We’ve come to the eighth and final installment in our safety series. Over the past two months, I’ve recounted conversations I had with Bob, a good operations manager in a chemical plant where we both worked. As I coached Bob, we moved through the arc one has to travel in order to change.
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, Bob ended our session with a request: “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.”
So let’s dive in, shall we?
NOTE: The process I will describe in this post is my Going All-In™ Performance Transformation Process. After the introduction you receive here, I encourage you to dig deeper. You have a several options:
Purchase a Safety Leadership Mastery Toolbox. My exclusive and comprehensive kit, the toolbox includes all of the materials you need to lead a safety performance transformation in your organization.
Attend a Leadership Mastery Summit. Held over one week in Austin, Texas, my summits are for those serious about taking their leadership to the next level. You and a few select others will spend that week with me becoming experts in my Going All-In™ Performance Transformation Process. Then, you’ll apply the process to your specific business issue as I coach you through it.
Read or listen to my book, Heretics to Heroes: A Memoir on Modern Leadership. In my award-winning book, I describe the application of this process in vivid detail within real-world scenarios actually faced by me and my clients.
“Okay, Bob, let’s talk process,” I said. Bob and I were in his conference room, ready to begin our last session.
“I’m all ears,” Bob replied, taking a seat.
I handed Bob a diagram and a one-page summary of the process I was preparing to propose. He studied the documents for a moment in silence, then looked up as if to say, “I”m ready.”
“There are four phases in a performance transformation,” I began. “Visualize, Prepare, Commit and Plan, and finally, Execute and Institutionalize. If these phases are well executed, the desired change will occur.”
We began with the Visual phase. “The leader plays a pivotal role in this phase,” I said. “It’s up to her to visualize a future that captures the hearts and minds of her people.”
“Why?” Bob asked. “I mean, why must I capture their hearts and minds?”
“Because the performance a leader creates is determined by her ability to capture the hearts and minds of her people, and then inspire them to contribute their full attention and maximum effort to a specific business goal,” I said. “In this case, that goal or imperative is what we call safety in the current paradigm. In the new paradigm, we define our goal differently. We say we want to deliver extraordinary business performance while caring for people.
“A big shift like this demands a big investment from everyone who is involved,” I continued. “Everyone will have to be willing to contribute more than merely what’s necessary to keep a job and get a good annual performance review. This is bigger than that. The leader must capture and inspire everyone so well that people are eager to devote discretionary effort to the goal she’s outlined. A leader only earns that kind of buy in by giving people an excellent reason to follow her that touches both hearts and minds.”
“And that’s what you mean on this diagram by vision and mission?” Bob asked as he held up the illustration I’d provided.
“That’s what I mean by a vision––the missions come later,” I said. “But I want to be clear. I’m not talking about the typical business vision that says something like, ‘We are the undisputed leader in our industry, blah, blah blah.’ Those visions do almost nothing to affect performance or enroll people.”
I paused and saw Bob was still with me, leaning forward in his chair. “The kind of vision I’m talking about tells a story,” I said. “It paints a picture. It can be simple and brief, like Kennedy’s: ‘We will put a man on the moon and bring him home by the end of the decade, safety.’ Or it can be long and complex, like Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. The length doesn’t matter as long as it articulates a future that the leader is inviting his people to join him in realizing. Then, it must be compelling enough to make those people say to themselves, ‘I want to be a part of that future. I am willing to give all I have to make it happen.’”
“Where does the mission come into play?” Bob asked.
“First, the leader articulates the vision,” I said. “Then, his leadership team develops the missions that will get them there. Think about it: Kennedy gave dozens of speeches enrolling the nation in his vision. But he relied on NASA to define the more than a dozen missions it took to realize the future he painted.”
Bob nodded in agreement. “The vision is inspirational, and the missions are tactical,” I said. “Let’s say you are leading a revolution to overthrow an oppressive government. Your vision might be something like ‘a sovereign and democratic nation.’ It’d be the leader’s task to articulate what that future would actually be like. Then, his generals would come up with the missions necessary to fulfill it––missions like, ‘Recruit 20,000 soldiers within 60 days’ and ‘Take the airport by 1200 hours, June 8 without any civilian casualties.’
“Developing a compelling vision and then translating it into a mission is hard work,” I added. “It typically takes the leader and the leadership team a month or more to complete these two essential steps.”
“Okay, I’m seeing the value of the vision and mission,” Bob said. “But once I have them, what do I do with them?”
“That’s where the next two phases of the process come in,” I said. “Essentially, the leader and the leader’s team must prepare to lead an event where they gather together the key players and influencers and enroll them in the vision and missions.
