Friday, February 22, 2013

A Safety Walk Versus a Lean Safety Gemba Walk

Safety walks are an integral part of most safety programs. Just search the internet for “safety walk” and you will find many free downloadable forms that you can use to conduct a traditional safety walk. What do I mean by traditional? Traditional safety programs are all compliance based programs. Regulatory agencies (OSHA in the US) define and enforce rules meant to protect workers. Businesses in turn make an effort, by using a variety of methods, to comply. Safety walks, which are really safety audits, have been used for decades. An individual, or group of individuals, walks through a facility and audits the current state condition against the OSHA standards. The auditors focus their attention on “things.” If you read through the safety walk audit forms on the internet or the one used in most any business you will find words like, stairs, extinguishers, machines, guards, switches, signs, racks, aisles, etc. In addition to internally driven safety walks a company’s insurance carrier may ask to visit the site and conduct a safety audit. Their walk through will mirror the one described above. All of these compliance driven safety walks focus everyone’s attention on “things” and fail to look at the people doing the work. If the individuals are observed at all it is only to ensure compliance. For example, are they wearing their PPE (personal protective equipment)? This type of safety walk may help maintain compliance but they do nothing to move the safety culture of your business forward. They actually keep you safety program anchored in the past.

For the last three years I have been leading lean safety gemba walks. Gemba, a Japanese word, is part of the lean community vernacular. It means the shop floor or where the work is done. The word lean has become synonymous with continuous improvement. So a lean safety gemba walk is a walk on the shop floor that focuses on the continuous improvement of safety. The walks have ranged from one-on-one events with senior leaders to guiding large groups of workshop attendees on a journey that changes how they view safety. Lean safety gemba walks have nothing to do with compliance. Rather than focus on “things” the sole focus are the people doing the work. By watching the actions required to complete work tasks it is easy to identify improvement opportunities that will make the work safer and easier. When conducted in a respectful manner, by a skilled facilitator, these safety gemba walks have a dramatic impact on the safety culture of a business. They engage managers and hourly staff in the continuous improvement of safety. Employees now have a chance to make a difference in their safety culture rather than just be compliant with the rules.

I recently facilitated a 2-day Lean Safety workshop at a plant in Rockford, IL. My workshops include PowerPoint slides, lectures, small group exercises and of course time on the shop floor. On the workshop feedback form, the attendees were asked which portion of the workshop was most meaningful. Almost every respondent noted the lean safety gemba walk as the highlight of the workshop. This is because all of the theory and exercises they were exposed to on day one came to life when they were able to apply their new knowledge on the gemba walk held on day two. One respondent noted the workshop taught “engagement and doing versus talking, planning and hoping.” If you are hoping to improve safety in your plant in 2013 you can focus solely on compliance to the rules and watch your safety culture stagnate. Or, you can focus on compliance and begin to engage your workforce in proactive safety improvement activities. Contact me if you want to dramatically impact your safety culture.

Next week I will be in Minden, NV and San Diego, CA. If you want to connect to talk about Lean Safety just let me know. Stay safe.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What is your passion?

If you don’t have one – finding one should be an objective. But first let’s continue with the “what were they thinking” segment of my blog posts. What was Citi, the credit card company, thinking when decided to route customer calls to a call center in the Philippines? Or more precisely, why would they route calls to a call center that has no ability to change or update information in the database in which they enter customer information? As you may have guessed I usually write this section about frustrating, stupid, un-lean processes. My woes began when I was enticed by an offer from Citi and American Airlines to accept the offer of a new business owner credit card to obtain the “free” miles included in the offer. I will not bore you with all of the activities and conversations that took place but after 1-1/2 hours on the phone, which included two calls to the Philippines and two to the East coast, I gained approval for the new credit card. I understand and accept call centers in faraway lands as a fact of life in our global economy but not giving someone, anyone, in that call center the ability to take care of the customer by allowing them to access and change data in the system they use daily is just stupid. After experiences like this, spending an hour and a half on the phone, I again remember nothing is really free. Now back to a different form of passion – one that engages you.

Being on the leading edge of the baby-boomer generation I am witnessing many friends and acquaintances retire. In January, I emailed a business associate and his Microsoft Outlook “out of the office” generated response noted, “I will be out of the office FOREVER.” The question he and others have to answer is what are you going to do with forever? No matter what your age having something you are passionate about allows you to add value and feel good about yourself. Just as life has cycles so do our passions – they can come and go or last a lifetime. For many, their work is a lifelong passion. When they stop working they seem lost. Relationships with co-workers along with the sense of value they brought to the world ends abruptly. They struggle to find a new way to make a difference in the world. At times they blame others for their state of confusion and relationships suffer. However passion is personal. It is a self discovery process that is ours alone and it can be a painful process until we make the discovery.

Traditional retirement activities like sports, outdoor activities, and travel (not to be confused with tourism) fill some of my days. I am thankful I live in the Chicago area where I do not have to play golf for 5 months of the year. After all I only play to stay humble! Outdoor activities like hiking help keep me fit and are important for that reason alone. Travel, which provides uncertainty and unanticipated interactions with new people, places, and cultures, can be a real joy. But I knew before I left my full time position those types of activities would not allow me to feel like I was still engaged and making a difference in the world. Therefore, I never intended to “retire” in the historical sense of the word. It has been three years since I stopped working full time and started my new career as a part-time consultant and they have been three of the best years of my life. Having passion for the continuous improvement of safety allows me to share it with others and in return build new and lasting relationships. Often when beginning a workshop I will ask the attendees to introduce themselves – name, company, position and one thing they have a passion for outside of work. When a respondent does indeed have a passion for something I love to watch their eyes and body language as they describe whatever it is. I see in them me when I talk about my new career or one of my other passions.

What does this have to do with lean? True lean leaders challenge and grow people (engagement). They provide their reports the gift of time (empowerment) to improve the business. This has a secondary effect. It allows their reports to grow as individuals. Empowerment leads to engagement and when people are engaged they find passion. A business full of passionate people is a competitive weapon. Each of us has a responsibility to empower and grow those that surround us in life. To watch spouses, children, coworkers, friends and reports grow as individuals and develop their own individual passions in life is one of the joys of life. I hope you have many passions and are inspiring others to find theirs. Stay safe!