What Linkages Do You See for Engaging More with Your Employees…and Reducing the Risk for Workplace Violence?

workplace violenceEmployee engagement has long been a concern to the U.S. workforce…it is a vital component of employee attraction and retention. Yet, with all the leadership programs targeted to “engage better with employees,” there hasn’t been a significant shift in relationships.

Add to this the alarm being sounded of various degrees of workplace violence happening…from unchecked incivilities and unprofessionalism leading to bullying to harassment to taunting (cyber or otherwise), leading to behavioral dysfunctions and, ultimately, violence from fist-fights to vengefulness to physical/mental abuse, to homicide. And the connection is…not knowing your people and lack of authentic engagement!

Culture is an outcome – an outcome of all the interactions of people – with each other, with supervision, with management, with the systems and processes they work with and in the carrying out of everyday “norms.” How interactions happen, how engagement takes place, and how deep it evolves are all key cogs in the workplace culture wheel – whether it is spinning for Safety, Quality, Morale, Involvement, Sustainability – the very same critical engagement processes need to happen. (Note: The Process Enneagram© is an example of a constructive dialog process used successfully for cultural-based improvement outcomes).

So creating a culture of engagement requires more than completing an annual employee survey and then leaving managers on their own, hoping they will learn something from the survey results that will change the way they manage.

Highly engaged organizations share common practices like these:

  • They know creating a culture of engagement starts at the top.
  • All levels of the organization are held accountable.
  • They communicate openly and consistently.
  • They hold their managers accountable – not just for their team’s measured engagement level, but also for how it relates to their team’s overall performance.
  • They ensure that managers are engaging employees from the first minute of their first day at work. (Members of supervision possess emotional intelligence and are expected to be able to lead, interact with authenticity and caring with individuals and teams.)
  • They have well-defined, integrated, and comprehensive development programs for leaders and managers (including how to hold the most difficult conversations. And how to lead constructive dialog processes).
  • They focus on the development of individuals and teams with emphasis on constructive dialog around safety, quality, and the interactions of people to fulfill the business purpose. (This includes organizational assessments and vulnerability assessments for safety and security).
  • Engagement is a fundamental consideration in their people strategy – and not an annual “check-the-box” activity.
  • They hold regular, integrated, constructive dialog sessions to lift up the concerns that getting in the way of the team being the best that it can be and to support cooperation and collaboration.
  • They care about positive co-worker relationships as well as the business outcomes. (Workplace rules, policies, procedures are clear – and well established/communicated/enforced for working within the work environment – for supporting the sustainability of the business as well as the welfare needs of the people. Preventing workplace violence fits here).
  • They regularly hold team improvement sessions where knotty problems are lifted up and addressed, including process problems, safety problems, quality problems and interactive problems.

Some of these insights are gleaned from Gallup 4/17: The Right Culture; Others come from the experience of R.N.Knowles & Associates in helping Organizations and Teams become the best they can be together.

Engaging Workers – The Linkages you Need to Know About

Engage workersIn the June 2017 issue of EHS-Today is an article about engaging and training workers as a foundation block for an effective safety program, while applying critical thinking principles. The intent, of course, is to seek out more and more opportunities to have people involved and participating in safety risk assessment, engaging at a grassroots level for finding solutions and training whole teams in the entire process. At a deep level, each of us knows that having people involved and with you in moving your business or organization forward is a good thing!

But are we doing it? Are we engaging our people well? Or are we giving this lip service? Are we just trying to check off the box?

The recent 2017 Gallup Report on Employee Engagement tells it like it is. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. up to $605 billion each year in lost productivity. They found that only 33% of U.S. employees are engaged in their job, and slightly more than half of employees (51%) say they are actively looking for a new job or watching for openings. Further, most employees leave, not because of the Company per se, but because of their boss’s behavior.

The report also shows that when a business or organization has high levels of employee engagement, that there is a 71% reduction in Employee Safety incidents, a 17% increase in productivity and a 24% reduction in turnover. (Duh!) These are significant pay-offs to note for both employees and employers!

Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg! What Employers, CEOs, Managers, and Supervisors are also missing are two other important linkages – tied to levels of authentic engagement:

  • Workplace Violence Connections: When knotty problems are left unresolved, when changes are imposed on people (without their input), when incivilities go unchecked, when team improvement sessions are absent, the risk of workplace violence and related dysfunctional behaviors increases. The call for honest engagement beckons.
  • It is crucial to have high emotional intelligence among Supervisors: Supervisors with positive impact possess high EQ. Old school managers that remain in the “my way or the highway” mode and that cannot create/support a culture of authentic engagement with their people, ultimately become a detriment to overall organizational success. So a learning environment, engaging everyone, is important.

