Don’t Tell Me What You Value

Earlier this week, I had the honor of visiting with a large group of deployed military safety professionals. These safety professionals are currently stationed in some of the most remote, desolate, and often hostile regions of the world. These service members are my heroes.

In one-on-one conversations throughout the week, we discussed their personal and professional goals, their families back at home, and their careers. One Airman told me his goal was to finish his undergraduate degree this year and take the ASP exam upon returning home. This was his priority and he was excited to talk about his plans. He then confessed that taking classes was going a bit slower than expected due to the deployment however…he just didn’t know where the hours were going. Another Airman came up and the conversation turned to discussing life at their different deployed locations. One base had access to a movie theater and a swimming pool. The other base did not. The Airman who’d told me that his priority was school and certification study had seen all of the first-run movies and knew the exact hours of the pool.

He saw me looking at him.

He started to shake his head. He’d connected the dots and knew where his time was disappearing to.

Then the Airman stationed at the base without the theater and pool spoke up again. He said (and I couldn’t have timed this better if I’d planned it), “Chief, did you hear I passed the ASP exam last week at [my deployed base]?”

The second Airman didn’t tell me what he valued…he showed me (and the world).

How about you? What are you showing you value? Are you trading a version of movies and pool time for what you really want in life?



Backward Into Safety

“You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” – Abraham Maslow as quoted in “How the Best Leaders Lead” by Brian Tracy, p. 35

There are many quotations which seem to downplay the value of safety.

At first glance, Maslow’s phraseology indicates that safety is regression and ultimately opposed to growth. Upon deeper review of his hierarchy of human needs, the quote is spot on.

The bottom four levels of the hierarchy (physiological, safety, love, and esteem) were described by Maslow as “deficiency needs” and the top level (self-actualization) as “growth, or being, needs”. When deficiency needs aren’t met, they motivate. When they are met, they cease to motivate. When growth is obtained, this “need” acts differently, as it continues to motivate. In Maslow’s view, self-actualization is often hampered by unmet deficiency needs (thus his wording in the quote about stepping backward into safety). Maslow also gives us a perspective as to why safety goals are much less common than growth goals, as safety goals may become more easily satiated as our thresholds are met, versus self-reinforcing growth goals.

How about you? Do you have a favorite “anti-safety” quote?

Safetysplain (new word)

Safetysplain [seyf-tee-spleyn]

(a blend of the word safety and the informal form splain of the verb explain) means “to explain something to someone, characteristically by a safety professional to a non-safety professional, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing”.

‘He safetysplained the necessity of PPE to the construction crew as they pretended to listen.’

The Promise of Ease

If we answer and never listen,

If we do and never learn,

If we speak and never think,

If we repeat and never change,

If we habituate and never alternate,

If we avoid feedback and do not seek to improve,

If we aim and do not fire (or fire and do not aim),

If we decide and do not act,

If we resolve and do not follow through,

We then resign a bit of ourselves to the lure of comfortable negligence, where self-command, willpower, and responsibility are pushed aside for the promise of ease and the luxury of the known.


Don’t Hide (Tips for Public Speaking)

“The strategy of speaking to individuals is…a useful antidote to fear of public speaking. No one wants to be stared at by hundreds of unfriendly, judgmental eyes. However, almost everybody can talk to just one attentive person. So if you have to deliver a speech (another terrible phrase) then do that. Talk to the individuals in the audience-and don’t hide: not behind the podium, not with downcast eyes, not by speaking too quietly or mumbling, not by apologizing for your lack of brilliance or preparedness, not behind ideas that are not yours, and not behind clichés.

– Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos


Breaking Bad Safety Habits

It wasn’t working and yet they couldn’t quit.

The organization spent millions per fiscal year on safety training and education, with spurious results. During years when injuries and lost work days went down, the positive results were correlated to the training. Other time, when injury rates rose, the results were instead tied to market conditions or something else outside of the company’s control. Peoples’ jobs depended on the training and senior leaders felt good about providing the training. They couldn’t quit.

