We’ve spent the past two months exploring workplace safety here on the All-In Blog, and this week brings the seventh in the series. My hope is that many of you reading can relate to Bob, a smart operations manager in a chemical plant where we both worked, and that you will begin to see the limitations of the traditional safety paradigm that still dominates industry––and be open to the new framework I propose.
I coached Bob, and this series has recounted many of our conversations: First, I told Bob that those of us in senior management only knew about 10% of the incidents and injuries that actually occurred in our plants––and he disagreed vehemently. I sought out to prove that our people weren’t talking and explain why, which had everything to do with us cultivating an incorrect focus. I showed Bob that the problem with our current focus was two-pronged: 1) we were zeroing in on incidents and injuries; and 2) we had assumed a preventative posture.
In last week’s post, I introduced Bob to a new paradigm grounded in what I call the Four Fields of Performance™: systems, behavior, self, and social. I argued that the paradigm our plant adhered to––which happens to be what many organizations continue to use today––focuses almost exclusively on systems and behavior fields, ignoring the self and social realms. The new paradigm I proposed addresses that problem by refocusing attention and effort on the latter two fields, which have as much impact on safety and all other aspects of performance, as the two other areas. I ended our conversation with a request: I asked Bob to consider what we’d discussed and to come back the next week willing to let me know if he wanted to continue learning about the new paradigm.
I didn’t waste time.
“You’ve had a week to consider the new safety paradigm––are you interested in learning more?” I asked Bob as we sat down in his conference room.
“I’d say I’m curious but nowhere near sold yet,” Bob said. “I’m not going to give up something that’s worked for me for a long time without some real proof that the new way is better.”
“Then we might as well stop here,” I said. “Remember, when a new paradigm begins to emerge, there is no evidence to support its validity. It’s too new and not yet proven. That’s why those who are first to embrace it get a big leg up on the competition. You want proof, but I have none to give you.”
“Then how do I decide whether to change and move forward in a new direction without something that guarantees it’s right?” Bob asked, frustrated.
“Did you have any proof when you said you’d live in harmony with your wife until you die?” I asked. “Did she give you any guarantees that you’d made the right choice?”
“No, but I have no plans to marry you,” Bob said with a chuckle. “As you’ve pointed out, I’m spoken for.”
I smiled. “We can make decisions––very important decisions––without evidence or guarantees,” I said. “That’s the point. We make those choices based on a gut feeling––something within us tells us it’s right. You will make a decision about whether or not to pursue my new paradigm in the same way. It will either seem right to you or not. Can I continue sharing it with you?”
“Great. I want to move on from the Four Fields of Performance and discuss something more concrete. We have only scratched the surface of the four fields, but I want to cut to the chase, if you will, and give you an example of what you would be working on if you were leading within the new safety paradigm.”
“I’ve spent decades distilling work in the self and social fields into what I call the Five Conditions of Performance™––five conditions you as the leader must create.” Then I shared the following list with Bob:
- A Big Game to Play
- Commitment and Confidence in Victory
- Sense of Belonging
- Positive Self-Image
- Opportunities for Personal Growth
Note: for an in-depth explanation of the Five Conditions, read “Take Care of Your People, and They’ll Take Care of Your Business.”
“If and when a leader creates and sustains these psychological––or, if you prefer, emotional––conditions within his people, he earns followers willing to act on whatever vision, mission, movement, or goal he chooses to emphasize,” I explained. “Once these conditions are in place, the leader need merely assure they are maintained. His people will do whatever is necessary to complete the mission at hand.
“Consequently,” I continued, “A leader who creates these conditions in the spirit of creating extraordinary results while caring for people will find that her team is more focused on safety, more willing to stand up for it, and more willing to act for safety––all more than ever before.”
“But why?” Bob asked. “Why do the five conditions you’ve mentioned cause all that?”
“Because when a leader takes the time to ensure they exist, her people will contribute much more than the bare minimum required to keep their boss happy and earn a good performance rating,” I said. “This is so much bigger than that. When people experience and live in the five conditions, they’re willing to put forth effort they don’t even have to offer. Some people call it discretionary effort. Whatever you name it, people experiencing the five conditions give you more effort because they want to give it to you. They want to see your vision realized. They want to serve their leader.”
“I’m still not sure what you mean,” Bob said, confused but doing his best to listen and understand what I was trying to explain.
“You see, Bob, the new paradigm of safety is not about safety,” I said.
“What? It’s not?”
“No. It’s about leadership––and not just any kind of leadership. It’s a rare form. I call the women and men who embrace it All-In Leader™s. All-In Leaders capture the hearts and minds of their people and inspire them to contribute their full attention and maximum effort toward producing extraordinary business results. All the while, everyone involved is caring for people. Unlike the steelworkers before the accident that we discussed last week, All-In Leaders prompt people to care and look out for not just everyone’s safety, but everyone’s welfare. That is the foundation of this entire new safety paradigm. Can you see how the entire intent and objective is different?”
“I guess so,” Bob said, but we both knew he couldn’t really see it yet.
“The new safety paradigm is not about safety,” I repeated. “It’s about business. And it’s about leading and conducting business in a way where unprecedented results are achieved while caring for people. Safety as we think of it today no longer exists in the new paradigm. There is no safety program or safety brochures because there’s no longer the need to segregate safety from everything else we do. Being and doing things in a way that takes care of people and the planet becomes who we are and integral to everything we do.
“Injury-free or zero injuries becomes a natural outcome of how we operate,” I continued. “In the new paradigm, if an injury were to occur, our people would be shocked. It’d be front-page news because such a thing just won’t happen in that world. If it did we’d all see it as a major failure we all had a hand in causing.”
“I’m starting to see where you’re coming from,” Bob said. “But help me understand where the five conditions fit in.”
“The five conditions are just one example of what’s different in the new paradigm,” I said. “I shared them because I want to hold them up in contrast to the way we normally think of working on safety. Until we had this conversation, would you have understood that a sense of belonging must be in place if our dream of ‘injury-free’ is ever to be realized?”
“Okay, I get it now,” Bob said. “At least, I’m beginning to. But help me understand the process we would follow in making this shift to the new paradigm. What would it look like at the beginning? The middle? The end? I can feel where you’re coming from, but I just can’t picture what it would look like if we embraced this new paradigm.”
“That’s exactly where I want to go in our next meeting,” I said. “Next time, I’ll share a process for leading that transformation––one that gets you more than the safety you want, but business performance far beyond what you currently believe is possible.”
“Sounds too good to be true,” Bob responded––then smiled.
We agreed to meet again in a couple of days. Bob was too eager to dive in to hold off for our standard week between coaching sessions, which showed me that he was genuinely intrigued. That’s the most I could expect from him at this stage, and I was thrilled.
Let’s go All-In.