Are you priming your employees to be safe or to take risks?

Priming with wordsImagine you are part of a team that has been assigned a particularly difficult maintenance job.  It will take three craftsmen at least eight hours to complete this task.  Your supervisor (Jeff) is coordinating a long list of planned jobs as part of a large shutdown.  Before you go to the work site, Jeff provides a pre-job brief:

“OK, guys – listen up.  We have to replace the large pump in the northwest corner of the basement.  As you know, it’s in a very tight space with no head room and there isn’t much ventilation or lighting down there – so make sure you hook up a fan and some temporary lighting.  This is a critical path job, so I need you guys to get started on it ASAP.  The guys on the production line will be waiting on this job before they can start back up.  We’re behind on shipping customer orders, so there’s some heat from upper management to get in, get out, and get running. Don’t take any more time than is necessary to get the pump changed out.  Keep any breaks to a minimum.  I know you guys always work at a good pace.  That’s why I teamed you up on this job – to get it done quickly.  I’ll be checking on the job every hour to see if we are on schedule.  If you need anything, get me on the radio and I will rush whatever you need to the work site.  If you run into any problems and aren’t sure what to do – use your judgment and do whatever takes the least amount of time.  I know I can count on you guys to get this job done right and on time. I gotta go … but don’t hesitate to yell if you need anything! 

Oh…. and be safe.” Continue reading

Safety Conversations: Preventive or Diagnostic Care?

stethoscopeFamily doctor visits usually have one of two purposes: either you are having a routine check-up to make sure that everything is okay with your health (preventive care) or you have an illness and your doctor wants to find the cause (diagnostic care).  We can use health care as a metaphor to consider the approaches that we take when having a safety conversation.

A doctor who is diagnosing an illness or disease relies upon a series of questions and tests.  If she suspects heart disease, for example, she may inquire about the patient’s smoking, eating, and exercise habits.  She will also want to understand the patient’s family health history.  These provide clues that may support her initial diagnosis, which can be confirmed with further testing.

Using this analogy, many supervisors and managers focus on providing diagnostic services when it comes to safety.  After someone has an injury, they ask a series of diagnostic questions, aimed at determining why the injury occurred.  What were the factors that may have contributed to the injury? Did they have a history of other injuries? Did they make choices that increased their risk of injury? Continue reading

Five Ways to Get Useful Feedback

FeedbackAll of us know about the importance of giving and receiving feedback.  If the goal is improved behavior or performance, effective and timely feedback is essential.  Most of what we read on this topic is focused on how to give feedback.  There is considerably less advice on how to get useful feedback from others.

Most of us are not well equipped to receive feedback in a way that encourages people to be truthful.  The person giving the feedback can easily be dissuaded from sharing the truth with you.  The difference between receiving qualified feedback versus unvarnished feedback is determined by your reactions to the person who is giving the feedback.  Without an honest assessment, it is difficult to change our personal behaviors that target our weaknesses.

Peter Bergman recently summarized some key actions that the receiver of feedback can take which will significantly increase the likelihood that the feedback will be useful.  According to Bergman, there are five ways that we can improve the way that we receive feedback.

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How can I help? The primary question of a servant leader

Help is on the way

“How can I help?”

In what situation are you likely to hear someone ask this question?  Perhaps an associate in a retail clothing store would use this phrase to offer some assistance.  You could hear this phrase from a librarian while  looking for a book or reference.  Maybe you have called a customer service number to ask about a recent purchase.

However, would you expect your manager to inquire, “How can I help?”  when you walked into his or her office?  I wouldn’t.

Equally important, do you use this question as the opening for many of the discussions with your co-workers or those who report to you? Upon reflection, I only occasionally offered these words to my direct reports during the course of my career.

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WHY do you want to be a leader?

LeaderWhat is your reason for either aspiring to be a leader or wanting to be more effective as a leader?

Perhaps you are motivated by the potential rewards (compensation and recognition) that come from additional responsibility. You may decide that developing stronger leadership skills is part of an overall professional development plan.

Alternatively, you may believe that a leadership role is part of a central purpose in your life.  It may be important to you as part of a personal identity.  You may be driven by a sense of obligation to serve others in some leadership capacity.

In a recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors tested the hypothesis that potential leaders with a combination of motives were the most committed and highest performing.  Their findings were somewhat surprising.

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Three Ways to “Manage Up”

Manage UpWhat words would describe the relationship with your manager or supervisor?  Would you use words like subservient, directed, chain-of-command, or authoritative? If so, it is unlikely that you are providing the greatest value to either your boss or the organization as a whole.  It could be that you don’t know how to effectively manage up.

In their recent book Influencing Up, David Bradford and Allan Cohen advocate that employees have greater capacity to influence their boss than they might believe.  Their contention is that powerful people need powerful direct reports.  More specifically, leaders need people who take initiative and get things done.  They also contend that leaders need direct reports who are willing to speak truth-to-power in a way that is respectful. So how can direct reports manage up more effectively?  It starts with understanding how to be more influential with their manager.

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