I have seen in myself (and in others) a tendency to overlook people. I often think of my business as an engine that can be tuned and modified. I forget that performance happens through people, not processes. The best process in the world doesn’t work when the people involved don’t feel engaged or interested.
I have found in myself (and in others) a desire to ignore the complexity of situations, and propose simple, easy-to-implement solutions. My urge to take action — “don’t just stand there, do something!” — has me chase solutions based on what I can do, rather than what’s needed. I’m pretty handy at the computer, so I make project plans and track how far behind schedule we are — rather than addressing the reasons work isn’t getting done.
I have noticed that I (and others) often propose solutions involving “them” before looking at “me”. It’s easy to talk at (not with) folks about how they can do better. And when the tables are turned, and someone tells me what I need to do, I usually nod and say, “you’re right, I’ll do better” without really meaning it — because that’s easier than pushing back and challenging my colleague to look at their own contribution.
I often see myself (and others) attempt to predict the future, explain the past and above all else maintain the illusion that ‘I know what I’m doing’. If I admit I don’t trust my understanding of the past, or my ability to predict what’s next, people might begin to wonder just why the heck they keep me around here. Or worse, I (and others) might find there’s reason to fear being unmasked as an imposter.
The net result is I (and others) can spend too much time thinking about systems, policies, rules and procedures to control the behavior of other people and ensure desired results. Time and time again, I (and others) find this approach to be insufficient. After all these years, what makes me (us) think that this time the same old solution will produce a different result?
I have also seen in myself (and in others) a longing for connection, respect and trust. I find profound satisfaction in being part of something larger than myself. I have learned that I (and others) have the capacity to trust, include and listen to others — and 99 times out of 100, the results exceed our expectations.
I have also found in myself (and in others) a recognition that the world in general, and people in particular, are dynamic, non-deterministic and chaotic. My efforts to control and explain are doomed — but that doesn’t mean I’m helpless. When I (and others) accept things are more complex than we’ll ever know, we can still find ways to get things done… we just have to ask more questions, listen more closely, and let other people help.
I have seen in myself (and others) the power to choose to see myself as the cause, the source, the author of everything that goes on around me. This isn’t factually accurate, but it’s consistently useful. When I (and others) set blame aside and ask, ‘what’s my role in this… how am I responsible… what can I do to respond?’ things go much better.
I have glimpsed in myself (and others) acceptance that our perception of the world is deeply limited. I can’t know what the future holds, and I’ll never really understand the past, but I (and others) can move forward with a bit of trust… of faith… and do the things that seem most-right right-now.
The net result is I (and others) can spend our time to thinking about people and how we can connect with and serve them. Time and time again, I (and others) find this approach to be both effective and fulfilling. After all these years, what makes me (us) forget to put people at the center of our organizations and our lives?
Too often the things we do most often at work are the least effective.
Think about the meetings your team has each and every day, week or month — are people engaged or going through the motions? If your organization has a monthly safety meeting — is there genuine learning going on, or is the focus ‘sign the roster so you don’t have to sit through this again‘? What about new employee orientations — are you welcoming people to your team or asking them to sit through a day of crummy PowerPoint slides?
We call these activities “meetings”, “reviews”, and “orientations” but we should think of them as “rituals“. The meetings we hold most consistently communicate to team-members: this is important to us… this is what we value… this is how we expect you to think, feel and act around here.
You know you could do better, but who has the time and energy? Who’s going to risk upsetting their boss, HR, the safety department or ‘corporate’ by saying, “Stop. We’re wasting our time and sending the wrong message. Let’s do better?”
Here’s the thing: a lousy weekly staff meeting is a waste of time… but week after week of going through the motions and keeping your mouth shut is corrosive. When I tolerate less-than-my-best in one area, I’m more likely to tolerate it in others. When I keep my frustrations to myself, I make it harder for others to express themselves. Before too long, that lousy staff meeting begins to show up as lousy performance.
It’s time to take on the counter-productive “rituals” we’ve been tolerating!
Make your “rituals” matter
Start by asking, which activities engage the most people, the most often, the most consistently? These are your rituals: start with them.
