Walking through the ASSE convention floor yesterday, I stopped by a vendor’s booth. We hadn’t met before and as I introduced myself, I noticed the zipper on his pants was down. As there were others around, I waited for a break in conversation to lean in and say, “Your fly is down.”
Embarrassing maybe, but not dangerous to health.
In safety we live in a world where difficult conversations must exist. How many times have we completed incident investigations with the thought, “If only they’d have spoken up” or “If only someone had said something”?
Are we building systems where people engage on challenging issues?
This is an essential question for organization success, not only for safety, but for necessary changes in operations, marketing, business development…and virtually every other facet of the company.
-Would your team tell you your fly is down and would you encourage/reward those who do?
-Would you tell your boss?
So the vendor pulled up his zipper and shook my hand.
Now where is the booth with the hand sanitizer?
“Did Brad ever tell you about all of the trees we planted?”
So began a story about Brad Giles and a season of planting saplings in the wilds of Idaho. And by the end of the story, I’d again be reminded about the impact one person can make in the world.
I met Brad Giles several years ago at a safety conference. At work, I’d just been selected for promotion to Chief Master Sergeant and days later hired to manage the U.S. Air Force’s safety career field. As Chief is the final military promotion, I was feeling the beginning of a career plateau.
Yet as Brad and I spoke over dinner, he shared with me a vision. A vision to share the vast potential of a career in EHS with military veterans. Veterans who protected our nation would serve again to protect our workforce. Brad ignited a fire in me that evening.
Last night, another Airman emailed me to let me know he’d passed the CSP exam and to thank me for my leadership and example. But it wasn’t my example he was seeing.
It was Brad Giles.
Because while Brad may be an ASSE fellow, former BCSP board president, ASSE director…and much more…what makes him so very special is this fundamental quality.
Brad plants trees.
From all of the trees…thank you, Brad. And happy birthday again.
Amos Tversky was a cognitive psychologist and a colleague of Daniel Kahneman. Both would change the way we view human behavior today, notably the prospect theory which says people make choices based on potential gains and losses, using mental shortcuts called heuristics, instead of by looking at the final outcome of the choice.
In his personal life, Amos refused to let errors compound. In “The Undoing Project”, Michael Lewis gives a couple examples. If he went to a party where he found people uninteresting, he’d leave without a word. His children remember him taking their mother to a movie and he’d return 20 minutes later. He’d decided that the movie wasn’t worth the time and then return later to the theater to pick up his wife. He said, “They’ve already taken my money, should I give them my time too?”
Whether or not you’d leave your significant other at a movie isn’t the point.
But the story does provide insight into the choice we have; the choice to not continue to error.
The choice you have, once the ticket is bought, not to attend.
To not finish the book.
To say you are sorry.
To change your mind.
The average lifetime earnings of graduates with Bachelor’s degrees is $2.1 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1999 dollars. In 2017, that’s $3.1 million with inflation.
Warren Buffett, a multi-billionaire famous for cautious investing, told students at Columbia University to expect 50% more in lifetime salary projections…if they did one thing. And this one thing had nothing to do with the school they attended.
First, Buffett offered $100,000 to any student willing to pay him 10% of all future earnings. He’d done some quick math and “valued” each student at $1 million. At an average earnings of $3.1 million, that’s a safe bet.
Then he gave the students the secret to increasing it by 50%.
“…learning communication skills. It’s not something that’s taught…by having better communication skills, it’s another $500,000 in terms of capital growth value. See me after the class and I’ll pay you the $150,000.”
Communication skills, such as public speaking, negotiation, active-listening, writing, and delivering persuasive presentations, are essential for professionals in nearly every field.
What would Buffett pay you?
Like a bad version of Fight Club, we have values, but we don’t talk about values.
Not in meetings, not in group conversations, not in our annual headquarters’ reports, not in formal or informal performance assessments, and we never call each other out for displaying behaviors contrary to the organization’s values. Wait, there was that 60-minute presentation on values at the senior manager’s course. Does that count?
Like safety and risk management, if people don’t discuss it, address it in planning, adhere to it when it’s not easy, and use it as a tool to guide decisions…values do not exist.
Patrick Lencioni, in an article for Harvard Business Review, wrote, “…when properly practiced, values inflict pain. They make some employees feel like outcasts. They limit an organization’s strategic and operational freedom and constrain the behavior of its people. They leave executives open to heavy criticism for even minor violations. And they demand constant vigilance.”
Do your values go beyond the poster board on the wall?
Do they inflict pain?
Do they invite criticism?
Is your team’s culture intolerant of decisions made that run counter to your values?
Do your values matter?
We’d fixed it!
