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The Importance of Connecting Your Safety Management System (SMS) with Your Safety Culture with Jim Francis

The Importance of Connecting Your Safety Management System (SMS) with Your Safety Culture

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“When you center the Safety Management System on the worker and the worker’s perspective, it allows them to have more of a say in the objectives, the goals, the initiatives, and the things that you’re going to go do. It also really started equipping them and engaging them in the solutions.” We’re excited to have Jim Francis, Vice President of SMS Consulting at ENTRUST Solutions Group, join the podcast this week to share his expertise about implementing Safety Management Systems that lead to noticeable and positive change. Tune in as Jim uncovers how to connect your Safety Management System with your safety culture in a way that is relevant to the way your organization functions to reduce risk and produce the most meaningful and beneficial outcomes.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski. A globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy’s success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have Jim Francis with me. He’s the VP of SMS Consulting at Entrust Solutions Group. We’ve known each other for a little while now. Jim, why don’t you share a little bit about your background and how you got passionate about safety?

Yeah, sure. Good to see you. It’s funny. I have a long history working for a utility, and I come with an engineering and operations background, and most of my career was spent on the compliance side of things. But naturally, when you work in a safety-forward industry in an organization like a utility, you naturally get into the safety aspect of things. My journey really began on the pipeline safety side, with a lot of compliance-related programs and things that we would do to try to improve the performance of our pipelines and reduce risk. Naturally, that connects you to the workforce and the folks that are actually working out there all the time. As my career matured, I picked up more opportunities to work in safety and safety management systems and all sorts of things related to risk and risk mitigation. It was a really good journey, and a lot of things built upon themselves. It took me forward to where I’m at today at the end trust Solutions group, where I’m consulting with utilities and others all over the country on safety management systems.

Sounds great. Let’s go there. Let’s talk a little bit about what is a safety management system and what the main value is.

Yeah. The safety management system is a, I’ll say, structural approach to reducing risk. So, you put a very formalized process and procedures in place to identify and manage risk, really from the worker’s perspective. There are a lot of standards out there by which safety management systems are built and constructed, and it really just starts to define the key elements and the things that really ought to have in place. You need committed leaders, you need to find ways to engage with your stakeholders, you need to find ways to identify and mitigate risk, to validate whether the improvements in the things that you’re making, to communicate effectively with people, to have a process to know whether or not your results are being achieved and the outcomes of your goals and objectives are being achieved. And really, the safety management system puts all of that in a well-defined, constructed approach where those processes all work it interdependently, and just to make sure the system is functioning in the right way and achieving what you wanted to achieve out of it, reducing risk ultimately.

When would you consider starting looking at a journey around a safety management system? Is it something you do early on? What stage? And again, it may depend on the organization that you’re in.

There are tools that, frankly, if you’re starting with something brand new, you could use some of the tools in risk management to try to understand, hey, what am I trying to accomplish here? But generally speaking, there’s no real well-defined starting point with it. It’s more of a question of how your organization is performing. So, let’s look at the results and the things you’re trying to achieve. So, are you having more safety incidents than you really ought to? Are you concerned about the way you’re operating? Do you have inefficiencies in the way you operate? Is your cost structure off? There are a lot of ties to the business functions that might be a trigger to you wanting to implement a safety management system. But ultimately, what you’re trying to do is reduce risk and improve safety performance. So, let’s start with the safety numbers. Let’s start with your charts, your injuries, your incidents, any fatalities, the serious things that might happen to you. And those are really good indicators of, hey, maybe we ought to look at how are we functioning as an organization or as a company to see whether or not we need to be building a safety management system to help us improve ourselves.

And so, you touched a little bit on different models that exist, ISO and Z10 as an example, different models that exist. Is it about the certification, or could you build one in the absence, essentially, of a desire to certify? And maybe what would be the considerations to say, I want a certification, and maybe which one I should take?

Yeah, you know what? I’m of the opinion that you don’t need the certification, and you really ought to not start with that, with the intent in mind, because I think when you start with the focus on, I need a certification, the drivers are likely coming from an external pressure. There’s a regulatory issue, there’s a legal issue, there’s some legislative thing that is driving you to that. Not that there’s no value in those. I think the value of a certification is having a third party validate whether or not the processes in your safety management system are functioning well. Really, the motivation really ought to be about internal improvement in the way you’re functioning as an organization and whether or not you’re driving the safety outcomes that you really want. What’s interesting about it, too, and this is a question that I get a lot, is, if I’m a small company or I’m a large company, is this thing, am I able to do it? Am I able to apply a framework around that? I think the beauty of the safety management system is you don’t necessarily have to do it all. You have to build it for you as an organization and what fits your operations, I’ve seen it where literally somebody can put every single employee they’ve got in a room together, and they can talk every single week.

And there are great advantages to that. And I’ve seen it where there are companies so large that that communication piece becomes challenging. But yet, their system can function for both of them very effectively.

That’s interesting. So, we’ve talked before in terms of how a safety management system can be an accelerator for culture. Can you give me some examples of where you’ve seen that become an accelerator, something that helps business performance on the cultural side?

I think back to my own journey in this, and I’d say it really began in the mid-2010s. We were struggling, frankly, from a cultural perspective. We’ve had to have somebody come in and evaluate where we were, the relationships between us and our unions, and some of those sorts of things. We had some bad policies, we had some bad processes, some things we had to get out of the way. That was led into us building our safety management system. Once we did, one of the beauties of the system and the approach we took was that we were now collecting risks and things that were relevant to the worker. And when you center their safety management system on the worker and the worker’s perspective, it allows them to have more of a say in the objectives, the goals, and the initiatives and the things that you’re going to do. It also really started to equip them and engage them in the solutions, which far too often, I think, sometimes management tips back, and they start to create all the solutions without contemplating the worker.

Too often.

Because they don’t want to pull those guys from their day-to-day jobs and the things that they’re doing. Then what do you see? You get the workers complaining about the new processes and the things that are in place. What I saw, what we experienced was a group of people who are suddenly like, oh, my gosh, they’re listening to me. They’re actually taking my advice. They are prioritizing the things that are relevant to me, and they’re asking me to help with the improvements. They’re asking me to work on the solutions for that. I literally saw guys chasing people from our quality assurance team and our SMS team down on the docks of the buildings trying to make sure, Hey, I got something I want to talk about. That thing was like, Holy cow. It was one of those intangible moments where you go, this thing is really functioning. It’s really working. It was largely based on that.

One of the criticisms I sometimes see around safety management systems is that it’s too much paper exercise. It becomes lots of documentation, lots of paperwork, but it doesn’t necessarily change the experience the employee feels. Tell me a little bit about how you can overcome that challenge so that it doesn’t become purely paper-based exercise.

I think part of it is making sure that you’re right sizing the system to fit your organization. As I mentioned before, it’s got to be something relevant to you and the way your organization functions. Even simple things like how are you going to engage your workforce in the conversation around identifying risk? The mechanisms to do so may not be some big fancy IT system that you’re trying to get somebody to plug something in on their laptop or whatever. It may be, Let’s just sit in the conference room and have a conversation. I think the important piece of it is defining processes in a way that your organization has resources that are dedicated to the exercise of it. The point of a safety management system is to reduce risk. When you take risk management as an example, most of the workforce doesn’t understand risk management. They don’t really care about what a risk register is. They don’t really care about all the processes and the risk matrix and those sorts of things, but you got to have that structure. So build that structure relevant to you and your organization and allow a group of people to facilitate it. And then you engage your workforce in the right way so that it’s meaningful to them. Unfortunately, and I think with any standard, there’s a compliance aspect of it. You have no choice but to have some of the paper pushing and the documentation and the record-keeping aspects of it. Because at the end of the day, you got to prove to somebody that you’re actually reducing risk and you’re in your racing on the right things. But I would say you build the processes that are relevant to your organization that are meaningful and then figure out where some of the other ones fit and how they’re related and whether or not you need something that’s really structured around it or whether you can leverage things that you’re already doing as an organization.

That makes sense. In terms of, what you talked about on the risk register, there are lots of different components of a typical management system. Where is it that people typically find the biggest value or something that they’re not currently doing that really drives critical thinking? You also brought up employee involvement in solutions. What are some of the areas where you’ve seen the biggest improvements?

I think there are probably three or four key areas. Now, one, risk management is the engine that drives the whole thing. But the moment you go into that, you’ve got to start engaging your stakeholders. The stakeholders are not just your workers but it’s also your leaders. The one thing that the system starts to do is it starts to connect those two groups of people into a common conversation. That doesn’t mean they’re always sitting in the room together, but they’re having a common conversation about the things that are most important to them so that, as an organization, they can collectively put their resources toward it. I think that’s where you see a lot of value in that the organization becomes a little more efficient in the way they operate. So, management gets excited about that. They start to see actually injuries and incidents, and other things start to decline. And so, there’s a cost-benefit and that thing to it. And then the workers see the value in terms of the way they start to function. So their processes are more efficient. They’re not spending nighttime hands out collecting data or filling out a form or whatever the simple things are because that becomes a meaningless exercise.

They really start to focus and narrow in on the controls and the things that are going to ultimately make their job a lot safer. Those are the values you start to see. I think those are some of the key processes around it. There are a gazillion processes that seem like they function within the system, but there are just a few of them that play together, and you just need to make sure you’ve got those well-defined, and you understand how to create those relationships in the right conversations.

I think the risk register is one that I see is often missing in many organizations. They could have good back-end elements in terms of involvement of the workforce but then not necessarily focusing on the reduction of the biggest risk. Can you tell me a little bit more about how an organization can improve on the risk register side? What are some of the key elements so that you get what’s the right risk I should be investing in and functions you want to see there?

This episode of The Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at propulo.com.

The register itself can be a simple tool. Most of the time when we work with clients to develop it, when I did it back in the day, it was just a simple Excel spreadsheet, but it contains the key aspects and the elements of it. Obviously, it starts with the definition of the risk. We always say to define it in terms of the worker. Let them talk. Let them talk about the things that concern them. And ultimately, you’ll figure out how to define that risk. And then, of course, the risk element, there’s a mathematical component to it. And there are typical standard risk matrices and how you start to measure the consequence of the likelihood of those things occurring. But what is important is to make sure that you’re tying actual metrics to that. So, if I said my biggest risk is related to excavation damage on a pipeline, there’s data that tells me or supports whether or not you’re improving or regressing in your performance around that. And you should be able to leverage that data to validate the risk. And ultimately, you have to have some scoring mechanism to calculate your level of risk, so you know, hey, I got to draw a line in the sand, and I could only work.

It’s a prioritization effort, is really what it is. And absent that, that’s what the risk register really starts to do. And ultimately, you start to connect the risk register and the items in there to the further evaluations that you might do through a bow tie analysis or the risk mitigations and the project you’re going to do to improve that. It just starts to tell a story for you, and then it creates the math for you to actually prove to your board or your other stakeholders externally that, hey, we’re actually making progress here.

And how do you handle something that’s an incredibly low likelihood but significant consequence? So just like I started out in aviation, a crash is an incredibly low probability, but the severity is incredibly high, and you don’t necessarily have a ton of leading indicators. Well, I shouldn’t say that. You have a leading indicator on drivers, but you can’t necessarily see if you’re improving.

It’s funny. Far too often, we spend all our time on the lagging side. You wait for the incident to occur before you, and you can’t afford to do that on a high and you can’t afford to wait for an airline crash or something like that.

Or a gas pipeline a burst and explode and take down the neighborhood.

Those are all the things we’re trying to avoid through the context of this. And that’s why I think that’s why having a model doesn’t just pick one attribute. It’s not just about whether somebody gets injured or not. There are other aspects to evaluating a certain amount of risk. It could be an environmental factor. It could be just related to the asset. If I had an asset failure, what would it cost me? It’s a reputational issue. There’s a whole variety of attributes that could be contemplated in your risk register, and you need to figure out the definitions around those. There are standard books and other things to give you a starting point for those definitions, but you make it relevant to your organization and the things that you do. And ultimately, there’s a governance model, and there’s an approach to making decisions around that. So, you present it with the data. Now, I will say the one beauty of a safety management system when you start digging in deeply, and I mentioned the bow tie analysis, the bow tie starts to look at what are those preventive controls to keep that catastrophic event from happening. And ultimately, you start to do your measurement on the leading side, which is within those preventive controls, what are the processes, what are those detection points, what are the things that you’re going to start to identify that might be triggered to that lagging incident occurring, which is what you’re trying to avoid.

So, if you can catch it on the front end on the leading side within the process, you can now go fix it. And spending time within that and trying to understand the connection between the risks that your workers have and the controls in those process points and those measurement points to those things gives them great power in trying to understand, hey, now we got an issue, let’s go solve it once again before that lagging issue happens.

Okay. So, we talked about culture and where you start in the culture maturity journey. How do you implement a safety management system and also make sure at the same time that you’re also improving culture? Because the two should be connected, but they’re not necessarily connected. You could implement a system that doesn’t improve anything culturally, or it could have some blind spots as well. So how do you connect the two, and what have you seen work?

Yeah. So, there are requirements within a typical safety management system standard to evaluate the effectiveness of it. And probably one of the more impactful ways to do that is through feedback. And in many cases, the standard might say, I got a very specific feedback mechanism or approach. You’ve got to find a way to engage. And to me, this is where you start to tie things like your auditing processes or an effectiveness assessment that you might do. But I think the most important piece or one of the more important feedback is a safety culture assessment. Because once again, we talked earlier about, okay, management puts a process in place, and how do the workers feel about it? And if you never ask or you never have the conversation about it. And to me, the safety culture assessment is one way to really get at, we are making headway. Are we making inroads into what we’re trying to accomplish? And it creates an avenue to try to get feedback from that. So, whether you’re doing just a straight assessment. I think, frankly, it’s the post-assessment conversations that probably get you the most value, whether those are small group discussions or individual conversations.

I think having opportunities to engage your workforce in those meaningful things. You should hope to see the results. I saw that at the company I used to work for, we implemented this. We saw improvements not only in our safety culture results, but we saw them in employee engagement results. The two very much go hand in hand with the culture of the company. But those survey results and the follow-up conversations, you get a lot of valuable insight into the way you’re functioning and how they’re engaged and all of the other things that you’re trying to push as part of your system.

I think from the cultural side, one of the pieces I’d say is, a survey is important, but I think where I see is really making sure you’re looking at multiple different elements. You’re checking, you’re watching how the work is performed. You’re focusing on some focus groups to understand what’s behind the themes because the surveys can hide a lot of issues. I can give you a very binary view. I’ll give you an example where people said, yes, I dislike the processes and systems, but it’s not necessarily that. It could be, like you said before, you’re not engaging me in developing the processes and systems.

Great point. I agree. When you ask somebody a survey, are they going to tell you whether or not the safety culture, do I not believe that I work safely? They’re always going to say I work safely. Almost totally. But I completely agree with you. It’s the conversations on the backside of it. You get different levels of feedback and different opinions there that really give you a better insight into the culture of your company.

I think the other element that I think is very connected is trying to get to, and I don’t see a lot of organizations do that yet, but to get to a very local level to start seeing at a safety commitment standpoint, so how the leader is perceived, how they show up and seeing the differences. It is a site. Then working on focus groups, maybe on how we take that actions, how do we take the right actions to address locally, because you can have a common culture, you can have a common system, but leaders have different personalities that show up differently and are perceived differently around commitment and not always aware.

That is so important. It’s funny you mentioned that. I’ve used the story where when my company implemented our safety management system, and people started to get it, and you intuitively knew the good leaders out there, but it was just a notion around it. Then what we saw was the good leaders were the ones that at that very local level were like, I understand the system. I understand how it can benefit me, and I’m going to actually start to execute it. They didn’t wait around for my team or others to push the agenda on them. They just took it upon themselves to go exercise it. Then they engage their workforce in a way. Once again, when you start to look at safety culture results and the feedback, their results are better than their peers. It was that engagement with the right leaders and the people to understand that the system was just something to help them, give them structure to help push the agenda along and to help drive change for them. But that cultural piece, the way those leaders act, really went hand in hand with that. So really important.