Now ask yourself, what’s the intentionandwhat’s the opportunityof this activity? How do we want people to think and feel, what do we want them to know and do, as the result of participating in this activity? Redesign your “ritual” to create these outcomes.
If you want people to feel engaged, make your “rituals” engaging: spend less time talking at people and more time talking with them — ask questions that prompt conversation. If you want open lines of communication, so make sure your “rituals” remove barriers to communication: make sure people know each other’s names and maybe a bit about what they’re up to. If you want people to be responsiblefor their work, involve them in leading the meeting — rotate responsibility for leading the meeting, and call on people to participate.
It’s time to take on what you’ve been tolerating
If you or your team are going to do something every day, week or month, the last thing you want to do is model resignation and surrender to the status quo. Make these meetings — these “rituals” —matter .And more importantly, show your team what it looks like to speak up and stand up for quality and effectiveness. If you know you could and should do better… do it!
Last night I went to a show. A singer stood alone on a bare stage —no drums, bass, or backup singers. No big show. Just a guy, a guitar and some songs. We couldn’t take our eyes off him.
For the past fourteen months I’ve been learning to talk about our new consulting firm. It’s been incredibly difficult to describe our services — the work we do, the clients we help, the problems we solve — in a way that’s interesting, credible and relevant to potential clients.
As I listened to the singer last night, it hit me: I’m tired of worrying about my show… I want to focus on the songs. I want to do my own version of an acoustic set: no website, no case studies, no graphics, footnotes or search engine optimization. Just a simple description of what I do.
What I do
If you hire us, it’ll be because you’ve got a problem with worker safety or you’re leading a big, complicated project.
I’ll spend one or two weeks a month in your offices. I’ll sit in on meetings, meet your team and wander around talking to folks. Each week I’ll lead an event — a workshop, meeting or training — but for me, the highlight is a one-hour conversation with you. (We’ll call it ‘coaching’ on your calendar — but that makes me cringe. It’s a conversation.)
Conversations about you
The conversations will be different than you expected. We’ll talk about work — but I’ll always come back to you: how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, how you relate to your situation. We may do a personality style-assessment or gather 360-degree feedback. Self-awareness is pretty useful for a leader.
I’ll make the case that effective leaders are authentic, sincere and genuine. You’ll catch on quick and after a couple of weeks, your conversations with your team will begin to change. They’ll become a bit more personal. You’ll be yourselves rather than your job titles, and slowly, without realizing it, the conversations will become more productive and effective.
I’ll ask weird questions like, “Why do you do this work?“ and, “You have to put up with a lot of crap in this job — why does it matter to you?” These conversations will be awkward at first, but don’t sweat it.
The company you work for has a fancy ‘mission statement’ hanging on the wall… but no-one feels connected to it. You and I will talk about your mission — the ‘why’ behind yourwork. You’re a quick study, and before too long, you’ll start talking to your team about their‘why’ and the meaning they find in work. Some previously disaffected team-member will light up and start talking and working differently. Suddenly, you’ll have a new ally in your efforts.
Really? Relationships? Ugh.
During our conversations, you’ll bring up the problems you’re having. I’ll ask about your connection with the other people involved. I’ll avoid saying the word ‘relationship’ (especially if you’re divorced), but I’ll make the case that relationship enables almost everything we do — and if you’ve got a problem, its smart to invest in the relationships with the people involved.
We’ll plan meetings with some of those folks and I’ll make you do corny things like talk to each other about non-work-related topics. You’ll begin to notice that knowing someone as a person (rather than their role) makes it easier to work with them. When we understand what the other person is up against, what they’re up to, and how you can help each other, our problems begin to improve. Before very long, you’ll find yourself including corny questions in your meetings, and making sure your people get to know one another.
Why can’t they just…?
At some point in our conversations, you’ll complain about your team, asking, “Why can’t they be more accountable and take customer service more seriously?” I’ll respond the same way every time: “What would that look like? If we made a video of someone being ‘accountable’, what would we see on the screen? What would we see people do that would indicate they ‘take customer service seriously’?”
