In one way or another, culture helps to shape nearly everything that happens in and around an organization. As important as it is, though, it can be equally as confusing and hard to control. Work cultures seem to emerge as an unexpected by-product of randomness — a brief comment made by a manager, misinterpreted by direct-reports, propagated during water cooler conversations, and exaggerated by unrelated management decisions to downsize, reassign, promote, terminate, etc.
As we are all aware the oil and gas industry is currently deeply entrenched in a global downturn rooted in an enormous glut of oversupplied crude. It seems that each and every day we hear a different expert give their analysis of when this downturn will end and prices will rise but the consistent message is that we will not see rising crude prices until we can start burning a lot more than we produce, and for an extended period. While we at The RAD Group don’t participate in the speculation of crude prices, we certainly understand the impact that a weak sector can have on profits, morale, and just about every other KPI that companies measure. You may not be directly effected by this current downturn but you’ve probably been through one in your own industry or will at some time in your career. As you may also be aware as one of our readers, we do focus on the application of Human Factors science to improve the performance of individuals, teams, and entire organizations. To this end, let’s take a look at how organizations could use Human Factors principles to survive, and even thrive, in a market downturn.
I can’t claim to be an avid follower of college basketball. In fact, until this past Sunday I had not watched an entire game all season and certainly couldn’t tell you who the top teams or any of the players were. But that was until I discovered that my undergraduate alma mater (Stephen F. Austin) was playing Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament. “March Madness” had struck me! I ended up watching college basketball all afternoon and evening, yelling at the television and even though my alma mater lost (by 1-point in the last 1.5 seconds of the game) I will be watching college basketball for the next couple of weeks. While some of you who are reading this are probably die-hard college basketball fans, many of you are like me and only become interested when the stakes are high (e.g., your team is playing to advance) or something else, like sitting in a sports bar with friends, makes watching more likely. As I started thinking about writing this blog, it hit me that safety observation and intervention are a lot like “March Madness”. Both normally occur under specific contextual conditions. Both are triggered by a change in the salience of certain aspects of the context that lead to watching and responding. My interest in watching college basketball changed when I learned that SFA was playing Notre Dame. Basketball became much more salient in my context, important to me personally and as a result changed my television viewing behavior. Watching the game led me to “intervene” even if it was simply yelling at the television and talking with my wife about the “great 3-point shot” or the “terrible call by the referee”. As a matter of fact, that change in salience led to me watching continuous basketball until it ended that Sunday and increased the likelihood that I will watch the rest of the tournament. Isn’t that what we want in our workplaces……employees predictably watching each other’s backs and intervening when they see something unsafe? While this analogy doesn’t perfectly translate to the workplace, it would seem to be close enough to provide some help.
So how can we translate this to increasing safety observations and interventions in the workplace?
Remember, I contracted “March Madness” upon learning that the stakes had increased for me, i.e. my alma mater was playing. It would seem that something analogous must happen in the workplace. First there must be an understanding that the stakes are high if we don’t watch each others’ backs. Our research indicates that this is already present in most workplaces. People consistently report that they feel a “moral responsibility" to keep each other safe, so simply reminding employees regularly of their role as a way to increase salience should be all that is necessary.
Secondly, just like I “watched” the games, we need for our employees to attend to the risks and behaviors of others in their contexts. While I don’t need to learn how to watch television, I do need to be aware of the rules of the game, pay attention to the screen and interpret what I see. This has happened for me over time, but in the workplace we need to teach employees what situations and behaviors are high risk in an attempt to increase the salience of those situations and behaviors. This requires training, but also regular reminders through safety and pre-job meetings. While watching basketball on television I have the announcers constantly predicting and interpreting play which acts to direct my attention. That should be the role of each employee, but especially the on-site supervisor. That person’s primary job is to direct attention for their employees.
But what about intervention? I don’t need any training on how to yell at the television when there is a bad call or cheer for my team when they make a good play. But our research indicates very clearly that employees for the most part, while mindful of their role in intervention, don’t necessarily feel competent to do so. They know that “yelling” at each other has a high probability of leading to defensiveness and anger. In other words, while we can get “March Madness” into our workplaces from a motivational and observational perspective, getting the right kind of intervention does not come naturally. Our research and experience demonstrate that providing employees with the right kind of intervention skills increases their competence while simultaneously leading to an increase in confidence and an increase in intervention frequency and success.
The NCAA basketball tournament only happens once a year but safety observation and intervention are a year round necessity. Maybe we can replicate the “March Madness” process to improve safety all the time!
Neurological research has helped us better understand some of the developmental and age related changes in cognitive functioning and performance, including risk tolerance (see Complexity, Age and Performance). We have proposed that these findings provide additional support for the need to have older and younger workers learn to work together so as to capitalize on their age-related strengths, i.e., older workers + younger workers = better decisions. The problem is that there are also very strong age related stereotypes that inhibit the effectiveness of this suggestion. Therefore, we need to understand the role that stereotypes play in the interactions of various age groups in the workplace so that we can create environments where negative stereotypes are minimized or overcome. Stop for a moment and describe the characteristics of people who are 20 years of age, 40 years of age, 60 years of age, and 75 years of age. If you are honest with yourself, you will have some overlap in your descriptors, but you will also have differences and if you are also honest you will find that there are more negative characteristics identified for age groups to which you do not currently belong. If you think about it you will also most likely find that your descriptions don’t necessarily accurately describe every person that you know within each of those age groups. We all function with age related stereotypes but we also know that there are individual differences. The problem is that until we know a given individual, our stereotypes tend to guide our perceptions and expectations of that person. In fact, when our expectations are strong, we will overlook invalidating evidence of our stereotypes and foster what is called a “self-fulfilling prophecy (SFP)” through our actions toward the other person. In other words, our stereotypes will tend to override our search for individual differences, or exceptions, and simultaneously help create the behavior that we expected in the other person. For example, research has demonstrated that performance is improved when it follows an interaction driven by a positive stereotype but decreased when it follows an interaction driven by a negative stereotype (e.g., Hausdorff, et al, 1999). Likewise, the behavior resulting from the interaction will strengthen our stereotype and if that behavior is perceived negatively, e.g., inflexible, know-it-all, etc., we will likely become less willing to work with or listen to the other person and this makes our objective of “better decisions” more difficult to attain.
So how do we overcome the negative impact of our stereotypes?
We have been helping supervisors and managers deal with the impact of their negative stereotypes for the past 30+ years and the process, while simple requires understanding and effort. First, we help them evaluate and understand their stereotypes, especially their negative stereotypes and the role that they personally play in creating SFP’s. Second, we help them think about specific individuals with whom they interact and then have them honestly evaluate the role of negative stereotyping on both their expectations of the person and the impact of their interaction on the behavior of the person. In other words, we help them understand that because everyone is different we need to look for those individual differences rather that viewing everyone of a certain age as the same. Third, we have them evaluate the positive aspects of these individuals, especially those characteristics that can be beneficial to other team members and the organization. Finally, we have them commit to a regular review of their stereotypes and evaluation of how those stereotypes are impacting their relationships. Our objective is to improve interactions and relationships by minimizing the impact of negative age related stereotypes. If we are going to create “better decisions” through the interaction of older and younger workers we will first need to positively impact stereotypes that are currently leading to reduced respect and willingness to listen, learn and depend on each other.