And sometimes, people have blind spots. One of the things I’ve seen often is around people saying, Yes, I prioritize safety. And in their mind, they’re saying that because they start the day talking about safety, they’ll have a safety moment. But then they’re going to reinforce, they’re going to give an attaboy to the person who got the job done, irrespective of maybe cutting corners, not consciously, not intentionally, but they give recognition to the wrong behavior. Or the worst I saw was somebody saying, Now, let’s talk about the real stuff as they transition from the safety moment to the other pieces. And those are pieces that then workers interpret saying, well, you tell me safety is important, but it really isn’t.

Yeah, that’s so true. I had somebody who worked for me, and she did an unbelievably great job of recognizing people for the right way. So, we would have workers being engaged in our system. And ultimately, they were the ones that drove out the risk. But we saw the discretionary effort around it. And so, when those things occurred, we were recognizing them in that way for the actions that they were taking for the right things. We were not privy to the production pressures and some of the other things. It was more about whether they were reducing risk, whether their actions were aligned to the kinds of things we were trying to work on and improve upon. And so that recognition went a long way for those folks to start putting pressure maybe on their peers and demonstrating that. And it was pretty powerful in some of those places. Even the frontline employees now, they were the perceived leaders around that within their organization. It was a great way and a very positive way to drive the cultural aspect at that local level.

And so, really, taking away these complementary elements between the safety management system and culture, things you want to drive and evolve in MRL, there may be some cases where you really only need a safety management system. And I think we talked about this before where if you’ve got 80 % turnover, 90 % turnover, including at your leadership ranks, in our likelihood, culture becomes a very hard piece to actually contain. And you need the structure more than ever because you’re just accepting that you have a rotating door, which introduces risk. But in other settings where you’ve got more stability, you probably want to do a little bit of both, and at least you have stability at a leadership level.

Yeah, absolutely. One can certainly support the other. And I do think, depending on… And the turnover is a great example because that should show up as a risk. That’s a huge risk. And that may be the one thing that you have to work on almost entirely in making sure, once again, you got the right structure and you’re onboarding people in the right way. Otherwise, you’re introducing way more risk from a safety perspective than your organization really can handle.

One could argue that if you have 80 % or you have a culture issue, you need to fix it first, or you’re going to see that nobody wants to play in.

Yeah, there is a bit of a chicken and egg with culture or the systems. Frankly, I think you need to just understand your organization and where you need to start with it. One may support the other, certainly, in that relationship there.

Excellent. Jim, if somebody wants to get in touch with you, obviously, the work that you do is predominantly around implementing, assessing, around safety management system. How can they get in touch with you?

Yeah, probably the easiest way is my email at [email protected]. Or check out our website at www.entrustsoul.com. And there are connections there you can find me. You can find me on LinkedIn as well. Jim Francis, just look me up, and happy to connect and talk to anybody more about this.

Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Jim, for coming and sharing some of your background, your experience around safety management systems, and the value and really to get a better sense as to why and how you should implement one.

Yeah, thanks, Eric. Appreciate the time. Great talking to you.

You for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams, and elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Jim Francis is the Vice President of SMS Consulting at ENTRUST Solutions Group. In his role, Jim supports ENTRUST’s clients and the implementation of their safety management systems and other pipeline safety programs. Prior to joining ENTRUST, Jim spent 30 years serving utility customers in various engineering and operations roles at Vectren and CenterPoint Energy.

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The Ripple Effect of Serious Injuries and Steps to Prevent Them with Brad Livingston and Kayla Rath

The ripple effect of serious injuries and steps to prevent them

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In honor of Family Month, we are delighted to have Brad Livingston and Kayla Rath join the podcast to share their powerful and heartfelt story. Brad had been working at a natural gas pipeline company when he experienced a potentially life-ending incident at work. Kayla remembers vividly the day her mom’s best friend came to pick her up from elementary school after the incident had occurred. Brad unpacks what could have been done differently that day to prevent the incident from happening, while Kayla recalls the inevitable ripple effect serious injuries in the workplace have on loved ones. Tune in to hear their moving episode!

READ THIS EPISODE

Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies, ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost. For the C-suite, it’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safe legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me two special guests brad Livingston who worked for the gas company for well over ten years until he had a life-changing event that was 100% preventable. I’m also joined by Kayla Rath who is his favorite daughter and she’ll share a little bit about her perspective and what it meant to be part of the family when that event happened. So welcome both of you. Really excited to have both of you here with me today.

Thank you, Eric, happy to be here. 

Thank you for having us.

Absolutely. So, Brad, why don’t you start by maybe sharing a little bit about the day of the accident? Kind of what transpired. I know when we told you really talked about how it was 100% preventable. If you could tell me a little bit about what happened that day in the store, there. 

Okay. I upgraded that day to be a Weller helper. Wasn’t my normal job but I was filling in for the regular Weller helper who was gone that day on vacation. Happy to do it. I was enjoying my job and I went to work that morning with the senior welder. We drove to a location other than where we normally work to do some welding. We did some welding until 10:00 which was our break time, and we went in to take a break and our company pumper came out and said that he had a well just right outside the station yards from where we were that had two tanks on it and both tanks had a pinhole in a weld that went around the fire tube. Each tank asked the senior welder if we put that on the schedule some time to fix it. The senior welder said we would do it while we were there and there’s the reason for that. But we drove over to the well and I checked the atmosphere around outside of those tanks where we’re going to be doing the welding to check for an explosive level and everything was fine. So, the welder started to roll out the teams and I asked him what was going to keep a spark from setting the tanks off because what was in the tanks was some crude oil that was well made.

It also made a lot of drip gas or Connor state gas which is just like gasoline, it’s water that was down in the gas formation and when you bring the natural gas up by the ground, the water will come with it, and it’s taking on the characteristics of the natural gas, and that’s what makes it so much like gasoline.

Sure. 

So, I asked him if we need to gauge the tanks and double check the liquid level because he was counting on there being liquid behind where he was going to be welding, so that would prevent him from getting too hot as he welded on that tank, and he would not blow a hole in it and cause the explosion. So, he’s counting on that liquid being there. So, I suggested that we gauge the tank and double-check the liquid level. And this welder, whose name was Tracy, had worked for the company for 30 years, and he said, we don’t have time. So that’s a big red flag because it’s a procedure. Part of following the procedures is to double-check the liquid level. And so, it would have taken maybe three minutes at the very most, I believe three minutes, and I would engage the tanks. He had been told what he told me, that there were seven or 8ft of liquid in those tanks, and it was actually less than twelve inches.

Oh, my goodness.

Which meant he ended up welding above the liquid level. And so, then he got too hot and blew a hole in the tank. So had we actually followed procedure and gauged the tanks, we would not have done the welding. So, we argued about it. I tried to convince him to just stop and let me gauge the tanks. My actual role should have been to go to the truck and get the tape and walk up a catwalk and open a hatch, engage the tank.

Sure.

If I’d done that, he would have waited for me. He was a very conscientious worker and welder and he always looked out for the safety of everyone else. I know he would have waited for me, but I was wanting him to agree with me instead of insisting on stopping him and taking that kind of step. And so, we didn’t get the gauges, the tanks gauged, and on the second tank that he was welding on, he burnt through the hole or burnt through the tank. And that tank exploded wow. Blew me up into the air. I landed on top of the other tank, and eight to 10 seconds later, that tank exploded and threw me back onto the ground, which actually helped save my life, because I was burning to death. I was surrounded by flames. My clothes were on fire. So, the second tank, when it exploded, actually was a good thing for me, because otherwise, I would have gone to death if I’ve ever got down off of that thing. So, one of the big issues was that when we were welding, we were working for a supervisor on that lease that Tracy didn’t like. 

And so that was why he was in a hurry to get the tanks done so that we could get in, get that welling done, get off the lease, and he would no longer be working for a supervisor that he didn’t like. The other issue was, at that time, our company was frowning on overtime, so we had a whole day of welding scheduled. Now, we’ve added another job to that day, so Tracy thought, we just have to cut this short, take a shortcut, not follow all the procedures, and be back home before we got into overtime. 

Wow.

There are several red flags, like half a dozen red flags before the explosions ever happened that someone, including myself, of course, could have stopped what was going on, and it didn’t get done. We had another supervisor that had pulled up that was on location. He and I visited for maybe just 20 or 30 seconds while Tracy was welding on the first tank, and then while he moved to the second tank to weld, so he was slightly burned. When the first explosion happened, the ball of fire came at him. He was in his pickup, and he just slid across the seat and got out and ran away from it. Unfortunately, Tracy was killed, apparently as a result of the first explosion because it came out of the tank right where he was welding. So, a decision that was made based on a few other things yet to be mentioned, but not wanting to talk to a supervisor because he didn’t like it, to make sure it was okay to go do the job, wanting to save time, three minutes. He lost his life, and I was supposed to have lost mine. They told my family the explosions were on Friday morning and Saturday.

They told my family I wouldn’t make it through the night. 63% burn, 2nd 3rd degree burns, all of this basically over a shortcut, three minutes shortcut.

Wow.

Yeah. One other issue I’ll go ahead, and mention is Tracy told me on the way over to that well that he had just built these fire tubes about six months ago in the shop, and someone else walked through the shop and saw those pinholes and told Tracy so he could write them out, patch them, and he forgot to do it before it got put into service. So that morning, when the piper told us about the two pinhole leaks, Tracy remembered that he had been told about those. And so, he basically said, we’re going to go and take care of this, and no one needs to know that I had made that mistake, that he had forgotten to fix those pinholes in the shop. So, a serious pride issue came into play, partly because the supervisor that he didn’t want to weld for just while we were on this lease. So, there are several things there that Tracy, as I said, looked out for everybody, for everyone’s safety except his own. When it came to someone that he didn’t want to talk to. So, all of those issues were at play. I could have stopped that anywhere along the line, but instead of doing the steps to stop it, I just argued with you.

There’s obviously a big difference between the two. So that’s what happened. That’s a quick rundown of what happened at the scene today.

Two things as well that struck me from what you’ve just shared. One is the importance of the supervisor and how the supervisor becomes approachable. People can speak up and raise issues because I think when you fear what could go wrong with a supervisor, then you can take shortcuts as well as you’ve shared, or you worry about a consequence that’s lesser than the two. The other part that strikes me is the fear of reprisal as opposed to a real learning organization. And when you’re learning, these things surface, and people are comfortable taking responsibility because they know that there isn’t fear built into the system.

Yes. When I speak to supervisors, I will ask them, how many of you have said that you have an open-door policy. And almost all of them will always raise your hand. But there’s one thing to say that, but it’s something else for an employee or subordinate to be able to know he could walk in and talk to his supervisor and there not be any repercussions. I have spoken for companies, one in particular, where a new employee reported some older employees as having broken several regulations, and the company was firing that new employee for reporting the older guys.

Wow.

So, I told the safety director there, I said, well, you know, you’re never going to hear anything from the new guys again because there’s this kind of repercussion about reporting the older guys who are breaking the rules. They’re not going to say anything. And that’s absolutely the opposite of what there has to be.

I think these are really important points because I think the rule of the supervisor, how you respond to something that doesn’t go well, is incredibly important in ensuring it’s consistent. So, Brad, thank you very much for sharing that. Kayla, if you could share a little bit about how you heard about it, how you got to the hospital, and kind of what was your impact as a family member, and the impact of this growing up?

So, I found out at school that day, Tracy’s granddaughter was in my class, and she had been pulled out of school just before lunch by a family member who took her out of school and told the other teachers that Tiffany’s grandfather had been killed at work.

Wow.

And we grew up in a real small town, and so everyone was talking about it at lunch and at recess. A couple of friends and I were talking, and I said, my dad works with Tracy. Sometimes I wonder if he was one of the other guys that had been hurt. We had heard that there were two other ones hurt and our teacher was kind of, hey girl, don’t worry about it. Nobody’s dad was hurt. It’s not your dad.

Sure.

So, we went back in after recess, and we were watching a movie my principal came into the room and he asked if he could talk to my teacher. And they walked out into the hall. They talked for just a few minutes, and then they came back in. When they came back in, they were both crying. And my teacher said, Kayla, you need to get your things together. So, we walked out of the hall and walked down the hall with the principal. And my mom’s best friend was standing at the end of the hall, and she was crying and there were teachers around her. And she pulled me kind of into a hug and she said, okay, we’re going to go get your sisters. I was still in elementary school at the time. My sisters were in middle school at the time. So, we drove over to the middle school, and I kept asking her, Connie, what’s wrong? What happened to my dad? And she wouldn’t answer. And so, we pulled up to the middle school and my sister’s got in the car and then Connie let us know that dad had been burned in an explosion and my mom was with him at that time and that my mom had asked her to come to get us out of school so that we wouldn’t hear about it from anyone else.

And so, we ended up staying with Connie and her family for a total of three weeks while dad was in the burn intensive care unit in Lubbock, Texas, which is about 5 hours away from our hometown. And so, we stayed with them. And then my grandparents moved up to Elkart, where we lived and lived with us for the remaining two and a half months before we then all ended up down in San Antonio while dad was in rehab. We were in San Antonio for eleven months, all of us together, before we came back home.

Growing up. So obviously Brad made it out of the hospital. It sounds like initially there were some concerns about how you would get through this. How did it feel growing up? What was the impact? Because obviously here you’ve moved many times, you had to be in different locations. It brought a lot of interruptions to the day-to-day. Tell me a little bit more about what it means to grow up in this case.

Initially, after the accident, we were treated like celebrities. And we loved that everyone was they cared about the Livingston girls and what was going on with the Livingston girls. So, at first, of course, our daily life was completely 100% disrupted.

Sure.

But coming back from it after 14 months, when we finally were all home, after dad had finished all of his senses at the hospital and rehab, from that point on, it was kind of everyone just expected that life was back to normal for the Livingston. Brad was hurt, but he was alive. We hear a lot about mental health issues and trauma and processing trauma, sure. And that’s all very important. But in the 90s, that was not really something that we heard about and talked about. And so, I think it was for our community members, it was really interesting. Looking back now, I can see that if any of us had a problem, it was probably just geared up to or attributed to, I should say, teenage rebellion. But we look at it now and we’re like, oh, I was clearly processing some anger in that moment or grief. And also, we were very, or at least I was. I can’t speak for my sisters, but I was very protective of my dad because he looks the way he does, you can see that he is burned. I didn’t ever want anyone to think that he wasn’t loved because he was burned.

And so, if I saw someone staring at him, I would put my hand in his hand. Even in high school, even now, I will still do it in airports if we travel together, I’ll just grab onto his hand or I’ll look at him and laugh or something because I want people to know that he’s not a freak. He is burned and he is different because of that. But he’s still a human and he’s still loved. And that was just a thought that I had as we were going through therapy as a family. Part of our therapy was to see people’s responses to him and not get angry. And so instead I just got sad. I got really sad because I saw people’s responses to him, and it made me sad that people would look at him and see someone who’s burned and not who he is.

Right. Brad, you also had to process your coworkers’ death in the explosion. How the recovery took time. Tell me a little bit about how it went, knowing everybody, you have a very supportive family that was there for you. Tell me a little bit about your experience in terms of all of this.

There’s, of course, the survivor’s deal that happens. Tracy, as I mentioned, he took care of everybody. And I don’t know that there’s anyone who worked at our station that did not look up to Tracy. He stood up for anybody. And so, when I found out that he’d been killed, basically I was unconscious for two and a half months. So, when I became conscious, one of the things I asked my wife about as soon as my head cleared enough and I started asking intelligent questions, was what has happened to Tracy? And the nurses there had coached her. They knew how my mind would clear and how long it would take for the drugs to wear off and such. And so, they waited a few days before they told me that he had been killed in explosions and it’s just immense grief. It was a human being who died, but it was Tracy, it was a leader, someone that everyone respected and looked up to. And for those of us who work in the pipeline department, he was our main leader, really, overall. So, the instant survivor guilt hit, but then I got nowhere to go, I’m stuck in a hospital.