I’ll make the case that it’s easier to change ‘doing’ than ‘being’. Asking people to ‘be’ differently, without telling them what we want them to ‘do’ doesn’t work. We’ll practice this by picking a few small, high-leverage actions that we want every team member to take every day… and then get them to do it. By the way: the change has to start with you, so I’ll nag you about doing the things you’re asking your team to do. In no time you’ll realize the power you have in the example you set. You’ll develop some new habits that influence the ‘doing’ and ‘being’ of your team.
Your meetings stink
When the time is right, I’ll take a bit of a risk and call you out on something: your meetings are lousy. I’ll remind you that you want people to be engaged and on-board, but you do all the talking during your staff meetings. You want people to care about safety, but your safety meetings focus on rules (and threats of punishment for breaking them). You want your employees to be a dynamic team, but your new employee on-boarding process is a set of perfunctory slide shows and cover-your-ass briefings. I’ll gently demonstrate that your meetings are undermining your intentions.
You’ll protest that your hands are tied, and corporate dictates how you do these meetings! “They make us do it that way! They audit our rosters… and besides, who has time to come up with more interesting stuff?”
Time to decide
This is my favorite point in our time together — the moment when I shove a fork up your nose… lovingly, with respect… and challenge you to stop tolerating stuff you know could be better.
We’ll have a long talk about what you’re really up to, and what you’re willing to do (and not do) in service of your “why”. This is where you’ll really get your money’s worth from working with me: through this conversation, you will emerge as a leader, as well as a manager, and begin to exercise ownership and responsibility for how your team thinks and feels as well as what they do.
From talk to action
Once you get there, all sorts of things will change: you’ll start attending the new employee orientation meeting to talk about ‘the why’ behind your work; you’ll change your staff meeting to get people talking to, rather than at, each other; your project reviews will include conversations about ‘relationships’ (again, lets avoid that word) and the level cooperation between groups; you’ll re-design your safety meetings and project reviews to focus on what people should do rather than cajoling them to ‘be’ differently.
We’ll work together for six or nine months, and then we’ll be done. You’ll continue most (not all) of the things we discussed. You’ll re-create a few (not many) of the awkward conversations I had with you. But you’ll feel more connected to your work and your people; your team will feel and perform better. And if I’m lucky, you’ll tell a colleague, “You should check these folks out… they’ve got a website…”
Thanks for coming
So yeah, go check out our website. There’s a lot of stuff there about the stuff we do and the stuff we read and the stuff our clients get as a result of working with us. It’s a pretty cool show. But at the end of the day, the song behind the show is simple: you and I have a conversation that helps you see and act differently.
Interested in learning more? Ready to perform an acoustic set of your own? We’re ready to help.
What do you put up with at work? What behaviors or situations trouble you, but for one reason or another, you choose not to say or do something?
They may be small things: co-workers arriving to meetings late or staring at their phones while you’re talking. Maybe you resent misuses of your time: unnecessary emails, ineffective meetings, gossip-y conversations, cleaning up after others in the break room. Perhaps you tolerate situations that seem uncomfortable or daunting: bullying or disrespectful behavior, inappropriate jokes, double-standards about discipline, unsafe behaviors by senior team members.
We see these things and think, should I say something or not?
In the moment, it feels like a personal decision. What will I do? But here’s the problem: others are watching. When we see something and choose not to say something, we’re communicating, “I’m okay with this. This is how we work here.” And other folks notice.
When we tolerate something, we demonstrate acceptance… even approval.
Why do we tolerate things we know we should change? What gets in our way?
Sometimes we feel powerless: I’m just one person; I’m not in charge here; how can I influence all of these people? Often there’s a risk of conflict: if I say something, it’s only going to lead to an argument. We tell ourselves it’s none of our business: I’m not paid to chase after this stuff… these folks are adults… they should know better. And we rationalize: it’s not really a big thing, so why bother?
Consider this: whatever is leading you to tolerate this situation is getting in your way in other places too. There’s wisdom in the old saying, “How you do something is how you do everything.”
If you’re avoiding conflict with someone who is chronically late to meetings, you’re likely avoiding conflict on other topics. If you’re withholding feedback about someone’s crappy emails, you’re likely withholding feedback on other issues too. If you’re not saying something when a co-worker fails to make a fresh pot of coffee, you’re likely ducking other, more significant conversations.