London Business School professor, Freek Vermeulen, writes in “Breaking Bad Habits: Defy Industry Norms and Reinvigorate Your Business” on how organizations develop bad habits. One of the examples given is of South African banking. One bank, looking for competitive advantage in pricing, reduced account transfer fees to one flat amount, instead of the traditional percentage of funds transferred. Expecting their competitors to immediately reduce their transfer pricing, the bank marketed the reduced costs widely. Surprisingly, their competitors did not reduce their pricing. Why? The higher transfer fees supported budgets in other business units and their managers depended on the revenue.  They simply could not afford to change. You may be able to guess the result (significantly reduced market share).

How much of your EHS program began with good intentions (and good results) but you’re unsure why you’re still doing it?

What can you not afford to quit?

The Lottery of Safety

When lottery jackpots are high, upwards of 600 million tickets are sold in a single day. The Atlantic reported that Americans spent $70 billion, or $300 for every adult, in 2014 alone. Of the top 20 counties in North Carolina with poverty levels above 20 percent, more than $200 per adult is spent on the lottery. And Rhode Island leads the U.S. in sales per capita, with nearly $800 in tickets sold per person.

Yet the odds of winning remain low. So low in fact, that even when Powerball fever grips the nation, the chances of any winner being selected (from the 600 million or so tickets sold that day) is still only around 13 percent.

Why do we buy lottery tickets?

Because we have the amazing ability to magnify perceived chance based on hope. We pray, wish, dream, and negotiate with higher powers, that the one chance in a billion falls on us.

Then we put that same lottery ticket in our pocket, drive our car without a seatbelt, leave eye protection on our forehead, climb without a fall arrest system, and tell ourselves, “Getting hurt at work will never happen to me.”

Except we’re wrong. Something always happens. Every day our lives are filled with coincidences and circumstances which defy the odds. Low-chance encounters that change our lives forever.

What are you betting on?


Three Ways to Give Better (Last-Minute) Presentations

It’s always better to prepare. But sometimes there is no time to draft the perfect transitions and to rehearse. You just have to go (now).

Whether you have a two-minute walk down the hall to the auditorium, or just the 10 seconds from the table to the front of the meeting room, here are three ways to give better impromptu talks.

  1. Pick three points (and fast): One main idea which is supported by three points. Three works great with limited attention spans. Three is easy to remember. (And three might be the reason you clicked on this post).
  2. Make one a story: We remember stories. They speak to us at a deeper level than bar charts and graphs. If you want to have your audience remember anything you’re about to say, say it with a story.
  3. Surprise your audience: Be vulnerable. Share what you’ve learned. Reveal your humanity and your flaws.

Do you have a go-to method for last-minute talks?

Do You Grow Your People Like a Farmer or a Reality Show?

Farmers don’t just plant seeds, cross their fingers, and come back in 4 months to check on the progress.

Whether the farmer grows corn, soybeans, or wheat, they prepare the soil, choose seeds with traits conducive to their exact location and season, carefully apply fertilizer, herbicides, and fungicides (natural or man-made), tweak this and that, and systematize the process.

Yet when many of us grow people, we do much less.

First, we may outsource the hiring to HR. Then we run the new hire through a process more akin to “Survivor” and “American Ninja” than a process which recognizes unique abilities, experiences and skill. Finally, we check back in several months later to see “how things are going.”

If farmers grew crops like we grow people, we’d all starve. Just like plants, people need fertilizer, careful placement, and maybe even their first few months under the shelter of a greenhouse where they learn culture, share values, and the necessary skills to wildly succeed.

Treating people like reality show contestants on a far-off island doesn’t make them strong. It only leads to a bunch of bedraggled, wore out, and mentally and physically drained short-term employees who will quit and cry at the first site of a passing ship.

Farmer or reality show?