Chain of Thought

Good Deeds are Good Business

I'm in Orlando, FL this week for WERC's annual conference. I almost blew off Monday's early breakfast keynote because I got in late the night before and thought the speaker's topic was too touchy feely to have much value: “Relationships for Group Success.” But being your diligent servant, I dragged myself to breakfast and forced myself to take the speaker seriously. Turned out, I didn't have to use much force.

I couldn't argue with Author and expert on professional relationship development Keith Ferrazzi ‘s contention that the nature of work has changed. Technology has enabled people in different geographies to link up for virtual meetings as often as we want. Ironically workers are more isolated than ever. Many managers aren't even co-located any more. Ferrazzi suggested that this social isolation has resulted in workers who don't have people who “have their backs.” He cited a study that claims as many as 50% of Americans say no one has their back—and 60% of them are married!

This is traumatic for humans who are tribal by nature. We instinctively need to belong to something—churches, community groups, clubs—but these opportunities are going away as people isolate themselves to virtual communities. Ferrazzi congratulated WERC for keeping its annual conference going and giving attendees an opportunity to help each other. In fact he concluded with a suggestion for his audience: try to find a way to be helpful, not just to network. “Relationship skills are the predictor of success. Use ‘How can I help you?' as a conversation starter.'”

I didn't have the guts to be that weird in my conference encounters, but believe it or not, the perfect opportunity to be helpful happened during the very next session I attended. “Journey to Safety Excellence” was the title, and Ronda Ruane was one of the speakers. She's a regional general manager for Lowe's Companies, and her priority for this home and hardware retailer's DCs is to establish a culture of safety—which she says has to start with the line manager. “If you walk by a situation you don't take time to correct, you ‘ve just lowered your safety standards,” she said. And that's what happens when business goals compete with a safety culture.

But at Lowe's their safety culture is the foundation for operational excellence. Team leaders meet with their team members until they have the confidence to address safety issues every day. They are encouraged to come up with new solutions and act on them. And they are rotated to different areas of the operation to spread the wealth. Her organization adopted the DuPont “STOP” (Safety Training Observation Program) program which helps heighten safety awareness and consistency across shifts, coaches and buildings. Team leaders use score cards to record data, find safety “hot spots” like not bending correctly, messy work stations, etc. It took Lowe's six months to implement this program and they're enjoying a low annual recordable injury rate (.58 vs. the national average of 10).

The question and answer session was my opportunity to be helpful. I asked Ronda if she ever thought of contacting OSHA to take part in its VPP (Voluntary Protection Program). That's where you volunteer to be inspected by OSHA and if they find any safety problems they help you solve them rather than cite you. She never even heard of that program. Normally that admission would have made me question the credibility of someone so committed to occupational safety. But on reflection, the fact she was implementing a safety program without OSHA's instigation raised her credibility in my eyes—and obviously in the eyes of her people. She thanked me and wrote herself a note to look into the VPP.

I hope this was a good deed--that goes unpunished.

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