It can be scary, but when we take on something we’ve tolerated, we show our commitment to our organization, our team and ourselves: we lead… and invite others to do the same.
So… what to do? What’s the response when we notice ourselves tolerating something?
- Start with you. Make sure your own house is in order. Frustrated by folks not following safety rules? Make sure you follow them without fail. Look for your role in the problem — ask, ‘how am I part of this?’ Frustrated by people showing up to your meetings late? Be sure to end your meetings early so people can make their next appointments on-time. Don’t be self-righteous about it, but make sure your behavior is impeccable.
- Find allies. If something is bothering you, chances are it’s bothering others too. Talk to them; let them know what you’re up to; ask them to hold you accountable and call you on it when you come up short; invite your allies to join you by getting their own houses in order. Resist the temptation of complaining about the folks who are not on-board yet — just focus on keeping your side of the the street clean.
- Speak up… carefully. The moment will come when you need to say something about the situation — the time will come to give someone feedback. The best way to avoid conflict and maximize the likelihood of a constructive conversation is to speak about yourself. Stick to your side of the situation; avoid making any judgements or criticisms of the other person: When I see _______ I think/feel ______ so I do/say _______. Talk to the other person, not about them; focus the conversation on the behavior rather than the person.
Here’s the Jedi mind-trick: the first step in influencing others is recognize how little control we have over others. The only person who can change what another person thinks is that person. We’re well-served to let go of expectations of correcting the other person and focus instead on giving them information about how their behavior is affecting us. Then it’s up to them to choose.
Ugh. What a hassle! Who wants to go through all this? Isn’t it just easier to soldier on and keep putting up with the status quo? I say, “No!”
When we tolerate something, we’re perpetuating it — we’re resigning ourselves to workplace that is less effective, satisfying and fulfilling. When we tolerate something we surrender, just a bit — we cede control and make it harder to find joy and fulfillment in our work. When we tolerate something, we settle… we settle for less, from or organization, from our co-workers, from ourselves.
It’s time to take on the things you’ve been tolerating.
Interested in learning more? Ready to take on the things you’ve been tolerating? We’re ready to help.
This article first appeared on www.humanus-solutions.com
About the author: Andy Erickson is a principal and CTO at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of our clients are facing a crisis of front-line leadership. Their most-experienced foremen and supervisors are retiring, and they’re struggling to find folks who will take their place.
The question “how do we find our next supervisors” implies that leadership is a quality or attribute — that someone has it or they don’t. In my experience there are some innate qualities that make some people more comfortable and effective in leadership roles — but by-and-large leadership is a series of behaviors… of habits or “moves”… that can be taught and developed.
I propose you stop trying to find leaders and start identifying the moves you want to promote within your organization.
Question 1. If a miracle occurred tonight, and suddenly each of your supervisors was a better leader — how would you know? What would you see as you walked into work tomorrow that would make you think, “Wow, what the heck happened last night?” What would you notice people doing or saying differently?
Question 2. Who are your bright spots? Who are the supervisors who stand out as front-line leaders — the people you’d clone if you could? Watch those folks closely — what do they do that sets them apart? We’re not interested in their personality or style — we want to discover the moves that make them successful.
Question 3. Which moments really matter where you work? Great supervisors are leading all the time — but there are a few specific activities each day where they make a big difference. For example: great supervisors lead engaging start-of-shift meetings, they respond to mistakes constructively, or they on-board new employees well. If you could upgrade the performance of your front-line leaders in a few key activities or moments, where would you focus?
These questions are great because they help us get specific. They help us look past the personal qualities and attributes that seem to be the source of leaders’ effectiveness and identify specific behaviors to promote.
- It does little good to tell a new supervisor, “Be charismatic and outgoing.” But we can tell them, “At the start of each day, shake hands with your team-members. Make a point of speaking to each person about a non-work related topic every day.”
- It does no good to say, “Be a good delegator!” But we can teach front-line leaders to ask questions whenever they assign work to someone: “How are you going to do this task? How could it go wrong? Is there a better way?”
