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.

Here’s What “Business Betterment” Looks Like…

As I talk with Leaders, I often hear that things are so entrenched they cannot even conceive that this type of “betterment” can happen for them.

We know that it can, and we prove it over and over again, as we work with leaders, their teams, and their businesses.

CULTURE: We help to knock down the walls that have grown up between people and groups so that the arguments and fighting stop and they learn to value and help each other. We help to drill holes in the silos of production, HR, maintenance and finance so that people can talk to each other to get the information they need to do their jobs. We help to remove the barriers that are restricting the up and down flow of critical information, improving its accuracy, so the organization can function more easily. We help to remove the barriers between the people writing rules and procedures (the work- as-imagined) and those doing the front-line work (the work-as-done). We help people to see that most of the injuries and incidents are the result of patterns and processes that need improvement and shift away from a culture of blame and criticism.

SAFETY: I believe that we do not have a right to make our living in a place where it is okay to hurt people. When we make this our top belief, many fewer people get hurt and our economic performance is a lot better as well. As we learn to work this way the barriers and roadblocks melt away and new channels and connections emerge.

LOSS: Avoiding the losses and waste means that our businesses are more competitive and healthy. How much do you suppose an OSHA Lost Time Injury costs the business?

  • The pain and suffering is miserable.
  • There is the direct cost of the doctors, hospitals, medications, etc.
  • We loose time:
    • having to investigate the injury and incident.,
    • writing reports,
    • having an OSHA investigation,
    • perhaps the cost of challenging OSHA’s findings,
    • legal costs for the company attorneys,
    • preparing for a potential law suit,
    • the cost of lost production time,
    • the cost of bringing someone and train them to replace the injured person,
    • the cost of lost sales,
    • the cost of bad publicity,
    • the cost of lower morale among the people,
    • and so on.

BOTTOM LINE: When the safety gets right, everything else gets right as well. In this more positive culture, not only does the waste of injuries and incidents go away, people shift the way that they chose to work together resulting in other improvements like:

  • fewer arguments,
  • fewer grievances,
  • better meetings,
  • fewer meetings,
  • more suggestions for improving our systems and processes,
  • people taking the lead in helping to fix something that is not right,
  • new ideas for better customer service emerge,
  • lean manufacturing works better,
  • the quality of products and services get better,
  • absenteeism drops, and
  • people can work together to build a better future.

When the safety performance and culture get better, the organization thrives.

These are things that each organization can work on right now. In Partner-Centered Leadership, Richard N. Knowles & Associates can help organizations to achieve all these things. This does not require investment.

  • Get clear on your thinking and purpose.
  • Go into your organization talking with and listening to the people.
  • Help them to build on their ideas.
  • Let them know how important they are to the success of the business.
  • Do this with respect and honesty.

Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change.
~ Tom Peters

A Time of New Opportunities

Our new year is full of opportunities, dark clouds and unknowns. The world is full of strife of all sorts. Our political situation here in the U.S. is full of hope, tension, noise, and unknowns. So many people are screaming about their opinions that it is almost impossible to hear. I get so tired of it that I often just quit trying to listen. That is probably a mistake for me to do that; we are all connected and I can’t just go away and hide. None of us can do that.

Here at home in the U.S.A., our culture is undergoing a shift towards the right with a move away from the centralization of power and decision-making towards one with a broader base for the exercise of power and decisions. Many people have very strong views about this shift in our culture and concerns about what will happen. What is going to be good? What is going to be bad? The complexity of all this prevents us from clearly knowing just what decisions is best.

All of this change (at both the macro and micro levels) presents us with opportunities to step in and make a positive difference. More opinions are floating around, more ideas being offered, more questions emerging. In the heat of all this, we each have an opportunity to listen for the truth, think about what is possible and to more openly share our ideas and thinking. Each of us can make a positive difference. While some people try to be louder that others, this in not where the best thinking will come from.

The best opportunities for truth and the best decisions to emerge are when we each engage together in thoughtful dialogue, searching for what is best for us, those around us and our larger communities, cities, businesses, and our country. For our specific work and how we choose to live, we each probably have the best information about what is most appropriate for success. We are engaged with living as it actually happens. When someone tries to impose his or her ideas as to what we should do or how we should live, we get resentful. Our higher leaders have a broader scope of information and know more about what is happening in the broader picture, but they do not know our specific needs or the best solutions for us. We need to talk together at all levels so that we can all develop a better understanding of the broader picture and make appropriate decisions together. This is true in our personal lives as well as our work lives.

When we can come together with respect, listening, being in a search for understanding together in our dialogue, new thinking, ideas and possible solutions emerge. We are all learning to live in this new world and we need each other’s help and support. None of us individually have the “right” answer, but together we can discover solutions that can really help.