It’s just going over and over in my mind for hours and hours and days and weeks and months. What should I have done differently? What could I have done differently? What procedures were not in place? And I could never come up with an answer. We had the procedures; we just didn’t follow them. And looking at the conversations that all happened prior while we were still in the break room, half a dozen people there that any one of them could have said, he just can’t go with her and weld on these tanks, but it never happened. And then me arguing with Tracy and instead of just doing what I need to do and so all this stuff, just a day after day after day, going over in my head with what they told me, you may never walk again. I had been an athlete my whole life and distance running was my biggest thing. I loved running and my wife had been told because I didn’t have on my gloves, and I had on jeans that were 60% cotton and 40% polyester. So, laying in that fire, polyester melted my legs and into the muscle. And my wife was told that if I survived that my legs and my hands would have to be amputated and it was solely by the grace of God that they weren’t.

But then I was told there may not be enough muscle left, you may never have enough balance to walk. And so, I was 32 years old when it happened and basically the prime of physical life for a man. And now I can’t even go to the bathroom by myself. When I became conscious, I rely on the nurses for everything and of course, my wife was right there. Then I see my daughter’s come visit on weekends while I’m at the permissive care unit and I can see that they’re trying to put on a happy face, but it’s not happy. Their lives have been completely interrupted. I’m not at home with them, their mom’s not at home with them. So, I can see it’s just the beginning of me being able to see what I have put them through. It became the biggest amount of pain in my presentation. I talk to guys about; how tough you think you are. Because when you’re going to find out is not how physically tough you are, it’s how mentally tough you are when you see what your family’s going through that you have caused. By me being in an industrial incident, causing the amount of pain that I’ve caused.

And Kayla talks about the ripples and how to this day, she still rides some of those ripples. They will never go away, perhaps for her and for other people, and knowing that I’m the cause of that, and laying there over and over my head, going over easily, this all could have been prevented, right? Of course, when we got home from all the rehab, I went to see Tracy’s widow. And that’s a day that every bit is tough, if not tougher than the day of explosions. When you look a family survivor in the face, look them in the eyes and tell them what happened and when it could have been prevented. And they’re crying and you see the pain and the anger that they’re dealing with for something that never had to happen. But we saved those three minutes, right? And saving those three minutes on the job is supposed to mean something, apparently, but it doesn’t. It’s just something guys especially, that women can and do something to justify in our own minds how and why we should take these shortcuts or deal with our pride to cover up a mistake. And there were improper perspectives that I talked about in my presentations that lead to bad attitudes.

So, there are just so many things that could have and should have prevented this from happening. And you talk to anyone that’s been hurt and they’re going to say the same thing, they do better. They knew what to do, right? And they just chose to not do it for a number of reasons.

So, you both speak to a lot of audiences, to a lot of organizations around safety and making it personal and the impact on the family. And I think bringing your collective stories is incredibly powerful. What are some of the messages that you share in terms of the key takeaways? Because some of the things that we mentioned before that come to mind are the supervisor needs to be accessible. You talked about how when you say you have your door open, is it really open? Right? Because if somebody creates an environment where I don’t feel comfortable speaking up or there are unintended rules around not paying overtime, sometimes the message gets cascaded in a way that sends the wrong intent. I can tell you stopping work sounds simple in words, but it’s not that straightforward because of the dynamics and everything that comes in. So, tell me a little bit about the message the both of you. Share two audiences team members, supervisors, to leaders, because I think it’s a very powerful story between the both of you.

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I think, for me, one of the things that I talk about, and I believe Kayla does too, is the Stop Work Authority. I was raised I’m 63 years old actually, today, and we were not raised in the backtalk. Adults and those in charge were the authority. We were not ever given a stop-work authority. You do what you’re told, and you work, and somebody else makes the decisions. And now that didn’t start changing, I don’t think, until in the mid-90s or so. And now it is it’s becoming more prevalent. But there is still just this year where I have spoken, companies who say they have stock work authority, but when you single out young guys and not just a new employee, but a younger one in their 20s, they don’t feel like they can stop something without the older employees getting upset with them. Okay, here’s your choice. Do you want somebody to be upset with you or do you want to go home safe? Because many times that’s one or the other is going to happen, we can live with somebody being upset with us, and they’re going to get over it.

Most likely, sure.

But the Stop Work authorities, supervisors, I believe, have a great responsibility of making sure employees understand how and when to use that, and that they do have that right and responsibility.

And I’d say I would go even further in saying, how is it reinforced? Right. Because like you said, there’s crew dynamics and then there’s organizational dynamics that are impacting that choice. And I remember I’ve asked some executives, senior level when was the last time you recognized somebody who stopped work and they can’t find the time? And if you’re not recognizing that, then you’re recognizing getting the job done 200 times, I can tell you have stopped work authority, but unintended consequences. I keep hearing, thank you for Brad, for getting it done, but you’ve never gone praised for stopping work, the unintended consequences. Maybe I’m not really supposed to stop working here.

Right. And part of that, one of the improvements some companies have made are job safety analysis and hot work permits. And we didn’t have those. If we had to fill either of those out, there was no way we would ever do the welling on those tanks that day because it would have been too obvious. We can’t. So, these forms that some companies are using and the Tailgate meetings, where can I just refresh? What are all the hazards around us right here today? Some of that takes care of a Stop Work Authority because you have everybody anybody focused on the job and heading for the same thing. And so that helps not to have to stop a job. And those are people, of course, elderly guys like me who buck that. We don’t want to do the paperwork. We’re out here to get it done and go home. So those are good things that are happening by having some of those forms now to have to fill out every day, every day, fill them out.

As long as people don’t become complacent with them. Right. Because sometimes if I’m doing the same job over and over, I start getting comfortable that it’s the same as yesterday, but it’s not quite the same as yesterday. Something’s a little bit different. The environment is a bit different. It looks a little bit different. So, you still have to engage, and you still need to be able to comfortably pause. And even if it’s just taking a few seconds to say, let’s really rethink if it’s what we talked about in the tailgate or tailboard to make sure it really is what we think it is.

Right. And one of the things I’ve been told, kelly, you can pipe in here, too, anytime, but some of the younger people are more willing to step up and say, this doesn’t look safe. More than even a 50-year-old, because the 50-year-old has worked with this other guy for so many years. And so, I encourage younger people. Kayla’s age on down. If you just smell that it’s not right, if you have the gut feeling, it’s not just something you can do, it’s something you have to do, it is a responsibility.

Yeah. So, the other message, if I remember, that you really touch on is really the importance of starting safety at the top, making sure there are no repercussions if you raise an issue and really kind of the reinforcement with new team members. In terms of a lot of these principles, I think it’s so important in your story. As an example, he knew that he had made a mistake and because there was in comfort raising a hand because of what could go wrong, that also contributed to it. So, it’s really important that to me at least, it’s very important that you have a learning environment that gets reinforced from the top. Dan and Dale but tell me a little bit about the perspective that you share with audiences.

So, as you mentioned, we talked to every kind of company, and I have spoken to companies that it’s very obvious they say one thing and do something else. When it comes to safety, I’m there for a day for a presentation, or maybe I’m there for a few days, a few presentations. I feel like I have a platform to say things that the employees don’t feel comfortable saying. And so there have been times that I have mentioned it’s the company’s responsibility to provide you with all the training you need, to provide you with the PPE. You need all the equipment and the tools to do your job safely, but then it’s up to you to go out and do it safely. And so, there’s got to be a connection between, okay, Mr. Foreman, I need this new indicator or sensor or something. Well, okay, that doesn’t mean. I’m going to just get it, but at least I can tell you what it is I think we need that will improve the efficiency of our job. And of course, more safety is more efficient.

Sure.

We have to be able to communicate, and to me, that’s a lot of it the supervisors have to be open to the communication of what is it that you need. And the guys will have to say, the subordinates have to be able to say, this is why I need it. It’s not just that I want it because it’s a new toy. This is something that’s going to really improve my ability to do the job. That line of communication between employees and supervisors has to be open enough that everyone feels comfortable that they can do that. And so that starts with, I think, with the day you hire somebody.

They.

Start going through the initial training orientations, and they’re going to get a sense people are pretty smart overall. They’re going to get a sense of what’s being said that I could do, and they’re going to get a sense of what things really, we encourage you not to do. And if there is any kind of hesitation between or on that line of communication, they’re not going to go to a supervisor until they’ve seen it done. So, it has to start at the top with this open line of communication. Tell me what you need, I will see about getting it. An employee has to understand this budgetary issue. It may not happen sure. Right away. And that’s an issue too. When we want something, we want it. So, there’s got to be understanding on that end as well. But that’s a communication thing.

Agreed.

Go back to the Dark Ages. Everything was about communication.

Kayla, any closing thoughts from you? I think what I really love about your story is how the two of you kind of share the story, both from Brad’s perspective and also from the family standpoint as a favorite daughter. What would be some of the additional thoughts you’d have in terms of a message on the importance of putting safety first and some of the message around stopping work authority in a day-to-day world?

One of the things I talk about in my presentation is several years after the accident, dad had coworkers tell him that Tracy had done the exact same type of welding a couple of months earlier with that guy, and he had not stopped Tracy. And when dad told me that, it kind of made me angry because that coworker had just said something to Tracy or to a supervisor. Then on September 20, 1991, my dad might have come home that night. And so, I talked about the importance of if you see something going wrong, you need to say something, and you have a responsibility not just to that co-worker and not to the company, but to that coworker. Family. Because when you don’t say something and something goes wrong, their family is impacted too. Lives with it for ten months down the road and ten years down the road. And now here we are almost 31 years down the road, and we still live with it. So, my presentation is all about the ripple effect and how that one three-minute shortcut that my dad didn’t take that saved three minutes, how that has impacted us moving out, how it’s impacted him, how it’s impacted me, how it’s impacted, my children.

Research has shown that children who experience trauma at an early age go through life with an expectancy that the trauma is going to show up again. And it’s absolutely true. I see it played out in my life every day. That’s maybe being a little melodramatic, but nothing from you guys. But I do see it playing as I parent my own children and as I go off to work, I’m always waiting for something to go wrong because it went wrong when I was nine, so why would it not repeat itself? So that is how I drive home as I’m speaking. It’s not just about you. It’s about your co-worker and their family. It’s about your family. It’s about going home. Because whom do we all say we work safe for? We work safely for our children or our spouse or our parents or our dog. If I don’t go home tonight, who feeds my dog? Just those really simple things that we take for granted when we walk in the door at the end of the day, that we’re there because of safety and we have to be there tomorrow because of safety. That’s a decision we have to make.

Now, safety has to be forward-thinking. You have to constantly be looking for what could go wrong. What could go wrong if we don’t gauge these tanks? You have to constantly be looking for the next thing so that the next thing that your kids are looking forward to, which might be you helping them with their science project can happen.

Sure.

One of the things when Kayla first talked and started setting in on the, so she is sitting on safety meetings, they’re given TRS and a lot of different safety laws and acronyms. And Kayla said, dad, I don’t know what all those means. And so, I said to her, you don’t have to know. You’re not here as an employee who understands all those statistics are putting up on the slide. You’re here representing the family. So, she started saying and she incorporated that into a presentation about she’s good at pointing and she point to the crowd, she’ll say, I don’t know what your safety rules are and your regulations, and I don’t need to know. She said, I’m telling you as your children or I’m representing your children and your family standing here, and I’m telling you, I expect you to go to work and I expect you to come home. I don’t need to know what your rules are at work.

And they don’t care. Your kids don’t care about what rules and regulations, or your kids don’t care, in Dad’s case, about whom you do or do not like at work. They care that you’re there for their softball game.

Thank you very much for putting the effort that you do in sharing a story and convincing others to stay safe, to really reinforce within leaders and supervisors the impact that they have in terms of creating the right environment. I really appreciate the effort that you put into making that difference day in and day out. If somebody wants to bring you to present to their organization, what’s the best way for them to reach out to your website to connect with you?

Okay. That’s safetydifference.com and [email protected] will get you to where you can go straight to send us an email. And we’re both on that. We’re both on that website.

Absolutely. I really like the joint story that you bring because I think it’s easy to see one side but seeing the two sides just makes it even more powerful. So, thank you for joining together to share that message.

Thank you, Eric. We enjoy doing I appreciate you having us on.

Thank you for having us.

Thank you. All the best.

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Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the path. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your [email protected]. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo consulting.

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ABOUT THE GUESTS

BRAD LIVINGSTON: Brad Livingston was involved in back to back explosions. The contributing factors to these explosions were the same as what exists in EVERY type of company EVERYWHERE – Shortcuts; Complacency; Pride; Bad Attitudes; Improper Perspectives. He explains ‘The Ripple Effect’, including what he went through, and more importantly, what his family went through, in such a way that those in attendance WILL understand why they CANNOT allow these factors to be a part of their workplace.
“You think it can’t happen to you?”
 
KAYLA RATH: Kayla Rath was nine years old when a decision her dad made at work nearly cost him his life. She tells the riveting story of what it was like to be pulled from school only to be told she may never see her father again. She walks the audience through what it is like for a child when an unsafe decision causes a dad to not come home. From the first night alone, to growing up with a handicapped father, Kayla speaks to the often ignored truth that decisions made on the work site cause a Ripple Effect in the lives of the family.
No matter the industry, no matter the job, from the CEO to the new hire, Kayla tells a story that your employees need to hear. Your decisions affect others. What happens when they affect the ones you love the most? Kayla travels the country with one goal in mind: to inspire workers to make decisions that will bring them home to their families each night.

For more information: http://www.safetydifference.com/

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Employee Input & Involvement: The Secret Sauce to Drive Safety Culture with Ron Gantt

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ABOUT THE EPISODE

“How can people own a safety program if we don’t let them own it and create it?” In this episode, we have an engaging conversation with Ron Gantt about the secret sauce of involving employees in safety discussions at an organizational level. Safety leaders must be intentional about seeking employee input but also identifying processes that encourage or inadvertently discourage necessary safety collaboration across the organization. Tune in to learn how to involve employees on a daily basis not just a project basis. Everyone’s voice matters when it comes to safety.

READ THIS EPISODE

Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies, ubiquitously, have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost. For the C-suite, it’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safe legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have a very special guest, Ron Gantt. He’s the head of HSE for a company called Yonder. He’s got an incredible background in safety. We’ll get into that very soon. We met a couple of years back, lots of conversations. He’s got incredible ideas on the employee input part, which is such a critical part of HSE in general. So, Ron, welcome to the show. Maybe tell me a little bit about how you got interested in safety and how your journey started. 

Thanks, Eric. I appreciate that. I’m excited to be here. So, I find I have a similar story to a lot of HSE people and that I had no desire to be in HSE and I sell into it. My dad actually started a safety company when he retired from the fire service, and I always swore I’d never join it. But then I found myself in need of a job and so I asked my dad for a temporary job inspecting fire extinguishers. He was kind enough to give it to me and I don’t know, here I am in the profession over 20 years later. But kind of in that time when I got started, I started to realize, hey, this is interesting. And I did sort of the normal stuff safety people do. I got my initial degree in safety and then my CSP, which for people here in the United States, most people know what that means. But then I then made the mistake of getting a degree in psychology as well and that sort of opened up my eyes in a number of other areas because one of the things I realized is that we have a lot that we do in safety that’s very technically focused on terms of hazards and engineering issues. 

But there’s a whole slew of things that are about people and literally everything we do touches people to some degree. And I just felt like I was never equipped for that. That kind of led me on a path of both kinds of self-directed learning and also getting in my graduate degree and trying to finish my Ph.D. currently right now in cognitive science and cognitive systems engineering. So, the way I think about it now is safety is a supporting function. And I think we’re going to talk a lot about this. But that’s the thing that’s really interesting to me. How do I support people? How do I create the conditions for humans thriving at work? And so that’s the question that keeps me going and keeps me moving forward if that makes sense. 

It does, and I think you’re right, because we tend to look at safety very technically, and at the end of the day, it’s people that interact with systems, with procedures. And as humans, we’re fallible, we make mistakes. It’s just who hasn’t made a mistake and who planned for the mistake? Few people decide in the morning, these are the five things I’m going to do today that are going to be wrong. Tell me a little bit about some of the areas, particularly around employee involvement, and listening to employees, because to me, that’s a secret sauce. That’s a differentiator that so many people kind of does, but maybe at a 5% potential in terms of what you could do. 

