Why I Miss Promotion Exams

In the Air Force, enlisted Airmen take promotion examinations. The exams are based on career field and general military knowledge. Exam points are added to annual appraisal ratings for a combined score. All other factors being equal, top-tier scores result in promotion.

When I was selected for E-9 in 2014, it meant no more exams.

I miss the exams.

Some people procrastinate. The most successful procrastinators use the habit as a forcing function to focus on the task, creating an artificial stress, thereby completing work which otherwise wouldn’t get done.

I don’t procrastinate, but I do use exams as a way to focus energy into areas I wouldn’t otherwise choose. For example, it’d be hard to wake up at 0300 to study Air Force history or the intricacies of fall protection, but with an exam deadline looming, I jump out of bed. (NOTE: the lessons in history and fall protection, among the many others, would prove valuable in subsequent promotions.)

So, after the final promotion exam, I signed up for another certification exam. And another. And just this morning, I’m finishing up an application for the BCSP’s new Safety Management Specialist certification.

What is your forcing function?

 

Terroir

It’s the first part to be stripped out when something is mass-produced.

Terroir, in French, in the assembly of characteristics imparted to wine by the environment (sun, rain, soil) in which it’s produced.

Remove terroir and you have a franchisable and infinitely-replicable product. It’s also why a meal at McDonalds or breakfast poured from a box will never be remarkable.

People carry terroir. Built on their experiences, culture, and values, each person carries characteristics imparted by their environment.

We can lose terroir as well.

When we work without purpose, tell ourselves we’re doing our best (when we know we aren’t), treat others as objects rather than people, forget to say thank you, and don’t speak up when we should, our terroir shrinks. Given enough time, we become that box of cereal or drive-through meal.

To be effective, EHS professionals must speak to the heart. Terroir is the vehicle to the point past compliance. It’s why you’ll be remembered. Or not.

 

When It Settles Down

We tell others, and ourselves, “When it settles down, I’ll have time for that.”

It’s not true.

The convenient lie cycles through our heads, surrounds both our work and personal calendars, invites us to accept the urgent duties of the day, and encourages putting off the most important until that time when we show up to nothing but unscheduled calendar time.

Until that time, we say yes to everything and accept the overwhelmed feeling…because when it settles down it’ll all be worth it.

In the meantime, the child grows up. The vacation time is lost. Ballet practice and spelling bees go unseen. That book goes unwritten. The date night is pushed to next week.

Cemeteries are filled with those who lived for “when it settles down.”

 

Your Personal Board of Directors

Companies have boards of directors. Directors advise, counsel, lead, provide perspective, and guide. Some directors are active, others take a more passive role, but each brings experience and unique strengths to the company.

Having a mentor is OK. Have a board of directors is better.

When you have a mentor, you grow for a time period, usually in a very specific way. When you have a board, you have a variety of perspectives on various areas in your life.

A director can be someone you know already, a person you reach out to, a book, or even a blog or podcast. (For more on mentoring sources, check out Michael Hyatt’s link below.)

Here’s how I run my own board of directors:

I have directors in the areas of EHS and business (three people I know and trust), personal finance (three books and five blogs), family (two people), spiritual (two people and three podcasts), and the military (two people and two books). I consult frequently with these directors/resources on matters within their area of expertise. And I thank them regularly.

Who is on your board today? Who is there that shouldn’t be? What perspective are you lacking and where could you find it?

More on mentoring sources from Michael Hyatt here.

 

When Character Is Revealed

George Patton said, “Pressure makes diamonds.”

Pressure also reveals character.

When your key metrics are healthy, your programs are in full compliance, and profits are up, it’s easy to share the credit, inspire teamwork, share resources, and dream big.

But who are you when the going gets tough?

Marathons and ruck marches are microcosms of stress revealing character.

Before the start, everyone is hopeful. This one will be easy. With these new shoes, this backpack, this method of training, this 26.2 miles will be a breeze.

Ten miles in, small aches form. But most participants keep their smiles.

Fourteen miles in and the mind says “it’d be so much better if you quit.” And some do.

Twenty miles in. Smiles are gone and character comes out. New gear is forgotten as blisters are repaired. The quitters have left and the race belongs to the strong (or at least the persistent).

Twenty-four and each step is felt. The training you did (or didn’t do) is now paying off. Each step is felt.

Twenty-six and smiles return. This smile is earned. It’s a smile that knows pressure and success.

And it sparkles like a diamond.

 

The Sum Of Our Contributions

The Piper Alpha oil production platform was built in 1976 and destroyed in an explosion in 1988, killing 168 workers.

Sir Brian Appleton, a safety assessor at the disaster, afterwards summed up what safety professionals are called to perform:

“Safety is not an intellectual exercise to keep us in work. It is a matter of life and death. It is the sum of our contributions to safety management that determines whether the people we work with live or die.”

This quote is good for those days when budgets and politics seem overwhelming.

 

The Sum Of Our Contributions

The Piper Alpha oil production platform was built in 1976 and destroyed in an explosion in 1988, killing 168 workers.

Sir Brian Appleton, a safety assessor at the disaster, afterwards summed up what safety professionals are called to perform:

“Safety is not an intellectual exercise to keep us in work. It is a matter of life and death. It is the sum of our contributions to safety management that determines whether the people we work with live or die.”

This quote is good for those days when budgets and politics seem overwhelming.

 

When Everyone Agrees

We choose friends who agree with us. We live in neighborhoods that look increasingly similar. Our Facebook, Twitter, and web forum feeds are filled with thoughts with which we agree entirely.

Don’t agree once? Minor annoyance.

Disagree twice? Unfollow. The daring even “unfriend.”

The internet makes it easy. We create microcosms of similar thought. Some of us do not even know a person who voted for the other party in the last election.

And it’s nice. Everyone we know agrees with us.

But disagreement is essential to growth, to learning, and to development.

EHS professionals must disagree. Entrepreneurs must disagree. Managers who want to make a difference (an awfully low percentage) must disagree.

The cure? Build confidants who offer diverse perspectives. Hire highly qualified applicants with experience and education different from yours. Pick up a book offering an opposite perspective on a topic you care deeply about. Seek alternate opinions to your current way of thinking.

Does it work? Recently I read a book, suggested by a colleague with whom I disagree enough to make it interesting, and it changed my mind. I wrote about it here.

 

Safety Must Be Competitive

“Safety is not competitive.”

I last heard it from a conference speaker this week.

It’s meant to engender an open sharing of best practices and a free flow of ideas. The thought comes from the idea that safety is a basic human right and comes with legal and moral obligations.

I think it’s wrong. Safety is (and deserves to be) competitive.

Safety, at its basic level, is risk management. The best entrepreneurs and investors in the world, from Warren Buffett to Richard Branson, base their entire strategies on risk management. Buffet’s classic line, “Rule No. 1: never lose money; rule No. 2: don’t forget rule No. 1” speak to his aversion to loss. Branson leased airplanes for Virgin only when Boeing agreed to take them back if the business failed.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., an American food chain, was rocked two years ago with food safety (E. coli) concerns. In the following year, Chipotle would spend millions upon millions in training and new processes. Its stock did not recover, from a high of $749 in mid-2015 to a low of $400 today.

Do workers and the public deserve safety? Without question.

Is safety competitive? It better be. The costs of thinking otherwise may be too much to bear.