Leadership is vital to organizational success and employee engagement, but developingleaders can seem daunting. A great way to start is by getting very specific and telling folks what to do rather than who to be.
Interested in learning more? Ready to develop your front-line leaders ? We’re ready to help.
Meetings are the bane of modern work-life: they take up time and attention and often provide little value. But meetings — what we talk about, who talks and how we talk — send messages to everyone who participates.
Meetings tell people, “this is what’s important to us; this is how we work together; this is how we expect you to think / feel / act.”
If you’re looking to change your organization, meetings are a great place to start. Go ahead, paint your corporate mission statement on the wall, but also make sure your meetings are aligned with that mission! Use your meetings to model and re-inforce the mindset and behaviors you want to promote.
There are a few common types of meetings that, if done well, can make all the difference. How many of these meetings does your organization have — and what message are they sending to your team-members?
- Start-of-day team meetings. Most organizations want employees to feel engaged and responsible — but daily team meetings are usually dull and disempowering: the supervisor reads announcements, calls out assignments for the day and asks if anyone has a question… no-one ever does. The message is clear — we talk about engagement, but what we want is to get to work as soon as possible. The best supervisors use team meetings to cause interaction and participation. If something needs to be read aloud, they get a team member to do it. When there’s an announcement, they ask an open-ended question about how it affects the team. Before assigning work, they call on team-members to talk about the previous day: what went well, what didn’t and how can they do better today? And if at all possible, they get people laughing. If you want engagement, start the day with meetings that engage!
- Production reviews. Companies want front-line supervisors to engage and develop people, while also ensuring productivity. But when it’s time for the daily or weekly review, engagement and development aren’t on the agenda. The best senior managers use meetings to model the behaviors they want to see from the supervisors who report to them. For example, in addition to asking about production delays, they ask, “what’s going well… and who have you recognized for doing good work?” When it comes to safety, instead of focusing on incidents, they also ask supervisors what they’ve done to make the workplace safer, or what accounts for continued good performance. When defects or delays occur, they ask the supervisor what they have learned from the situation and how they will share this knowledge with their team. The way we talk to front-line supervisors during meetings is replicated when they talk to their teams. Are you modeling the behavior you want to see?
- Management staff meetings. What leaders doesn’t want more innovation, collaboration and cross-functional support within their team? But when it comes to staff meetings, so many of us default to presentations and one-way broadcasts. We review some charts, re-cap what we heard at the executive meeting, and go around the table for brief updates from each participant. The message we send is, “show up, stay awake, and let’s go through the motions quickly so we can go back to work.” The best leaders make time in staff meetings for reflection and dialogue as well as progress reports. They prompt conversation by asking interesting, probing questions, and challenging their staff to carry the same questions to their teams. What if you dropped a few slides from your next staff meeting and used the time to ask a question like, what’s keeping you awake at night, what’s the biggest opportunity we’re missing, or how is someone likely to get killed working here (and why haven’t we done something about it yet)’.
- Safety inspections. Nowadays it’s common for companies to have safety-related banners and posters — and many of them talk about the importance of people. But when it comes time for the weekly management safety walk, most managers look at tools, equipment and materials, and forget to talk to people. This sends an unfortunate signal: what we really care when it comes to safety is “stuff” — trip-hazards, head-knockers and unprotected edges. The most-effective leaders understand that safety occurs through people, so their site safety walks include conversations. They ask questions and listen to what is said (and not said). They pay as much attention to safety hazards that occur between peoples’ ears (distractions, attitude, mindset) as those involving “stuff”.
- Employee orientations. What company wouldn’t want to harness the excitement employees feel on their first day, and seize the opportunity to make the right first-impression. And yet the vast majority of companies ask new team-members to spend hours (days!) sitting through dull, dry and disengaging slide-shows about rules, requirements and threats of punishment for failure to comply. Companies that are committed to engaging and inspiring employees design on-boarding processes that engage and inspire. The best leaders make time in their schedule to attend new-employee orientations and personally express their vision for the organization. If safety rules are reviewed, a discussion of why we work safe is also incuded. If a slide with the corporate mission is shown, there is also time for conversation about what this means to the new employee — why are they here?