Yeah, absolutely. One of the other things that I realized about my job is how often I was put in a position to tell people how to do jobs I’ve never done before. And that just seems wrong. And so, the natural kind of logical conclusion of that is, okay, well, I have to involve them in this process. Then I may have a piece of the puzzle in terms of knowing a regulation or some technical knowledge about a hazard, or a risk, but I don’t know about their specific task. I don’t know about the conflicts. And so, to me, when you realize that, you start to realize that a skill that we have to build is the ability to engage with people who do work, ask them questions about what it is that they’re doing and bring them to the table to help us do our jobs more effectively. Does that make sense? 

It absolutely does. How have you seen that work? Really well in organizations, really tapping into people on a regular basis? Because often I see people do it on a project basis, oh, we need to consult an employee. But what you’re talking about is much more getting back to really the grassroots and involving them day in, day out. 

Yeah, I’m glad you said that, because on that project basis, a lot of times people get the idea of employee engagement, employee involvement, employee participation, whatever kind of banner we put it under. And it’s like, okay, I have this procedure I just wrote. Let me give it to the employees and see what they think about it. And that’s the extent of it. So, we developed the problem. We even developed most of the solution, and we’re just getting their thumbs up on it at the end, which is good. I mean, we should do that. But what I’m talking about is actually having the employees help us identify the problems, to begin with. Like, do we even know what the challenges and difficulties and risks and hazards and things are? And so, in doing that, I think one of the first steps that I try to get in my organization and the organizations I worked with when I was a consultant is rethinking something as simple as the open-door policy. Right? Because of the open-door policy, though, my door is always open. You can tell me if there’s a problem. Well, that’s great. We should have that. 

But when I take over the world, I’m going to change it. So, the open-door policy is I’m opening my door to walk outside of my office to go talk to people. And I think we have to be much more intentional about that and see that as a critical piece of our work and obviously our other leaders in the organization who are in other functions. Because if our work is something that touches the work that other people do, it’s sort of like customer research, if you will, you need to understand, are we meeting that customer need? Do we even understand their needs? So, getting out, talking to people, it’s sort of that kind of management by walking around, gamba, walk, all those kinds of events. So, it’s that similar stuff. Something as simple as that is a great place. I’ve seen a lot of organizations start. 

And I’ve even seen organizations where they take it to the level where the supervisors engage every team member almost every day to get them in a conversation around how you could do the job that you’re doing in a way that’s safer. Maybe that brings higher quality and also higher productivity. But more an exploration of almost coaching but not coaching in the traditional way. Where I’m coaching you to do it my way. Coaching you to think about a different way to do this even safer. Or hazards that you hadn’t explored. 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, and one of the fundamental challenges we have and the work we do is that because we’re dealing with people, one of the advantages of people is also something that disadvantages us. One of the advantages of people is that people are so good at dealing with imperfections that they hide the imperfections, they deal with their expertise, and they do it without even thinking about it. We just do it all the time. We’re all used to having our bosses tell us, hey, I need you to get this project done in two months. And we’re like, that’s a six-month project. And yet we still somehow pull it out in the end, and we just do that. It’s just regular, right? And so, to your point, regularly engaging with people and asking them questions about what is it about this task that’s difficult, what is it about, what are the challenges, what’s the dumbest thing we’re asking you to do? What’s the thing that’s adding the least value? What’s something that you wish management knew about your job that you don’t think they appreciate? Questions about struggle, about difficulty start to uncover these things that people are having to adapt to. 

And when you find those things, it’s sort of like seeing you’re starting to see the proverbial dirt pathway in the park that cuts the corner around the paved pathway because where you find difficulty, that’s where you find risk. Right. Where work is difficult, that’s where you’re going to find mistakes. That’s also where you’re going to find shortcuts. And so, we can start to even stuff that people didn’t necessarily appreciate as risky. You start to see, oh, wow, if I improve people’s ability to get work done, that’s going to make it safer. 

I think the other part is as you’re asking questions, I love the questions you’ve shared, you’re getting people to think about risk hazards, the work that they’re doing, and being more aware because it can become rather dull if you’re doing the same thing over and over. And then here you’re getting people to start thinking about, is there a better way to do this? What are some of the things that go wrong? What’s some of the stuff that I’m patching on a regular basis that I shouldn’t have to patch because something in the process isn’t working? 

Yeah, one of the kinds of good questions, and I don’t think you should ask it all the time, but occasionally asking people, what are we putting up with here? What’s the thing that we just got used to? Stepping over? This really bad thing every day, a really dangerous thing or a process that’s just not adding value or whatever it is. Right. Asking that it helps people rethink, hey, wait a minute. That is something that we probably should probably pay more attention to and that helps them become more aware that this is not just normal everyday stuff. This is actually a risk that I’m actively managing. I need to be more mindful of it, but it also helps you recognize, wow, there’s something I didn’t even realize was there. Maybe I can help support them. The phrase that comes to my head is sort of creating. I think it was Stanley McChrystal, general Stanley McChrystal talked about creating a shared consciousness of how the work is being done, good, bad, and ugly. Do you know what I mean? So yeah, I like that.

It reminds me of probably the favourite quote somebody shared with me. And it was somebody who had worked in the Big Three automotive on the manufacturing side. And he shared it with this gentleman who was on his last day before he retired. He was kind of talking to all the leadership and he said, thank you for everything you did. Appreciate you paid me, but you could have had my brain for free. 

Yeah, absolutely. I love that. What pops in my head is something a good friend of mine, a guy named Daniel Hummerdal, said, our employees have far more capacity than what is written on their job description. The story he told me, and then he subsequently put in a blog post to illustrate that as he was working at a mine site in Australia at the time, and they were dealing with a number of issues. And he was engaging, like in what we’re talking about, engaging workers, asking them, hey, what are those challenges? And not just engaging them and identifying the problems, but also in the solutions. And he found this one frontline worker who happened to have a graduate degree in illumination somehow, which allowed them to deal with a lighting issue that they had been struggling to deal with for a long time. Who would have thought? I think it’s just a great example of, as you said, you pay for the entire worker. The head is not the unintended consequence of hiring a unit. 

Correct. 

There’s a lot of capacity that’s there that we could really leverage, especially in dealing with those complex problems that a lot of really forward-thinking organizations are dealing with these things. 

And I think that’s a really good point. The other part says many organizations complain that they’re resource constraints. They don’t have enough people to fix things or address things. But if you start disseminating this, you create an army of problem solvers people that can go in and fix things, that can improve things, and sometimes do it in a much easier, lighter way. 

Absolutely. Yeah. It almost becomes sort of a virtuous cycle. Right. You start engaging with the workers, showing them that they’re part of the organization, they’re part of the solution, really, to these problems, which kind of builds their confidence, which not only gets them involved but can increase their own capacity and sense of self-efficacy, makes people more effective in their roles. Right. And then that starts to get things better and people start to feel better about it. And then it becomes a better place to work. And then it’s all puppy dogs and ice cream from there. It’s a good thing.

How do you start making that shift in an organization? Because I like when you said to keep the door open, but to get out of your office. I remember once I had an operational role and I just refused to sit in the office because I figured that’s not where the work is being done. So, it just isolates me from what’s happening in the operation. So how do you start driving that shift? Because you can do it, person, by the person. But where I’ve seen this really take hold is when the organization starts recognizing that there is a lot more value in the people that are working there. 

Yeah, absolutely. It does work best when it’s an organization-wide sort of understanding. And then they work at it as an organization. Because if you’re just the loan manager and like, hey, this sounds good, I want to go try this. Yeah, you can go do that, but that’s a little bit more challenging. So, at an organizational level, I think there are two things. Number one, you do want to encourage this building of conversation, this building of getting out and talking to people. But part of that encouragement is also thinking about the processes in the organization that either encouraged or inadvertently discourage that. To your point, how many times do we have operational roles or functional roles that really need to collaborate but are separated by time and space that discourages conversation? I’m reminded of a safety professional for a public works agency that I was speaking with one time, and she said the best thing that ever happened to build her safety culture is when she moved her office from downtown to be at the yard where the workers are and changed her work hours, her and her team’s work hours, to be the exact same. 

The thing she said, I think was so meaningful. She said it’s because when you’re walking from the parking lot with all the workers and you start talking about, hey, how are your kids? How was your weekend? That just starts to build trust, which, A, is a good thing on its own, but also then makes it easier for people to talk to each other. It kind of greases the wheels of that conversation. And that’s partly a process thing, that’s partly a structural thing so that at an organizational level, we can start to look at that. Who needs to be collaborating and how are we encouraging that or discouraging that? Another example. Sometimes we have schemes related to accountability or discipline or even incentive structures that encourage people to just go off on their own or encourage people to come together and talk. So, I think looking at this systemically is going to be a critical piece. Are we embedding conversation and dialogue into our management system, or is it all just paperwork? Do you know what I mean? 

I think good points. One thing I’ve seen as well is, work is trying to, and I hate the word measure because it can have unintended consequences, but basically starting to see how many people have been involved this year in improving safety, right? So, starting to get an actual count of the number of workers that were directly involved in driving improvements and using it as a metric. Not to find the ROI. Not to find what they did in terms of Dart rate or any kind of rate. But just saying how many people have actually been involved in the projects and put a target that sometimes that’s big. That’s like. I want 20%. 40% of the workforce is involved in all the changes we’re doing. Because then it starts forcing leaders to start thinking about it. Okay. I can’t do it myself. I need somebody else to be part of this, and I need to empower them towards it. It can have unintended consequences like any metric, but it shifts the message around. Don’t solve it yourself. Involve employees in it. 

Yeah, and I think that what you just said, can happen. So anytime you do a metric like that, you want to be monitoring for that. So, one of the things I recommend balance that is whenever you put in a quantitative metric like that, think of a qualitative measure to see if it is actually getting what we want. Are people actually speaking up in these situations or are they just, hey, we invited you to the meeting, therefore you’ve been engaged kind of thing? Are we actually getting people to feel like, no, that’s the thing that I did, I did that? If we can start to measure it quantitatively, but also be gathering those stories 100%, this is moving the needle. I think that’s going to be really compelling for people. 

The other thing I’ve seen is on the quality side, there’s been a lot more work done in many organizations around worker involvement, and worker participation, and I think it’s also saying in some cases, saying what’s worked for quality could work for safety too, because they do a lot of kaizens or however they call it in terms of bringing employees to solve problems. But the problem you’re solving could be an ergo issue, it could be a safety issue. It could be just saying when you’re trying to solve this quality issue, safety is also a metric that patters as an example and just that they’ve created a lot of practices, processes, methods that get that worker involvement in a regular kind of method, at least in the higher performing organizations in that way. 

This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership, training, and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at propulo.com. 

Yeah, absolutely. Because honestly, at the end of the day, it sounds really obvious when you say it, but like, if you have a problem, you bring together the people who know the most about that problem, about the context of it. And if we’re trying to solve a problem around the work process, sorry, who’s going to know more than the people who actually do that work? Yeah, there’s going to be other people who have other perspectives that are important as well, if it’s engineering or whoever. But yeah, the workers have a seat at that table, right? They should. And so especially from a safety perspective, because again, when we see this as a technical sort of problem-solving, then involving the workers doesn’t matter. I have the technical knowledge; it lives in my head. They don’t have it. But when we see this as that technical problem, then has to exist amongst other problems that these workers have to meld together into this thing that we call work, which has goal conflicts and scarce resources that they’re managing, and relationships, all of these things on a daily basis they’re managing, then I’m not going to know how that’s going to work. 

They’re going to know how that’s going to work. Right. It doesn’t mean that I’m irrelevant. That just means that my voice is not any more privileged than their voice. We all have an equal kind of perspective that we can bring that’s valuable and useful. Yeah, I think learning from the Kaisen kind of quality approach, it’s extremely valuable for safety professionals. One organization that I saw that did it, I think really well, and they pointed to this as one of their big sorts of changes. It was a chemical plant, and they already had kind of an environment where people started talking to each other, but then they said, you know what? We have these safety problems, engineering problems, and quality problems, and it’d be good if we got people’s perspectives on it. So how about we just create a regular meeting so that anybody can show up? Anybody can just show up. We’re going to invite everybody, and if you got something you want to talk about, we’re going to talk about it. And they called it the Smart Team, which is one of those acronyms that people wanted to call Smart. So, let’s find an acronym that fits with smart, like Sharing Minds, Attitudes, Resources and Technology, or something like that.

I can’t remember the exact, but that was it. It was just an open conversation. Sometimes it got a little bit rowdy because everybody was talking. You had the mechanics there, you had the operations there, you had management there, you had engineering there. But everybody’s voice was equal there. So, people would come and just say, hey, engineers would say, hey, I’m thinking of replacing this valve. What do you all think? All right. My mechanics would say, hey, this PPE that we’re using, I don’t think it’s great. Is there another option? What do you think? And we would just group. Problem solved. 

Sure. 

I think I applaud management the most because that’s hard for them to do, to let go of the rains in those situations. 

Absolutely right. 

And I think that’s why a lot of organizations don’t do things like this because you’re sort of giving up control over the outcome, but the end result is often way better when you do so because you’re getting more perspective, it’s better. 

And even if it’s not always better, I think one of the learnings I have, which is actually an interesting one, is at the end of the day, you talked about it’s a human, it’s humans. We’re making decisions and we don’t like to be told what to do. If we’re part of the solutioning, we’re more likely to accept it. Right. As long as we were heard, we’re part of it. So, it’s an acceptance piece. And one of the things I learned this came from the quality and from change. At General Electric way, way back, they had this perfect engineering equation, q times A equals E. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it’s the quality of the change you’re driving. Times the acceptance equals the effectiveness of it. Right. So, what they’re saying is if I have a ten in quality of the change but a one in acceptance, then the effectiveness is ten. Even if I had a five in terms of the quality, but acceptance was five right away, my effectiveness is 25. So, it’s really recognizing that part of it is getting quality. Part of it is a solution that people are willing to do and that they felt they were part of. 

None of us are ever as happy when a rule is imposed on us, and we have no say. 

Oh, absolutely. I think that’s a really valuable insight, too. The analogy ops in my head from psychology is the Ikea effect. What you build is something you treasure a bit more than if I just bought furniture from somewhere else. I think whether the furniture is better or not almost doesn’t matter. I perceive it as better, and so I’m going to treasure it more. And I think a lot of safety people in particular, but you see this in other fields as well that gets so frustrated. That man, I mean, a friend, a colleague of mine had at the beginning of his book that he wrote where he said that safety people should be on everybody’s Christmas card list, but we’re not. Why is that? Because we’re trying to help everybody, but they’re not adopting what we say. And I think sometimes it’s because we’re trying to force feed them and not bringing them along and allowing them to build something that they can see themselves in. Yeah, I think it’s a shift, it’s a change, but it’s so important, especially when we want people to have another term that we are kind of talking about here is ownership. 

How can people own safety programs if we don’t let them own them? Don’t let them create it. 

I had Dr. Josh Williams on the show many months ago, and he shared some work he had done when he was in grad school, and it had to do with the implementation of an observation program many years ago, and one was done by the consultant, so it was technically the strongest observation program, and then the other one was done by the workers. They created it with some guidance, but it was theirs. The participation in the one that was created by the workers was seven x higher than the one that was probably technically stronger created by the consultant. Right. Because it was theirs. They were comfortable doing peer observations. They understood the concept, they designed it, and they understood everything that was about it. 

Yeah, I love that. Yeah. It reminds me of the concept when I do like leadership training or talk about leadership, and we try to say, okay, what is a leader, ultimately the best definition of leadership I can think of as a leader is someone who has followers and is working with those followers towards a shared goal. But if you don’t have followers, it doesn’t matter. Right. You can have a really maybe we would say a bad leader, but if they have a bunch of followers, that’s probably better than a leader without any, you know, in the same way, a solution that’s amazing. The best technology on Earth. I mean, ask Google about their glasses that no one uses. It’s not going to really be effective. 

Correct. 

So, I think yeah, having people buy into and I think that equation you said is really profound in that regard. Having people buy into it means having people create it with you.

Yeah. And more likely to follow it. Right. Because that’s the thing is you could have the perfect process, but then if people are only following when somebody’s watching, then you’ve not solved the problem. 

