What every CEO needs to know about safety

What every CEO needs to know about safety

For many CEOs, safety is their highest priority. It is a table stake for how they want their business run. They hold a genuine concern for the people under their charge. It’s personal.

So when a person is hurt, anxiety levels understandably rise. The pain and suffering of the person and the obvious weight of often, onerous legislation. CEOs look to act but are bombarded with questionable safety programs, based on dated notions of why people do what they do. It’s a tough job at the top.

But there is a better way. Armed with a few key principles, a set of good questions and a growth mindset, safety can be the jewel in the crown of every organisation.

The key principles

The first key principle involves absolute clarity of the core elements of an incident. They are; hazardous energy (something which can hurt you), a person or people and leadership. Understanding the interplay of each element is critical. The principle is “To get hurt, a person must contact hazardous energy or hazardous energy contacts a person or both”. Look at every incident based on these 3 elements.

The second principle is a bit like the advice Bill Gates gave to graduates; “Life’s not fair, get over it”. In the workplace, You can’t get rid of all the hazards so get over it. Hazard removal follows the law of diminishing returns. Apply the 80:20 rule for hazards and look at all the core elements to maximise return.

The third principle relates to how we think about the decisions we make. The reality is, people don’t make conscious decisions, most of the time. Habits dominate our behaviours. Habits come from our automatic thinking, not our logical and rational thinking. Think of most decisions made as the habitual one’s, not the best ones.

The fourth principle follows on from the third, and is about behaviour or should I say, habits. The principle is Being in the line of fire hurts. An understanding of line of fire hazards and habitually looking for them is what matters. Not being in the line of fire ensures injury will not occur.

The fifth principle applies when we are talking about teams. It is Leadership changes everything. Time and again, the history of human endeavours show leadership is the difference between success and failure. From the sporting field, the battlefield and business. Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “There are no bad soldiers, just bad officers”. The same holds true for any pursuit involving a group of people. Success comes from effective leadership.

So the principles are:

  1. To get hurt a person must contact hazardous energy or hazardous energy contacts a person or both
  2. You can’t get rid of all the hazards. Get over it.
  3. Habits dominate our behaviours.
  4. Being in the line of fire hurts.
  5. Leadership changes everything

The good questions

Great CEOs know good questions are game changers. They use them to motivate and inspire. When asked with humility, they build rapport and respect. Good questions create open discussion and above all opportunities to learn for everyone.

So what are good questions? They are open questions. The type of questions you can’t answer yes or no. Open questions make you think. They create a deeper connection between two people. They often include the words, “why is that?” or “can you help me understand?”. They get to the core of what is going on. Open questions are good questions. Leaders know they are a superpower and use them all the time.

The growth mindset

As the commander-in-chief of the organisation, the CEO has all the responsibility to ensure the organisation grows. No growth means death.

With the growth mindset, the CEO knows their basic abilities are developed with dedication and hard work. This is how everyone’s abilities are developed. A good starting point is brains and talent but dedication is the fuel and hard work the process.

But what do we grow to improve safety? You guessed it, Leadership. Specifically, grow safety leadership.

Leadership changes everything. If your …….. culture is bad, look at your leadership. Your team’s ……….. performance is poor or they are not solving ……. problems, look at leadership. Place the word “safety” in the previous sentences and you know what I mean.

Develop leadership with a growth mindset. Leaders aren’t born they are grown.

So, Mr CEO….you now have the fundamentals to improve safety in your business. Key principles to frame your thinking. Questions to engage, build trust and seeking out root causes to problems. And critically, growing and developing the team’s and your leadership.

This is what every CEO needs to know about safety.

Overcoming complacency – It’s all about helping others

Overcoming complacency – It’s all about helping others

Complacency is a mental process which occurs in the automatic part of the brain. It originates from many repetitions of an action, which build neural connections in an area  in the back of your brain called the cerebellum. Importantly, actions stemming from our automatic processes require little to no conscious thought. Resulting in very low awareness of this action occurring.

The fact this mental process is automatic thinking, creates a new problem for us.  We are NOT very good at monitoring automatic thinking. Daniel Kahneman explains our automatic thinking (System 1), occurs without full engagement of our conscious thinking (System 2). System 2 really only takes notice of major divergences, like trying to kill someone, and lets most of the decisions and actions in System 1 occur without intervention.

From a thinking systems perspective, this means is we need a very high level of self-awareness or have developed some habit to recognise we are in or about to enter automatic thinking! This is not impossible but not very probable given our cultural constraints.

A more effective way, is the second mechanism I wish to propose. Looking for complacency in others.