Safety professionals in my organization had struggled for years for a professional development path, a structured way to improve and succeed in their careers.
So we created one, a plan which included required courses, goals, timelines, and even credentialing. We built buy-in with stakeholders and fought to have it officially adopted.
Not quite. The plan we’d built was filled with funding shortages, training bottlenecks, access issues, communication asymmetries, and together these ran up against the 40% of the people who didn’t see a problem with the old system.
Welcome to what real success looks like.
You create problems when you create change. If the change was easy, it didn’t really need you (or you shot too low with your vision). If the change was accepted with unanimous applause, was it really the change your organization needed (or really a change at all)?
May your work be filled with successful problems.
Looking for a way to improve professional and personally outside of EHS technical knowledge?
Here are three books I’ve found immensely valuable and go back to time and again. These are also the first three books I recommend to all EHS professionals.
- “The First 90 Days” by Michael D. Watkins
This book explores successful transitions. The best parts; How to create change, matching strategy to the situation, building credibility, strengthening teams, and developing high-potential leaders. The worst part? I have to reread it every year.
- “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown
Ever begin the day with a to-do list and give up by 10:00 a.m.? The best parts; the power of choice, the unimportance of practically everything, and how to be unavailable. The worst part of the book? Every time I lend it out, I never get it back.
- “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler
Effective communication is inherent to a world-class EHS professional’s repertoire. The best parts; The free communication analysis, the four ways to powerful listening, the way around the false choice of “I have to be honest” or “be quiet to keep my job”. The worst part? Finding yourself in nearly every bad example.
What’s your favorite? What other book(s) do you recommend to your colleagues?
Many EHS professionals are good. Some EHS professionals are great. And a few are exceptional.
These few have all the right answers. They are promoted and rise through their organizations.
Next comes the corner office with the frosted glass. An executive assistant is there to screen calls, emails, and passersby. Every meeting is filled with head nods and agreement. At this point you may even think “I’m always right.”
That feeling…that warm, cozy, corner office feeling? That’s your bubble.
Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center, writes and speaks about the CEO bubble. In an article in the Harvard Business Review (link below), Gregersen gives insight to the bubble.
How do you know you’re in a bubble?
-Look at your calendar. Who are you spending the most time with?
-When is the last time you were dead wrong?
-When was the last time someone disagreed with you?
-Have you been uncomfortable lately?
If you spend a lot of time in your office or with people exactly like you, you’re always right, no one disagrees with you, and you’re usually comfortable…you’ve found your bubble.
Here’s a link to Gregersen’s thoughts on breaking out.
I write thank you notes on Monday mornings. Handwritten notes, mailed in envelopes with stamped postage, the notes are sent to those who’ve helped me and others on our journeys. Born as an extension of a morning gratitude habit (Think about three things I’m grateful for every morning), the notes encourage a deeper connection to gratitude.
But I can’t mail this one because Mary died in 1981. So I’ll write it here.
Due to a tight layover and heavy thunderstorms, I missed the flight home and spent the night in the USO (United Service Organizations). That’s when I first learned of Mary.
Mary Ingraham was born in Brooklyn, NY and later became president of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Organization). She then founded the USO, with the support of President F. D. Roosevelt, and oversaw the organization for years. The USO operates 160 centers in 14 countries, to include Afghanistan, and continues to provide hospitality and morale activities to military members in the U.S. and abroad.
I never knew Mary, nor did Mary meet many of the 35 million other members of the military touched by the USO, but she continues to have an impact some 36 years after her death.
Thank you, Mary. For your life of service and dedication to the military and to this nation, I am grateful for you and your work.
We provide advice. As EHS supervisors, directors, managers or technicians, part of our duty is to provide advice.
Medical doctors also advise. And they are sued regularly.
What can the EHS professional learn from doctors?
In multiple studies, researchers have found a correlation with doctors and lawsuits. And it’s not the doctor’s advice, their education, nor the provided quality of care. Lawsuits are correlated with communication.
In one study, by Wendy Levinson, MD; Debra L. Roter, DrPH; et al, doctors were split into two groups, those with two or more lawsuits and those without a lawsuit, and asked questions about patient care.
What did the researchers find?
Doctors without a single lawsuit more often educated their patients on what to expect concerning their care (called orientation). They also laughed more. The doctors facilitated discussions by asking for the patient’s opinion and checking for understanding throughout the process. The group without lawsuits also spent, on average, three additional minutes with patients.
And their patients didn’t sue. The doctors focused on the quality of the relationship and communication and in turn the patients felt good about their doctor.
Want to be a better EHS professional? Focus on your communication. Spend three more minutes with those you serve. And laugh.
It does make a difference.