Absolutely. Yeah. And they follow it, I think, because A, it’s theirs. And so, there’s a pride of ownership. Right. But also, be the process of them creating it, going back to that entangled sort of goal conflicts and things, they are incorporating that subject matter expertise into the development of it. And I’ve found whenever I’ve kind of engaged in these processes, where you’re building these, whether it’s program, process, procedure, whatever with the worker, having them build it with you, it’s not uncommon. It’s actually more uncommon than not that it doesn’t happen. That I’m surprised like I never knew that, like that it was that dangerous or it was that difficult or that you had to do this other thing at the same time. And I would have never thought of that. And so, by definition, then my procedure, if I had done it, would have been flawed. It’s very humbling when you engage in it, but it’s fun at the same time. 

So, I think what you brought up is some super important points. Really. In terms of employee involvement. Walking out of the door. Being where the work is done. Whether it’s call management by walking around the gamba walks on the quality side. Asking people some really powerful questions about risk hazards. Is there a safer way to do it? Anything that’s not the usual way. The way it’s intended. That they’re having to patch around for some reason. Trying to get more work. Involvement in projects. Improvements. But making this really a way of life. And I think that’s where the secret sauce is. It’s not a project, it’s just how I show up every day is recognizing that there’s a lot of power, and a lot of knowledge in my team and I want to tap into it, use them, and leverage them to increase buy-in and to get better solutions. 

Yeah. And I guess kind of the last thing I would say, which was something, I actually was in a workshop yesterday and a union rep was in the class. It was leadership. Workshop. There’s a union rep. We’re talking about observation, leadership observation. And he said something, if your goal is to check a box, then it’s not worth your time because the workers will know. But if your goal is to make that person’s life better, they’re going to realize it quickly, and then they’re going to start engaging back with you. Because I think a lot of people don’t do this because they’re worried about the workers, don’t want me to go talk to them, and stuff like that. Well, if your goal is just to go check a box, and yeah, don’t bother. But if your goal is, I’m here to help them and help myself along the way, I think people will respond to that. 

Respond. And I think the other part is it’s a conversation that matters from the point of your observation. It’s not the observation of the tick in the box. It’s what conversation are we having? And am I recognizing you if you do something I’ve worked with some organizations just saying find one thing every week you’re going to recognize, and then once you got that, go every day because there are surely some things that are worth recognizing? But they were doing their job. Not necessarily. Because if there are things that are happening, you need to recognize the good. 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, if we’re honest, I would say, one, there’s far better happening than that, 100%. And I would take it even a step further and say, I’m not sure we even understand what the good is all the time, because the good we see is often when things go according to our plan. But if we admit that our plans are always flawed, they’re never perfect, sometimes negligible, sometimes wildly so, then, man, that means there’s something there that’s taking success from the jaws of failure. And I think we need to go out and figure that out and acknowledge that as well. 

Yeah. The favourite recognition I heard yesterday, I think it was, was an employee who saw a problem, saw there was something that wasn’t for the spec, and then brought it back and then inspected every piece of equipment on the rack to see if it was on the others. Found that, sure enough, that defect on that one thing, which was a safety hazard, also impacted all the others and then dealt with it. Right. And this is worthy of recognition ten times over because you’re going beyond I’m seeing a safety hazard on this piece of equipment, and you’re trying to fix the root cause of it. 

Yeah, absolutely. And I guess my challenge to any leader is for every one of those that we see, I bet there’s ten more that we’re just not seeing, not missing. Right. And so that creates the challenge of, okay, this is why I got to get out there more. I got to get out there and see this and learn from it. Because if in your observations, the only thing you’re getting is things are going according to plan, or people are deviating from my plan, that’s okay, but it’s not sufficient. Right. If you’ve never learned anything, or surprised by anything, then you’re probably not getting out enough. You’re not asking the right questions, you’re not engaging. 

Yeah, absolutely. There was one CEO who said, I never found the stats to see if it’s true, but he says, I want to see four times the recognition to everything that I’m finding an opportunity for improvement because we want to celebrate the goodness that’s happening every day. And so, if you’re looking for goodness, then you can celebrate it. But if most people, they’re not looking for it, they’re looking for what’s wrong that’s not on the tick box versus what’s good about today, fundamentally. 

And I think that actually gets back to a key challenge we have in safety quality. Probably also, but maybe to a lesser degree, is that it’s far easier for us to think about examples of unsafe things than it is to think about examples of safe things. Right. What was the last unsafe thing you saw? We can probably think of that pretty easily, but with the last safe thing you saw, that’s a bit harder because what does that even mean? Is it just the absence of unsafe things? Is it the presence of something else? I would say it’s more the latter than the former, but I think part of our getting out there and engaging with people is learning about what it is to be safe. And, yeah, we’re also going to help the workers learn about that, too. But if we’re not learning on that process as well right? That’s where the recognition starts to come in because you start to realize, wow, there’s a lot more going on than I expected. These people are doing way better. 

Job than I expected, or they’re dealing with a lot of things that are not as expected, that is not for the plan, and they’re fixing it. So, the scooters on that front because they’re fixing it safely, but still learn from what’s happening. 

Absolutely. Yeah. Totally agree. And need a lot more of that. 

Definitely. So, Ron, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom on this very important topic. And I really encourage people, even if it’s a baby step, to start thinking about how I engage my workers more, how do I get them to participate, and how I get them part of a safety program. Even designing key elements of your strategy just really rethink the power equation in terms of who has the most knowledge and information that can improve our safety performance. So, thank you so much for sharing that, Ron. 

My pleasure. Thanks for having me. It’s a fun conversation. 

Definitely.  

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the path. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo consulting.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Ron Gantt has over 20 years of experience in health and safety management, human factors, and system safety working with industries such as high technology, construction, utilities, and chemical manufacturing. He has undergraduate degrees in psychology and occupational safety as well as a graduate degree in safety engineering. Ron is also currently finishing his PhD in cognitive systems engineering at the Ohio State University. He has numerous certifications related to safety management, including being a Board Certified Safety Professional. Ron is currently the Head of HSE – Americas for Yondr Group.

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In this thought-provoking episode, we tap into the expertise of Dave Ulrich, one of the Top Management and Leadership Gurus who has been ranked as the #1 most influential person in HR. Gather key insights from his approaches that have helped elevate the role of HR into a more strategic function in leading organizations and grasp how Safety Executives can leverage similar approaches to increase influence in the C-Suite.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost. For the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and safety guru, public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.  

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru today. I’m honored to have Dave Ulrich with me. He’s widely recognized as one of the top management gurus in leadership. He has been called the most influential HR leader of the decade, the father of modern human resources. He’s named one of the 20 most influential business professors in the world and ranked the number one management educator and guru by Businessweek and listed in Forbes as one of the world’s top five business coaches. Dave Ulrich is the Rentis Lyker Professor at the Raw School of Business, University of Michigan, and a partner at the RBL Group, a consulting firm that’s focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value. He has published over 200 articles and book chapters and over 30 books. He is born of Herman Miller company for 16 years perform workshops for over half of the Fortune 200. In addition to coaching successful business leaders. I had the honor of collaborating with Dave nearly a decade ago on an executive development program and saw his genius come to life with a very senior audience. Dave, what struck me was really how you made the complex simple. I’m truly honored to have you join me on the podcast today.  

I have to first ask you; how do you accomplish so much and leave such an amazing legacy?  

I eat a lot. Food is the fuel. I’m not sure I’ve left a legacy, but I have an engine inside that somehow keeps driving me. And I think so do you. I should go to you. You’re the Safety Guru so I could ask you the same question. I love ideas. I think ideas are the oil of the world and it’s fun to shape and discover ideas. And I want to learn with you today. Eric, this is going to be a great discussion. 

Excellent. So, Dave, you’re widely known in HR circles. Everybody that I’ve connected to an HR thinks of you in really high regards. Somebody could wonder why I’m inviting you to this podcast that’s focused on safety and leaders focus on safety. And I think it’s really simple. You’ve had such a tremendous impact on transforming the role of HR many organizations, and I think it really could serve the blueprint for how safety organizations that have very similar corporate roles have an equally impact on team members. And so, in my experience, many safety organizations haven’t yet elevated their role to be a strategic partner in the same way that HR has done over the last few years. So, if you could share a little bit about some of your insights around elevating the role of HR and turning into a very powerful engine towards strategy.  

Again, HR is not all the way there yet, but let me try to do that with an example. In the last three weeks, we were teaching a course at the University of Michigan where I’m privileged to teach, and about 25 people came in for a two-week course. And we said, what do you want to learn? And they mentioned the HR issues. I want to learn about leadership development, executive compensation, changing a culture, Dei, big issue, hybrid work. And then at the end of the week, the two weeks, they said, good, I’ve got a template. I’m going to go back to my business leader and show them the work plan for name one of those diversity culture, leadership. And I’m going to show them the plan. And I said, wrong. When you go back to your business leader, you do not start with your plan. You start with the question, what’s the business issue our company is wrestling with. What’s the business issue? The business issue may be cost, it may be innovation, it may be global distribution, it may be digital, it may be technology. What’s the business issue we as a member of the business team are wrestling with and then show how what you know and do in HR will enable that business issue. 

That mindset is a different shift. So, culture, leadership, executive, comp. Yeah, they’re all critical, but you start with the business. The other thing that might be helpful for your audience, our audience for the next few minutes is two words so that people came in, they wrote on a flip chart. Because I’m old and we still use flip charts in person classes. I want to learn about hybrid work. I want to learn about culture, the great resignation. And I said, go to the flip chart and write two words so that that’s it. So that and unless the so that leads to a business outcome, you’re not going to have the impact. Business leaders don’t care as much about some of the technical issues in HR. And every time I say HR, in my mind, I’ve seen Eric is replacing the word safety. They don’t care as much about the technical issues in HR, but they do care about the outcome of those issues. That’s the headline. My headline is HR is not about HR. It’s about helping the business succeed in the marketplace. Safety is not about safety alone. It’s about helping our business be successful in the marketplace where we have to be successful. 

I think that’s a really important point. The other element is the role of elevating. Safety is much bigger than just having rules. It’s also getting into the culture space. It’s thinking about how to elevate the role of leaders. But we also know from organizations that have done safety very well that you actually create a great learning organization because safety is really about learning, understanding events that happen, making sure they don’t happen again, disseminating that information. So, shifting as well the conversation and not just be about an injury rate. If I’m hearing you correct, it’s also so that we can connect to some of the other business priorities. 

Yeah. I mean, let’s play that out. I’ll play it out with you. We want to manage our injury rate, which is critical. Right. So that what! let me play it with you. I want to manage the injury rate. That’s the data that I see. So that what. 

So that our team members are happy to come here, feel safe, and know that they’ll come home to their loved one’s day in and day out. 

And I’m going to keep going. That’s still inside the company. 

So that we have a better employee experience and that’s teams, members, safety and et cetera. 

So that what? So that when you think about what you were just talking about, the great resignation, that we can keep the best talent within the organization.  

By the way, I’m being obnoxious.  

I love obnoxious.  

Let me tell you where I’m going. I think until the soldier gets to a stakeholder outside the company, we’re not fully engaged. For example, I want to do safety incidents so that our employees have a better experience and they can return home safely with their loved ones so that our customers have a better experience. And the correlation between employee experience and customer experience is very high. And I want a customer experience so that our investors have a better experience. If we get a higher customer valuation, the investor value goes up. And suddenly I’ve created a value chain, and the Soviet forces me to get outside the company to not just say it’s about safety and wearing harnesses. Those are events. But so that gets me outside. By the way, the other place is fun to start is to say to the business leader, what is it you’re worried about today? What is she or he worried about? I’m worried about innovation. Then you say, because of what’s going to drive innovation in my company because of financial resources. Great. Because of employees, because of their safety and their wellbeing. 

And I can go so that or because of and starting with either the safety or HR activity or the outcome. And suddenly I’m building a bridge, and it’s that bridge. And by the way, I didn’t mean to be rude to you, but I think that so that really pushes the assumption. It pushes the assumption. And eventually the so that should almost always be customer. My headline is, I’ll give an example I use in HR, and you can translate the safety.   

Sure.   

What’s the most important thing that HR can give an employee belief, meaning become growth, belong, community, or all the above or none of the above, and everybody votes all the above.  

Right. 

And it’s wrong. The most important thing you can give an employee is a company that succeeds in the marketplace, because unless and until you succeed in the marketplace, there is no workplace. By the way, you’re lucky to have not worked with me in the company that I’ve often worked with. I’ve worked in towards our Circuit City, Eastman Kodak. I’ve worked in so many great companies that don’t exist anymore. And you know what? They had great internal practices, but they weren’t connected to the customer. And unless we succeed in that marketplace, there is no workplace. And I find HR people get really offended. Well, I’m here to make people feel good. No, you’re not. You’re here to help succeed in the marketplace, because if you fell in the marketplace, that’s the most dehuman. Well, I’m here to humanize the workplace. No, the most dehumanizing thing you can have is 100,000 employees out of work.  

Right.  

That’s dehumanizing. You go out and you build your system so that you succeed in the marketplace. By the way, I got passionate on that. I probably should be more temperate, but I just think sometimes we get so enamored with our activities and what we do. Now, the second point you raised, which I love, HR is often seen as an event. It’s a pay event. It’s a training event. It’s a hiring or promotion event. You got to change the event into a pattern. And the pattern is the culture. There’s a lot of isolated events. Safety is an event, but the culture is when that event becomes a sustainable pattern. And that pattern is embedded in how we think and act and feel, and it drives the events. It’s not about an event. It’s about a pattern that allows us to be successful over time. And I’m assuming you’ve been in companies. Well, I’d love to ask you, because I want to learn from you. Can you think of a company where safety is an event or a pattern? What’s the difference in those companies?  

I think the organizations where safety is an event is everything is geared and act. Everything is around. Somebody had an injury, and we mobilized to understand how to resolve it. Right. So, it’s very incident driven. A pattern is where it’s a true learning organization. We’re learning from events before anything actually happens. We may have had a near miss. We may have seen something that could have gone wrong, and we start thinking about how do I prevent it from happening before something more serious happened?  

I love it. So, an event is almost an afterthought. A pattern is an anticipation that I can predict. That’s really helpful, Eric, because I see that in HR as well. And we have a whole lot of events, but they get strung together with a string of pearls to create a pattern. And I think that’s where HR suddenly gets helpful. Is that it becomes an ongoing pattern of how we think about treating our people. It’s not an event. Gee, on Tuesday, I’m going to call Jody and tell her she’s great. No, that’s an event or we’re going to have a succession planning day at the board. No, it’s a pattern of treating people with respect. And I assume that same pattern has to occur within safety. You got to get a safety pattern. Now what does that require? A lot of things. I mean, we’ve looked at how do you sustain initiatives? I just got asked. We’re doing some work-on-work tasks. And how do you change the nature of work? Do not focus on the job or the person, but the task. And there are some lessons we’ve learned about making change a sustainable pattern. 

Happy to share those. But, boy, this has been great. Number one, safety is not about safety. It’s about helping our company succeed in the marketplace, too. We do that by creating a pattern, not a set of discrete, isolated events. That’s really helpful.  

Absolutely. And I think that’s the same element where you’re advocating is really bring the role of HR. I would argue safety is the same. Elevate it think more strategic, connect with the executives to have access to that C-suite because we’re solving the issues that matter there. How does an organization transform towards it? How has successful organizations shifted the pattern from more administrative practices to strategic?  

There’s a lot of initiatives in a company, dozens of administrative initiatives. Safety ESG, lots of initiatives we’ve studied. How do you make sure that those initiatives become sustainable changes? We’ve identified seven things. Now going through seven is going to bore your listeners to death. So, I’ll try to make it interesting. Think of this, by the way, the metaphor I love is a pilot’s checklist. Imagine you got on a plane and the pilot’s door was open and it never would be. And the pilot said, we’re too busy today. Let’s just skip the checklist. 

No, you don’t want that.  