It doesn’t take much to learn an integrated, on-going, constructive dialog process that can improve safety, fully engage employees, resolve the hidden elephants that are getting in the way, lift up any workplace violence behavioral concerns (from incivilities to bullying to harassment to vengefulness to deeper dysfunctions) while building the energy necessary to move forward with coherence and collaboration. And it can be accomplished quickly.

I challenge you to call me (716-622-6467) to learn about Partner-Centered-Leadership and how our Process can help you to glean some multi-faceted, on-going, engagement successes soon!

Sound the Alarm!

alarming safety trendsI just saw an announcement that the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety was closing after 59 years, to reduce costs. The ISO 45001 Standard is in the final stages and is aimed at improving safety around the world. Yet some people are reacting that it will not make a difference because of management indifference or cost restraints.

Workplace violence seems to be on the rise with 417 homicides and 354 shootings in the US in 2015. In spite of this, only 28% of the American Society of Training and Development members offer safety training programs in collaboration with law enforcement.

As we study and look at what is happening, we see a critical lack of managers and supervisors in their understanding of what leadership is all about and how important each of their roles is to the success of the organization. The guidance about leadership that fills so many books are not making much impact because it does not provide suggestions as to what leaders need to do.

Leadership is about action, about taking the initiative to work together, to partner, with the people to make their workplaces safer and better.

We Need Better Leadership!

leadership is needed for safetyMany of you who have been reading this newsletter know that our emphasis is on Partner Centered Leadership. We emphasize the importance of supervisors and managers getting into their workplaces each day and talking with the people. Talking with the people is a key to breaking through to safety excellence. Talking about the risks they face each day, how they are managing them, how their kids are doing, how the safety is doing, how the business is doing, asking them what they see as to ways to improve their own work, asking about problems they are dealing with, etc. Doing this with respect and really listening are vitally important.

This was the focus of my ASSE talk in Denver. There is a solid, scientifically based reason for engaging in Partner Centered Leadership. The Self-Organizing Criticality theory shows the importance of making small, focused changes like talking with the people. Each conversation builds the potential energy of the organization and at some point people begin to do things more safely, helping each other, taking the lead when they see a problem and begin the process to correct it. As the organization begins to work together more safely, share information and help each other, safety improves. The organization learns to live near the critical point where changes occur and their creative energy builds.

The Process Enneagram©, which I have spoken about in these newsletters and written books about, is the tool to us to develop the focused conversation that lift the organization towards excellence in safety. Combining the ideas about change coming out of the Self-Organizing Criticality work with the Process Enneagram© tool for developing focused, disciplined conversations enables the organization to achieve excellence in their safety performance and have more people going home safely.

Partner Centered Leadership is also the way for organizations to build more kind, considerate, helping, effective workplaces where everyone is looking out for each other. This is a key piece of work in reducing workplace violence. When there is an acceptance of bullying and harassment in the workplace, the field is fertile for violence. Partner Centered Leadership is the pathway to excellence. It is time to move forward. Call us at 716-622-6467 to get on board the important leadership train for safety.

Some Unsettling Trends

safety trendsThe American Society for Safety Engineers (soon to be The American Society for Safety Professionals) in Denver, Colorado, on June 19-22, 2017, was attended by about 5,000 people. This was a record for attendance. There were lots of papers and a huge trade show exhibit. I never saw so much safety equipment and other offerings.

I presented a paper during the last series of talks. It was titled “Breaking Through to Safety Excellence, Self-Organizing Criticality and the Process Enneagram©.” Even though I was among the last of the papers, I had about 150 people attend and received a rating for my talk of 4.7 out of 5. Many people came up at the end to talk further. If any of you would like to see my paper, please send me an email.

Richard Knowles presenting at the American Society for Safety Engineers

In spite of the large attendance and all the safety equipment in the trade show, I feel some alarming trends in safety performance. The number of workplace fatalities in the US has been at around 4,700 each year for the last 6-7 years. New regulations and ISO Standards are not making a strong impact. This is true in other countries, as well like New Zealand, where they have already had 28 fatalities; almost as much as for all of 2016 even though they had a new National Standards issued in April 2-16.

Managing the Dynamical Balance Between Production and Safety

Lots of organizations proclaim that “Safety is Number 1” or something like this. In my early years, I thought this way as well. In reality, we have to have both in order for the business to make money. I have talked about this before in other newsletters and in my talks at the ASSE Annual PDC Conferences.

Sometimes we need to work on and talk more about the safety hazards, needs and requirements. Other times we need to work on and talk about the production needs. Both Safety and production are always in the conversations; sometimes more of safety and other times more of production. This is a both/and situation.

