Ego and Safety

I became aware of an author and “drama researcher” named Cy Wakeman while listening to the Gary Vaynerchuk podcast. Ms. Wakeman literally speaks in quotables that smack you in the face and make you think immediately and keep you thinking for weeks. Most of her material is aimed at human resources professionals, but there’s so many lessons in her book, videos, and other content that safety professionals can use.

I recently checked out Ms. Wakeman’s book No Ego from the library and I’m going to buy it because it’s so shelf-worthy. As a leader with clients and in volunteer organizations, I’ll use the gems from her book for years to come!

Here’s my top four smacks in the face from No Ego:

  1. “Venting is the ego’s way of avoiding self-reflection.” This was the initial quote that drew me to Cy while listening to her speak on the Gary Vee podcast. A main theme in Cy’s material is that venting is a waste of time, and that many organizations’ “open door” policy supports such waste of time, which then holds them back from real work and progress.

    This statement is something to think about for personal life as well – think about the last time you called up a friend to vent. How could that time have been spent better if you chose self-reflection instead? Often, students in my safety classes vent about the company and their work practices. What if the students reflected on some hard questions about why things are the way they are with the company’s culture instead of venting?

  2. Cy actually gave a safety example in her book related to nurses and PPE use. The hospital found that the usual approach of providing the PPE and using a discipline program for those that didn’t comply did not work. Exposures were minimized slightly, but the nurses felt hassled and irritated by the policing done by managers. The initiative was not sustainable.

    The solution the hospital arrived at after using Reality-Based tools was to make PPE use a nonnegotiable part of the job. Managers then met with nurses individually to get their commitment for the policy. If a nurse was not willing, the manager would ask them for their plan to become willing. If exposures did occur, the managers asked the employee to “account for the choices they made around not keeping their commitment to safety.” Discipline and rewards were used.

    The managers shifted from a focus on processes and compliance to “insisting on personal accountability and shared responsibility.” Group coaching was replaced with personal coaching. The personal coaching centered on ensuring the nurses had “good mental processes that hardwired accountability.” The lesson is that ACCOUNTABILITY drives results, not engagement. 

  3. Cy introduced a Business Readiness Pyramid (page 133) in the book that can easily be applied to safety as an organization focuses on personal accountability and shared responsibility.

    The pyramid is related to change management, but I view it as a way to categorize employees as they begin to understand personal accountability and how it relates to the organization’s safety performance. I often teach “awareness” training, and I think that organizations should aim higher! When employees are gathered for safety training, I’d like to see them be at the “advocacy” or “active participant” level of the pyramid by the end of the session!
  4. The book ends with a chapter on buy-in. In safety, so much of our work is focused on getting the buy-in of personnel of all levels in the organization. We aim to get buy-in from executives to fund safety initiatives. We aim to get buy-in from front line supervisors to implement safety programs at the field level. Ms. Wakeman says “leaders who solicit buy-in allow change-resistant people to hold the organization hostage.” I stopped right there. This simple and loaded statement completely explains any struggles I have ever had at an organization with implementation of safety initiatives!

    Ms. Wakeman recommends that we “work with the willing.” Buy-in is a choice, it’s an employee saying they are committed to action! As leaders, we’ve got to identify these people and work with them to drive the results we’re looking for at our organizations.

    Ms. Wakeman also suggests that leaders be very direct that buy-in is a condition of employment. Going back to lesson #1 on self-reflection, she suggest asking workers “on a scale of 1 to 10, what is your level of buy-in to this new strategy/change?” If the person is not close to a 10, the leader can ask follow-up questions to continue the self-reflection coaching for the worker – “what is your plan to get bought in?” If they’re still resistant, she offers this suggested language, “it sounds like buy-in isn’t something you’re willing to offer right now, what plans do you have to transition off this assignment or team?” Usually, that employee isn’t going anywhere, but Cy suggests being firm that there’s no place for an employee who isn’t on board with what’s going on. If the employee is going to stay in the assignment/team the question is again “what is your plan for buy-in?” And that’s that.

    What do you think? I’ve really enjoyed digesting Cy’s content on her social media streams and the book. Here’s where you can find her:
    Cy Wakeman’s LinkedIn
    Cy’s Facebook
    Cy’s YouTube channel

One thought on “Ego and Safety

  1. Kay says:

    Thanks for sharing this.
    I recently joined a new organisation whose management wants me to take the OH&S program to a level that is repeatable and able to pass an external audit for certification purposes. I stated right from the go that the way to complete this arduous task is to get buy in of all employees. We decided to include OH&S element as part of the annual performance appraisals. One more thing also resonated with me, it is the recommendation that we “work with the willing.” Buy-in is a choice, it’s an employee saying they are committed to action! As leaders, we’ve got to identify these people and work with them to drive the results we’re looking for at our organizations” Word!!!!!!

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