I give up. Or the pilot says, let’s do every other item. Now, here’s the seven things, and they start with where you focus. One, you got to have leadership support, right? I got to have a sponsor and a champion who says, this is something I personally and using my status and role and title, stand behind in HR. You’ve got to have business leaders who adopted, who adapted, who make that part of their identity. And so, a business leader in safety has got to model safety. You’ve got to live safety. You’ve got to talk about it. Number one, leadership. Number two. And these are going to be so obvious. I share these with senior executives, and they go and I say, that’s the pilot checklist. Your pilot says, wow, what is that rudder? You don’t want this to be educational. You want it to be disciplined. Number two, you got to create a business need, right? What’s the business case for doing safety? Safety is not just about caring for our people. There is a business case. That’s what we started with. How will it add value to customers? Investor number three, you got to have a clear vision and direction.  

What does safety mean? And I think what do we mean when we say we’re going to be more safe? And I hope it’s not just physical, but I hope it’s also psychological. 100%, yes, that safety is a multi-dimensional concept. And let me just stop with those three for a minute. You got to have a leadership support champion sponsor. You got to have a business case, and you got to have a clear sense of what safety looks like. Those three make sense as a starting point. 

100% makes sense. And I agree with your commentary on psychological safety because what I just shared before, where it’s a pattern, people are speaking up. They’re questioning the work in front of them if something doesn’t feel right so that we’re learning before anything ever happens.  

Actually, that’s really helpful. You just hit a third safety, one, physical safety, which is no question that’s ladders and physical harm and death and also covert and injury. Psychological safety, which is mental health, emotional well-being, which I think is growing right now. I think the pandemic comes down to be an endemic. And we talked earlier. I had to look up that word. But the emotional mental health issue is going crazy. The third safety you just mentioned is social safety, that an employee feels that he or she has a right to speak up, that I share your socials safety net, that I can tell my boss what I’m feeling without the repercussion. That’s actually very interesting to think of. Physical cycle. Okay, leader, I’m going to give my checklist now. I’m a pilot. We have a leader. Do we have a business need? Do we have a vision? Number four, which is the most critical? Have we engaged everybody in the process? Safety is not a random event. It’s getting everybody connected to making it real. It’s not a communication. It’s not a random actor. And we talked about that. Engaging everyone is so critical.  

Number five, have we translated safety? I got to go back to number four, engaging everyone in the HR space. Things happened. We had tragedy with diversity, with death and tragedy in the Ukraine, there was a tragedy and companies send out a broadcast. We stand with Ukraine George Floyd. We stand with these issues. To be honest, those are not very helpful because they’re isolated events. Sending out a safety announcement doesn’t do as much. So, you got to really engage people. Number four. Number five, you got to identify decisions. Now you’re the safety expert, not me. In the next 30, 60, 90 days, what decisions can we make that will drive safety? In HR? We do the same thing. What decisions can we make and get clear. Number six, we got to weave it into our systems, budgeting system, talent system, huge. It can’t be a standalone event. It’s what I just said with the George Floyd communicate. I don’t disagree with communication, but I do think it’s got to be woven in. And finally, number seven, you got to monitor progress and track it. You got to keep track and learn and grow. That’s your learning organization.  

I’ll do it quickly. You got to have a leader. You got to have a business need. You got to have a direction. Number four, you got to mobilize commitment. You got to get people bought into it. Number five, you got to translate it to very precise decisions. Number six, you build systems around it. And number seven, you create learning that we grow. Those seven dimensions are not new. But in fact, when I’ve shared those with business leaders, they go, I’m paying you for this insight. I could have come up with those seven in ten minutes. And I said, why would it take you ten? It takes you two. But the discipline like a pile of checklist to do. That is what really helps. And I hope safety is about disciplines, it’s about protocols. And that’s the actionable protocol we’ve seen.  

I think the element you talked about touching the last two, weaving into the budgets so important because simple decisions around I need to reduce the cost. And this PNL, and I don’t think about what could go wrong. We saw it with a Boeing 737 Max not so long ago. In terms of decisions that are intended for the right reason to maybe reduce costs, improve profitability, can have the wrong impact if you don’t think about what could go wrong. Right. And then you talk about monitoring. One of your books touches on some of the metrics of the leading indicators. The leading indicators, to me is key because the Lagging indicator is interesting but not useful. It doesn’t tell you how your performance is going to go. You want to think about how am I adding value? How am I engaging employees around improving their safety practices, how we’re learning? These are all leading indicators that I think need to be embedded in the business and elevated.  

I totally agree. I love your first point there around, we often cut what looks simple to cut. For example, in the HR, we’ll cut training, and that makes sense. But remember, the training and development is the fuel that drives the engine and you run out of fuel and the engine doesn’t work. And I’m sure the same would be true in safety. There are investments that we have to make. What would be some lead indicators? Again, I’m spoiled because I get to learn from the Safety Guru what would be some lead indicators that you think people might want to track around safety?  

This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting. The leading safety and safety Culture Advisory Firm Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit us www.propulo.com. 

There’s certain things around how many employees have been involved in improvements, right. So, you had a book many, many years ago on workout, which was really about creating boundaryless organization, really about employee involvement and engagement. Same concept. Just are we leveraging our employees to drive improvements? How many near misses are we seeing? Are we really learning? So, you talked about aviation at checklist. There’s about 60,000 year misses are reported by the FAA every year. And then your miss could be something benign, could be something a little bit more substantial. But people are comfortable raising issues, right. So, we forgot this item on the checklist might end up being a near miss, to use your earlier analogy. And so, an organization where people have the psychological safety and the social safety, you’re going to see a lot of those near miss reporting. People are going to look at it, they’ll stop work and say, what just happened? How do we make sure this doesn’t happen again? Just a few samples.  

I love that. And you use the word earlier. I love learning. Create a learning culture. And we’re using Airlines a lot. I fly quite a bit, or I used to fly quite a bit before the last couple of years. I always got mystified that when it rained, everything shut down. And I thought, these executives have some form of corporate Alzheimer’s. It’s rained before. Don’t you realize that? We’ve had rain and we can actually manage. And it feels like we’re not creating a learning agenda. And I think that’s really cool about near misses. So how do we learn? And hopefully nobody ever loses a life or a limb or something tragic. But how do we learn to avoid that? And anticipate. I really like that idea. And I see companies not doing that very often. The other thing I’ve seen in safety is to get the symbolism of safety there. I mean, you know this and I’m telling safety people obvious stuff, which shows I’m not a guru in safety. In a lot of manufacturing plants, every meeting begins with a safety discussion, right?  

Absolutely.  

Now let me throw something out to think out loud. Medtronic’s is a firm that makes stuff that you don’t want to have to use. It’s heart valves and things in your body, medical devices. They like to begin most of their meetings with a customer who comes in or patient and says, thank you, your valve saved my life. It would be interesting to try to elevate safety, not just here’s a safety minute, which is a great idea safety moment, but to talk about what that means a family member or somebody outside the company. To say, let me just tell you how important safety is. Let me give one example. As I’m thinking out loud, a number of years ago, GE, they still make aircraft engines. One of their engines went bad and the pilot was close to death. I mean, because the engine was bad, and you could hear his tension in his voice. And the plane crashed. He bailed out and was thankfully saved. What GE aircraft engine did was very clever. They brought him in to speak to every employee group and stood up and he said, let me share the last five minutes of the cockpit conversation where he is literally scared to death.  

You hear it, you hear the tension, you guys goofed. Something didn’t work and it almost cost me my life. When you talk about quality or TQM, whatever it is, it’s not abstract.  

Right.  

The people who saw that in the Cincinnati plant many years ago said we’ve heard so many statistics about quality and we’ve had little lectures on quality tools. Nothing means much more than a pilot coming in and saying, what you did here almost cost me my life. Get on board now. He said it in a more positive way, of course. 

Right.  

It would be fascinating to have some of that. 

And some organizations have done that, and they’ve done it in terms of either somebody who got injured or even reflections as to who do I stay safe for? Because there’s an element of personal choice. Right. So, internalizing that motivation. The other theme that I’ve seen work really well in the organizations is beyond the safety moment. Don’t go on a ladder with that. Whatever is start pushing some reflections. Tell me about a leader that really influenced your safety. What was unique about them? More open-ended questions to reflect on where I’ve seen good happen. Maybe where I’ve had some shortcuts that I’ve taken in the past, recognizing that I’m not perfect and talking about where I’ve made maybe the wrong choice or a good choice where I’ve been influenced by. 

I love it. And again, I said I was going to learn. Nobody can see this because we’re video. I’ve got a page of notes. I’ve got two notes. Strike me, then put a face on safety. Personalized.  

Yes, I really like that. 

The second is use reflections to anticipate. What did I do today that worked? What did I do that potentially increased risk? So, I like that. Put a face on safety and use reflection time to get ahead of what could go wrong. I love that anticipation is about risk and companies are doing risk audits all the time. Safety should be a part of that risk audit. And what are the reflections that I could anticipate where things might go wrong, by the way, I say that and I look at my office where I’m sitting right now and going, oh my gosh, look at all this. But again, we don’t want to overbear it. We don’t want it to be overbearing, but it goes back to where we started. Why do we do this? We do this so that an employee has a good experience, so that a customer investor have good experiences, and it begins to make a difference. 

I really like that you shared some great ideas on the strategic relationship. How do I elevate the conversations? I think the other element that I see with an HR that’s important is also the HR business partner model and how I’m aligning in HR with each line of business to understand their priorities and connecting with them to make sure that I’m adding value. Could you maybe share some insights there? Because I think that same approach works in corporate functions. In terms of how do I become that thinking partner for the operational leader? Maybe at a site?  

Let’s go back to the case I started with of somebody who left our program at Michigan and sat down with their business leader and said, the business partner starts with, what are we trying to accomplish as a business innovation, digital transformation, whatever the business is. Then the second question is, how can I help us make that happen? Notice it’s us, not you. How can I help us make that happen? And I then bring some of my tools to that agenda. This is what often happens. The business leader says here’s what I want. I want people to do this. I want people to do that safety. Here’s what I want. 

Sure. 

I think I can tell you more not just what you want, but also what you need. By the way, this is a broader issue. I think people are feeling a little bit entitled right now. They want to work at home. I don’t want to drive 401 to Toronto. That traffic is horrible. I’ve been there. I don’t want to drive on that road. I want to work up north. I want to work in wherever and just work remotely and get paid the same. Well, what you want is good business leader. What you want is good. But I also can tell you some things that you need. And I think the challenge is responding to what people want, but also guiding people on what they need. And that’s what we’re helping HR people do. For example, I want you to go hire people. I want you to train people. I want you to pay people. I want you to do career management with people. And the HR businessperson says, that’s great, that’s great. We’ll hire, we’ll train. All of that will do around people. But let me tell you what you need. You’ve got to build a culture. 

And if all you do is those events around talent, you’re not building the team. You’re not building the capability. So, what you want is to treat people well, don’t disagree. What you need is to turn people into a high performing team. And when you can make that happen, you’re going to have more success. I hope in safety, we don’t just say, here’s what you want. You want lower incidents; you want harnesses on ladders? No. Here’s what you also need. And I’m going to bring you some ideas that will help make that happen and then describe it in a very simple way. You said, I turned complexity into simplicity. Thank you for that. I hope so. To say, let me give you two or three things you might do. I’ll give an example of that. Sure. We worked with a person doing HR, and their business leader was traveling around the world visiting ten countries on tour. Those things happen, and it could be a plant visit, it could be site visits, whatever. The HR person went to the person coordinating the senior executive trip and said to that person, when she or he visits a plant, would you mind asking a couple of questions? 

How’s the culture here? How are you treating people? Almost didn’t matter.  

Right?  

But when the business leader went out on that tour, they asked those questions. And by asking the questions, the business leader began to behave as if he was committed, or she was committed to the human resource issues. Safety, simple action. Get your business leader to begin to ask the safety questions, to begin to probe safety in their daily routines. How’s the business doing? Oh, it’s great. Well, our profits, our margins, our customer scores. How are we doing with some of the safety issues? What are you thinking? Just not a big deal. Just throw it in. Don’t say the world is going to stop. We’re now going to do 20 minutes on safety. No, we’re going to make a part of the routine. By the way, that business leader came back after visiting ten countries and said, wow, I got some great insights. So that’s kind of the idea. When you get people to behave as if they’re committed in a public way, they’ll become more committed. And when you get people to behave as if they’re committed to safety in a public way, they’ll probably become more committed to it.  

I would say many of the questions you shared on those tours are the exact same ones that somebody that’s committed on the safety side should also be asking how people treating you here when there’s an issue, how are we solving it? Things of that nature, asking for input is so critical, the safety component as well. But even the broader culture elements. 

One of my takeaways today is often when I think of safety and I have a narrow mindset, I’m broadening it. I think of physical safety. I’ve got psychological safety, and I really like that idea of social safety. Are we creating a social work setting where people have a safety to voice their opinions? I think that’s a critical piece and I love it. I know we’ve gone a long time. You are so good at this. I can see why you’re the safety guru. 

Thank you. Dave. You have so many great ideas, and I think the element I would also advocate is there is so much opportunity for better collaboration between the HR groups and the safety groups because both need to bring culture to the forefront to be able to drive impact. Both care about how the leaders show up because we know in both cases that has such an impact. And there’s opportunities for better collaboration because at the end of the day, when you talked about psychological safety and social safety, these are themes that are critically important for safety but also for HR, no question. 

We did some research what makes a great HR Department, and guess what? The structure of the Department didn’t matter very much. What mattered the most was the relationships between the HR people. Do we collaborate? Do we work well with each other? Do we have a positive, related the example I love, and this may or may not apply to safety? I assume it does. There’s a tool called Rasi, responsible, accountable, consultant, informed, and you go through it. I’ve been married 45 years. I’m old. Not once in 45 years have my wife and I sat down Sunday night and done a formal Rasp laundry, shopping, cooking, paying bills, caring for kids. You know what? We have a relationship. Last week she was swamped. She was really busy. So, here’s what I do, and you do the same thing. I went shopping, I Cook food, I did laundry because that was my relationship. This week I’m a little busy, and so she’s doing that. I mean, we’ve got to build relationships within safety, between safety, HR, it finances, and with us and the business leaders. And when those relationships work, the roles don’t matter as much. If you have clear roles but not a good relationship, you won’t get things done. 

So, I know we’ve gone over I really appreciate a sensitivity to safety and using safety so that our employees have a better experience so that our customers, investors, and communities have a better experience. 

Dave, thank you so much for coming. I think you brought some really great ideas from the HR space that really apply in the safety space. I encourage anyone to pick up any of your titles, your books, you publish, Leadership Code, Results, Bayless Leadership, the one on Workout. As the list goes on. You’ve got a lot of great insights that I think applies when the safety world. And I really encourage people to pick up, reflect and see what could work for them.  

You got it. Thank you so much. Thank you. 

Thank you, Dave. 

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Eric Michrowski: https://ericmichrowski.com

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Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and a partner at the RBL Group (http://www.rbl.net) a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value.  He has published over 200 articles and book chapters and over 30 books. He edited Human Resource Management 1990-1999, served on editorial board of 4 Journal and on the Board of Directors for Herman Miller (16 years), has spoken to large audiences in 90 countries; performed workshops for over half of the Fortune 200; coached successful business leaders, and is a Distinguished Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources. He is known for continually learning, turning complex ideas into simple solutions, and creating real value to those he works with in three fields.

Organization.  With co-authors, he has influenced thinking about modern organizations (Reinventing the Organization) by empirically showing how organization delivers 4 times business results over talent (Victory Through Organization), defined organizations as bundles of capabilities (Organization Capability) and worked to delineate capabilities of talent management (Why of Work; Talent Accelerator), culture change (GE Workout), learning (Learning Organization Capability), and collaboration (Boundaryless Organization).   

Leadership.  With colleagues, he has also articulated the basics of effective leadership (Leadership Code and Results Based Leadership), connected leadership with customers (Leadership Brand), shown how leadership delivers market value (Why the Bottom Line Isn’t), shapes investor expectations with an ability to measure leadership (Leadership Capital Index), and synthesized ways to ensure that leadership aspirations turn into actions (Leadership Sustainability). 

Human Resources.  He and his colleagues have shaped the HR profession and he has been called the “father of modern HR” and “HR thought leader of the decade” by focusing on HR outcomes, governance, competencies, and practices (HR Champions; HR Value Added; HR Transformation; HR Competencies; HR Outside In).  He spearheaded a “gift” book on the future of HR (The Rise of HR) distributed to over 1,500,000 HR professionals), in which 70 thought leaders freely shared their insights.

