“Beats a sharp stick in the eye” indicates “It could be worse”, the age old euphemism that delivers some level of twisted optimism to the recipient. In a glass half full interpretation, one can look at this and surmise, “It could be worse – but I can make it better.” But how?
A few years ago, we were given an assignment to go to Columbia, Mississippi to study the manufacturing operation of a parachute factory – of all things. Not knowing what we would find or recommend, and following the working dictum of the parachute, I kept an open mind. What we found was a one of the most pleasant and agreeable community of seamstresses (about 350 strong) that one could imagine. The most curious and cringe worthy part of the study; however, was that nearly half of these ladies had suffered a sewing needle through the finger accident at some point in their career. Considering the important work they were doing to safely land paratroopers and space capsules to a soft landing, I couldn’t help but feeling concerned for their wellbeing. But the standard retort (and I don’t know if it was geographical or occupational) when confronted with the question or statement,
“Isn’t that awful?” was “Yeah. Not that bad. It goes with the job.”
On a related topic, I was replacing a light fixture this weekend and received a shock (owing to my lack of knowledge). After failing to receive consolation from my wife, I reiterated that I would hate to be an electrician. “Occupational Hazard” she said. “At least if you were, you could fix things around here”. Stone Mason; crunched fingers; Occupational Hazard. Football Player; Torn ACL; Occupational Hazard. Fisherman; Hook in the hand; Occupational Hazard. Nascar Racer; Fiery Crash; Occupational Hazard. These people know what they are up against and, over time, train and practice to minimize the eventual occurrence of these types of events.
Then you have those who risk it all in an all or nothing display of skill and talent (and some say stupidity). Alex Honnold, the 31 year old Free Climber who climbed the sheer 3000 foot vertical face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park did so with no safety ropes. He, like Nik Wallenda, who crossed 1500 feet of the Grand Canyon on a tight rope, did so as an extreme demonstration of skill as art in the Fong Ha progression of Technique – Skill – Spirituality. Seems reckless to the outsider but apart from the uncomfortable anxiety of the potential fall is the inspiration of doing something so well that you would risk your life on one mistake. Consider the soloist performing at Carnegie Hall and you know why and can appreciate how these performances can inspire.
How does one approach this level of focus in business knowing that if you could, the sky would be the limit?
It is pretty straight forward if you are the Captain of an airplane. It is reassuring to know that all systems can be integrated and reliable to support your interest in mutual survival and you have every reason to know that business process can deliver near perfect reliability if they are held to a very high, life or death standard. This same reliability can be sought after in other areas of business as well. Can a Salesman whose Occupational Hazard is rejection, limit those events. What about a manager whose Occupational Hazard is failed execution of plans or difficult interactions with employees?
Smart companies manage hazards, Retroactively, Prophylactically, and Proactively. A lot to think about but essential if you are to build an organization that will operate at the highest level and in an interesting twist, managing hazards can be a very effective strategyfor managing your future success.
Consider the most common of Industrial Occupational Hazards and the type of thing that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) tracks and works to minimize.
The top 7 include:
Working at height and related falls
Poor housekeeping and injuries that relate to clutter
Electrical malfunctions and shocks
Lock Out and Tag Out of Industrial equipment – making sure they are off when serviced
Chemicals and chemical spills
Working in confined space
In office spaces, there exists a similar commonality:
Slip and Fall accidents
Ergonomic and improper lifting or repetitive strains
Parenthetically, Hamilton Cornell is doing great work here with our partner PTC in using their Internet of Things (IoT) back bone and Augmented Reality (AR) to improve awareness, training and safety protocols. The lessons are clear. A relentless focus on errors and particularly the type of errors that relate to the way employees work targeting NO EVENTS and NO INCIDENTS will tend to boost reliability, quality, morale, and worker productivity.
Working at the management skills level and one of the appeals football (and other ‘play’ based team sports) has on business managers is the way it demonstrates critical managerial skills: ‘Evaluation, Planning, and Execution’. At the end of the season, the most successful team scores the most points by most effectively executing on its game plan which by definition is minimizing Occupational Hazards; namely, tackles and interceptions. In his new book Belichick. The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of all time, Ian O’Connor references the Patriot Coach’s mantra,
“Do your job”
and that means do it right and learn quickly from your mistakes. He notes that Belichick, gives each player an employee handbook to set clear expectations and treats each player equally promoting extreme daily accountability. The most successful managers set clear organizational, department, and individual expectations and levels of accountabilityand, like Belichick, don’t make it about the individual, but about the bigger problem they are collectively trying to address.
Perhaps in your given profession, you will get the occasional needle in the finger, but if you build your business philosophy around learning when it does happen and making structural changes that will prevent it from happening again then you and your business will be much better off. Straightforward workplace rules and accountability will inevitably lead to process optimization, and ultimately an entire organization that can walk the tight rope together…or win the Super Bowl.