When the Safety is Right, Everything Else gets Right!

I recently read a book by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan, The Three Laws of Performance. They have studied leadership in many organizations and developed Three Laws of Performance and three Leadership Corollaries for these (P.212).

The First Law
How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.
Leadership Corollary 1
Leaders have a say, and give others a say, in how situations occur.

The Second Law

How a situation occurs arises in language
Leadership Corollary 2
Leaders master the conversational environment.

The Third Law
Future-based language transforms how situations occur to people.
Leadership Corollary 3
Leaders listen for the future of their organization.

These three Laws and Corollaries are almost identical to what we do in Self-Organizing Leadership as we use the Process Enneagram© with the people. In using this tool in conversations with the people we co-create the future with everyone having a say in it. We spend a lot of time in the organizations talking with and listening to the people seeking new and better ways to do things.

For some people in leadership positions, talking with people, seems to be quite hard. Yet it is as simple as for example;

“Hi Mary, How are things going today? I hope everything is going well on the home front. You look like you really know how to do this task. I’ve never done it before, could you show me how you do it? What are the safety challenges and rules? Is there a better way to do this? Is there an easier way? Let’s talk about that. If I help you, can you take the lead to develop the idea and see if it really works as well as you think?”

This conversation shows how the Three Laws of Performance play out. Mary usually gets pretty pumped up as she is listened to, respected and asked for a better, safer way. This may be the first time she’s been treated this way by management.

As this simple interaction occurs, over and over throughout the organization, the culture shifts to becoming more positive, resourceful and creative. When the people see that management is really listening and trying, when they see the manager as real people things open up. Ideas about things beyond the safety arena emerge and big savings develop for the company.

When I was the Plant Manager at the DuPont Belle, WV Plant, working this way with about 1,200 people we made huge changes that endured for many years. For example, injury rates dropped >96%, emissions dropped 88%, productivity rose 45% and earnings rose 300%. Together we achieved world-class safety performanece with total recordable injury rates running at 0.3 or less. They maintained this excellent performance for 12 years after I left for another DuPont assignment.

Zaffron and Logan have a case study in their book about New Zealand Steel near Auckland, New Zealand. The mill was struggling and the management decided that they really needed to change the culture to survive and grow into their future. In just 2 years New Zealand Steel transformed themselves. Injury rates dropped 50%, productivity rose 20%, costs dropped 15-20% and return on capital rose 50%.

As I was reading the story I realized that I knew the people they’d named and that Tim Dalmau, my associate in this work, and I had led the transformational effort using the Self-Organizing Leadership approach. The Process Enneagram© was the key tool we used to help the people have the important conversations and discover their future.

These two stories of the transformations of the DuPont chemical plant in Belle, WV and the New Zealand Steel plant in Auckland, New Zealand clearly show that the work with the people to shift the safety culture is the leading edge of change for the entire organization.

About Richard N. Knowles

© Richard N. Knowles and Safety Sage Blog, 2014. You may use this article on your blog, website or in your newsletter or magazine, provided that full and clear credit is given to author, Richard N Knowles, Ph.D of Safety Excellence for Business with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. […] our performance. The work I did with the people at the DuPont Belle, WV and with New Zealand Steel mentioned in earlier blogs, show that this way of leading safety is proven, robust and […]

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