Hey everybody. I trust you’re having a great day!
I know I sure am, BUT…I have a bit of a ‘bone to pick’ in this Episode.
You know, despite tons of effort, and explaining, and flat-out ‘preaching’ over so many past years, I find it interesting that some areas of how organizations continue to conduct themselves are about as resistant to change as trying to lift a bulldozer with a toothpick.
An area that continues to blow my mind is the CONSISTENCY with which workers are provided INCONSISTENT information- procedures that clash with policies (and with each other), directives that contradict policies and other directives…different direction from different ‘bosses’ and ‘observers’, each having perspectives and biases, often with directly conflicting priorities!
And the folks on the front line, who come to work wanting to get things done- who honestly want to do a good job- are left stifled, and certainly feel jerked around. This causes confusion and frustration, and in many cases INCREASES the potential for error.
I just finished my review of a Culture Profile Report for a Client of PPI.
The Client is sub-contracted through another company, who is contracted with the Project Owner. This is a construction project, which by its nature, generates a very dynamic and continually changing work environment. Dynamic change is understandable- this is the nature of such a venture.
What really ‘hacks my jowls’ however (bet you haven’t heard that phrase in a while!), is that these three companies each have their own take, and set of rules, on…safety.
On this project, the current work climate is such that, even when in the middle of a high-risk activity needing acute focus and attention, mental engagement with the task is frequently being jerked away whenever a vehicle from one of the ‘other’ companies happens to drive onto the project.
The effect? Attention is instantaneously shifted AWAY FROM actions in progress- to whether (or not) the person or team is meeting THAT company’s safety requirements.
This is not only ludicrous, it’s flat-out dangerous!
Having differing sets of safety rules on a project is insane! I’m not talking about different rules for different jobs or levels of risk- I’m talking about different (and often conflicting) rules for the exact same work!
And the thing is- depending upon the project or organization, catch a worker not following safety rules, and it can be grounds for immediate termination. YET- if workers were to follow ALL of the requirements- they simply couldn’t get anything done.
Now you may be diving into a bit of justification. You might be thinking…yeah, well on a construction site, with three different companies, this is to be expected.
I was coming home from one of our CERT classes in Canada a few years ago, traveling through the Toronto Airport. When I arrived, something obviously wasn’t going well. The terminal was packed with travelers- in line for security- all the way into the ticketing area.
Security issue? Nope.
Weather problems? Nope.
In this case, the cause was the Security Officers themselves.
No- they weren’t on strike, or asking for more money, or better benefits.
They were making a point.
It seems a number of officers had recently been ‘whacked’ for not following procedure.
As it turns out, the Security Officers in this terminal had been voicing their concerns- for quite some time- that the recently-revised procedure for processing travelers through security simply didn’t work.
Management did nothing about fixing the procedure, AND they’d been punishing people for not following it.
So- the Security Officers decided to make a point- by simply following the procedure as written- to the letter.
Fortunately, I’d gotten to the airport quite early. I didn’t miss my flight, however, I stood in that security line for over 3 hours!
I tell ya- I was certainly glad I had a bottle of water and an energy bar with me that day!
And… this wasn’t a construction site, with three different companies. This was one process with a stable workforce- working at a single facility!
As reported in a newspaper article about the ‘incident’ a few days later, the procedure (somehow miraculously) got …fixed.
First off- it doesn’t matter- your industry, type, or company structure- or the size of your organization. Large or small- if you have policies, procedures, and maybe a directive or two…I can just about guarantee you they contain conflicting instructions and outright setups for mistakes.
In the ‘academia’ of human performance and human error reduction, these are what’s known as, “latent organizational weaknesses.”
In Episode 008 of REPSradio.com, I talked about HOW to stop being “Complicated and Ridiculous”. If you listened to it, you undoubtedly recognize the phrase, “latent organizational weaknesses,” as falling into that category. (And by the way, if you haven’t listened to it yet…you really should!)
WE call these discrepancies and setups- “roadblocks” and “landmines”.
Roadblocks are conflicts or confusions that inhibit forward motion- in other words, work comes to a stop (that is- unless human nature kicks in and the roadblock is simply bypassed to get the work done…)
Landmines directly set workers up to make mistakes- such setups are often not obvious, you sure as heck don’t want to step on one of ‘em, and if you do…something BAD generally happens.
I recommend you rid yourself of the complex, put these two terms, roadblocks and landmines, into YOUR vocabulary straight-away, and for Goodness’ sake, start doing something about them!
So- the classic response I almost always receive when having this conversation, whether it’s with a front line worker, a Safety Coordinator, or a CEO- is, “Yes- BUT…we don’t have the budget or manpower to fix these things!”
There’s a decent chance you’re thinking the same thing right now.
This is so amazing to me, because there ALWAYS seems to be money and resources available for recovery AFTER something bad happens!
Granted- you likely don’t see the resources, or can’t make a business case- for an overhaul of your policies and procedures.
So then, what then are you to do?
Well- this is where some ‘leadership cojones’ need to come into play.