These are just a few of the most-common meeting types we see in our work with clients — your organization likely has others. Look for the meetings that happen most-often and engage the most-people. Attend those meetings and experience them as if you were new-comer: what’s the message the meeting sends? How does it make people think, act and feel? What message do you want to send? How could you re-design the meeting to more closely align with the change you wish to see in your organization?
Meetings may be a necessary evil — but they are also powerful tools for change. Are you using your meetings to send the messages you want your team members to hear?
Interested in learning more? Ready to have more meetings that matter? We’re ready to help.
About the author: Andy Erickson is a principal and CTO at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at email@example.com
In our work we urge leaders to attend to their “whole” organization. Many managers have a bias for systems, processes and programs; we challenge them to attend to culture and shared values too. Managers often focus on actions and results; we ask them to also think about the mindset, intentions and attitudes that influence actions.
It’s not a hard sell: nowadays everyone is talking about the need for culture change. But ironically, when some managers start paying attention to culture, their first instinct is to implement a new system! They ask HR for a cultural assessment tool; they dust off the annual employee satisfaction survey and issue it quarterly; they hire a consultant (like me) to conduct a cultural diagnosis and deliver a training program.
Our efforts to work on the ‘soft stuff’ often reveal just how much we prefer the ‘hard stuff’! Here’s a news-flash:
You don’t need tools, systems or programs to get started on culture change.
You’ve already go everything you need to understand and influence the way people think, talk and act — you can get started today. The trick? Conversation. A few interesting questions, some genuine curiosity, and a willingness to shut-up and listen closely to what people say (and don’t say) are far more effective than any assessment tool, survey or diagnostic.
Here are five conversation-worthy questions to get you started understanding and influencing culture. Do not ask these via email! Do not ask your assistant to gather input from your team! The conversation is the intervention — the effect comes through asking, listening and understanding:
- What do we pay the most attention to around here? Of all the things we think, talk and worry about, what’s the thing that gets the most attention? (No matter what answer you hear, follow-up with, “Interesting. Tell me more. What has you say that?”)
- What’s the biggest crisis we’ve ever faced around here? What’s the biggest problem this organization has encountered thus far, and what’s your understanding of how we responded to it? (“Interesting. Tell me more. What has you say that?”)
- Who stands out as a leader around here? Who is someone that influences the way others think and feel — and what do the do that makes them stand out? (“Interesting. Tell me more. What has you say that?”)
- What does it take to get ahead around here? What types of things will get someone a raise or promotion? (“Interesting. Tell me more. What has you say that?“)
- What does it take to get fired around here? What types of things will get someone punished or terminated? (“Interesting. Tell me more. What has you say that?“)
Don’t ask all of these questions at once — have a conversation rather than working through the list. It’s useful to ask thesequestions of a group — especially if folks may be uncomfortable due to your title or rank. And don’t to do this alone: get your team-mates to ask the same questions of their colleagues.
In our next posts, we’ll offer suggestions on what leaders can do about what they hear. But here’s a preview: after you’ve had several conversations, reflect on what you’ve heard — what themes stood out? What surprised, pleased or disappointed you? Now, ask yourself a question: How am I part of this? How have I, through the way I speak, act, lead… contributed to people seeing things this way?
Interested in learning more? Ready to have conversations that create change in your organization ? We’re ready to help.
About the author: Andy Erickson is a principal and CTO at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week I suggested behaviors that cause safety in the workplace; I also suggested habits that help front-line leaders promote the desired behaviors. Today I’d like to discuss senior managers and how they can create safety within their organizations.
Folks at the top of any organization face a paradox: on the one hand, they are ‘in charge’, they ‘call the shots’ and ‘chart the course’. On the other hand they often have relatively little control over daily behaviors of front-line personnel. Senior-most managers are stuck in meetings and separated from the rest of the team by layers of bureaucracy. When they do get out into the workplace, front-line workers are often reluctant to give them straight, candid feedback.
In our Senior Leader Development Program, we work with executives to develop a series of habits — automatic, daily behaviors that increase contact with team-members, make honest feedback more likely, and increase opportunities to influence how people behave each day.