Change is in the air, or at least on the minds of American football fans, political junkies, and those looking at making that big New Year’s resolution. It seems that change has always and will always be a hot topic. In other words, nothing has changed in regards to change. So why is it that change is so intriguing yet elusive to us all? Oddly enough, the answer may be found in a topic at the forefront of American culture, college football. While there is a long history of teams in the Midwest, particularly the Big Ten, being powerhouses, this hasn’t been the case in recent years. In fact, most recently the landscape of college football has been dominated by a couple of teams on the West Coast and, to a larger extent, in the Deep South. Looking at the era from 1998-2013, the national champions have resided either in Southern California or the South 15 of 16 years, with the lone exception being Ohio State in 2002. If you asked the experts, this was less of a cyclical trend and more of a shift into what the future of college football would look like from now on. However, the last two years shows that may be changing.
What’s Behind It?
One reason that so many struggle with change is that they fail to understand the basic mechanisms behind it, simply floating adrift in the winds of change with no means for navigation. Let’s looks at three very basic mechanisms of change and how we can use them in driving change in our own lives and organizations.
Acceptance of Change
We all tend to be change adverse at some level. Some of the best organizations in the world have entire departments who do nothing more than manage change within the company. One of their main functions is to determine when people are resistant to change and how to compel them to accept the change the organization is wanting to make. We’ve all had that moment in our own lives that we realized that we simply can’t keep doing things the way we’ve always done them and expect to get different results, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept that we need to make big changes.
Over the last decade warm weather schools have dominated college football. Not only did they have a deep pool of talent located close by, they were getting some of the best players from the North to come down to warmer climates. Warm weather schools have an embarrassment of riches in talent, and they used these talents to evolve the spread offense to such impressive levels that football scores started to resemble basketball scores. Meanwhile the Big Ten continued to lag their friends to the South in recruiting and offensive numbers. The powers-that-be at these Big Ten institutions knew they had to make big changes or risk the game leaving them relevant only in history books.
Change is Rooted in Complexity
Anybody that tells you that making a change is simple and you need to just do one simple thing fails to understand what is driving the performance of people. If you’ve read many of our blogs you have seen the term complexity used quite often. Simply put, human performance happens in response to multiple stimuli. No one thing, by itself, is salient enough to sustainably drive a change in performance, instead multiple factors are almost always at play when lasting change takes effect. In fact, the performance itself is simply a byproduct of the stimuli in which people find themselves. In our blog Complexity and Local Rationality we detail that people don’t behave in certain ways simply because that’s what they want to do but because that’s what seems to be the logical thing to do given their context. In other words, getting people to want to change is far less important than helping them see that change is actually the logical thing to do and helping them understand that when the change is made it will take changing several factors to make the change stick.
In 2014 Ohio State was ranked #16 in the first College Football Playoff Poll. After an opening week loss to Virginia Tech they had become an afterthought in terms of playing for a national championship. Two months later they soundly beat an Oregon team to win the national championship, stopping a 7 year streak of SEC teams winning the national title. In the 2015 season not only Ohio State, but Michigan State, Iowa, and Northwestern are ranked in the top 14 teams in the country at the end of the regular season, making the Big Ten arguably the dominant conference in college football. Where did this change come from so fast? The answer is nebulous but can be argued that many things led to this change. Former Northwestern Graduate Assistant coach Kenji Jackson says he saw several things happen over the last few years that has changed the way Big Ten football recruits players and performs on the field.
- Several assistant coaches hired from the South brought their recruiting networks with them
- Satellite camps from Big Ten schools held in the Deep South in Summers to recruit the best from that region
- Lowering of academic standards in some Big Ten schools
- Social media and video sharing tools such as Twitter and Hudl where recruits could gain instant access to college coaches around the country
- A change in offensive philosophies in the Big Ten that has coupled the fast paced spread offense with the traditional smash mouth run game.
These were just a few of the examples that Coach Jackson immediately saw happening in the Big Ten the last few years. While there is no measurable correlation, each of these probably have impacted the resurgence of Big 10 football.
Agents of Change
To drive change in organizations you have to have the right person/people at the wheel. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a CEO that drives the change throughout the organization, you simply have to identify the right people, the social centers of gravity, that will intentionally drive the change. This could be senior leadership, front line supervisors, key front line employees, or any combination of the above. However, you have to find the right person/people who know the vision of where the organization wants to go and who have the hearts and minds of the masses to make them follow.
In the case of the Big Ten nobody has driven this change more than Urban Meyer. Coach Meyer has been successful at every stop, from Bowling Green, to Utah, to Florida, and ultimately Ohio State. He not only brought a fresh perspective for running a cutting edge new offense to the league, he brought new blood with his coaches and players that he recruited from outside the region, and viewership that meant more TV dollars that help all of the teams in recruiting.
One of the biggest aspects of change that Coach Meyer brought to Ohio State was the willingness to change. Braxton Miller was the starting QB when the season started in their championship season of 2014 but missed the majority of the season due to injury. When he returned in 2015 he was asked to move to receiver and did so. Now none of us on the outside know how that change was received at first but the change was made and Braxton Miller has played exceptionally well at the position and will probably be playing receiver in the NFL next season. He built the blueprint for winning in the Big Ten in modern day football and other teams have benefited by following that blue print while putting their own tweaks in the plan itself.
The Real World
What does this have to do with making change in my own life or in my company you may ask. This analogy is not just the musings of a college football fan but a case study in how we can all drive big change in performance across dynamic and complex organizations. There are more aspects to change than just these three points but if we can start to understand how a loosely jointed group of higher learning institutions changed the way America views their football programs we can start to understand how we get our organization to be better at changing HR software programs or adhering to a new company policy on environmental record keeping.
First, understand that people tend to be resistant to change. This isn’t merely a weakness of the human spirit, but more likely a weakness in organizational context. We can and should compel, encourage, and reward people to accept positive change, but we can’t expect change to stick until we understand the context in which people work.
Next, understand that making change is not a one off effort. People are doing things because the context in which they work makes it locally rational to do it that way. You can’t change any one thing and create sustainable change. In Step 1 above you have encouraged your team to accept change and begun to understand the context that is driving their resistance. It will take effort and resources across the board to make changes to this context and make the change stick.
Lastly, identify the right agents of change. It may be a senior leader, a committee of front line leaders or even your front line workers but you have to find the people who see the vision, understand the strategy for making change, and who people will follow to make the change sustainable.
