The Top 10 Mistakes Managers Make Managing Safety Performance

Biggest Mistake Number 5

Biggest Mistake Number 5: Trying to Buy a Game

“This club is guaranteed to improve your score by 20%”

~ From a golf equipment informational

Sooner or later anyone who’s ever golfed as fallen to the temptation: buy the latest club to hit the market. The one guaranteed to knock strokes off next Saturday’s round.

Every once in a while, the latest technology works like magic. At least for a few rounds, and then we revert to form.

Most of the time, nothing really changes. Eventually the new club winds up in the back corner of the workshop, where it has plenty of good company with all the other clubs we bought to play better

After all, lowering our score is the goal of every golfer.

Just as lowering the injury rate is the goal of every manager.

On a gorgeous autumn day a few years back, a famous golf teacher named Bob Toski put on a clinic for 60 of us in the maintenance and construction business. Along the way, he asked for a show of hands: “How many of you bought expensive new drivers or putters this year?” Every hand went up.

Then he asked, “How many of you invested in golf lessons?” One poor guy timidly raised his hand, perhaps embarrassed to admit he was actually taking lessons.

Toski glared at us: “There’s your problem: you think you can get better buying a game. It doesn’t work that way.”

Mr. Toski was right about playing better golf – and right about improving safety performance.

As managers, we were always on the lookout for a quick and easy way to improve safety performance. We’d buy the carrot and stick approach: put in a safety incentive system, and simultaneously making an example out of the poor fellow who got hurt yesterday. We tried hiring safety inspectors and safety police. We re-wrote safety procedures; put in observation programs and employee safety committees.

Sometimes the methods worked. But more often, they didn’t work any better than that new golf club. Why was that?

Buying a safety game meant we managers didn’t have to change how we managed. We could just keep on swinging the way we always did, but with different results. Our new equipment would do the heavy lifting for us. Or so we thought.

It doesn’t work that way. Not for golf and not for managing safety performance

If we want better results, we have to change, and that requires us to invest in improvement. For golf, that means lessons from the pro, and hard time on the practice tee. It’s just that simple. You can’t send somebody out there to practice for you, and you can’t buy a lower score with your MasterCard.

When it comes to improving safety performance, it works exactly the same way. Getting people working safely is all about execution. Improving the way people in the organization perform their work every day – execution – requires leadership, and better leadership than what’s been employed in the past. We can’t expect better results with the same swing in golf or management.

The route to better leadership is the same as playing golf: “taking lessons from the pro and spending time on the practice tee.” It’s just that simple.

Instead of buying a game, we’re investing in improvement.

If we had realized that years ago, we’d have likely seen far greater improvement in safety performance over the years. Sure, it would have taken a greater initial investment of our time and effort as managers. But, over the long haul it would have been a great investment.

Instead, we fell victim to trying to buy a game.

It’s one of the biggest mistakes we made managing safety performance.

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