We were always in this conversation when I was the plant manager and you can see from the results mentioned in the proceeding section, we were able to do very well in managing this dynamical balance. It is dynamical because, not only are the situations dynamic in themselves, but also there are many situations going on at the same time around them so everything is always moving. We have to be very alert, talk together, help each other work at our highest skill levels.

AKEPT Leadership Series

On May 24 and 25, 2017, Claire and Dick Knowles were invited to lead a workshop on the theory and use of the Process Enneagram© for the Higher Education Leadership Academy of the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education.

The Academy has a series of training programs for University Administrators and Professors from all over Malaysia. Dick talked about the theory and use of the Process Enneagram© and Claire talked about applications (for example, how she had used it for helping the Western New York Women in Higher Education to improve the effectiveness of their networking events and mentoring). Our round trip from Tampa to Chicago to Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur was quite an experience and went well.

Professor Kamal, AKEPT Director, and others at the Academy are interested in using the Process Enneagram© as a tool to help them plan for and develop better succession planning processes for several Universities in Malaysia. This is a complex problem with many interacting variables so the Process Enneagram© is an ideal tool to enable them to solve this complex task.

Richard N. Knowles &
Prof. Dr. Mohamad Kamal, Director

Dick & Claire

About 75 deans, provosts and professors from all over Malaysia attended the two-day workshop with us. They connected well with the Process Enneagram© and sees its power in helping them to solve complex problems.

The Process Enneagram©, which we created over 25 years ago and have used in hundreds of workshops around the world, is the only known tool that bridges complexity theory and practical applications. The challenge of developing a better succession planning process involves many people in a changing, dynamical environment.

Richard N. Knowles talking at the AKEPT Conference
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, May 25, 2017

Malaysia is a highly-diverse society where people have learned to get along well together. About 55% of the people in Malaysia are Muslim. There are Hindu, Christian and Buddhist people, as well. Everyone treated us very well – helping us at every opportunity. Our stay was terrific. We will continue our work with the AKEPT people using virtual tools to communicate and share information.


Staying Focused…Amid Distractions…Looking Out for Each Other

I love talking with people and getting to know them. Sometimes it is really interesting and sometimes it gets quite funny. The other night I was at the local piano bar, sitting between two older gentlemen. One was an 86-year-old retired colonel who was pretending to play his imaginary drums along with the piano player and the other guy introduced himself to me 5 times in the first 10 minutes. Sometimes you just don’t know until you start talking.

Hopefully the people with whom we talk to at work are more focused than these two gentlemen. Staying focused on our work is critical to doing it safely. However, it is so easy to lose focus and have our minds wander for a moment. That may be just the time of a critical step and we miss it. This is one aspect of working alone that is problematic.

Other things can cause us to lose our focus as well. People joking with you can be a big distraction, pulling your mind off the work. High levels of noise can distract us. Having to work in unusual places like at heights or inside of a closed space can be distracting. Fatigue and muscle soreness can be distracting.

A big distractor is the bully who likes to harass you. These people should be taken aside by their supervisors and instructed to stop the bullying. This can be hard and it takes courage to have these encounters. The supervisors need to be supported so they can deal effectively with the bullies. Bullies need to stop their destructive behavior or be removed from the workplace. The toleration of bullies by supervisors is a major failing in management.

There is so much in our work environments pulling our focus away from doing the details of our job that we must always be alert to. When you feel that your focus is lost, stop, back away, take a deep breath, and think about what you are doing. Resist the urge to push forward through the job. This is a time when some one looking out for you can help. This is your brother’s or sister’s keeper looking out for your back. We all need this. Building a more supportive, caring workplace where people are looking out for each other is one of the top jobs for our leaders.

Talking with each other and helping to stay focused is not rocket science or difficult. It is simply an important component of improving our safety and having everyone go home in one piece to their loved ones.

Workplace Violence Prevention

This is another dimension of our workplace safety challenges. Our focus here is to prevent deliberate harm to one another. Terrible tragedies are created when someone brings a gun into one’s workplace and starts shooting. But our concern here goes more broadly than these incidents. Frustrated, angry people can do mean things to each other by sexually harassing, bullying, or repeatedly picking on those who are seen as weak or at a disadvantage. OSHA reports that about 2,000,000 cases like this are reported each year. How many more go unreported?

I have read surveys that indicate that up to 80% of the people in our organizations are frustrated and unhappy. In these sorts of hostile environments, bad feelings can fester and grow to the point where they blow up and people get hurt in one way or another. It doesn’t have to be that way!

