Ron Gantt is Vice President of SCM, and in this episode we talk about leadership engagement with front line teams, trying to understand the context and perceptions of workers as they do their jobs, trying to understand how and why things make sense given their perspective, avoiding blaming people when things go wrong, and being humble as leaders.
Ron Gantt is Vice President of SCM. He has over a decade experience as a safety leader and consultant in a variety of industries, such as construction, utilities and the chemical industry, to help people see safety differently. Ron has a graduate degree in Advanced Safety Engineering and Management as well as undergraduate degrees in Occupational Safety and Health and Psychology. He is currently pursuing is PhD in Safety Science, studying organizational learning and drift. Ron is a Certified Safety Professional, a Certified Environmental, Safety and Health Trainer, and an Associate in Risk Management. He was named by the National Safety Council in 2013 as a Rising Star in Safety, and winner of the Young Talent sponsorship in 2015 by the Resilience Engineering Association. Ron is also co-editor for SafetyDifferently.com.
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Ron loves learning and is a lifelong learner. Lifelong learning is very important to help us advance organizational performance. Working in safety has helped Ron learn about many different industries and help people by being a positive influence to others in his work. At the highest levels of performance organizations should be learning organizations.
Pushing beyond our comfort zones is important for thinking differently about how we manage risks. Once we get into the learning mode there is so much interesting things we can learn about. Once you stop believing you already know something you are surprised at every turn. That helps keep interest in our work.
Our biggest flaw is that we think we know already when we don’t and as leaders that’s a huge mistake. If you make too many assumptions about your knowledge and act on faulty knowledge you may end up being less effective and you may let your followers down. It may be a critical error to assume you know when you don’t.
It’s important to help people understand how to achieve success in a complex world, using the New View about safety and operations. Safety can be used to help organizations achieve success.
There is a tradeoff between exploring and exploitation of operations, and there should be a balance with safety and success. One key in engaging leaders and front line workers involves talking about expertise, comfort levels and what has worked in the past. The question becomes “How can we know if we’re wrong?” This involves swinging the pendulum back to the exploration side from the exploitation side.
Systems aren’t resilient if we don’t perceive failure until after it occurs. We need to be aware of risks and potential failure before it occurs. Organizations and leaders need to think beyond compliance to where their critical boundaries are, such as safety boundaries or operational boundaries that could lead to failure (which could be harm to safety or finances) and how those boundaries may be managed to avoid failure and maintain resilience.
Operational drift can include benefits, but we need to manage drift and allocate resources to maximize operational performance while maintaining adequate safety and while not crossing that safety boundary. Operational drift should be examined prospectively (forward looking), but that is a challenge.
A phase shift may be thought of as when something changes from one state to another. Sometimes a small amount can be added to something and it can go from one state to another in an instant (like moving from water to ice with one degree of temperature change) and operational drift can occur in a similar way. We need to appreciate how subtle changes can actually end up having huge effects. A small example is how we try to stick to strict schedules, but sometimes small impacts on our schedule could have very dramatic effects on the outcome. The same holds true in organizations. We may try to create stability in organizations and teams. We focus so much on controlling the teams and people, but we may lose sight of the effects of the operational environment, which can have tremendous impacts on teams and their performance.
Local rationality is the idea is that people do things that make sense to them at the time based on their resources, attention, and goals. This is a very important concept. One of the most important traits a leader needs to have is empathy and the ability to see through the eyes of the other person. If we don’t understand how people are making sense of their choices they won’t follow us as leaders. We need to find out how things are making sense to people and find leverage points.
People are always paying attention to something and we can’t simply assume workers are not paying attention when accidents or failures happen. If we assume they weren’t paying attention then we will limit our ability to understand what they were paying attention to at the time and we may miss opportunities to improve work systems.
Quantitative and qualitative metrics are very important. We can’t simply rely on quantitative metrics. If we never look at stories or dissenting opinions and don’t pay attention to that we will limit innovation and the ability to detect weak signals. We need to be able to triage weak signals, pull out the important data and make good decisions based on that qualitative information. This can help to improve efficiency, effectiveness and resilience.
The lack of curiosity needs to be disrupted. Leaders need to be curious about how work gets done. We need to get out there and ask more questions. Rather than seeing behaviors or operations, and judging them in a black and white way we need to be curious about what we are not seeing. We need to be more curious about the things we are not seeing because if we don’t look deeper we may miss opportunities for improvement.
Leaders need to get out into the world and observe how workers are working and understand that workers have to overcome many imperfect situations nearly every day. By gaining this perspective those at the “blunt end” could understand some ways of making positive changes.
Situational humility is important and in some situations leaders need to humble themselves in front of their workers so they can learn by asking questions. They need to understand that it is beneficial to admit they don’t know things and being overly concerned about “looking stupid” in front of workers may limit learning.
Time-Stamped Show Notes:
· 0:40-Randy introduces Ron Gantt and describes who he is, including his formal biography.
· 2:27- Randy asks Ron, “Okay, we’ve heard your formal bio, but tell us what makes you tick, what motivates you, what inspires you, or generally why you do what you do?”
· 3:37-Randy describes how at the highest level of organizational capabilities they should be learning organizations.
· 3:55-Randy asks Ron what got him interested in working in safety.
· 7:00-Ron comments that our biggest flaw is that we think we know already when we don’t and as leaders that’s a huge mistake.
· 7:25 Randy asks Ron about his current company or role.
· 9:50 Randy asks Ron about how he tries to engage with organizations to push the boundaries of safety and figuring out how to continue learning about safety, and Ron explains the exploration-exploitation tradeoff.
· 14:15-Randy talks about how organizations don’t spend enough time thinking about how organizations may cross over important boundaries and experiencing failure, such as risks to safety or finance. Complying with regulations and rules is important, but may not go far enough.
· 15:07-Randy asks Ron about what he’s working on now and Ron talks about his Ph.D. work and operational drift.
· 17:00-Randy and Ron start discussing phase shifts and moving from one state to the next state, such as crossing a safety boundary and experiencing failure.
· 18:25-Randy comments on how phase shifts are described in the book Simple Rules by Michael Mauboussin.
· 22:26-Randy describes Crew Resource Management training and the benefits.
· 23:43-Randy asks Ron, “What was the biggest moment in your career where you had an “aha moment” about leadership, organizational resilience, reliability, safety, or a similar area?”
· 28:12-Randy brings up the problems with the term Situational Awareness and how it is sometimes mistakenly used to think that we can simply will ourselves to pay more attention in complex, demanding situations.
· 29:00-Ron and Randy discuss counterfactual reasoning, the problems trying to use it to manage safety and how it may be used for pre-mortems or what-if scenarios for prospective reasoning.
· 30:46-Randy asks Ron, “What’s next in terms of projects or areas of interest you want to explore?”
· 34:10-Randy asks Ron, “What area in leadership, organizational development, or industry do you think needs disruption and why?”
· 36:09-Randy asks Ron, “If you could be granted one wish for leadership or organizational change/development what would it be?”
Book Recommendation: Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein, The Mission, the Men and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander by Pete Blaber, Beyond Blame: Learning from Failure and Success by Dave Zwieback