A better way – help from others

It appears we have a highly developed ability to identify when others have a reduced awareness of hazards and feeling comfortable with what they are doing. How many times do you spot other drivers texting or on their mobile phones. I can’t seem to travel more than 50 metres without seeing someone!

Why this occurs is not immediately obvious, however it appears our mental processes see it in others. It may originate as an evolutionary survival strategy, when we relied on others in our group for hunting food or protecting against foes. Being able to see this behaviour would’ve been useful. Whatever the purpose, it is beyond doubt we are better at observing complacent behaviours in others, than in ourselves.

How can we use this ability?

The big question is, how can we use this? Working in teams or groups of people we know, on some level, is important. Although, helping a complete stranger sitting in the car next to you on their mobile phone, is also possible.

It’s all about engagement. How we go about communicating with the other person. And what is most important is how you make them feel. Their perceptions and feelings from what you are saying.

Open and friendly, gets the best response. Telling and aggressive is worst. No-one wants to engage with the teller.

So seeing complacency in others is easier than in ourselves. It’s an automatic response. Sharing those observations positively is the key to breaking complacency.

To overcome complacency, ask others to look for it in you.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog.

Overcoming complacency – What is it first?

Overcoming complacency – What is it?

Complacency seems to appear frequently in incidents, when viewed through a behavioural lens. But few useful or demonstrated effective solutions exist. We see lots of telling people “not to be complacent” or complacency is just being lazy so use the punish model to change behaviour. Nothing which addresses the real reasons why people do what they do.

So, I thought I would post a short series which tackles this issue head on. First up, a definition of complacency. I checked out dictionary.com and it says:

A feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect: source

This seems a workable definition as it covers the two areas I think are important. “Feeling” and “unaware”. Lets look deeper.

It’s all in your mind

When we discuss complacency, we easily recognise it as a mental process. A mental process which affects what we do.

The latest neuroscience shows a more detailed picture of mental processes while helping us see deeper into these mental processes. Due to these advances, we now have a better understanding of the why we have a “feeling” of security and “unaware” of dangers.

These processes happen in the automatic thinking part of our brain. Task repetition creates neural connections. More repetitions, stronger connections.

It is helpful to picture these connections in the back of your brain. These connections operate with very little effort from you, and virtually no input from your conscious thinking or front of mind. Our brain makes this conscious thought about the task a redundant process. It does this for energy-saving reasons.

The consequence of this redundancy is our brain directs conscious thoughts to other things it finds interesting. This includes waiting for something interesting to appear. The result is our conscious thoughtful processes are not engaged in the task you are doing and diminishing our ability to compute risk and hazards during the task.

This is compounded when we add emotions to the completion of a task. As humans, we like to complete things. Picture crossing an activity off your list you did today. How did that feel? It is a powerful brain response. And the more we complete, the happier we become. The more certain and secure nothing bad will happen.

What does it all mean?

So complacency is created as a result of strong neural connections formed through repetition, no longer requiring your conscious brain (reduced awareness), linked to the powerful human emotions (feeling secure) with repeated task completion.

Little wonder we see complacency over and over. What is more mysterious, is with such a common cause of incident, why we don’t have more effective means to deal with it.

In the next post, we will look at the evolutionary hack we all have and how to use it to solve the complacency in safety.

Fear is the strongest driver of behaviour

Fear is the strongest driver of behaviour

Fear is an interesting thing. In the modern world, it comes from our perceptions rather than our reality. We should fear the lion stalking. It is real. But instead we fear what someone might think or say. We create imaginary situations, translate them to reality and become fearful.

Our imagination plays an enormous part of fear. The mind imagines our reality, no matter how much evidence placed before it. This is “confirmation bias”. Where you filter all evidence to the contrary to what you imagine is reality or your belief. Religions use this natural brain function well. It is very powerful and we see its effects on behaviour.

Reflecting on my own experiences, I ask myself “How many times have I not done something through fear?” The main reason I am where I am, in my life journey, is due to my limitations. The things which hold me back. Those things which fear is limiting. Often the fear is simple. Not doing something or speaking up.

I see this all the time in safety. Recently, a person came to me concerned about what he saw as a major safety breach. Two people were working at height without fall protection. The risk was high and potential consequences catastrophic.

He told me what he saw. I was gob-smacked! He knew to tell them to get down. But he couldn’t. He was fearful of the repercussions.  What might happen to him, his company and the guys involved. Times are tough and these guys could lose their jobs.

What he imagined overcame logical, rational thinking and the expectations of him as a supervisor. He regrets not acting in the moment.

Fear is the strongest driver of behaviour.

Being a leader is never a popularity contest

Today, I will not be popular. Today, I will cause a major problem for some people. Today, I will be a leader.