A step towards preventing workplace violence is to use the Partner-Centered Leadership (Engagement) Process. As we learn to work together, talk together, listen to each other, and build trust and interdependence, we create an environment that is more supportive, caring and effective. (It doesn’t take long to uncover the obvious: rudeness, disrespect and unprofessionalism lead to incivility and discord, which in turn, leads to bullying and harassment, which in turn, can accelerate to Workplace Violence – physical or mental.)

The steps I suggested in the first part of this newsletter are good ones to use to help to make our workplaces more kind, supportive and healthy. We can all do this if we want to do it! Increasing our levels of positive engagement with all our people is the key to healthy workplaces. The Partner-Centered Leadership Process is the way.

the three types of employees

Spring Cleaning

spring cleaningAs the snow begins to melt and the spring winds arrive, it is time for cleaning up the place. Mud season is upon us as the snow melts. All sorts of curious things emerge from the melting piles of snow; stuff that was covered up and lost. (Just imagine: Years ago the settlers kept their animals sheltered next to their houses or barns attached to their houses so that they could care for them when the winter cold set in. They really had to do the spring-cleaning!)

I would like to consider a special kind of spring-cleaning. What are the old cobwebs, dusty corners and dated ideas we have tucked away in our heads? Are these holding us back – preventing our ability to achieve safety excellence? Erik Hollnagel talks about the need to shift our thinking from the traditional approach (Safety-I) to a more open, inclusive, more effective approach he calls Safety-II. (Erik Hollnagel, 2014. Safety-I and Safety-II).

Let’s open the windows and let the light in with our Partner-Centered Safety Leadership processes that enable all of us to move towards safety excellence.

Here are some simple things we can do to make the shift towards a Safety-II environment:

  • As leaders, managers and supervisors let’s talk together to develop a clear, consistent safety vision and message.
  • We can go into our workplaces, talk with the people, open our minds, listen, and learn together to develop the trust and the best safety rules and procedures so everyone goes home to their families free of physical and mental injuries.
  • We can continually grow and learn together.
  • We can identify those areas where we need to do more training or develop new procedures.
  • We can find new ways to connect safety and security with having personal meaning for everyone.
  • We can bring in specialists to help us when necessary.
  • All sorts of options for improvement open up to us as we shift our thinking and brush away the cobwebs.

As we learn and grow together, trust and interdependence build, everyone begins to open up, taking the initiative to improve things. As we work together with the Partner-Centered Safety Leadership process, we can all get better and that is fun!


Hand-in-hand with Safety Issues…Let’s Lift Them Up!

It Should Be No Surprise…Spring comes Every Year…Hand-in-hand with Safety Issues…Let’s Lift Them Up!

Hand-in-hand with Safety IssuesEach time the construction cycle picks up, more people get killed, mostly from falls. Some falls are the result of poor footing. Some falls result from poor housekeeping and clutter. Some falls result from inadequate barricading of edges or open holes in the floors. Some falls result from poor pre-shift preparations and the work is started before things are ready. Some falls result from people rushing to get the work done quickly. Some falls result from some people being careless.

Each of us needs to be physically and mentally ready to do the work. Do you have pre-shift meetings that really focus on getting ready for the work of the day? Is all the PPE and safety equipment ready? Have people gone through 10-15 minutes of stretching so that they are physically ready to do the work?

Have all of you talked together about the potential fatal accidents that could occur in your work? Do you just step back for a couple of minutes and imagine what you think is the impossible? Have you talked about recent near misses and learned from what they can teach?

People newly hired for the work are at a much higher risk of being injured or killed. They need to know the requirements for the work. They need to be introduced to the specific hazards of the work at hand. Do they know the safety requirements for this work? Do you know if they are really qualified and trained for the work? What previous experience have they had with the work at hand? Do you know if they are physically and emotionally fit for the work? Who has talked with them and screened them? Do you trust them enough to work safely with you?

With all the uncertainties and variable working conditions, all of you need to be looking out for each other – I mean really watching and helping each other. Being ready and willing to stop unsafe work is important. It is critical that information flows freely so that everyone knows what is going on and are able to work closely together.

A big barrier to open communications are the bullies among you. They push people around, shut down important communications among yourselves, and cause people to pull into themselves at a time when people need to be open, sharing information and helping each other. Supervisors and managers need to be aware of who the bullies are and stop this destructive behavior. Sometimes the supervisors are the bullies so management needs to deal with them. This sort of behavior needs to be eliminated or the bullies removed from the work.

In all this construction work, the people actually on the job are the most important in helping each other. You are there. Please be present, alert and pro-active in your safety efforts.