In a recent blog (Protecting Young Workers from Themselves) we discussed some of the reasons for the relatively high risk tolerance of young (15-24 years old) workers compared with older workers. We concluded that while there is still cortical structure development during this developmental period that this alone does not explain why this age group is at a higher risk of engaging in unsafe actions and suffering the consequences of those actions. The research demonstrates that the less developed limbic system which is involved in both social and pleasure seeking behavior can at times override the logical capabilities of the young workers and stimulate them to engage in risky behavior. Because educational programs designed to provide the young workers with the knowledge necessary to effectively interpret their contexts has not proven overly successful, we proposed that one way to impact their risk taking in the workplace is to remove social stimuli such as peers from their work teams and replace them with older, more risk averse and experienced workers, especially those in the 55+ age group. We suggested that these older workers who understand and can interpret the various workplace contexts could provide mentoring and coaching for the younger workers. This however introduces another set of issues that must be addressed if this approach is to have the desired impact. These issues include the perceptions/stereotypes/expectations of each cohort group by the other and the skills necessary to impact those perceptions/stereotypes/expectations. We all have a tendency to focus on actions and traits of other people that fit with our expectations and stereotypes of the groups to which that person belongs, including the person’s age. We also tend to behave toward that person based on what we perceive them doing and they do likewise to us. The problem is that what we “see” is driven by what we “expect to see” and often results in a phenomenon known as the “Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (SFP)” which also reinforces our stereotypes and thus our future interactions. For example, an older worker observes a younger worker engage in some risky behavior and because the older worker views younger workers as thinking they are “bullet proof” he immediately criticizes the younger worker for his failure to “think”. The younger worker who did what he thought was the right thing in the situation becomes defensive toward the “judgmental/rude” older worker and “smarts off” to him. This causes the older worker to become defensive and the cycle continues, reinforcing the SFP and strengthening the stereotypes held by both individuals (see “Your Organization’s Safety Immune System (Part 2): Strengthening Immunity” for a more in-depth discussion of defensiveness).
The question is how do we utilize the older workers as coaches for the younger workers without the negative impact of the SFP? The key is to change the expectations that both age groups have of each other and this requires training. Facilitated, interactive training programs that address the common impact of the SFP, help people of all ages understand the role of individual differences in performance, teach people how to deal with the Defensive Cycle™, and give them opportunity to interact successfully with each other tend to produce environments where both older and younger workers can capitalize on the strengths that each bring to the table. While younger workers bring less socioemotional maturity and experience, they also bring creativity, physical strength and a fresh view of the work context. Older workers bring the experience and a broader understanding of the work context that can help younger workers make better, less risky decisions. The key is mutual understanding and mutual respect which come from less stereotyping, less defensiveness and more teamwork.
Looking back at your younger self, did you ever do something that now seems foolish and excessively risky? We have talked about the phenomenon of “local rationality” several times in the past, which is how our reasoning and decisions are heavily influenced by our immediate context. We are all subject to its impact, including yours truly (see “A Personal Perspective on Context and Risk Taking”), but perhaps even more so when we are young, especially between the ages of 15 and 24. The data are clear. Adolescents and young adults are more likely to engage in risky behaviors than are adults (especially older adults) and workplace incidents are more frequent among this age group.
So is it because young workers are less experienced, poorer decision makers or inherently more risk tolerant? The answer is likely “yes” to all of these questions, but it is more complicated than that. Understanding why young workers do risky things requires an understanding of the neural mechanisms that are at play in these types of situations. While it's a heady topic (forgive the pun), understanding neural development can be of extreme importance when attempting to protect our younger workers.
It has been suggested that the adolescent brain's (cortical) structures - those involved in logical reasoning and decision making - aren't completely developed, which contributes to risky decisions and behaviors. While it is true that the frontal cortex continues development into young adulthood, research demonstrates that, by age 15, logical reasoning abilities have already development equal to those of adults. In fact, 15-year olds are equal to adults at perceiving risk and estimating their vulnerability to that risk (Reyna & Farley, 2006).
In light of this type of evidence, Steinberg (2004; 2007) has proposed that risk taking is the interaction of both logical (cognitive) reasoning and psychosocial factors such as peer pressure. Unlike the logical reasoning abilities that have developed by age 15, the psychosocial capacities that impact logical reasoning have not developed until the mid-twenties and therefore interfere with real-world decision making and risk aversion. In other words, the mature decision making processes of adolescents and young adults my be interfered with by the immature psychosocial processes of this group, and reasoning only shows maturity when these psychosocial factors are minimized...for example, when there are no peers around to pressure them.
Additionally, the limbic system, which is integral to socioemotional processing and also the center for experiencing pleasure, is less developed and highly sensitive in adolescence. Because of this, they will put themselves in high risk situations in the hope of experiencing the “high” that comes from a dopamine rush. Even though the frontal cortex (executive function) is more advanced, the “thrill” that comes from the risk can overpower the logical functions of the brain and lead to risk taking, especially when under stress or fatigue. In other words, at this age, the attraction to rewards causes young adults to do exciting and perhaps risky things while their poor self-control makes it hard for them to slow down and think before acting, even when they know that the risk is present.
So what does this mean for protecting this age group. According to Steinberg (2004), attempts to reduce risk taking in this group by improving their knowledge, attitudes or beliefs have generally failed. Changes to their decision making contexts, by removing peers from the team and having older adults observe them, have had a much greater impact on reducing risk taking behaviors. Rearranging teams, so that young workers are not with their peers, minimizes the impact of negative psychosocial factors on their decisions and is a first step in protecting young workers from their own developing brains. Additionally, teaming young workers with older workers, who have been trained to observe and effectively intervene in their younger counterparts' unsafe performance, will also reduce incidents among this age group. It is, however, very important that mutual respect be nurtured so that coaching does not trigger defensiveness. Creating contexts that minimize the impact of negative psychosocial factors on logical decision making is one way to protect young workers from themselves.
In our last blog, we explored how team members can support each other by intervening effectively in unsafe situations. [Your Organization’s Safety Immune System (Part 2): Strengthening Immunity] Now we will look into something slightly different: How coworkers can prevent risks by supporting each other. In other words, how helping each other improves safety performance. There are clear safety implications when, for example, an experienced employee goes out of her way to teach a new-hire how to use a tool correctly, or when an employee drops what he is doing to help a coworker lift a heavy object. While the organization's culture can impact people's helpfulness (or lack thereof), people either do or don’t help for other reasons as well.
It is generally recognized that there are two forms of helping behavior, both of which are present in the workplace. One is referred to as "egoistic helping," in which the helper does so because he either wants something in return or desires the positive feeling that comes from helping. The other form is referred to as "altruistic helping" because the helper expects nothing in return and helps only to benefit the other person.
Altruistic Helping: The helper adopts the perspective of the other person (which is called "empathy") and helps out of a desire to benefit or reduce any negative impact on that person. For example, people donate money to a disaster relief effort because they empathize with and want to alleviate the suffering of those affected.
When team members truly care about each other's wellbeing, altruistic helping is more likely to occur. This is sometimes referred to as "active caring" and it is an important foundation for teamwork and team support. Organizations that take steps to increase empathy among team members will likely see an increase in altruistic helping behavior.
Egoistic Helping: The helper does not adopt the perspective of the other person, but helps in an attempt to further his own positive feelings, secure personal gain or create indebtedness. For example, people donate money to a disaster relief effort because the donation is tax deductible and it feels good to support the cause. Egoistic helping isn't bad...just less "noble" looking than altruistic helping.
Research has shown that positive emotional states increase helping behavior (e.g., Cunningham, 1979). Workplaces that produce pleasant, optimistic, hopeful feelings (in other words, "high employee morale") will have people helping each other more often. An explanation for this phenomenon is that people want to maintain their good mood, and helping others is one way of accomplishing that desire. As such, a workplace that promotes positive feelings also appears to increase egoistic helping behavior.
The Point: If an organization wanted to increase helping behavior within it's workforce, it would do well to set its sights on (1) interpersonal empathy and (2) employee morale. It might at first seem that these are too "wishy-washy" to have any place in safety management, but there are quite tangible steps that can be taken to improve both.
