The Mediocrity of SMART Goals

“I’ve got to give my boss some SMART goals for my team this year. I figure I’ll do something similar to last year’s goals and since my goal attainment is tied to my boss’s annual performance report, I’ll make sure that all of my goals are achievable.” – Overheard at a high-level safety conference

SMART goals. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound)

It’s the “A” that bothers me the most. “Attainable”

It’s the lie that annual goals foist on the organization.  It takes the wind out of sails and makes others pull down their sails “just in case.” It limits vectors and reinforces comfort zones. Attainability is average, status quo, and simply mediocre.

Turning away from SMART, authors like Jim Collins introduced the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). In the more genteel companies, “hairy” is removed, reducing the acronym to BAG.

Whatever the acronym…how do we break from attainable? How do we begin to think a bit (or a lot) bigger than “I’ll do something similar to last year”?

Here are a few resources that help me. Two books (short but with big ideas) and a podcast.

The 10X Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure – Grant Cardone writes about replacing the idea of 10% increases with multiplying everything by 10.

The Compound Effect – A short book that took me two weeks to get through because of all the questions it asks the reader to answer. You’ll learn a ton about yourself and eschew “average” forever.

Testing the Impossible: 17 Questions that Changed My Life (Tim Ferris Podcast) – I listen to this episode at least every 3 months and it always inspires new ideas.

Like SMART goals? Then make the “A” stand for something else, like Awesome, Audacious, Atomic, or even Astonishing!

Do you use SMART goals and why?

Have you tried this safety app?

When I began studying for safety certifications, this was the equation they warned me about. The NIOSH Lifting Equation.

For those unaware of the equation (and I’m a bit jealous of you), it goes like this:

LC (51) x HM x VM x DM x AM x FM x CM = RWL

Thanks to NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), now there’s both an Apple and Android app for it.

If the links don’t appear, you can find the app by searching for “NLE Calc” on your applicable app site.

Confused by the variables and want a step-by-step description? Here’s a link to Ergo-Plus and they do a thorough job on simplifying the topic.

Want more NIOSH apps?

NIOSH Heat Safety Tool

Sound Level Meter (NIOSH SLM)

Ladder Safety

Do you have a favorite EHS app? Let me know what you use in the comments!

Is Safety Hocus Pocus?

When I was eight years old, I attended a magic show. The magician transformed his handkerchief into doves, sawed his assistant in half and used weird words like “hocus pocus.”

In EHS we say weird words too. We use acronyms such as UST, TWA, TLV, TMS, STS, and STEL. We repeat words like incident (and cringe when others use “accident”), residual risk, and anthropometric.

Prior to the invention of the printing press in 1439, literacy was uncommon. Churchgoers in the Middle Ages listened to readings in Latin, unable to read or fully understand the texts. While passing out sacred bread and wine, priests would repeat strange sounding words. In 1674, the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Tillotson, wrote, “in all probability…hocus pocus is nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus (“this is the body”), [a] ridiculous imitation of the priests of the Church.”

I attended an EHS presentation last week where the majority of the audience was not in the EHS business. The speaker continually used safety-industry specific language. With each “DART” and “EMR”, audience members squinted, frowned, and eventually gave up trying to translate. In the end, it was a little too much “hocus pocus.”

How much hocus pocus is in your language?

The next great safety leaders aren’t going to be safety people

It’s a question I get in my inbox nearly weekly. So often, in fact, I now include it in presentations to audiences of safety professionals.

The question is usually phrased, “Should I get a graduate degree in EHS?”

The answer is both yes and no.

The answer is yes: If you think that the way we are doing things is correct. If compliance is the answer. If better workers equals better safety. If more rules and regulations are what the world needs. If you wish to be a superior technician.

The answer is no: If you want to change how we define safety. If you’re tired of blaming the worker. If being a technician isn’t enough. If you’ve taken a course in psychology, education, or engineering and glimpsed what the current models of EHS are missing.  If the risk of being wrong is worth the chance of being right and making a real difference.

The next great safety leaders that are going to exist in our world aren’t thinking about safety, they’re running things like DevOps or artificial intelligence or driverless cars. They’re not going to be safety people, they’re going to be people who understand systems and understand complexity…and that’s kind of a fine place for it to go, that’s pretty cool.

– Todd Conklin, Pre-Accident Investigations: An Introduction to Organizational Safety Podcast # 142

What’s Your Week Look Like?

“If you talk about it, it’s a dream, if you envision it, it’s possible, but if you schedule it, it’s real.”

– Anthony Robbins, Get the Edge

What are your priorities this week? This year? In your life?

Open up your weekly calendar.

  • Is it full of your priorities or someone else’s?
  • Does your schedule reflect your priorities?
  • Are you making time for what really matters?
  • Do you see actions necessary for goal accomplishment in your calendar or just reactions to last week’s emergencies?
  • Are you proud of the way you spend your time?

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”

–  Annie Dillard

The Hard Questions in EHS

The people who skip the hard questions are in the majority, but they are not in demand.” – Seth Godin

You know those questions you sometimes ask yourself, even for a moment, before the day-to-day tasks take over?

You know the idea you had during the injury investigation, the one that would “never” work at your company?

You know the question the student had during your last safety training, the one you carefully responded to, but nagged you for weeks?