Most recently, he posts new articles and insights each Tuesday on LinkedIn (over 150).

Honors include:

2022:

*One of top 30 People Analytics leaders by Perceptyx

*#6 (out of 200) thought leader in leadership by LeadersHum

2021:

*Lifetime Achievement Award from Institute of Management Studies

*#3 (out of 200) thought leader in 2021 by PeopleHum

* “Most Influential Global HR Leader, 2021” sponsored by PeopleFirst and HRD Forum

* “Honorary Member” of IFTDO (500,000-person training/development organization)

2020:

*Distinguished Fellow (one of 15 total), National Academy of Human Resources

*Michael R. Losey Excellence in Human Resource Research Award by SHRM

*Honorary Doctorate from Utah Valley University

*Initiated the Dave Ulrich Impact Award by the Academy of Management to honor contribution in HR

2019:

*Named one of the 100 top influencers in HR (in leadership & development category)

*Named one of the top 20 influential HR leaders

*Ranked #1 thought leader in HR by HRD Connect

2018:

Named one of the 20 most influential business professors in the world by top-business-degree (#13)

2017:

*Named to the Thinkers50 “Hall of Fame”, a recognition of lifetime achievement in influencing management

*Chartered Fellow of the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand

2016:

Presidential lecture “in defense of organization” for Utah Valley University

2015:

*Named the most “influential HR thinker of the decade”

*Listed in Thinkers50 as management thought leader

*Commencement Speaker Southern Virginia University

2014:

*Ranked #1 speaker in Management/Business by Speaking.com

*Commencement speaker, University of Michigan Ross School of Business

2013:

*Lifetime Leadership Award from the Leadership Forum at Silver Bay

*Listed in Thinkers50 as a management thought leader

2012:

Lifetime Achievement Award from HR Magazine for being the “father of modern human resources”

2011:

 *Ranked #1 most influential international thought leader in HR by HR Magazine

*Listed in Thinkers50 as a management thought leader

*Ranked in Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Leadership Behavior

2010:

*Nobels Colloquia Prize for Leadership on Business and Economic Thinking

*Lifetime Fellowship in Australia Human Resources Institute (AHRI)

*Ranked #1 most influential international thought leader in HR by HR Magazine

*Kirk Englehardt Exemplary Business Ethics Award from Utah Valley University

*Why of Work (co-authored with Wendy Ulrich) was #1 best seller for Wall Street Journal and USA Today

2009:

*Listed in Thinkers 50 as a management thought leader

*Ranked #1 most influential person in HR by HR Magazine

2008:

*Ranked #1 most influential person in HR by HR Magazine

2007:

*Lifetime Achievement Award from American Society of Training and Development (ASTD)

*Honorary Doctorate from University of Abertey, at Dundee Scotland

2006:

*Ranked #1 most influential person in HR by HR Magazine in vote by influential HR thinkers

*Dyer Distinguished Alumni Award from Brigham Young University, Marriott School of Management

2005:

*Ranked #2 management guru by Executive Excellence

*Named by Fast Company as one of the 10 most innovative and creative thinkers of 2005

  • President, Canada Montreal Mission, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

2001:

Ranked #1 management educator and guru by Business Week

2000:

*Lifetime achievement award from World Federation of Personnel Management

*Listed in Forbes as one of the “world’s top five” business coaches

1998:

*Society for Human Resource Management award for Professional Excellence for lifetime contributions

*Lifetime achievement (PRO) award from International Association of Corporate and Professional Recruitment, and Employment Management Association

1997:

*Warner W. Stockberger Lifetime Achievement Award from International Personnel Management Association

Dave and Wendy live in Alpine, Utah, have 3 children and 10 grandchildren.

Contact e-mail:  [email protected]

 

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RELATED EPISODE

New Year Special Episode – 4 Safety Megatrends for 2022 with Dr. Josh Williams, Martin Royal and Eduardo Lan

New Year Special Episode_The Safety Guru

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE: 

ABOUT THE EPISODE

As you prepare to ring in the new year, tune in to this special episode featuring safety experts Eric Michrowski, Martin Royal, Eduardo Lan, and Dr. Josh Williams from Propulo Consulting. They take the time to discuss important topics such as how to return to the workplace safely, learning organization, investment in safety coaching, and the evolution of Human and Organizational Performance. You are sure to gain beneficial insights as each expert highlights a specific safety megatrend to focus on in 2022.

Happy New Year!

READ THIS EPISODE

Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suit. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is the Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized option safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now. 

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru today. I’m very excited as we start preparing the countdown for the new year to have a great episode lined up for you. It’s four safety megatrends. Trends for 2022, 22 is the year ahead is two plus two. So, we have four experts with us that are going to share four key megatrends to start looking out for in 2022. 

Wow. Are you ready? Let’s go. Three, two, one together with me. 

I have Dr. Josh Williams, who’s been on our show several times. Josh, do you want to say a quick intro to yourself, everybody? 

Yeah, I’m happy to be here excited for 2022. And I’ve been doing this 20 something years, getting old. But looking forward to our session today. Thanks, Eric. 

Excellent. Well, thank you. And also have with me, Martin Royal. Martin Royal has been with Propulo for well over ten years. He’s been doing a lot of phenomenal work with leaders as part of organizational change. Martin, do you want to do a quick intro to yourself? 

For sure. Thanks, Eric. Glad to be on the show today and looking forward to discussing more about learning cultures today. 

Excellent. Thank you. Eduardo, who is coming back on the show, partners with Propulo Consulting, has been doing phenomenal work or driving organizational change more specifically, last 15-20 years, specifically around safety culture. Eduardo, welcome back. 

Thank you, Eric. Happy to be here with you and the rest of the audience really looking forward to this conversation and to helping leaders create environments where people can work safely and do so because they want to not just because they have to. 

Excellent love that. Okay. So, four topics, as I promised, looking at 2022. First one, we’re going to talk a little bit about the new normal with COVID. What is back to the workplace means how it’s impacting mental health, stress, fatigue and active care and what that means for safety. Then we’re going to talk into Behop with Dr. Josh, leading the conversation around some of the evolution around behavior-based safety integration around human performance. Then we’re going to go jump into Martin, who’s going to talk about learning organization, one of the key themes of a great safety culture and moving on. Really where the rubber hits the road. We’re going to pass it on to Eduardo, who’s going to talk about supervisory skills and how do you Hone those into 2022 to get real impact? 

So first, let me start a little bit on the new normal. So obviously dates have been changing for returning to the workplace. New variants are up in the news as we record this episode getting ready for the new Year hybrid remote work, return to work. Who really knows what’s happening? Some businesses have set on it. 

Some are still migrating. Well, what does that mean? From a safety standpoint? First, from a mental health standpoint, it’s so important. We’ve talked about another episode of The Safety Guru. Mental health is critically important, not just from wellbeing of the workforce, thinking about all the effects that mental health has taken over the last two years or so. But it also has a direct impact when it comes to safety performance. If you’re maybe distracted, there’s things on your mind. You’re not focused full attention on your job that poses a safety risk. 

And so that’s whereas a safety professional, it’s really important to start bridging that divide between mental health, which is often discussed in the HR field with the safety side of the equation. And that’s really where active care matters. If I know who my team members are, I notice that maybe somebody’s off a little bit today. Maybe I need to check in to see how they’re doing. Are they okay? I love there’s this quote in Australia where the way they talk about mental health is simply with the expression, Are you okay? 

So really reflecting connecting with your team members, knowing when something is a little bit different, something’s a little bit off and having the courage to jump in and really check in with them. So mental health, I think, is going to be hugely important as we start getting into 2022. The next one is really around stress and fatigue. We’ve talked about a lot. We’ve done some work internally on our list of the five key drivers of human error. Number one on that list is stress and fatigue. 

Stress is obviously incredibly present. Over the last 18 to 20 months, people have been mostly working harder, longer hours. There are more changes in the workplace that drives stress that also drives fatigue. If I’m not getting a good night rest, then I’m going to be more fatigue, which we know can put me in front of greater risk when I’m not fully there and fully focused, which really gets me into active care. And really that theme around something that most organizations have been talking about for the last 2030 years around safety. 

It really does matter. I talked about it before in terms of mental health. I know my team members; I know how they’re showing up. I’m more likely to be able to notice that something is different. I wrote an article just a few weeks ago. It was published in Forbes magazine. We had done a survey several months back and 80% of businesses that we had surveyed. We had talked to obviously, on the more mature side of safety, cultures reported that they had shown some improvements around how leaders showed up around active care. 

Phenomenally important. What’s important is also how do I embed that into the business? How do I start thinking about those themes, capturing the learnings and really making it real in the day to day? If you haven’t checked it out, that’s on Forbes. Forbes.com (https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/12/01/beyond-back-to-normal-embedding-positive-changes-into-your-safety-culture/?utm_content=189459539&utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkedin&hss_channel=lcp-27064223&sh=19ea9f7432e9). You can have a quick look and really around active care is really this element of self-leadership. And how as a leader, I’m building in a conversation how I’m being recognized and that has a direct correlation to outcomes. We were doing some work with one of our clients. 

And what was really interesting is we started seeing a strong correlation between outcome indicators of safety performance and whether team members had interacted over the last month around safety. Perhaps with coaching conversations. That element of felt leadership was so directly correlated to outcomes really critically important. Josh is going to talk about it very soon when we start talking about conversations he shared just this morning with me an article that talked about how having good conversations around observations can lead to 47% improvement around Sith’s and a 60% reduction around hazards showing up in the workplace. 

So, on that note, I don’t know if any of you have anything to jump in on this theme of mental health, stress and fatigue and active care. So critical as you start looking at 2022 and really bridging the gap between what’s traditionally the domain of HR and the domain of safety. Yeah. 

I mean, my experience I think we could all in this collection relate to. It is when we’re talking with folks, whether we’re doing assessments, interviews, focus groups, we’re hearing stress more and more. Ever since Kobe hit everybody we talked to; it seems like doing more with less. It’s tough. So, we feel for people out there. Everyone’s kind of in the same boat struggling through it. And the felt leadership is a big part. But we’re going to talk about human performance and how that relates to default leadership. 

And, Eric, if I can let me just jump in for a bit, human performance is all the rage right now. People are talking about hop, or we call it Bee hop. So just a quick. I’m just going to do a quick background on behavioral safety, kind of the evolution and human performance and what that means for the good conversations we need to have with folks and this notion of felt leadership, how we transform a culture. So just back in the old days, when I was coming up, behavioral safety was taken over. 

Before that, there was a lot of emphasis on attitudes and motivation. Those are important things. The challenge was, what do we do with it? Sometimes you get a one and done motivational inspiring presentation or whatever or training. But then that’s it. What do we do? So behavioral safety came in. And of all the research out there, if you want to get nerdy and start looking up statistics and research in the safety field, you’re not going to find more than you will on behavioral safety. It has been studied for decades. 

There’s all kinds of science and research showing the benefits of behavioral safety and what it did was kind of transform the focus, not just in teams of what I’m thinking and feeling, but what am I doing? As we all know, if you minimize risky behaviors on the front end, you minimize the chance of something bad happening on the back end. I mean, I hate to be cold talking about human life, but in many ways it is a math equation. Fewer risky behaviors in the front end equals less chance of something going wrong in the back and doesn’t guarantee it. 

But it makes it a lot less likely. So, focusing on behavior is smart. And so behavioral safety comes along. And there’s science behind it. And one of the biggest benefits is you’ve got checklists that are used to see what’s going on, what’s working? Well, what’s not working? Well, theoretically, we’re getting input from people doing the work, hearing what they have to say and making changes based on it’s a beautiful system. Martin is going to talk about learning culture in a moment, but it’s a beautiful system when done properly to get that input, to create a true learning culture on a regular basis, as opposed to kind of one and done training sessions. 

The challenge is it’s not easy to do so as we transition to talk about Bee hop and human performance. On the behavioral safety side, three big things happened that made it difficult to do. First are implementations being poor. It became a commodity, so people are buying and selling behavior-based safety. So, people are throwing out checklists without the proper training with no discussion on conversations, essentially saying, here’s a checklist and go use it very quickly. When I was in graduate school, we did research with funded by NIOS at a company. 

Half the group was given a card and said, Go use it. The other half created their own checklists and rules for use and other things around it. We call it the participation group. They use their cards seven times more than the people that were simply told here’s a card and go do it. And too often with behavioral safety failures, there was not a proper implementation on the front end. It was here’s a card here’s how you fill it out. Go do it. So not surprisingly, it didn’t work. 

That was the first big. The second big issue was technology, and it’s great to have technology help us whom we’re doing various functions on the job. But these behavioral checklists got increasingly long because it was easy to fill out on technology. So, I’m filling out a 50 or 60 item checklist. That’s crazy. Nobody’s doing that properly or very few people are. It became a problem became all about the cards and the checklists and the quotes you get you one in at the end of the month. 

So now that you got the system of quotas of pencil whipping and a larger problem of this black hole where we’re feeling stuff out and we never hear back. So, employees are not talking to each other first. But second, they’re bringing up issues that are important and no one’s getting back to them. So not surprisingly, behavioral safety. There were some struggles. The third issue was simply it’s hard. It’s hard to maintain something long term. So, we got to acknowledge that, particularly on the behavioral side. So, as I’m trying to go quick on the hop side, on the Behop side, we’re talking about human performance and the two big tenants there one quit blaming people for getting hurt, Demi said this years ago. 

Don’t blame people for problems created by the system. The second part of that is to fix the system. The first response when someone gets hurt is not who screwed up. It’s where the system fails. We’ve got to reorient our thinking to understand that we all operate in a context. And if we improve the system, it influences our behavior. The very quick story. I got to do one sports analogy really quick. Random lost, great receiver, troubled guy problems throughout his career on and off the field goes to the Patriots. 

Not that I’m a Patriots fan, but they’ve got a tight system overnight. He’s a night and day guy. He’s out in the community doing all the stuff for charity. Now he’s on TV doing this stuff. Total transformation. Same guy in a different system behaves very differently. If we improve systems, we’re improving the likelihood of better attitudes and better behaviors out there. So, I just want to kind of point that out really quick. Two more thoughts here before we transition over here to Martin in terms of the Bee hop, what we call it, it’s behavioral and human performance. 

There’s a lot more emphasis on people talking to each other. As Eric mentioned earlier, it’s about having good conversations, these cards that we use when we roll it out with clients. We’re talking four or five things. What scares you about the job? What do we need to do differently? What would you do differently? How can we help? These are open ended questions, getting people talking. And if we respond to that and address issues based on those comments, you don’t need incentives and all these other gimmicky things to get people to fill them out. 

They want to because stuff is getting addressed. So, the Behop is all about conversations and being responsive to concerns when they’re being brought up. And again, mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn, as opposed to occasions to punish. It’s all that just culture people are talking about in a nutshell that’s what it is. So, the last point really quick is positive accountability. Some of the concerns that people have with human performance is we’re getting any personal accountability when mistakes happen. It’s not true. We’re just trying to reorient to the first response being address the system factors and supervisors. 

It’s a tough role for supervisors who are trying to keep. They need to set clear expectations and use positive means to maintain those expectations that we’ve all agreed on. That’s positive accountability. It’s doable it’s hard, but it’s doable. So, the end of this is essentially when be hop is done properly, we’re improving Felt leadership. There are various tools like leadership listening to us. Leaders are going up asking questions. They’re not going around saying good, bad or indifferent. They’re out there asking questions, trying to learn that creates an environment of openness, which is part again of that felt leadership saying felt leadership is one thing. 

Using listening tours is actually doing it. So, there are some tools and human performance that help with that felt leadership we mentioned as well as good conversation. So, with that said, I’ll turn it over. Martin, we’re going to talk more about learning culture. 

Yeah. And I think before I go there, I just want to emphasize I think your point around Behop is really key. A lot of people have implemented some form of observation program, many of them it’s not working anymore. People aren’t using it. They’re mailing it in, don’t throw it out with a bad water. It’s time to start thinking about how do you re energize? How do you get better conversations? And I love your approach, Brad. Deeper questions to ask people to reflect on what’s dangerous, about what you’re going to do today and really start deepening those relationships, but always keeping those elements from the behavioral base safety side that does work. 

