machine run well on first shift? I sure hope I’m not walking into a mess in there. After last week, I was hoping for a routine day at work.”
Harry wasn’t in the mood for small talk. He just pointed down at Rob’s shoes and asked abruptly, “Speaking of walking, what are you thinking? You know everyone is required to wear steel-toed shoes. No exceptions!”
“Oh, those,” Rob countered, a little taken aback by Harry’s tone. “Let me explain…”
Harry interrupted him. “No explanation needed. It’s black and white. Either you are wearing the right shoes or not. And those are definitely NOT work shoes!”
“I know that,” Rob responded, the volume of his voice rising to match Harry’s. “I was just going to…”
Harry raised his hand and stopped Rob again. “Look, you’re not going anywhere near the operating floor with those on your feet. So either borrow a pair of shoes – or go home and get some proper foot protection – ‘cause you are not working today unless you have them.”
Rob crossed his arms and glared at Harry. “Can you take one minute and listen?”
It was noisy in the meeting room as the construction workers assembled early one morning. The concrete floor and cinder block walls created an echo chamber for the men’s voices and the squeaking of metal chairs being pushed into place. Spartan furniture and a dusty, bare floor were tell-tale signs that this room was used occasionally for crew meetings, but not much else. Some folding tables on one side of the room strained under the weight of 3-ring binders and manuals stacked half-way to the ceiling. Another table in the back held a large coffee urn and numerous boxes of doughnuts, most of which had already been claimed.
While Russ went to the front of the room to get the projector running, I settled into a metal chair beside the doughnut table, fighting the urge to grab one of the few remaining sugary treats. Russ was the internal trainer. He was scheduled to talk to the group for the first hour.
The class about safety culture and leadership had been requested by the contractor’s leadership team. The company recently had some serious injuries and near misses. They were anxious to see what could be done to prevent another event.
The managers were perplexed why some of their guys were taking risks, even though they had implored them to “be careful.” Even more disturbing, it seemed as though someone was making a mistake on the job almost every week. While all of these were small errors, the senior managers knew that any one of these mistakes could cause significant property damage or result in another injury under different circumstances.
As Russ went through the introductory slides and started the first class exercise, a burly man dressed in blue jeans and a shirt that appeared to be one size too small abruptly emerged from an office which adjoined the conference room. The name plate and title above the door indicated that Ed was a supervisor. Ed yanked his office door closed behind him, causing a loud thud when it met the door jamb. I heard him mutter a couple of expletives as he walked briskly by my chair and walked heavily down the stairs on the far side of the room. Continue Reading
It takes at least two people to have a conversation. For a conversation to be effective, each person needs to alternatively talk and listen. Unfortunately, some leaders are prone to lecturing, with very little listening. This ineffective communication style isn’t isolated to senior leaders who ascribe to the command-and-control approach to management. It can be seen at all levels of organizations.
The prevalent communication style of managers and supervisors is a barometer of the safety culture. Occasional, one-way safety conversations are telltale signs of a culture of compliance. Frequent, interactive safety conversations are indicative of a culture of commitment.
If the reason you have any safety conversation is to exert control, the approach will be to criticize and seek compliance through correction.
If the reason you have any safety conversation is because you care, the approach will be to coach and seek commitment through collaboration.
One communication model1 suggests that an effective organizational conversation has four attributes: intimacy (building trust and listening), interactivity (promoting discussion), inclusion (collaborating on solutions), and intentionality (sharing a common purpose).
In this article, I introduce a guide for an effective safety conversation – one that starts with caring. This guide incorporates the four attributes of an effective conversation. It also stimulates a conversation that enables coaching and collaboration.
Most organizations that seek to achieve safety excellence realize that this performance level can only be attained with strong leadership. When it comes to safety, there are two prevalent leadership philosophies. There is a stark contrast between the resulting safety cultures. We can better understand the differences by realizing that each is grounded in very different motives. One approach emphasizes control, while the other starts with caring.
Control = Compliance
Some managers define “strong leadership” as carrying a big stick. These managers believe that any time there is an injury or near miss, their principal responsibility is to hold people accountable. In practice, this means that the primary reason they have any safety conversation is to exert more control.
These managers believe that if people would simply comply with the policies, rules, and procedures, then no one would get hurt. Armed with this reasoning, they strive for greater control by criticizing actions that are inconsistent with established policies. Safety conversations center on correcting errant behaviors through counseling or discipline.
This safety philosophy leads to a Culture of Compliance.
The graphic shown here demonstrates the actions which lead to this kind of safety culture, which is summarized in the following statement:
If the reason (Why) you have any safety conversation is to exert control, the approach will be to criticize (How) and seek compliance through correction (What).
A Culture of Compliance results in a falsesense of improved safety performance, because many incidents are driven underground. The official safety numbers may look good. However, the number of unreported near misses and unrecorded minor injuries are indicative of an insidious safety culture. Because the causes are never acknowledged and addressed, they accumulate until a significant event occurs. Continue Reading
Which is a more valuable resource to you: time or money?
Before you answer, consider your personal life. How do you spend your time? Many of us feel time-constrained with all the things that we believe must be done throughout our busy days. A survey from a few years ago showed that twice as many Americans would prefer two weeks of vacation over two weeks of extra pay!
According to noted psychologist Abraham Maslow, once we have satisfied our basic needs, we pursue the need for self-respect. We also have the desire to be accepted and valued by others. Ironically, our efforts to achieve a certain level of esteem often results in a great deal of time spent on a daily “to-do” list. This leaves us with the feeling that we do not have enough time for ourselves, let alone others.
However, a recent study by Cassie Mogilner and others suggests that our perception of how much time we have available is related to whether we spend time helping others. I found this study fascinating because of its relevance to my personal and professional life.
Change is hard. Leading others through change can be a daunting
challenge. However, if leaders understand and apply some basic principles, even large organizations can be re-aligned and move in a different direction.
I was thinking about this as I watched a video about operating a large rail yard. I noticed that when an engine hooked up to a long train of cars, the engineer did not simply pull forward after it was coupled. Instead, he backed up first. Then, he slowly accelerated forward. By backing up, the couplings between each rail car were compressed. As a result, when the engine started forward, there was a small amount of slack in the couplings between each car. When the engine started moving forward it was pulling (for an instant) just one car – then two cars, then three cars, and so on.
By following this procedure, the engine was able to eventually pull several hundred cars. If the engineer did not back up first, he would have to pull all the cars at the same time. The total weight of a long train would cause even the strongest engine to lose traction and spin its wheels.