First off- looking forward- when approaching a project like the one I previously mentioned- do your due diligence to identify any conflicting guidance or requirements. THEN- for goodness’ sake- work through these issues when contracts are being crafted and arranged.
DECIDE and AGREE upon the flow of authority at the work location- WHOSE safety requirements are going to apply WHEN.
Do this UP FRONT, then COMMUNICATE the “way things will work”- before any boots hit the ground.
Who was it that said something about, “…an ounce of prevention…?”
Beyond this, regardless of your current project status or state of operations, there are two simple things you CAN do…right now.
First- COMMUNICATE your awareness of this issue. Acknowledge it. Be transparent. Be specific. EXPLAIN WHY such issues exist, and WHY you may have to live with some of them- at least for a while.
Second- provide specific guidance on WHAT to do when a roadblock or landmine rears its ugly head.
I strongly recommend you adopt and promote the use of a specific Error Elimination Tool™ for this purpose. It’s called, STOP When Unsure.
This tool, one of the four most-powerful of the entire set, is used during task or job performance when a roadblock or landmine is encountered, or when things ‘just don’t seem right’.
It involves four simple steps:
The first step is to…STOP (that ought to be pretty obvious).
Once you STOP, you place whatever you were working on in a safe condition. This can involve putting instruments, equipment, or systems in a stable and safe state, getting yourself out of harm’s way, and so forth.
Once everything is stable and safe- notify the appropriate supervisor or leader. Now, you should give specific guidance- in advance- of WHO to get hold of (and if that person isn’t reachable- who’s the alternate).
And Step 4- get the issue resolved PRIOR TO proceeding with any further work.
This Tool eliminates confusion and any second-guessing when risk is present, and takes the risk away while things are being resolved.
Now along with promoting use of this Tool, of course, you can’t yell at (or offer ANY negative response to) a worker when he or she STOPs and uses this tool.
Do so- and it’ll likely never be used again!
While it can be frustrating when your rear end hangs on meeting the schedule, (like most of ours do), REMEMBER- when this happens, it’s because the worker has come upon a roadblock or a landmine. This is precisely what you WANT them to do. Continuing forward in the presence of one of these can lead to catastrophe.
I know of several specific instances where use of this Tool has saved lives, and prevented what otherwise might very well have been catastrophic errors.
Are you familiar with the Error Elimination Tools™?
This is a simple set of behavioral tools, which when used uncompromisingly, virtually eliminates the potential for human error.
Finally, before I wrap this up, let’s talk about the bigger gorilla- the fact that errant procedures, poor drawings, and conflicting guidance and direction exist in the first place.
So many have resigned themselves that there is absolutely NOTHING that can be done about this problem.
“There’s no money.”
“We don’t have the resources.”
“The process to get anything changed takes FOREVER!”
Consider this- the people who do the work are the ones who have the answers. The folks doing the work KNOW what’s wrong. They KNOW where conflicts and obstructions lie- and they likely have darned good ideas on how to fix ‘em.
As a leader, you need to make it EASY for them to do so.
“But the process…” you say.
Here’s a quick story from my previous life in nuclear power- a fishbowl of more rules and regulations than any other industry on the planet.
In the land of nuclear, virtually everything is proceduralized. As the “Technical Support Manager”, one of my areas of oversight was what we called, “Document Control”. This group was responsible for processing all procedure changes and revisions. It consisted of six bargaining unit Word Processors and a Supervisor.
When I took the position, average processing time to get something through Document Control was more than six months. It was looked upon as a ‘black hole’- once something went into it…it never seemed to come out.
Was it the Word Processors’ fault? Heck no. Those poor women were averaging 60 hours per week just to keep their nostrils above the swamp.
Was it the Supervisor’s fault. No way. She was awesome.
Why then were things so bad?
At the time, the requirements for getting a procedure through the change process were…complicated and ridiculous (after all- this was nuclear power!)
And this is where the courage to LEAD came into play.
Never one to be shy, or to work through committees to get agreement on whether or not I had ‘permission’- I took it upon myself to change the system.
Still meeting ALL ‘nuclear’ requirements, I was able to simplify and “sane-itize” the process. (By the way…”sane-itize” is my way of saying, “…adding sanity to something.”)
Within 6 months of changing the process- a two-year backlog of procedure revisions was…gone. Average turnaround time for any procedure change was less than 48 hours, and…the Document Control professionals had their lives back. They were working regular 40-hour weeks.
These are the kinds of things that can be done when you, as a leader, are willing to look ahead, have a little COURAGE, and STOP buying into EXCUSES for- “How things are done around here.”
This Episode of REPSradio.com has been brought to you by the Practicing Perfection Institute, home of Human Performance BASIC Training™, Human Performance LEADERSHIP™ Training, the Human Performance MASTERS Program™, Practicing Perfection® TRAIN-the-TRAINER, and PPI Certification. The institute typically runs Certification Courses twice per year. For more information, go to ppiweb.com. That’s ppiweb.com.
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To wrap this up- in this Episode I’ve handed you some very simple steps you can take immediately to deal with a malignant problem- a challenge facing the majority of projects and organizations on planet earth.
My question to you now is- are YOU going to LEAD?
Until next time my friend,