Last week a leader came to me with a safety concern. He was witness to a major breach of a safety rule involving working at heights. He described what he saw. We both agreed it was pretty bad.

I asked “Did you intervene?”. He looked down and said “No. I didn’t” in lower tone then usual for him. I could tell he felt ashamed.

He raised his head and looked me straight in the eyes. “I wanted to. I really did but I couldn’t.” he said.

“I was afraid of the consequences. Retribution!” he said.

I thought about it for a moment and agreed again. This place isn’t that accepting of these type of learning opportunities. Break a rule and the consequences is typically punishment.

He handed me his phone. “But I took a photo!”. I looked at it. No direct faces but these guys are identifiable. “I don’t want these guys sacked but their leaders need to know what they did and help them understand that’s not right!”.

If only their leaders would do that! It saddened me to think we are still fearful of doing the right thing. After 4 years of trying to build a no blame culture, a culture which looks for chances to learn, especially free lunches like this one!

I spent the next couple of days trying to point “interested parties” to the clues which will lead them to this incident. I was hoping for self discovery rather than me having to put my head on the block and drag them there. I too was fearful of consequences for me.

A lesson from the un-programmed

Then came the discussion with my son. We were doing his homework together. He was explaining about being confident in doing his work. He told me about fear and how most people fear, fear itself. “And that’s why it is important to be brave when you are learning, Daddy”.

Fear and being brave. Having the courage to do, what you know deep down is right even though you are not sure of the outcome.

“Hello David. Wake up” rang through my ears.

So, I will show the courage necessary to do what I know is right. To approach this issue as a leader not an informant. To not fear the possibility of negative consequences for me, rather create positive consequences for all. To truly use this incident as a coaching, learning and leadership opportunity. To set in motion the things necessary for the safety culture we all talk about but still eludes us.

Today, I will not be popular. Today, I will cause a major problem for some people. But today, I will be a leader.

Safety leadership – The problem with rules and habits

The problem with rules……

We think of them like a law. Irrefutable and universal. They apply 100% of the time and will keep you safe. When I walk across the road on the green light, I will always be safe.

We think they will make the unpredictable, predictable. When dealing with human behaviour, it is never 100% predictable.

They are artificial constructs design to control behaviour, which for the most part are not controllable. Our habits. Only when the rule reflects our habitual actions, will guarantee behaviour and rule alignment.

Safety use when they want compliance. 100% predictable outcomes. Comply, you will be safe. Don’t, we sack you for a breach. Consequences follow rules, and often negative ones.

They work most of the time for most of the people but NOT all of the time from all of the people. Hence, safety systems founded on rules alone is compromised from the beginning.

How do your rules reflect the habits of the organisation?

Safety Innovation – What can we learn from Henry Ford?

Innovation – Model T or faster horses?

What safety innovation are you working on? I read the following quote from Henry Ford the other night….“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.

I pondered this for a while. It struck a cord with what was going on in my workplace.

When I ask our managers what they want, they tell me “A workforce which complies with the safety rules”.

So, all we need to do is to tell them what we want and put consequences in place. If we aren’t getting the performance we need, just make the rules clearer and consequences stronger. Does that sound like “faster horses” to you?

I suppose this is where the quote resonated. For people not to get injured, they need to display certain actions (behaviours) at specific times (when surrounded by hazards). At the most fundamental level, they need to stay out of the line of fire. Don’t contact the thing which will hurt you.

Agreement on staying out of the line of fire seems universal but how to do this appears to be issue. Today’s horse method seems to be “rules and compliance” to get the behaviour we want. But how would Henry Ford think about this? What safety innovation in behavioural change would he come up with? A more effective way to get from A to B. Just like the Model T.

Do you see safety professionals exploring innovations in safety?

What innovation will lead to safety’s Model T equivalent? What does this look like? Are we actually looking?

Full of questions I know! My search is pretty broad. I’m looking in the areas of behavioural economics, leadership, marketing and neuroscience in terms of the latest studies but we know the ancients knew a thing or two about how humans work.

Written works from the likes of Seneca and Aurelius are full of deep thinking and accurate observations of self and others. There is a richness in this knowledge. I believe the answers lie somewhere amongst the new and old scholarly works.

Are we driving safety innovations for our teams to be safe or looking for faster horses?

Leadership according to Seth Godin

I have just finished Seth Godin’s leadership course on Udemy. The course is very very good. The marketing guru knows exactly what it takes for you and your team to be successful. The principles are universal. I highly recommend the course.

As with all of Seth’s work, it makes you think but more importantly it focuses on the “do”. Go and “do” something with the material you have just learned. Without the “do” it is just knowledge!

So here is my “do”……..Over the next two weeks, I will share my view on how his framework applies to safety leadership.

