Stopping The Job

“A delay is not a disaster

~From the movie, Sully

How often does a leader actually stop the job – because it isn’t safe enough?

It’s a very interesting question. Not to mention a very relevant question to every industrial leader the world over. There’s always some element of risk in everything we do at work, and there are times where that risk is just too high. That’s when invoking Stop Work Authority is supposed to happen.

But we know for a fact it doesn’t always happen that way.

Those doing the work press ahead, and every once in a while, it doesn’t end well. When that happens, and it’s really bad, you get headline making events like Challenger, Texas City, and Deepwater Horizon. Each of those were tragic cases where people involved knew to stop the job, but they didn’t.

You’d never want to get caught dead being “one of those kind of leaders.”

But they were. Real life people like you and me. With names like Joe Kilminster, Larry Malloy, and Jimmy Wayne Harrell. Leaders who couldda, wouldda, shouldda.

But didn’t.

Saying “Stop”

How often Stop Work Authority is actually invoked in the world of work would make for a very interesting research study. First, a situation has to be recognized as sufficiently dangerous to warrant stopping the job. Then somebody actually has to make the decision to do exactly that. Next comes the solution: do it this way instead of that way.

All it takes is someone to collect the data, crunch the numbers, and write the report.

If there’s some genius at research who’s done exactly that, I’ve yet to make his – or her – acquaintance. If somebody did, I’d be the first to shake their hand: they’d be making the world of work a much safer place to be!

And if they did produce that report, do you think it would read: “Every time someone thinks the job is not safe enough, the job is always stopped.”

Me neither.

Making those involved no different than their peers at Morton Thiokol and BP. They just were lucky enough that they didn’t get caught dead being “one of those kind of leaders.”

To be honest, there but for the grace of God go we.

Disaster Strikes

It shouldn’t be that way, but stopping the job can be a headline making event. That was exactly the case recently when the US Military decided to stop their job. You probably saw the story: it made the front page of the Wall Street Journal, complete with a picture of a warship: “Navy Orders Global Pause After Collisions”.

As to the cause of the pause, a couple of days later, on the front page of the same publication are found the pictures of 10 kids. I’m old enough to say they look like kids, because to me that is exactly what they were. They were all somebody’s kids: twenty somethings who I have no doubt were great kids.

There they were, doing their jobs, working on a warship, helping keep the world safe. There’s a collision, and then a disaster. And they’re gone.

Now, after the fact, their job is being stopped.

According to the brass at the Pentagon (which is where the term brass originated) time for the Navy’s “fleet commanders to get together with their leaders and their commands to….ensure safe and effective operations around the world.” Time to look into the “pace of ship operations and deployments, personnel, maintenance, equipment and training of personnel.”

Why? Because those factors appear to be behind the problem.

So, first the disaster. Then the delay. I’m thinking they need to watch Clint Eastwood’s movie, Sully. He’s carrying around the inners of a fortune cookie: “A delay is better than a disaster.”

Are you thinking this is a Navy problem? Or are you thinking that sounds an awful lot like my problems?

A Delay Is Always Better Than A Disaster

Times being what they are – and time is always of the essence –  it’s time to get to the bottom line. If you’ve digested this story, it’s all so obvious.

No matter how important anything is – saving the country, saving the project, saving the customer, saving money, saving time, saving face – saving those things are never worth costing a life.

A decision to stop the job is a decision.  That happens.

A decision not to stop the job is also a decision. That happens.

How often? That you’ll have to figure out on your own.

Most of the time, when leaders DON’T stop the job, things turn out just fine. It costs nothing.

But risks everything!

Paul Balmert

August 2017

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