So, thank you, Josh. Martin. So, you’re going to talk to us a little bit about learning organization. Probably one of the key themes of a great safety culture. 

This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety, leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered! Visit us at propulo.com. 

For sure. Thanks, Eric. And I’d like to share a bit more today about my prediction for the future of learning organization, but also to combine that with our focus on discretionary effort, the employee experience and safety. Because for our listeners probably are aware that at Propulo, we focus on discretionary effort as a way for our clients to gain a competitive advantage when it comes to safety and safe production. And what we know is that when it comes to workplace behaviors that drive safety, there are those that are we call our compliance behaviors completing hazard assessment form following safe work procedures, wearing the right PPE. 

But what we found it’s not sufficient for the workforce to engage in compliance behaviors to drive exemplary safety performance. These, beyond the minimum behaviors, are more difficult to measure, and they often involve positive safety behaviors that are targeted toward achieving your safety goals, like staying vigilant in the face of changing conditions, supporting the team, sharing safety information. And of course, we won’t see any of these behaviors listed on any employee job description. But a lot of our organizations that are doing extremely well safety wise will have employees or greater proportion of employees that demonstrate this behavior. 

And what’s interesting about this Krishna effort is that it only emerges when there’s a high level of workforce engagement and commitment so that discretionary effort is the behavioral manifestation of engagement. I wanted to share some insight today around the concept of worker experience, how an organization that focuses on learning and how can we increase that discretionary effort in our workforce? Now, why is the worker experience? What does it matter? I would say the employee experience is the hallmark of learning organization because the emphasis is on developing the mindset, the behaviors and systems that are conducive to have an optimal employee experience that will encourage high safety performance and discretionary effort. 

Now for the listeners that are maybe familiar within the Its industry. So, software companies have talked about the user experience for quite some time. It’s to describe the experience of app users how they engage with the app. It’s a concept that focuses on the emotional response of users and how they interact with the features and functions Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Masters of this to create engaging users’ experience. Now, the same ideas we can take four employees in the organization. So, employee or the worker experience just simply describe how employees think and feel through every touch point during their time with the organization could be recruitment, onboarding development, performance to things like long absences of work, remote working on boarding or things like incident investigation, injury, radiation, disciplinary action. 

Why we want to look at this employee experience is simply that the employee experience underlies the commitment and engagement that we need to drive discretionary effort. And you could think about it that your employees experience with safety management system will determine at the end the extent to which they will adopt, use and improve on the system. I wanted to share an example that remind me of our clients of ours, a European zinc and silver mine that I happened to visit. I think five, six years ago and their agency team would share with us their concerns that the miners were not reporting near misses, not anything that surprising. 

We’ve heard of these kinds of concerns before now, putting the mindset aside around reporting names when you look at the process of reporting narratives at that point, it was quite cumbersome and at first we have to understand the workers operated at 500ft below ground, and there was no way for them to fill out any form whatsoever. If any incident or near misses were happening. These near miss forms were in a building adjacent to where the miners would meet before taking off. At the end of the day, the form itself was convoluted. 

Workers would drop it off in a box to preserve anonymity, which is good. But then no one would hear back from these reports or if any, corrective actions were taking place. And so, while many leaders are often tempted to blame workers for poor attitudes towards incident reporting or lack of motivation, when you look at these workers experience of the near miss reporting system, you can see it’s quite easy how someone might just feel frustrated, disempowered to submit these kinds of reports, let alone even appreciating the value of doing so. 

If we want to build on more positive employee experience around safety system, a couple of things that we can look into. One is looking at the factors. The main factor that may drive that positive experience could be the safe work procedures, safety policies, tools and equipment learning and reporting system safety communication teams, the reward and recognition system field oversight. I would even go to look at the coworkers and peer relationship, and the goal would be to determine how workers experience the system and whether the system is supporting their intended goal, which we’ll presume. 

It is about encouraging error identification, prevention and mitigation. Now, what if I’m a manager and I’d like to improve my employees experience? All right. So, a couple of things for me, I would say as a leader, I would say, start with yourself, how are your employees experiencing you? Do they feel they are treated fairly? Do they feel that you value their opinion and contribution? Do they feel they’re encouraged and supported? Do they feel that you provide them with opportunities for development? Do they feel that you hold them accountable for high safety standards, or even do they feel that you should have the concern for them as individual? 

I say that’s the first and as Josh mentioned earlier, basically, it is about going and talking to our people, talking to workers and getting that sort of feedback. But here’s the thing as a second step. So, I would say that you start with yourself as a leader. Second, is you could do the same with your front-line supervisors and also try to get that feedback is how are the workers experiencing your front-line supervisors? Same kind of question to start to get a sense of how or why are they doing the things they do? 

And are there elements around the leadership that could be improved now? Third, might be around the system that you want to gather feedback on, which often requires to get out in the field. Get the feedback. Seek to understand the experience of this system what works and what doesn’t work. My experience is we need to ask all the right questions, especially if the workers have not been accustomed to providing any input, especially to senior leaders. So, questions might be things like what gets in the way for you to work safely? 

How can we improve our approach to report safety incident or name another safety system that we want to look into? What do you think we could improve? What are the things you think about our recognition program? So, I’ll recommend you pick just a different list of systems that are more critical that you want to get feedback on and just go out there to get that feedback. Now, one thing I’ll say, though, you might need for in certain workspaces might need to build a trust first. If trust is in there. 

One of the reasons is if people have had some mistress or senior management, they may not open up. And so, we’re going to need to start building that trust, building a bit of the commitment that if the feedback is provided that’s something will be done about it. And so, as a leader, I would say the goal is not to make commitments to make massive critical infrastructure improvement, but more small improvements that demonstrate that. Hey, we listen to you, and we are going to take action to make things better. 

So, we’ll see later on a note that my colleague will Home in on the supervisor’s experience. But I wanted to share that as a learning organization at the end of the day, it’s really about looking, how are we operating and what’s the impact on our workforce? And if we want to give them a better experience, what are some of the changes we can take on? 

Thank you. Thank you, Martin. I think this whole theme of learning organization so key to safety and definitely should be an area of focus going into 2020. Eduardo, you’ve talked last time you were on the show, you talked a little bit about supervisory skills, couldn’t agree more. It’s really where the rubber hits the road. This is where safety culture really manifests itself and how you have impact is going to be how the supervisor interacts with team members. And too often I’ve heard team members saying they’ll trust a supervisor. 

They’ll do what their supervisor does. They’re more important to them day to day than the CEO even is. So, Eduardo over to you. 

Yeah, absolutely. Eric. And thank you, Martin and Josh as well. Yeah, it is really where the rubber meets the road. And I understand what you’re saying about what workers comment in teams of their relationship to their supervisor. And he or she is being more important than the CEO. Now, this is logical, because oftentimes they don’t even know the CEO. They’ve seen them on a pamphlet on a brochure. They’ve heard him speak, maybe, but they don’t know him or her personally. And they do know the supervisor. And so that person, really the supervisor is where the rubber meets the road. 

I would say for two reasons, one because they are in direct contact with the worker, and thus they are able to influence that person and they do for good or for bad constantly. And second, because supervisors are really between a rock and a hard place. And Josh was mentioning that we feel for people, and we feel for supervisors because we understand the challenges that they face between producing and keeping people safe. And it is a challenge. It’s not easy to handle that challenge, but it can be done. 

And we know from experience and from working with many, many organizations that when organizations and supervisors and other more senior leaders focus on safety, people work better. They produce more they produce with higher quality. But if supervisors are really where the rubber meets the road, we need to invest in them, and we need to train them, and we need to develop them. And unfortunately, that is usually not the case. Supervisors are usually promoted through the ranks in organizations because of what they know because of the type of worker they are and the level of performance they have. 

Which one? In one sense, it’s important that they know the job, that they know the technical aspects of the job, because they’ll be supervising people directly. But oftentimes many of the things that made them stand out as individual workers get in the way of them being effective leaders, because being an effective worker is really about getting stuff done by yourself, being assertive and as a leader, you really need to get stuff done to other people, and that requires leadership skills and leadership skills are very different from technical skills. 

We’re talking here about your capacity to create relationship, your capacity to interact with people, your capacity to listen to people, to get people thinking, to get people speaking to get people. And that discretionary effort that Josh and Martin were talking about is key. And there is no one in the organization that has more power to really generate that container, that environment where people are willing to go that extra mile, to be creative, to think about things, to stop and pause before they do the work, then supervisors, so really investing in them and developing them as leaders is key. 

Now to do that, we need to give them all these skills that I talked about. And one key skill that I think is crucial is helping them to become better coaches, because, in essence, and with the type of work that people do nowadays in industry essential, that their direct leader, that is their supervisor and be able to coach people so that they themselves can become more self aware, become better at managing themselves, really coaching people to think about the work that they’re doing and to consider what are the risks, what are the hazards that they will be facing and how they will be mitigating those risks. 

Now again, unfortunately, because these are not necessarily skills that we have. Naturally, some supervisors develop them naturally, and we’ve seen Rockstar supervisors, but many don’t. They’ve never developed them, and they’ve never been taught. But these are really skills that are essential because it’s in those coaching conversations that supervisors have with workers that you will get workers to really look at how they work, look at their behavior and really get them to think about what they’re doing so that they don’t get hurt on the job. In this regard, we’ve come up with very specific skills that we teach supervisors, and we do so both in a classroom setting. 

And this is not your typical classroom with lots of PowerPoint slides and lots of concepts. No, these are about supervisors having conversations about what challenges they’re having with people, what it is that they want workers to do that they’re currently not doing and what they can do to get workers to do this. And these classes are full of role plays where they act out that relationship between worker and supervisor and how to have those conversations. And ultimately, we even develop supervisors through field coaching, having them practice these skills in real life situations. 

And some of these skills have to do. We come up with an acronym called Dare, and we call it Dare because it really takes courage to lead in this way. First off, because we’re not used to leaving in this way, and it’s going to be uncomfortable starting out. Second of all, because we’re asking supervisors to step away from this traditionally authoritative role of I’m the boss. I’m the supervisor. I’m going to tell you what to do when you’re going to do it to more collaborative relationship. 

And so that takes certain things. It takes the ability, as I said before, to create relationship. As you’ve all mentioned during this conversation, it really takes an ability to not just care for people which most supervisors do. We don’t doubt that, but to actively show that care and to delegate work in a manner that promotes safety. Now, what do I mean by this? Telling people what to do and how to do it does not work. First off, you don’t know whether the other person heard you, and you certainly don’t know whether the other person understood you and so telling someone what to do and how to do it. 

And then we tend to ask people or supervisors tend to ask people, did you understand? And of course, people are going to say yes, I should, of course. But that doesn’t mean they understood. It just means they’re saying that because they don’t want to look foolish. So, delegating work effectively means telling people what to do, but asking them how they’re going to do it, and furthermore, asking them what risks they will be facing and how they will mitigate those risks. Second, and this again takes courage because it’s not something we’re used to the A in there is about acknowledging safe work, and this is really key. 

We know from years and years of studies in various fields that people really thrive in an environment where they are recognized, they are appreciated. They’re acknowledged for the things that they do. And yet traditionally, we don’t do that. We just focus on what’s wrong. Now, here’s the problem with focusing on what’s wrong. Many people will say, well, that’s where I need to focus. That’s where the gap is. I need to talk about what’s wrong. The problem is it’s unfair and it’s counterproductive, and it’s unfair because people do more right things. 

They do more safe work than they do dangerous work. And thus, speaking to them always about what they do wrong. What they do unsafely is unfair. And second, it’s unproductive, because if I Eric, I’m your supervisor and I come to you and I correct you, and then I come again and I correct you again, and then I come back and I correct you again. What’s going to happen? The fourth time I come around, are you going to be all happy to see? 

I’m sure I’m going to be thrilled to see you. 

Exactly. You’re going to hate me. So, it’s really important to do that. The next aspect is redirecting at risk work, and that, of course, is important. We need to redirect unsafe behaviors. We need to redirect unsafe conditions, but it takes skill to do that such that you can redirect without offending the other person in a way that not just maintains but actually strengthens their relationship and really has the other person take the message to heart. And finally, the E in the Dare acronym is engaged. And its really what Martin was talking about of generating this learning culture, where there’s this back and forth with the organization and with the people that are really the experts of the work itself, which are the workers. 

So really teaching supervisors to create environments to create conversations where people are willing to engage are willing to speak up. And that’s really what this is all about. So yeah, really passionate about helping organizations upskill their supervisors, because as I said at the beginning, this is really where the rubber meets the road. And if we get this piece right, a lot of good can be done. 

I agree. I think you tied everything together. Edward. I think the element of how a supervisor starts interacting create a safe environment, how they’re coaching links to some of the themes that Martin was talking about earlier in terms of creating a learning organization where people want to put in more discretionary effort towards safety, where we’re constantly learning from what could go wrong, which ties us back to Josh was also talking about conversations and really those coaching interactions. And really the element of how do we start looking at things from a just culture standpoint? 

How do we start removing a lot of the risk and the blaming of the employees, but still continuing to do some of the good stuff around behavioral observations, driving better conversations? And then at the front end when I was talking about really the key element around mental health, wellbeing, really bridging that divide between safety and HR, really addressing some of the impacts around stress and fatigue, and then really the active care and self-leadership. All those key pieces, I think, are really the four core mega trends to focus on in 2022. 

So really appreciate all four of you. Joining me today. Eduardo, Martin, and Dr. Josh great conversation. Great topics to explore and wish you a happy New Year! 

Happy and Safe New Year. 

Happy and safe New Year to everybody. 

Happy New Year everyone, I would say Bonne et année!  

Let’s count down together. 10 – 3, 2, 1 

Fireworks, Champagne, and Happy New Year! 

Thank you for listening to the safety guru on c-suit radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops Guru. Eric Michrowski. 

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ABOUT THE GUESTS

Dr. Josh Williams, Martin Royal and Eduardo Lan are Partners with Propulo Consulting, the leading Safety and Operations Strategy Advisory & training firm. Tapping into insights from brain science and psychology, Propulo helps organizations improve their Safety, Operational performance and Culture.

Dr. Josh Williams: For more than 20 years, Josh has partnered with clients around the world to deliver customized, sustainable solutions to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs. Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Virginia Tech and is a behavioral safety, human performance, and safety culture improvement expert. Josh is the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and co-editor of Keys to Behavior Based Safety. He has published more than 150 book chapters, government reports, white papers, blogs and articles in leading journals. Josh has also delivered hundreds of presentations at leading national conferences and is a highly regarded public speaker. He received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.

Martin Royal: Martin is an expert in Human Performance & Business Transformation, coach and facilitator who helps clients create a committed and mobilized workforce to achieve their operational excellence, safety and wellbeing outcomes. Since joining Propulo Consulting in 2011, he has delivered well over 400+ safety culture change workshops and training programs centered on the development of employee empowerment, difficult conversations and leadership skills for global clients in North America and Europe. Martin supports Propulo Consulting’s contractor facilitator workforce and internal consultant team to enable them to deliver exceptional safety engagement training programs. He also supports the development and client-customization of Propulo Consulting’s various leadership and employee training offerings. Over the years, he has been involved in leading safety culture improvement engagements with various clients in industries such as aquaculture, construction, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, and utilities.

Eduardo Lan: As an accomplished organizational consultant and safety leadership coach, Eduardo has extensive experience in safety culture transformation, leadership development, and high-performance projects and operations across the United States, Europe, Canada and Latin America. With over 20 years of experience in Leadership and Organizational Transformation, Eduardo is truly an expert in Organizational Development and Change, specifically safety culture and leadership. He has designed and led seminars, workshops, coaching sessions, and entire programs on personal and organizational transformation for hundreds of organizations and thousands of people and works with leaders and teams on identifying limiting behaviors that thwart high performance, assisting them in producing breakthrough bottom-line results. He holds a master’s degree in Organization Development and Change from Pennsylvania State University and multiple certifications in consulting, coaching, safety, ontology, MBTI, integral theory, appreciative inquiry, adaptive leadership, and mindfulness. He is a frequent columnist for multiple business and industry publications.

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