These are the hard questions. The ones we push away in favor of the predictable to-do list. They are the questions which people like Peter Drucker, Joseph Juran, and W. Edward Deming wrestled with to transform business and quality paradigms.

Just what are the hard questions in the business of EHS? Here are a few ideas. What would you add to the list?

-Does training work if people don’t want to learn? Do we only train people who want to learn?

-When do laws and policies to keep people safe inhibit personal freedom boundaries?

-Does safety ever become too expensive? If so, where do we draw the line?

-Are some activities worth the risk of injury and death?

-If OSHA regulations disappeared tomorrow, what would you keep doing anyway? What would be dropped first?

-What’s the number one reason your organization has not ended preventable injuries and deaths? Is that OK? Is that what you’re working on now or are you busy rearranging deck chairs?

What are your hard questions?


Are We Cheating By Building Better Safety Programs?

The harder things are to do, the more we cheat.

If the sidewalk isn’t the fastest route to the building, we take the grass.

In the case of worker safety, if wearing PPE is difficult, inconvenient, or slows down the task, the PPE will find a new home in the bottom of the drawer or truck box.

In the case of EHS, if worker safety and injury reduction are challenging, we may instead focus on structural improvement, better worded policy, and conference attendance, ever seeking the safety “flavor-of-the-month.”

But what if program structure, policy, and the latest in BBS are distractions from the real work?

Seth Godin, in his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, asks readers where they’d prioritize qualities such as “’being comfortable with other people,’ or ‘engage people in a way that makes them want to talk with you,’ or ‘even be persuasive’?”

Developing these qualities (social intelligence) is far more difficult than tweaking programs and policies. So we convince ourselves that the latest version of a Job Hazard Analysis or an automated SDS system is the way to success.

There is no shortcut to building the capacity to work safely. No new app, no shiny PPE, no bright orange backpack from the latest safety conference. These are distractions along a path that will empty your budget, make you feel like you’re doing something, and worse, take time away from the real work.

Because if we can’t be comfortable around people, engage with others in a way that makes them want to talk, and be persuasive…we’ve really just tossed the PPE in the back of the truck.

The Cure for the Career Plateau

I have a problem. Maybe this happens to you too, which is why I’m sharing.

Every time I achieve a major goal, it’s as if I have walked into thick fog. The future becomes unclear. I don’t know what’s next and feel truly lost.

Then, the internal dialogue starts. “You’ve done great. Look around, just look at your accomplishments…look at your resume.” Often, someone else will say the same thing and reinforce it. It’s a vicious cycle of ego.

(If you don’t talk to yourself, this might seem crazy…if you do talk to yourself, you might be the one laughing right now.)

The last time this happened, this feeling of accomplishment and stasis, I solved it by taking down everything in my office. Every plaque, every trophy, every single thing…70-80 pounds of reminders of goals achieved and unceremoniously tossed it in the recycle bin.

This worked for nearly a year.

Then this week, sitting at a small office table, across from two professors of ergonomics and safety, I almost fell out of my chair.

One of the professors, in less than three minutes, thoroughly convinced me that ergonomics was the cure for the undervalued business of safety. I wanted to run out of the room and go to an ergonomics class. The other, having just finished his third PhD, spoke on the future of education, universities, and how much his graduate EHS students were changing the world around them.

It was like I’d showed up with my tee ball bat to major league baseball game.

In that moment, they’d flashed a light and shown me a new peak. They forced me to look around, see the plateau where I stood, and gave me a vision for the future.

Plateau gone. Now to grab some climbing gear…

24 Bad Habits of Safety Professionals

  1. Defaulting to “no”
  2. Taking criticism personally
  3. Never listening to criticism
  4. Never explaining
  5. Managing by Microsoft Outlook and policy letter
  6. Thinking good intentions are good enough
  7. Forgetting that the process is more important than the result
  8. Checking email constantly
  9. Giving up on strategy for the lure of the “urgent”
  10. Thinking continuing education is for others
  11. Overpromising
  12. Underdelivering
  13. Thinking people don’t value safety
  14. Not reading at least a book a month
  15. Talking down to supervisors and new employees
  16. Turning incident investigations into rote paperwork
  17. Thinking safety is more important than every other business function
  18. Using safety jargon to sound smart
  19. Taking the credit for incident reductions
  20. Passing the blame when incident rates go up
  21. Lowering their standards
  22. Tying self-worth to the job title and description
  23. Believing pessimism is the best way to avoid pain
  24. Forgetting that being calm and kind are two of the best attributes of safety professionals

What would you add to the list?

The Ability to See Problems

It’s often encouraged in safety training.

In the Air Force, we take Safety Academy students into industrial shops, where they use checklists they’ve researched and written, to point out hazards and areas of non-compliance.

And every chance I get, I speak with the students afterwards and tell them why the process of finding the problem isn’t the job. The real job is seeing the goal beyond the problem.

The students rarely understand the first time. They’ve always thought of the safety professional as the one who points out errors. The better you are, the more errors you find….or so the logic goes. For every solution, there is a problem.

If errors are all we see, in our environment, our organizations, and in ourselves, we limit our future by limiting our vision to only correcting errors.

John Maxwell writes that the ability to see problems isn’t the mark of maturity. It’s the mark of a person without vision.

What will you see today?