Was Harry Truman talking to you?

I spoke with a safety professional this week about education. While employed full-time in EHS, he hadn’t yet finished a degree. So I asked about it.

Me: “Are you going to school?”

Him: “Yes, it’s something I’m working on.” (nodding)

Me: “So you’re going to school?”

Him: “Working towards it.” (nodding now less surely)

Me: “Are you in school?”

Him: “Yes and no.” (now frowning pensively)

Me: (blank stare)

Harry Truman, probably after a long day of receiving similar feedback and advice at the White House, quipped, “Give me a one-handed economist. All my economists say ‘on hand…’, then ‘but on the other…”

You give advice and are professionally obliged to do so. As do economists. Sometimes when we give advice as EHS professionals, we aren’t clear with our message.

And while economists (and EHS pros) may retort that life is grayer than black and white, what’s your goal? Is the situation really gray? Do we give “both sides of the story” to help our boss or to cover our “reputation”?

Give it to a busy person

Lucille Ball once said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”

I’m not sure if she said this before or after the episode with the candy assembly line, but she certainly was speaking directly to EHS professionals.

Not busy just to be busy, but busy with priority and purpose.

A purpose which inherently includes everyone going home safely at the end of the day.

What’s Missing From Safety Training?

You’ve seen this from individuals in the EHS field. They attend multiple training courses, receive a handful of certificates, and may even talk themselves into a decision-making role in the organization.

And then it starts. A manager disagrees with them. The EHS technician retorts, “Do you know who I am?” Or a policy doesn’t align with their version of perfect. The EHS technician counters, “This company doesn’t care about safety, it’s only about profit.”

What’s missing from most safety training? A bit of philosophy, psychology, emotional intelligence, perspective, leadership…which each work to bind the technical side of safety to the strategy of business.

Too often, we fall into the trap laid out so eloquently by Ray Bradbury, author of “Fahrenheit 451“, when he wrote:

Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’, they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information….Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

For more on EHS curriculum and what’s missing in safety training and education, take a look at “Model Curriculum for OSH: Key to Becoming a Profession” by Jim Ramsay and Wayne Hartz in the March 17 edition of Professional Safety.




I’m not ready for this promotion!

An exceptional man sat down in my office yesterday and relayed that, in nearly every promotion he’d earned, he hadn’t felt ready for it. He felt the promotions came too soon and he lacked the skill and experience for the role…all of this when he had just figured out the current job!

We talked for a few moments and (reflecting this morning) I’m not sure I gave clear advice.

Here’s what I should have said.

Trust your headlights.

Before I put on E-5 (the military promotion that allows you to supervise others), a supervisor sat down with me and told me the headlight story. He advised promotions were like driving at night. You can’t see farther than your lights, but you develop trust that the road will be there. You can increase the range of your lights through education, training, and experience, but you must ultimately trust that the road will be there. You can fill the car with coaches and mentors, but in the end the driving and the road is yours.

The road will be there. Turn on your lights, fill the seats appropriately, and drive on.


When Goals Fail: Alternative Planning For People Who Hate Goal-Setting

Another annual meeting and another slide deck filled with the annual goal review! This will change everything!

Here’s the truth.

Of the people in the room, 50% know you hadn’t reviewed these goals until last week, when you quickly updated the graphs with the promise of future work. Another 20% actually believe you and 30% are pretending to listen while updating their annual slides.

Here are three alternatives to the annual goal-setting insanity.

1. Create a 10-year narrative: Debbie Millman explains how this short exercise changed her life (1:47 video link)

2. Why 12 weeks often works best: Author Brian Moran’s insightful book on why sprinting works best. Download the free planner here.

3. Growth without Goals: Portfolio manager Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s essay on eliminating goals and focusing on daily practice (10 min. read.)



Five Ways to Raise Average Kids

So much is written about excellence, world-class, and extraordinary, what about average? Where are the posts about average?

1. Belief in destiny: You have a fixed life path. If it’s hard, it’s not meant for you. Choose only the work you’re immediately passionate about. Talent is fixed, so try something else. You are born with a set of skills, hard work never changes these much.

2. Intrinsic value: You have value independent of what you do, say, think, decide, or act on. Work hard or sit on the couch, be nice or be mean, either way you are a valuable person and must be treated as such.

3. High expectations: As a member of a first-world society, you should expect to go to college which must result in a 6-figure salary within a month after graduation. And it should be free for you. Within 12 months, you should earn as much as your parents. If this isn’t your experience, you are a victim. Start a sit-in in the local park.

4. Role model: Everyone needs role models. You can’t learn everything yourself. So, watch me live for the weekend, absorb television 4 hours a day, treat others according to what they can give me, berate the referee when you don’t practice well enough to make the play, and blame my diabetes on genetics.

5. Read: Not books though. Read the news and become intensely irate at political machinations at the capital. Read the latest smart phone updates, new car models, celebrity gossip, and most of all, memorize the life history of sports legends. Don’t read your company’s 401K report or safety instructions …those are for suckers!

(NOTE: Entirely tongue-in cheek and based on overheard airport conversations and personal experience only. Your results may vary.)


Doing it all

I spoke with a young noncommissioned officer this week about his career. He’s served in the military 12 years and has a wonderful family at home.

But he was stuck. He hadn’t yet finished an associate’s degree, knew how important it was for the next promotion, and yet struggled with balancing work and family obligations.

He wanted to know how to do it all.

I could see the frustration in his eyes. I relayed to him that the “how” wasn’t important, it’s the why. He knew he should pursue the education, but this knowledge hadn’t yet translated into emotions and action. His hadn’t yet tied his present actions with his future desired state (that of providing for his family long after the military). And his five were telling him it was OK.

And you cannot do it all. You must pick one thing, grab onto it, and pursue it until it’s done. Just like a lion will go hungry if, overwhelmed by the size of the herd of gazelle, they chase multiple antelope, a person with too many goals will quickly tire (and with limited success).

What’s your why and how does it intersect with the one thing?


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?



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.”