*Looking back on our previous blog, we see implications for safety intervention as well. Interpersonal empathy and employee morale may also increase the likelihood that people will intervene in unsafe situations; but neither is sufficient. Even when people want to intervene, most will not until they are confident that they can do so effectively and without creating social tension. People also need to learn how to intervene.
In a recent blog (Your Organization’s Safety Immune System) we talked about people being the “white blood cells” of our "safety immune system", but also that we have to help them become competent to do so. People care about the safety of others, but most people do not have the natural ability to conduct a successful intervention discussion. Isn’t it ironic that most organizational leaders assume that their employees have that very ability when they tell them to intervene when they see something unsafe. It takes skill to successfully tell someone that their actions could lead to injury. Many times people don’t intervene because they are afraid of reactance/defensiveness on the part of the other person. Having the skills to deal with defensiveness is essential to being willing to enter into this potentially high stress conversation in the first place. Success involves understanding where defensiveness comes from, how to deal with it before it arises and what to do when we encounter it both in others and in ourselves. The intervention conversation is not a script, but rather a process that involves understanding the dynamics of the inhibiting forces and development of a set of skills that lead to effective communication. Defensiveness. We have all experienced defensiveness both in ourselves and in other people. Defensiveness arises because we perceive that we are under attack. We are naturally inclined to defend our bodies and our property from danger, but we are also naturally inclined to protect/defend our personal dignity from criticism and our reputation from public ridicule. When we perceive that our dignity or reputation are threatened, we defend either internally by retreating/avoiding or externally by pushing back either physically or verbally. Thus we enter the Defensive Cycle™.
When we see someone doing something undesirable, such as acting in an unsafe manner we automatically attempt to understand why they are doing it and most of the time we automatically attribute it to something internal to the person. This leads to the well-documented phenomenon of the “Fundamental Attribution Error” (FAE), whereby we have a tendency to attribute failure on the part of others to negative personal qualities such as inattention, lack of motivation, etc., thus leading to the assignment of causation and blame. When you fall victim to the FAE you will likely become frustrated or even angry with the other person, and if you enter into a conversation, you will likely come across as blaming the person, whether you mean to or not. When the other person perceives you blaming, they will most likely guess that you are attacking their dignity or reputation, whether you mean to or not. When this happens they naturally become defensive. In turn, if the person gets quiet (defends internally), you will guess that you were right and they took your words to heart so you will expect performance changes which may or may not occur. If, on the other hand, the person becomes aggressive (defends externally), you will guess that they are attacking your dignity or reputation and you will then become defensive and either retreat or push back yourself. And the cycle goes on until someone retreats, or until you are able to stop the defensiveness and focus not on the person but on the context that created the unsafe performance in the first place. You have to change your intent from blame to understanding and you have to communicate that intent to the other person.
Recognizing that we are in the Defensive Cycle™ is the first step to controlling defensiveness and conducting a successful intervention. It is at this point that we need to stop and remember that when people engage in unsafe actions it is because it makes sense to them (local rationality) given the context in which they find themselves. When we commit the FAE we are limiting the possible causes of their decision to act in an unsafe manner to their motivation and/or other internal attribute and then allowing that guess to create frustration which causes us to come across as blaming the person. Recognizing that there could be other contextual factors driving their decision will reduce our tendency to blame, stop the defensive cycle before it begins and significantly increase our chances of having a successful intervention discussion.
Over the past decade we have trained many frontline workers and supervisors/managers in the skills needed to deal with defensiveness, hold an intervention discussion and create sustained behavior change. We have also found that following training, interventions increase and incidents decrease as a result of simply creating competence which leads to confidence, thus strengthening the “white blood cells” needed for the "safety immune system" to work.
Research and personal experience both demonstrate that people are less likely to intervene (offer help) when there are other people around than they are when they are the only person observing the incident. This phenomenon has come to be known as the Bystander Effect and understanding it is crucial to increasing intervention into unsafe actions in the workplace. It came to light following an incident on March 13, 1964 when a young woman named Kitty Genovese was attacked by a knife-wielding rapist outside of her apartment complex in Queens, New York. Many people watched and listened from their windows for the 35 minutes that she attempted to escape while screaming that he was trying to kill her. No one called the police or attempted to help. As a matter of fact, her attacker left her on two occasions only to return and continue the attack. Intervention during either of those intervals might have saved her life. The incident made national news and it seemed that all of the “experts” felt that it was "heartless indifference" on the part of the onlookers that was the reason no one came to assist her. Following this, two social psychologists, John Darley and Bibb Latane began conducting research into why people failed to intervene. Their research became the foundation for understanding the bystander effect and in 1970 they proposed a five step model of helping where failure at any of the steps could create failure to intervene (Latane & Darley, 1970).
• Step 1: Notice That Something Is Happening. Latane & Darley (1968) conducted an experiment where male college students were placed in a room either alone or with two strangers. They introduced smoke into the room through a wall vent and measured how long it took for the participants to notice the smoke. What they found was that students who were alone noticed the smoke almost immediately (within 5 seconds) but those not alone took four times as long (20 seconds) to notice the smoke. Just being with others, like working in teams in the workplace can increase the amount of time that it takes to notice danger.
• Step 2: Interpret Meaning of Event. This involves understanding what is a risk and what isn’t. Even if you notice that something is happening (e.g., a person not wearing PPE), you still have to determine that this is creating a risk. Obviously knowledge of risk factors is important but when you are with others and no one else is saying anything you might think that they know something that you don’t about the riskiness of the situation. Actually they may be thinking the same thing (pluralistic ignorance) and so no one says anything. Everyone just assumes that nothing is wrong.
• Step 3: Take Responsibility for Providing Help. In another study, Darley and Latane (1968) demonstrated what is called diffusion of responsibility. What they demonstrated is that as more people are added the less responsibility each assumes and therefore the less likely any one person is to intervene. When the person is the only one observing the event then they have 100% of the responsibility, with two people each has 50% and so forth.
• Step 4: Know How to Help. When people feel competent to intervene they are much more likely to do so than when they don’t feel competent. Competence engenders confidence. Cramer et al. (1988) demonstrated that nurses were significantly more likely to intervene in a medical emergency than were non medically trained participants. Our research (Ragain, et al, 2011) also demonstrated that participants reported being reluctant to intervene when observing unsafe actions because they feared that the other person would become defensive and they would not be able to deal with that defensiveness. In other words, they didn’t feel competent when intervening to do so successfully, so they didn’t intervene.
• Step 5: Provide Help. Obviously failure at any of the previous four steps will prevent step 5 from occurring, but even if the person notices that something is happening, interprets it correctly, takes responsibility for providing help and knows how to do so successfully, they may still fail to act, especially when in groups. Why? People don’t like to look foolish in front of others (audience inhibition) and may decide not to act when there is a chance of failure. A person may also fail to act when they think the potential costs are too high. Have you ever known someone (perhaps yourself) who decided not to tell the boss that he is not wearing proper PPE for fear of losing his job?
The bottom line is that we are much less likely to intervene when in groups for a variety of reasons. The key to overcoming the Bystander effect is two fold, 1) awareness and 2) competency. 1) Just knowing about the Bystander effect and how we can all fall victim to this phenomenon makes us less likely to do so. We are wired to be by-standers, but just knowing about this makes us less likely to do so. 2) Training our employees in risk awareness and intervention skills makes them more likely to identify risks and actually intervene when they do recognize them.