Bringing This Into Our Workplaces and Businesses

safety work groupsAs we bring this sort of thinking and being together into our workplaces, we can seek ways to improve our safety performance and business results. I have found over and over that we can vastly improve our safety and business performance when we share information together, listen for understanding, develop trust among us and see how well are all contributing, solutions emerge. When we help to change the behavior of bullies of get them out of the work place, we get even better.

Every organization has work groups within them where the safety performance and business results are excellent. In our dialogues, let us search for these fine examples and learn from them. The people in these groups have a lot to offer us so we can learn together with them.

When the upper management and leaders create the environment where people doing the work have the information they need and can make the appropriate decisions about how they perform the actual tasks, then each group can make the best contributions to the success of safely working and developing the best business results.

Helping Each Other – Managing Ourselves

We will inaugurate our new President on January 20, 2017. Lots of change is promised. We are all full of questions and wondering about the unknowns. In all of this, we need to depend on each other in our families and workplaces so everyone can thrive.

I think that this is a time, for the good of our families and co-workers, when we need to come together by being respectful, helping, listening, and sharing information, ideas and the workloads so that our families and workplaces are kinder and safer for us. We can control how we are willing to be together even though the world seems in turmoil.

To start 2017 off on a good footing, let’s choose to manage ourselves and decide to help each other through all the unknowns.

I’m reminded of the mid-1980’s when self-managed and self-directed work teams first came into vogue. Each team lived by a set of principles to which they committed to do the work they collectively needed to do (without supervision or having to be told what to do and when), while respecting each other’s individuality and contribution to the overall team. Those behavioral principles are good ones…a little bit of self-management (EQ) (a.k.a. “controlling your emotions in healthy ways”) can go a long way to interpersonal success.

Releasing the Forces for Excellence

safety excellenceAs this year comes to an end, we will be looking at our overall performance to see how we did and to plan for 2017. We will usually look at our injury statistics like the total recordable injury rate and try to determine how we performed. Often quite independently, others will look at other performance indicators to see how they came out. We act as if these are independent of each other, but in our organizations everything is connected so all aspects of performance influence each other. Everything happens through the people. All the parts are interconnected. Excellence in safety performance is strongly related to our total performance because it all works through the will of the people.

We traditionally try to apply safety and other metrics to our organizations in a machine-like fashion. We see that something needs to improve so we push harder as if we are pushing a wagon up hill. Too many regulators and managers sit in their offices trying to imagine what needs to be done and write a new procedure or rule so that things will be better. Then they issue edicts pushing everyone harder. However, the work as imagined is never the same as the work as done. Why do managers think that sitting, bound to their office chairs, that they know everything? How can they? Then at the end of 2017 we will do this all over again trying to understand why things did not get better. Around and around we go!

We break this vicious cycle by opening up ourselves to a different way of thinking, seeing and being.

safety managementWork-as-imagined and work-as-done are ideas developed by Erik Hollnagel in his book, Safety-I and Safety-II (2014. Ashgate Publishing Ltd., UK). Safety I is our traditional top-down management approach to safety management where rules and procedures are issued by those far from the actual work. This is like the approach discussed in the proceeding paragraph. I think that a lot of people are trying to do good safety work from the Safety I perspective, but the results are not improving fast enough.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that the rate for nonfatal injuries and illnesses per 100 people dropped to 3.0 in 2015 from 3.2 in 2014 and 3.3 in 2013. That is a 10% drop over three years. That is way too slow! In 2015 2,900,000 injuries were reported. That is WAY TOO MANY people getting hurt. In an earlier paper the BLS reported that the number of fatalities has hovered around 4,700 people a year for the last 5 years. This is WAY TOO MANY!

This is not just a US problem. For example, Worksafe, New Zealand recently reported that the health and safety laws have had little effect on reducing fatalities further.

While driving safety from the top has had benefits historically, the effort is having less and less impact. But when we change our approach to working with the people to co-create our future, things change for the better quite quickly. This is true! It’s proven!

In the work of Richard N. Knowles and Associates, we approach the organization as if it is a living organism. Time after time coming out of our Safety Excellence Workshops, the performance improves quickly. When we engage with the people this way and help them to co-create their safety future, building on the positive strengths of the people, safety and all other aspects of their work get better quickly. For example, when I was the Plant Manager at the DuPont Belle Plant in West Virginia we worked this way, and our injury rates dropped by over 95% and earnings rose 300% in just three years. This is similar to Hollnagel’s Safety II approach.

Whenever we, at Richard N. Knowles Associates, work in organizations the safety and total performance improves quickly. Everything happens through the force of the will of the people. We release this force helping the people to co-create their shared future. Then we show them how to sustain their work for the years ahead. All dimensions of the business improve; costs are lower, productivity is higher, morale is better and far more people are working safely.

Call us at 716-622-6467 so you can release the positive, creative forces in your organizations quickly!