The first step we recommend is making a sincere, personal commitment to the safety of your workers. In our experience, leaders who undertake the elimination of worker injury are repaid, not only with improved safety results, but with increased employee engagement, improved morale and improved performance in other areas.
But commitment alone is not enough. Managers must find ways to influence others. Here are five suggestions for “visible and felt” leadership for safety.
- Talk about why… and make it personal. As Simon Sinek says, the best leaders talk about why — they help others find meaning in the work of the team. When it’s time to talk about safety, don’t fall into the trap of reviewing incidents, injury rates, new rules or performance incentives. Instead, talk about why safety matters to you… not as a manager, but as a person. How have you been affected by safety? What concerns do you feel for the safety of your loved ones? Why is keeping employees safe important to you?
- Meet people… build relationships. We coach clients to look for ‘triggers’ or ‘reminders’ of opportunities to connect with team-members. When someone newjoins the team, reach out to them. Whenever you pass through a work area (job site, shop floor, lunchroom, office or clinic), greet people and pause to ask about their lives outside of work. If there is an injury, reach out to the people involved, ask how they’re doing and what you can do to help. Even if you only connect with a small portion of your team, people will tell stories about “the time the big boss shook my hand and asked about by daughter’s soccer team”. This creates credibility, access and influence throughout the organization.)
- Ask questions… have conversations. Meetings tend to be exercises in talking ateach other — but we have little chance of influencing people without conversation. Many organizations begin meetings with safety minutes — short presentations about a specific hazard. We recommend replacing these mini-lectures with provocative questions that get folks thinking, talking and feeling responsible for safety. The best leaders set out to cause conversations each day — whether they visit the job-site, factory floor or lunch room, they approach people, build relationships and ask questions.
- Attend to perceptions as well as processes. The next time someone in your organization gets hurt, try an experiment: have a conversation with the people involved and ask, “What was on your mind the moment before the incident? What were you up to… what was most important to you in that moment?” Write down exactly what they say. Later, ask yourself, “How have I, through the way I manage this organization, contributed to this person feeling this way?” Often, this exercise reveals root causes not addressed in the post-incident investigation.
- Use ‘organizational rituals’ to promote these habits. Each organization has certain activities that happen each day, week or month without fail. We call these ‘organizational rituals’. We ask the managers we work with to step back, look at these activities with fresh eye and consider, “What is the message this meeting sends? What is the behavior this requirement promotes? What effect does this review have on the way participants see this organization and our work?” Often we find disconnects between leaders’ intentions and the design of their organization’s rituals. We challenge leaders to incorporate talking about ‘why’, building relationships, asking questions and having conversations, and reflecting on the perceptions of others, into their organizational rituals. (Stay tuned for my next post which will be a deep dive on rituals that make the biggest difference.)
One of the ironies of organizational life is the disconnect between managing and leading. With each promotion, our responsibility expands — and yet with each rung of the ladder, our opportunities to influence — to lead people are reduced. It is vital that senior managers of large organizations take specific steps, day in and day out, to ensure connection, conversation, influence and engagement with their employees.
Interested in learning more? Ready to re-invent the way you lead safety? We’re ready to help.
I recently wrote about five habits that ‘create safety’: connecting, asking, focusing, scanning and speaking-up. Many organizations use policies and processes to drive these behaviors: forms to fill out, rosters to sign, cards to submit, etc. These processes are rarely effective. Usually workers do the bare minimum to comply, ‘pencil-whipping’ the forms before they go to work.
What’s a manager to do? How can we influence the actions and attitudes of our workforce? How do we get people to make good on the intention of these processes?
I believe the answer lies with front-line leaders. Whatever you call them — fore-(wo)men, supervisors, team leads, crew captains — no-one has greater influence over performance and culture than those who direct front-line workers.
At Humanus Solutions, our Front-line Leaders Development Program focuses on six habits — actions, if taken consistently over time, influence the way workers think and act, leading to a safer (and more productive) workplace.
- Build relationships. People are more likely to ask questions, raise concerns, share ideas and accept feedback when they feel a personal connection to their supervisor. This does not mean being friends with the people who report to us, but it does mean connecting with them as people, rather than means of production.