We are social creatures. We desire and attempt to maintain relationships wherever we are. In other words, we try to fit in with other people. This is true whether we are talking about family, work or just out in public with people we don’t know. The research is pretty clear….our decisions and actions are impacted by the people around us. Take the classic research of Solomon Asch (1955; 1956) which demonstrates the power of groups (normative influence) on our decision making. The experimental task was simple….select which one of three comparison lines match the standard where one line was obviously longer and one obviously shorter. The catch was that the experimental subject was grouped with varying numbers of confederates who would select an obviously wrong answer. The results were consistent….participants were likely to go along with the group even when the answers were obviously wrong and this conformity increased as group size increased. Additional research by Asch demonstrated that conformity decreases by approximately 25% with just one dissenter, suggesting that people want to make the correct decision and they don’t need a lot of support from group members to do so. The implication is that people tend to conform to group norms if everyone agrees, but are willing to dissent if there is any sort of disagreement among group members. The reason people are willing to go along with a group even when the decision is obviously wrong is because of fear of rejection and research provides ample evidence that rejection is a very common result of dissension with group decisions (see Tata, et al, 1996). There is a second reason that people go along with the group in addition to the desire to be liked and to fit in (normative influence). Research demonstrates that we go along with the group on many occasions because we think the group knows more about the correct decision than we do (informational influence). Two types of situations produce informational influence: (1) ambiguous situations in which a decision is difficult, and (2) crisis situations in which people don’t have time to really think for themselves. While (2) is pretty uncommon, (1) is very common in the workplace, especially with new hires. Less experienced employees don’t want to be rejected by the group, but additionally don’t have the experience to make thoughtful decisions when faced with situations that they have not encountered before. This is especially true when they are observing more experienced employees who don’t view the situation as ambiguous at all and don’t seem to hesitate when making a decision, even when the decision leads to an unsafe action. These types of decisions become automatic….just the way we do it around here. While peer pressure can be a bad thing if it leads to undesired behavior, it can also be a “good” thing if it leads to positive, safe, desired behavior. Understanding the power of peer pressure and the accepted, automatic nature of responding within an organization can help you create a safety culture where peer pressure leads to safe performance and a decrease in undesired behaviors and resulting incidents.
Our loyal readers are quite familiar with our 2010 research into safety interventions in the workplace and the resulting SafetyCompass® Intervention training that resulted from that research. What you may not know is why we started that research to begin with. For years we had heard client after client explain to us their concerns over their observation programs. The common theme was that observation cards were plentiful when they started the program but submissions started to slow down over time. In an attempt to increase the number of cards companies instituted various tactics to increase the number of cards submitted. These tactics included such things as communicating the importance of observation cards, rewards for the best cards, and team competitions. These tactics proved successful, in the short term, but didn’t have sustainable impact on the number or quality of cards being turned in. Eventually leadership simply started requiring that employees turn in a certain number of cards in a given period of time. They went on to tell us of their frustration when they began receiving cards that were completely made up and some employees even using the cards as a means to communicate their dissatisfaction with their working conditions rather than safety related observations. They simply didn't know what to do to make their observation programs work effectively. As we spoke with their employees we heard a different story. They told us about the hope that they themselves had when the program was launched. They were excited about the opportunity to provide information about what was really going on in their workplace so they could get things fixed and make their jobs safer. They began by turning in cards and waiting to hear back on the fixes. When the fixes didn’t come they turned in more cards. Sometimes they would hear back in safety meetings about certain aspects of safety that needed to be focused on, but no real fixes. A few of them even told us of times that they turned in cards and their managers actually got angry about the behaviors that were being reported. Eventually they simply stopped turning in cards because leadership wasn’t paying attention to them and it was even getting people in trouble. Then leadership started giving out gift cards for the best observation cards so they figured they would turn a few in just to see if they could win the card. After all, who couldn’t use an extra $50 at Walmart? But even then, nothing was happening with the cards they turned in so they eventually just gave up again. The last straw was when their manager told them they had to turn in 5 per week. They spoke about the frustration that came with the added required paperwork when they knew nobody was looking at the cards anyway. As one person put it, “They’re just throwing them into a file cabinet, never to be seen again”. So the obvious choice for this person was to fill out his 5 cards every Friday afternoon and turn them in on his way out of the facility. It seemed that these organizations were all experiencing a similar Observation Program Death Spiral.
The obvious question is why? Why would such a well intentioned and possibly game changing program fail in so many organizations? After quite a bit of research into these organizations the answer became clear, they weren’t intervening. Or more precisely, they weren’t intervening in a very specific manner. The intent of observation programs is to provide data that shows the most pervasive unsafe actions in our organizations. If we, as the thought goes, can find out what unsafe behaviors are most common in our organization, then we can target those behaviors and change them. The fundamental problem with that premise is that behaviors are the cause of events (near misses, LTA, injuries, environmental spills, etc.). Actually, behaviors themselves are the result of something else. People don’t behave in a vacuum, as if they simply decide that acting unsafely is more desirable than acting safely. There are factors that drive human behaviors, the behavior themselves are simply a symptom of something else in the context surrounding and embedded in our organizations. Due to this fact, trending behaviors as a target for change efforts is no different than doctors treating the most common symptoms of disease, rather than curing the disease itself.
A proper intervention is essentially a diagnosis of what is creating behavior. Or, to steal the phrase from the title of our friend Todd Conklin's newest book, a pre-accident investigation. An intervention program equips all employees with the skills to perform these investigations. When they see an unsafe behavior, they intervene in a specific way that allows them to create immediate safety in that moment, but they also diagnose the context to determine why it made sense to behave that way to begin with. Once context is understood, a targeted fix can be put into place that makes it less likely that the behavior happens in the future. The next step in an Intervention Program is incredibly important for organizational process improvement. Each intervention should be recorded so that the context (equipment issues, layout of workplace, procedural or rule discrepancies, production pressure, etc.) that created that behavior can be gathered and trended against other interventions. Once a large enough sample of interventions is created, organizations can then see the interworking of their work environment. Rather than simply looking at the total number of unsafe behaviors being performed in their company (e.g. not tying off at heights) they can also understand the most common and salient context that is driving those behaviors. Only then does leadership have the ability to put fixes into place that will actually change the context in which their employees perform their jobs and only then will they have the ability to make sustainable improvement.
Tying it back to observation programs
The observation program death spiral was the result of information that was not actionable. Once a company has data that is actionable, they can then institute targeted fixes. Organizations that use this approach have actually seen an increase in the number of interventions logged into the system. The reason is that the employees actually see something happening. They see that their interventions are leading to process improvement in their workplace and that’s the type of motivation that no $50 gift card could ever buy.
If your organization is like many that we see, you are spending ever increasing time and energy developing SOPs, instituting regulations from various alphabet government organizations, buying new PPE and equipment, and generally engineering your workplace to be as safe as possible. While this is both invaluable and required to be successful in our world today, is it enough? The short answer is “no”. These things are what we refer to as mechanical and procedural safeguards and are absolutely necessary but also absolutely inadequate. You see, mechanical and procedural safeguards are static, slow to change, and offer limited effectiveness while our workplaces are incredibly complex, dynamic, and hard to predict. We simply can’t create enough barriers that can cover every possible hazard in the world we live in. In short, you have to do it but you shouldn’t think that your job stops there. For us to create safety in such a complex environment we will have to find something else that permeates the organization, is reactive, and also creative. The good news is that you have the required ingredient already…..people. If we can get our people to speak up effectively when they see unsafe acts, they can be the missing element that is everywhere in your organization, can react instantly, and come up with creative fixes. But can it be that easy? Again, the short answer is “no”.
