From You, Down…

We’ve worked through some critical things we can each take complete responsibility for controlling in our own lives and with the teams we lead in the last several posts. Before we get the milk & cookies ready for Santa and prepare for New Year, assuming he’s allowed to travel this year as long as he’s wearing all of his PPE, let’s consider one final thing about Controlling What We Can Control!

I often reference the nearly 15 years I worked in behavior-based safety. And for good reason, I learned some amazing lessons then that have applied to so many other areas of leadership and life in general. The behaviors we studied so closely certainly tied directly to our overall safety performance as a company, but the same behaviors tie back to just about every other part of our lives too!

One of the things I don’t often reference from those years is the massive amount of data we collected regarding the safe and at-risk behaviors that were observed and documented through the process. If memory serves, I believe we had compiled well over 40,000 behavioral observations and entered every single one into a database that allowed us to run reports six ways from Sunday. Those reports helped us make decisions on what areas of our facility had the most potential for injuries and of those, which had the highest likelihood of being significant.

You can prove or disprove nearly anything you want if you wiggle the data around one way or the other. That said, we often had piles of data showing certain processes had potential to contribute to extremely severe and costly injuries. In most of those cases though, while the potential injury could have been terrible and the costs huge, the chances of it actually happening were only slightly higher than the odds of every single mail-in ballot being for the same presidential candidate…

When our teams met to develop potential action plans using the data, there was always a lot of conversation around those areas with potential for terrible incidents even though the odds of that actually happening was so incredibly slim. Those low odds were nearly often compounded by the tremendous costs that usually accompanied removing the hazard. Let’s be honest here, if it would have been simple, we wouldn’t have needed much data to make a case for changing it…

With low likelihood and high cost both in the equation, this type of issue was the first to hit the chopping block. Over time, it really got frustrating! What’s the point in collecting all this data and keying it into a database if we were going to continue kicking the can down the road? As a quick side note, I grew to believe that data entry is indeed a form of cruel and unusual punishment - and it just happened to require a significant portion of my time in that role…

The team I worked directly with to oversee our facility’s behavior-based safety process met about every other week. From time to time, as much as half of that meeting could get sucked up by our frustration with the lack of action on those issues. I don’t remember a specific time but after a few years of having responsibility for leading that process for our facility and for training teams on the process across North America, I began challenging each person involved in the initiative at any level of the organization to focus their effort on the things they could control and to do their best to stop worrying about what they couldn’t control. This was a huge ask at first! It really required changing the way each of us viewed the entire process…

As time went by, our focus moved from identifying a few significant issues that could have terrible consequences if all the stars aligned to focusing on every single behavior that could potentially contribute to even the smallest injury. In doing that, we also began asking the individuals we were observing for their help in reducing risk by identifying ways they could do the same tasks another way.

That approach took time to get dialed in but it required no additional funding and it was something we could do without getting approval from the management team or our corporate office. We took responsibility for controlling what we could control. While I held complete responsibility for the success or failure of that initiative at our facility, I had no positional authority to drive change or to approve spending. The approach I took though, with amazing support from the team members who worked so closely with me, was to focus on our world from us, down! That’s not to say we threw all the data away, anything else we achieved by using the data at that point was just a bonus. By using the influence we had earned, we were indeed able to control what we could control and we made a significant impact on our overall safety culture for years to come!

As we prepare to turn the page to a different topic, I’ll challenge you to invest some time in thinking about the things that you can control and how you can initiate positive change from you, down!

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