- Get them talking. We often lead meetings by talking at people. But when we hog the microphone, we also hog responsibility for the topic we’re discussing. In order to engage people — to get them thinking and feeling ownership — we’ve got to get them talking. The best leadership tool is not a speech — it’s a sincere, provocative question. Speak less, ask more, and listen.
- Set expectations that empower. Being a supervisor usually involves assigning work. There’s a temptation to tell people how to do things — especially if we have more experience and skills. But when we proscribe how to do something, we undermine out team’s ownership of the work. The best supervisors describe the results they want to see — do this, by then, with these outcomes — and ask team-members how they will do it?
- Give balanced feedback. Supervisors are often problem-solvers: removing roadblocks, getting help from other teams and explaining delays to management. We tend to focus on the mistakes of our team-members. Giving timely, specific, and constructive feedback regarding poor performance is important, but we are well-served to also ‘catch’ people doing things right — and let them know we appreciate their efforts.
- Represent the organization. Supervisors often the channels of communication from upper management to the front-lines. When the news is bad, there’s a strong temptation to distance ourselves from the organization, and emphasize our connection to the team: “I don’t like this any more than you do, but management has decided to…” No supervisor wants a team of disengaged, whiney ‘victims’. And yet when we distance ourselves from company decisions, we are modeling irresponsibility. Best to play it straight and represent the organization: “Our organization has decided to…”
- Be the example. What we do (and don’t do) speaks louder than what we say. Our teams watch us closely, and infer our values and priorities from our actions — whether we are conscious of them or not. At the end of the day, our best way to influence others is by being the way we want them to be.
The processes we ask our people to follow (the paperwork, checklists and forms they complete) are necessary and important — but they are not sufficient to cause a safer workplace. When we manage through compliance, our teams give us what we want: compliance. But if we want more, we have to lead people — we must influence the way they think, feel and behave. The most influential people on any team are front-line leaders, and their influence occurs through the relationships and conversations they have, the things they notice and react to and the example they set.
Most workplaces feature a set of ‘cardinal rules’ or ‘life-saving policies’ — a critical few requirements that have been proven to protect people from harm. I’d like to propose five ‘cardinal habits’ or ‘life-saving behaviors’ that create a safer workplace.
Review this list of behaviors; I doubt any of these are new to you. But take a moment to consider how your organization promotes these behaviors. Are you getting the results you want?
- Connect. The single best way to ensure safety is to connect with people working around us — greet them, let them know what we’re up to, and ask what they’ll be doing. Not only does this reveal potential risks, it lowers the bar for people speaking up, asking questions and expressing concern.
- Ask. Before beginning any task, ask, “What could go wrong here? How could someone get hurt doing this? If something goes wrong, what will it be and what will we do?” Not only will this reveal gaps in the plan, it has us engage and focus before going to work.
- Focus. A key to creating a safe workplace is seeing our state-of-mind as a potential hazard. This means noticing when we feel confident, bored, distracted or in-a-hurry and taking a moment to pause, re-engage with the task at hand, and proceed with greater focus.
- Scan. It’s not enough to start a task with safety in mind — we must pause periodically to notice changes in our workplace, identify new hazards, and if necessary, connect / ask / focus anew.
- Speak-up. At the end of the day, we are fallible — we will overlook things, make assumptions and lose focus. Our only protection is each other — we are, indeed, our brother’s keeper. But this only works if we are willing and comfortable speaking up, expressing concerns and asking questions.
Many folks will say, “We do these! We require each worker to complete a pre-task hazard assessment form before going to work; we have pre-shift meetings to review safety concerns and we require folks to sign a roster indicating they are fit-for-work; we make our folks to fill out five hazard recognition cards each week.”
But are you getting the results you want? These habits cannot be mandated. Requiring someone to complete a form or sign a roster doesn’t cause sincere effort. Having a rule that mandates an action does not cause genuine engagement.
These habits must be cultivated: it’s up to us, as leaders, to model these behaviors and look for opportunities to encourage them in others. It’s up to us to demonstrate that what matters most is not compliance with the rules, but creating a workplace in which no-one gets hurt.
Next-time: six habits for coaching safe behaviors.