Seth’s framework:

  • Management is not leadership
  • See the end before you begin the journey
  • Culture defeats everything
  • Selling the Dream
  • Enrolment
  • Don’t forget rule #6
  • Authority vs responsibility
  • Certain failure

Seth also presents what leaders do. These actions are at the heart of what leaders can do, everyday.

  • Start with wonder
  • Notice, observe what is going on
  • Connect with others
  • Understand why
  • Leap – there is no bridge!
  • Challenge – the status quo and what is possible
  • Transform the world around you
  • Contribute

Adopting these actions as habits will increase your probability of success. It sounds simple but it is not easy. In support of this thinking, this is another attempt by me to build a habit of writing and publishing everyday. Simple but not easy!

What habit are you trying to establish?

Safety Leadership – Management is not leadership

Management is not leadership. The statement may seem obvious to some but what is the difference? Seth gives us a couple of pointers.

Management is successful when you get people to do what they did yesterday faster and cheaper and maybe a little better. Management is all about compliance. Getting people to do what you want. Either by telling them, paying them, threatening them, sometimes inspiring them. But this is not leadership.

Leadership is what we call it when someone steps up to cause a change to happen. A change that might not work which needs other people to help you. Importantly, if you are doing this all by yourself, this is not leadership.

Leadership is what we call it when we need to enrol others to where you are going and explore what is possible. To make a change occur which wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t leading.

Using Seth’s paradigm, Safety Management is the day to day activity for compliance. Everything is well documented, planned and assessed and all that needs to be done is to comply. Repeatable, predictable processes. Great safety management is doing all of this, cheaper and faster!

Safety leadership on the other hand, is what we call it when we need to cause a change in safety. To make those shifts from what we are doing, to what we need to do. And on a large scale with people, often with no guarantee of success. We know what the end game looks like but have no idea how to get there. We also know we need to bring everyone along the journey. Telling people what to do is not a permanent solution!

Setting clear expectations, documenting work procedures and implementing rewards and punishment is safety management.

Sharing a motivating vision which energises a group of people to be courageous to do new things, learning and growing at every step, is safety leadership.

What do you see happening around you? What is it you need?

Safety inductions – why they are important and how to use them

Since November last year, I’ve been running site and project inductions for the project I am working on. We had a learning and development department which was closed down as main operation of the facility also closed.

Many use the induction to cover hazards on site and the site rules, meeting regulatory requirements. But in reality the majority of incidents and injuries are less about knowing hazards and rules and more about human behaviour. So understanding why people do what they is critical and the induction is the first chance to see this. Personally, I love the inductions……

The first time someone comes on site is an important time. Normally, they are in a heighten state of awareness, because things are new, and therefore more accepting of new information and influencing. Good trainers are aware of this state, using it to maximise their effectiveness. It still relies on engaging content and delivery but mostly this is a good place for a trainer/HSE person.

And for most, this is enough. A willing and open audience, who listen and soak up all the information and knowledge you can pass on. Game over. But for me, leaving it there is missing a trick or two.

I think of my role as one of those assessing who is most likely to get hurt before they do. To do this I need to understand them. Why they do what they do. How they deal with stress, frustration, rushing. To understand people in this situation you need to build rapport, and quickly. The first couple of hours are critical. For me, build a relationship with everyone in the room or fail. Failing to connect at the induction, seriously diminishes my ability to affect and influence peoples behaviours in the field.

As a safety manager of a contractor workforce, I don’t have any line or organisation authority, although having your boss tell you to be safe isn’t that effective! Influence is all I have and that comes from relationships. I work hard to build them, then maintain key relationships. Leaders in the group.

Over the years I ‘ve learned a trick or two about building relationships and how to do it with a group of brand new inductees. Caldini’s work and book helped me here immensely. The first one is, start by remembering everyone’s name. Initially, I wasn’t good at remembering names so I use inductions to improve my skill. More importantly though, when you are able to address a person by their name, very early in the relationship, you immediately convey to the other person they are important. Giving them the feeling of significance. Automatic rapport builder.

The other little trick I learned is to hand out small gifts (reciprocity). The Chuppa Chups is perfect for this, although I am conscientious I am dealing in white death, sugar! however I have found everyone seems to like a small sugar hit every now and then and it is very hard to be angry sucking on a Chuppa Chup! Try handing some out.

So, inductions are important. They are the first glimpse you have of these new people and your first opportunity to assess. Can you work out why these people do what they do? Who is likely to be affected by emotive responses and not use logic or rational thinking to guide their behaviour? Who can you influence. Again, Caldini shows us how.

Use those two little secrets. Give it a try and see how you go.