May 05, 2016
Note: This is Part II of “Safety Cardinal Rules for Line Managers, Not just Workers.” Read Part I here. To all who’ve responded to Andre Limby’s post on my blog, thank you for all of your comments and allow me to join the conversation…
First my title, “Cardinal Rules for Managers” and my approach to this topic. The words rules and compliance appear in a number of your comments. A few argue that adding rules for managers will just result in a more compliance-driven culture and not necessarily a safer one. I agree.
More rules and compliance will not turn a site that’s already got a good safety record, into one that is great. I recognized this when I wrote the article, but I purposely chose a provocative title.
I believe managers shouldn’t expect their workers and supervisors to solve safety problems, when the responsibility lies squarely with them. They need to stop automatically looking for who to blame and look at themselves first, especially in response to incidents.
Ideally (and perhaps more rigorously), I could have challenged readers to consider ways of being and behaving as cardinal or primary. This more nuanced wording and approach is perhaps more accurate, but it isn’t as punchy as “rules”. My intent is to challenge managers to stop imposing such rigid structures of work on their workers, without adopting high standards of ethics, learning and culture change and being accountable for these standards.
So I agree: rules are not the answer, even rules for managers! I appreciate those comments that challenge the thinking (and me by extension!).
Other readers make valuable observations:
maybe limit “Cardinal Rules” to complying with legislation and paying rapt attention to Fatal Risks?
perhaps people should be “free to think”?
In my travels I hear divergent views on rules. It seems most line and HSE managers I speak with, believe that a foundation of rules and an accompanying structure of discipline for a breach or non-compliance must be in place first. Then we can build a more thoughtful, caring culture. This foundation of rules and compliance is necessary to give people the freedom to learn, adapt, etc.
Yet another reader comments along the lines of rules and absolutes don’t work. I also hear people arguing that short-service contractors and employees need to understand the basic requirements and know the immediate consequences of non-compliance. There isn’t time to develop people or contractor companies’ culture with these services.
I would welcome more dialogue on this topic. Are rules a “must-have” and an adaptive culture a “nice-to-have”?
A few thoughts of my own:
Accountability does not equal punishment. The word accountability to me means: “I will answer for my behavior, results and factors in and out of my control. I will stand up and answer clearly and responsibly, without guilt or blame for my actions and results.”
Far too many sites are using the term “a Just Culture” as a way to sanction punishment. Sure, they adjust the penalty to the “crime” in a rational way, but it is punishment nonetheless. Often, the responses I see are largely retributive, not restorative. Punishment should be reserved for criminals, not workers trying to get a job done and a family fed. I don’t see workers committing crimes. Certainly there are a few bad actors, but these are not the real problem on our sites. Thus my words in the article: “Stand up for rectifying the harm and restoring what has been lost, not retribution. Stand up for learning not blame. Zero is not possible. Perfection is not the goal, learning is. You will be surprised at the vastly different outcomes and solutions that arise from shifting your focus to learning from the harsh glare of blame”.
Getting away from punishing errors to learning from them may seem weak to some, but I assure you it will take a lot of courage! I can hear the replies already:
Whoa! Not punish a worker who made the wrong choice – we have to set the right example!!
What signal will that send to the other workers? They are watching us for signs of weakness! or
What?! We must have told them what not to do a dozen times and the injured person did it anyway. We can’t be soft!!
I have seen and heard of managers forgoing punishment for other outcomes that prompt a learning and culture change on their sites. I’d welcome hearing of some examples from readers. And I welcome counter-arguments.
In my article and again above, I write, “Zero is not possible.” Many safety professionals and writers are taking a view that “Zero” was and perhaps still is a great marketing story. A provocative attention-getter that is no longer serving the industry. It is a black and white concept that simply doesn’t hold true in reality.
Close colleagues of mine challenge me on this; “Mike, aren’t you letting go of a powerful stand for safety by weakening your commitment to no incidents or injuries?” I don’t believe I am. Rather I, and others, are recognizing the false mandate and security of absolutes in the complex and shifting world of safety. In the real world, a commitment to Zero Injuries turns too quickly to Zero Tolerance. Especially in the face of success. I welcome dialogue on this point.
Finally, I want to thank you for commenting, and I am taking your words and comments to heart. Clearly you care deeply about safety, learning and engaging not preaching. This is the future of improved safety – your authentic leadership.