“Just like the vision isn’t your typical business vision, this event is not your standard management meeting or conference,” I continued. “Everything about this event must send an unmistakable message to attendees that something special is going on––and that they’re going to play critical roles in making it happen.
“The leader must charter an Event Planning Team charged with masterminding the entire gathering. Leading and participating in this team is a big deal. Its leader must be someone with outstanding team and project management skills. The team lead assignment is full-time for about 90 days, and the team members must commit about 40% of their time over that same period.”
“That’s quite an investment,” Bob said slowly. “What goes on at this event?”
“The investment is necessary to ensure that the event establishes the psychological environment needed for the leader and his team to effectively enroll attendees,” I said.
“What do you mean by psychological environment?” Bob asked.
“The event is a psychological container, intentionally created for a distinct purpose: to provide attendees the opportunity to explore and consider the leader’s vision and the leadership team’s missions, and then, to choose whether or not they’ll join them in making it all happen,” I said. “The event is all about leveraging the human power of free will, which I believe is the most powerful force on the planet. When the event is well planned and facilitated, it generates committed followers willing to give whatever attention and effort necessary to accomplish the mission and ultimately realize the vision. The amount of intention and positive energy generated at one of these events is amazing.”
“So, I have a vision and a mission, and my key players are enrolled in making them happen,” Bob said. “What’s next?”
“Next, you translate all that extraordinary will and intention into specific actions that lead to a successful first mission,” I said. “This is actually accomplished in the second half of the event, after attendees are enrolled and committed.
“But just like before, the leader and her team must create a psychological space where this work can be accomplished quickly. I call this part of the process ‘Opening Space for Action.’ It involves a methodology wherein the leadership essentially turns the event over to attendees and provides a means and opportunity to discuss and align on actions necessary to accomplish the mission.
It goes like this: any attendee can call a session, while other attendees can choose whether or not to sit in. There are typically about 24 of these sessions at the event. At each session, participants produce ideas and nail down actions needed to complete the mission. When this method is facilitated well, everything that needs to be changed or done for the mission to succeed is identified, and responsibilities and timetables are determined.”
“And then the event ends?” Bob asked. “Is that the end of the third phase of the process?”
“Yes, for the most part,” I said. “On the last day of the event, the Plan Steering Team is introduced to everyone. This group has been trained for their role prior to the event. They’ll take the output from the various open-space sessions, and translate it all into an executable plan with accountabilities, target dates, metrics, and measures. Then, they’ll steer and monitor the plan’s execution until the mission is accomplished.
“Once the first milestone is achieved, an appropriate celebration is held, where the leadership team announces the next mission in the journey to realizing the leader’s vision. The process then repeats. It’s the same format that allowed the U.S. to put men on the moon. It’s stood the test of time, but for some reason, very few business leaders use it.”
“So that’s it?” Bob asked, surprised that the process appeared so simple. “I thought this was the new paradigm of safety.”
“Yes, that’s a brief overview of the basic process,” I said. “Of course, the leader and the leadership team have roles to play that involve keeping the mission alive and people motivated. But for the most part, leadership has done its job, and they need to step to the sidelines and allow their people to do the heavy lifting necessary to accomplish the mission.
“As far as this being the new safety paradigm, remember what I said in our last session: the new safety paradigm is not about safety. It’s about leadership––a special form of leadership that reliably produces extraordinary results while caring for people.
“I guess you could call it a new safety program, but that’d trigger old and outdated associations that people have learned from the old paradigm, like focusing on individuals, attempting to prevent injuries, and relying on investigations to learn,” I continued. “That paradigm is like attempting to drive a car on a winding road while looking in the rear-view mirror. The process I just shared with you has people traveling on the same road but looking out the windshield with a clear view of what’s around the next corner. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel safer in the second car.”
“I see your point,” Bob said. “This process sounds like it might work, but it also sounds like it requires a large investment of leadership’s time and energy––not to mention the hours and efforts of their key players. Is every organization willing to make that much of an investment?” He obviously doubted that could be the case.
“No, they’re not,” I said. “Too many leaders incorrectly assume that their job is to manage the day-to-day operations of their organization. Often, that’s because the leader got to where she is by being one of the best at operations, not because of her leadership capabilities, so understandably, she gravitates to what she knows and can do well.
“But I’ve seen what happens when a business leader chooses another priority. When she assumes her one and only job is to capture the hearts and minds of her people and inspire them to contribute their full attention and maximum effort to the organization’s imperatives, incredible things happen. It makes everyone else’s job easier. There isn’t enough time in the day for a leader to do that and oversee daily operations.
“That’s actually very good news for the men and women who choose to develop themselves into leaders who can lead and facilitate a process like this,” I said. “They will find that they leave their competition in the dust. They’ll produce unprecedented performance––performance so exceptional that they once believed was impossible.”