In 2010 we completed a large scale and cross-industry study into what happens when someone observes another person engaged in an unsafe action. We wanted to know how often people spoke up when they saw an unsafe act. If they didn’t speak up, why not? If they did speak up how did the other person respond? Did they become angry, defensive or show appreciation? Did the intervention create immediate behavior change and also long term behavior change, and much more? I don’t have the time and space to go into the entire finding of our research (EHS Today Article) , just know that people don’t speak up very often (39% of the time) and when they do speak up they tend to do a poor job. If you take our research findings and evaluate them in light of a long history of research into cognitive biases (e.g. the fundamental attribution error, hindsight bias, etc.) that show how humans tend to be hardwired to fail when the moment of intervention arises we know where the 61% failure rate of speaking up comes from…… it’s human nature.
We decided to test a theory and see if we could fight human nature simply by giving front line workers a set of skills to intervene when they did see an unsafe action by one of their coworkers. We taught them how to talk to the person in such a way that they eliminated defensiveness, identified the actual reasons for why the person did it the unsafe way, and then ultimately found a fix to make sure the behavior changed immediately and sustainably. We wanted to know if simply learning these skills made it more likely that people would speak up, and if they did would that 90 second intervention be dynamic and creative enough to make immediate and sustainable behavior change. What we found in one particular company gave us our answer. Simply learning intervention skills made their workforce 30% more likely to speak up. Just knowing how to talk to people made it more likely that people didn’t fall victim to the cognitive biases that I mentioned earlier. And when they did speak up, behavior changes were happening at a far great rate and lasting much longer that they ever did previously, which helped result in a 57% reduction in Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) and an 89% reduction in severity rates.
I would never tell a safety professional to stop working diligently on their mechanical and procedural barriers, they should be a significant component of the foundation on which safety programs are built. However, human intervention should be the component that holds that program together when things get crazy out in the real world. It can be as simple as helping your workers understand their propensity for not intervening and then giving them the ability and confidence to speak up when they do see something unsafe.
In our May Newsletter we described a Contextual Model designed to help us understand how people make decisions that impact their performance. You will recall that we focused on four general contextual factors (Self, Others, Surroundings and Systems) as primary contributors to determining performance success or failure. The salience or "relative weightiness" of specific factors within these general factors create what we called “local rationality”. Local rationality is a term to describe the fact that individuals perceive and interpret the contextual factors weighing on them in a way that is uniquely their own and makes total sense to them, irrespective of how "irrational" the interpretation appears to an onlooker. This locally perceived and vetted interpretation of the contextual factors weighing on a person, in turn, determines how the person decides, behaves, or performs.
Therefore, to accurately (and thus effectively) hold someone accountable for performance requires that we examine their context before we attempt to “fix” their performance.
We suggest four skills that when applied during an “accountability discussion”, or what we also refer to as a “re-direction” discussion, will help you get an accurate picture of the person’s context.
We have a natural tendency to want to understand and explain what we see as quickly as possible, so we have a tendency to make a guess about the causes of poor performance.
Thus the first skill:
Whether you are right or wrong in your guess, you are likely to create defensiveness and we have already talked about the negative impact that defensiveness can have on communication (Read the Blog: Dealing with Defensiveness in Relationships).
Additionally, when you guess you can unintentionally influence the person to agree with your assessment even if it is incorrect. So, instead of guessing, become curious and think to yourself...”I wonder why it makes sense to him to do that?”.
This question also weakens the influence of the Fundamental Attribution Error and allows you to entertain factors other than motivation as a cause for failure.
This leads to the second skill:
“Ask Opening Questions”
Start by making sure that your tone of voice is respectful and not accusatory which would most likely be interpreted as a guess and lead to defensiveness.
Don’t ask “Yes” or “No” type questions which would also be seen as guessing, rather simply ask the person to help you understand why they did what they did (a reflection of your curiosity question above).
For example “Can you help me understand why you are doing it this way?”
If you show genuine curiosity and not judgement you will be much more likely to get at the real reason behind the decision and behavior.
Sometimes you will only be able to identify a general contextual factor with your Opening Question, so this brings the third skill into play:
“Ask Drill Down Questions”
Remember, the objective of this discussion is to determine the real reason or reasons behind the poor performance so that you can fix it. If you didn’t get enough information from your first question, then just ask a second, more specific question (i.e., Drill Down Question).
For example Let’s say the person used the wrong tool for the job and when you ask them why they say they didn’t have the right tool. You might drill down by asking something like...”Why didn’t you have the right tool?”.
Just telling them to use the right tool might not fix the problem if the reason they don’t have the right tool is because there is only one available and someone else is using it!” Remember, drill down far enough to find the real reason(s) before you attempt to fix it.
And finally, during the whole conversation apply the fourth skill:
Listening to “what” the person is saying (their words) is only half of the process. To listen completely, you must also pay attention to “how” they are speaking, e.g. their tone of voice, their willingness to maintain eye contact, their body posture, etc. These help you understand the “real” meaning behind what they are saying and will also help you get to the real context that led them to perform as they did.
What's the Point?
Only after you have ascertained the real reason(s) do you have a sufficiently complete and accurate “accounting” of the failure. With this "accounting", you can now help find a fully informed fix that will lead to sustained improvement going forward.
Have you ever failed to hold someone accountable for poor performance? Perhaps it was a server in a restaurant who failed to provide good service. Perhaps it was an employee who didn’t meet stated expectations. If you are like us and the thousands of participants in our Performance Management in the Workplace™ and PerformanceCompass® classes over the last 30+ years, the answer is a resounding “YES”!
So why do we often fail to step up to the conversation needed to hold another person accountable for failure?
Female boss pointing a pen at her male employee
Well, there are probably a lot of reasons, but a research project that we conducted in 2011 sheds a lot of light on a couple of those reasons. Our research project focused on one form of workplace performance failure (unsafe actions), but the results serve as a model for any form of failure in the workplace.
The question that we posed to more than 2,600 employees was, “When you see someone doing something that is unsafe and choose not to intervene in what they are doing, what is usually the reason?”
We asked this question (and several others) to both supervisors and non-supervisors with a negligible response difference between the two groups.
Survey Says? The two primary reasons that respondents gave for not intervening (i.e. not holding the other person accountable) when they see something unsafe:
- The other person would become defensive or angry
- It would not make a difference.
These two reasons indicate a common, underlying problem. Namely, a large number of employees, including supervisors, do not hold others accountable when they see something unsafe because they either are or believe themselves to be incapable of doing so effectively. They do not believe that they can intervene in a way that stops and sustainably changes the other person’s unsafe behavior, while also preserving a respectful working relationship.
Anecdotally, when we ask supervisors in our training classes why at times they don’t step up to hold their employees accountable for other forms of performance failure, they give us the same two reasons.
Reason #1: Defensiveness All of us, at some time, have been defensive and have experienced defensiveness on the part of others. Defensiveness does not occur because of the words that are used, but because of the interpretation of the intent behind the words.
If you, or the other person interpret the intent as an attempt to harm dignity, reputation, or both, then defensiveness is most likely to occur.
Think about it; when you think someone is out to harm your dignity or reputation, don’t you become defensive and either shoot back at the person, or retreat with your feelings hurt? If you do, then you are normal.
The Solution Successfully handling defensiveness in others is critical to having the confidence to step up to accountability conversations. We suggest a simple tool/skill to help you deal with defensiveness and we call it a “do/don’t statement”.
When you sense that the other person has misinterpreted your intent then just clarify what you really intended. For example, “I don’t mean to imply that you are incompetent. I do want to make sure that we get the results that were expected.”
Notice that the order of the “do” and the “don’t” doesn’t really matter as long as you clarify your “real” intent. Of course if your real intent was to harm dignity or reputation, then an apology might be in order.
Reason #2: It would not make a difference Most of the time we don’t speak up because we have failed in our attempt to get improvement before and assume that we will fail again. This is because we have not helped the person “find a fix” for the real cause of their failure.
Stay Tuned We will talk about this in more detail in a future newsletter because there are several skills required to accurately understand the real reason(s) behind the failure and thus find a fix that will create sustained success. For now please understand that there is a simple, easy to use set of skills that will create success in accountability conversations and help create sustained performance improvement in others.
What's the Point?
While there are probably other reasons why we don’t speak up when we observe failure of all types, the two primary reasons both have to do with our doubt that we can either successfully deal with defensiveness or get sustained improvement.
Both of these reasons have associated skills that can predictably lead to success.
As we discussed in our January Newsletter, the first step to Accountability involves an examination of the facts/reasons underlying a specific event/result (accounting). In order for this process to bear fruit, it is important that we accurately and fairly evaluate the causes of the poor performance. To effectively examine the facts/reasons for a specific event/result requires that we understand how our biases could affect that evaluation. This is where Cognitive Biases can come into play. You may be saying to yourself…”I don’t have any biases. What are they talking about?”
Well, the truth is that we are all impacted by biases and much of the time for that matter.
What is a Cognitive Bias?
A Cognitive Bias is anything in our thought process that can distort the way we view things including the actions of another person.
There are a multitude of cognitive biases that have been identified and studied by psychologists, but there are two that directly impact accounting for the actions/results of another person.
One of these is what is called Confirmation Bias or the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions. In other words, we are predisposed to look for causes that confirm what we expect.
This means, for example, that if we are predisposed to view another person as competent, a hard worker and motivated, then we will tend to look for these types of behaviors in that person and also overlook behaviors that are in conflict with our preconception. Additionally, we would be more likely to account for poor performance on the basis of external factors such as lack of resources, lack of support, etc. rather than internal factors such as knowledge, ability or motivation. In other words, we would be likely to conclude that the failure was out of the person’s control.
On the other hand, if we are predisposed to view another person as incompetent, lazy and unmotivated, then we will tend to look for support of this preconception as the cause for failure and perhaps blame the person for the failure.
The Confirmation Bias is the underlying driver for a phenomenon commonly referred to as the Self Fulfilling Prophecy. This phenomenon has been demonstrated through research and personal experience in various environments and is notably reflected in the positive correlation between a supervisor’s expectations of a subordinate and that subordinate's performance.
Low, negative expectations tend to result in poor performance, whereas high, positive expectations tend to result in good performance.
Therefore, how we view an individual not only can color how we evaluate performance, but it can also determine how the individual actually performs. To fairly hold others accountable for failure we must be aware of our predispositions/biases regarding the individual and how we may have contributed to the failure in the first place.
Fundamental Attribution Error
The second Cognitive Bias related to Accountability is called the Fundamental Attribution Error.
Have you ever been driving on a three lane highway, going the speed limit in the right hand lane (left hand lane if you are from the UK) approaching an exit that you are not taking, only to have someone cut dangerously close in front of you to take the exit? What were your thoughts about the person doing the cutting? If you are like most of us you called the person a “jerk” or something worse and honked your horn or gestured “politely”.
You just attributed the other person’s actions to an internal attribute related to carelessness or some other bad motive. In other words, we view the other person as “bad” in some way.
Now, have you ever cut someone off in a similar circumstance when you were needing to get to an exit? If you are like us, and everyone else we have asked this question, then the answer is “yes”!
So why did you do it?
Probably because that “jerk” in the right hand lane wouldn't get out of the way and let you exit. In other words, your poor performance was due to external causes and not your carelessness or bad motive.
This is the Fundamental Attribution Error which says that we tend to attribute internal/motivational causes to the poor performance of others but not to our own poor performance. This cognitive bias can cause us to “jump to the conclusion” that the cause of the poor performance was due to motivation and thus interfere with our complete evaluation of other causes. Failure to accurately evaluate the “real” causes will most likely lead to consequences or corrections that will not lead to success in the future.
What's the Point?
Simply being aware that these two Cognitive Biases exist will help reduce or hopefully eliminate their impact on the accountability process.
As we will discuss in a future newsletter, starting your accounting of poor performance without “guesses” as to the cause(s) will almost always lead to a more accurate evaluation.
How many times have we seen professional athletes come back from serious injury only to perform even better than they did prior to the injury? Think about Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson, who suffered a season ending ACL/MCL knee injury on December 26, 2011. Peterson fought back to start in Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season and ultimately finished just nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record!
There is something about adversity that, for champions, increases desire to succeed rather than desire to give up.
The same is true for highly effective organizations, i.e. they are resilient. They bounce back from significant (even catastrophic) events to resume the same or even better performance than they had prior to the adversity. They use the adversity as a catalyst to innovate and improve.
Break Through or Break Down
Why do some organizations demonstrate resilience while others collapse in the face of adversity? The simple answer to this question is that the resilient have already created a culture based on the characteristics that we have been discussing throughout this 2013 newsletter series. Resilience is not a characteristic that can stand alone, but rather is the result of creating an environment of effectiveness that can not only withstand adversity, but can improve because of it.
Let’s review the other 10 characteristics of an "Effective Organization" in light of what they mean for resiliency.
1. Clearly define and communicate mission, goals, values, and expectations.
- In the face of adversity, resilient organizations stay true to their purpose, but not necessarily to their strategy.
- That is, they find another way to achieve their reason for existence rather than stubbornly adhering to the way they have done it in the past.
- In other words, they innovate.
2. Align all aspects of the organization including people, systems and processes.
- In the face of adversity, resilient organizations re-align the organizational components with the new strategy.
3. Model and develop Facilitative-Relational Leadership throughout the organization.
- Leadership style doesn’t change because of difficulty, rather it becomes even more manifest.
- In the face of adversity, facilitative-relational leaders actively solicit ideas from team members in an attempt to identify the most effective tactics and to increase commitment from those required to implement those tactics.
4. Hold everyone accountable with both positive and negative consequences for results.
- Resilient organizational leaders understand that accountability, not blame is the key to improvement and success.
5. Build a collaborative and empowered environment based upon teamwork.
- Just as in the “good” times, “hard” times require that people work together and make judicious and timely decisions for success.
- Organizations that already have this type of environment are more likely to weather difficult situations.
6. Tolerate appropriate risk taking and learn from both success and failure in an attempt to be innovative.
- Effective organizational leaders understand that while implementing a new or modified strategy there will be risks and that there will be both successes and failures.
- They also understand the need to learn from failure and to celebrate success.
7. Focus on meeting customer expectations and needs.
- Customer focus is essential to success all the time, but especially in the face of adversity.
- Understanding the customer's perception of the organization's response to that adversity is critical to both the development and implementation of the new strategy.
8. Create a culture based on honesty, integrity and mutual respect.
- It goes without saying that trust is the basis for success and organizations that have it are much more likely to succeed in the face of adversity than those who don’t.
9. Identify meaningful measurements and timely feedback.
- Strategy change often requires different measurements to determine how the strategy is working and likewise requires feedback to determine whether change is required moving forward.
10. Insist on open communication throughout the organization.
- It is very easy to become focused when times are tough and to forget to communicate, but resilient organizations are diligent in increasing communication when faced with adversity.
- Leaders understand that failure to communicate will create an environment of “guessing” and much of the time that guessing is wrong and counter productive.
What's the point?
Organizations that are effective in the good times are much more likely to have created a culture that will respond effectively to adversity. There is a good chance that they will become even better because of the adversity. Those organizations that are not effective in the good times will be much more likely to fail when the times get tough.
Our 2013 Newsletter Series examines the Top 11 Characteristics of "Effective Organizations". To qualify for this distinction, an organization must not only meet its stated goals and accomplish its stated mission, but the mission and goals must be ones that people would want to invest in and/or participate in because they bring superior value to not only the individual, but also customers and society in general. So far we have seen that an Effective Organization:
#1 -- clearly defines and communicates mission / goals / values / expectations
#2 -- aligns all aspects of the organization including people, systems and processes
#3 -- models and develops Facilitative-Relational Leadership throughout the organization
#4 -- holds everyone accountable with both positive and negative consequences for results
#5 -- builds a collaborative and empowered environment based upon teamwork
#6 -- tolerates appropriate risk taking and learns from both success and failure in an attempt to be innovative
#7 -- focuses on meeting customer expectations and needs.
This month we will look at how an Effective Organization:
#8 -- creates a culture based on honesty, integrity and mutual respect.
Honesty & Integrity
Let’s start our discussion by focusing first on honesty and integrity. What does it mean to have a culture based on honesty and integrity? We tend to think of honesty as “telling the truth” and integrity as “doing what you say you will do”. I once heard someone define integrity as “doing what is right even when no one else is watching” and I think that is a really good working definition of the term.
Have you ever worked with someone that you didn’t trust because that person told you one thing and did another? Maybe it only happened on one occasion, but sometimes it only takes one violation of trust to create distrust. As a customer, have you ever been promised one thing, but gotten something else? How did this make you feel about patronizing that company again?
Effective organizations are built on a foundation of honesty and integrity because their leaders know that this creates an environment of trust both within the organization and with those that do business with the organization. Leaders know that the willingness of their employees to follow them and of customers to patronize them is determined by the level of trust that those employees and customers have in them.
These leaders also know that this is a result of a history of them meeting expectations that have been clearly articulated and communicated. In effect, this creates an environment where employees are willing to follow leadership because they can predict outcomes.....an environment where customers are willing to pay money for goods or services because they can predict outcomes.
Moral & Ethical Behavior
Honesty and integrity also require moral and ethical behavior as a component. These concepts are difficult to define, but at a minimum include a set or code of accepted values and principles that follow not only legal requirements, but also take into consideration the impact that decisions have on others, both internally and externally. Honest people and organizations are those that are seen to consistently and predictably abide by society’s accepted code of morality and ethics even when faced with the opportunity to violate that code. Unfortunately, history is full of examples of people and organizations that have violated society’s legal and moral code. Fortunately, leaders of effective organizations do not usually appear on that list.
Effective organizations also attempt to create a culture based on “mutual respect”. Mutual respect is an outward and reciprocal regard for the dignity of another person. It is demonstrated by the way two or more individuals interact, especially when communicating with one another. It involves an attempt to understand the views and feelings of another person and the other person doing the same in return. It involves not only attempting to understand views and feelings, but doing so in a manner that communicates interest through the way we look (body language), what we say (our words) and how we say it (tone of voice). Mutual respect does not mean always agreeing with, or even liking others....it means ensuring mutual opportunity to express views while maintaining one's dignity. Failure to engage in mutual respect very often leads to friction, conflict, and ultimately organizational (and even personal relationship) failure. If you don’t believe this, just Google “divorce attorneys” and see how many hits you get!
What's the point?
Our introductory definition of "Effective Organizations" makes the case for honesty, integrity and mutual respect -- bring superior value to not only the individual, but also customers and society in general. While value is most easily seen from a financial perspective, it is most clearly felt by internal and external customers in the way they are treated -- especially when nobody is looking.
Before starting a career in oilfield operations and ultimately consulting, I was fortunate to coach ten high school football and baseball teams to state championships. As I look back at what made us successful as sports teams and then start to look at the very successful business teams I have been fortunate to serve on, I notice a trend. They both have the same five critical factors necessary to be successful.
- Great teams set high goals. We never set a goal to win X number of games, we always set a goal to win the championship. In business, we never set a goal to be average, rather we set goals that would create a competitive advantage for our team and company.
- Great Teams hold themselves accountable. As we have stated before, accountability does not mean punishment. We must focus on three things for which we must hold all team members accountable:
- expected behaviors related to how team members respond to one another
- continuous process improvement to reach higher and higher objectives
- tasks done on time and done right.
Great teams believe in their mission/goals. A Gallup Poll released June 11, 2013 indicated that only 30% of workers are engaged at the workplace and that the vast majority do just enough to get by. Great teams get their teammates to understand how their efforts impact the team and company and ultimately get them to buy-in. They know that to motivate the employee to a top level of performance they must align sub-team goals with the goals of the overall team.
Let’s look at these 5 critical behaviors through the lens of one of the more underrated American sports team. The San Antonio Spurs have quietly built a dynasty of sorts. No, they may not be the Celtics of the of the ‘60s that won 8 in a row and it’s not the Bulls of the Michael Jordan era, but they are great in their own right. No, they didn’t win the World Championship this year, but they did take a far superior team (on paper) to 7 games and they have 4 championships since 1999.
This is what is amazing about the run the Spurs have been on over that time, they are ALWAYS overmatched on paper. If you simply compared the talent of the players, the Spurs are almost always on the short end of that stick. Sure they have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and had David Robinson. These are all names that the casual fan has heard at some point, but they may not have heard of them if they hadn’t played for the Spurs. Ginobili and Parker look more like law partners than world class athletes and the two big men quite honestly are closer to Will Purdue than they are Wilt Chamberlain. So how do they win? How have they continued to be so successful?
Look back at our list of 5 critical factors and imagine what it must be like to be on that team and playing for a leader like Greg Popovich. Do you think each team starts with the goal of winning a World Championship? Do you think the coaches hold the players accountable to their actions and performance, as well as the players to other players? Do you think they deal with tough issues that arise over a grueling 82 game schedule? Do you think the front office, medical staff, coaches, players, etc. all have the same mission and vision for the organization? Do you think that the entire organization has bought into this vision? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions then you see what an incredibly functional team must look like. The other side of that coin must look like the Dallas Cowboys, but it pains me far too much to discuss that disfunction in this blog.