Go – or Stop?

“Just say, “No.” 
     ~Nancy Reagan

Picture your first day on the job. Not just any new job, but your very first real job. Day One of the start of your industrial career. Remember that day? Bet you do. Join the club: fifty-one years removed, I do.
Your supervisor gives you your first assignment: a seemingly simple job. Having been given no training, as you get ready to start working, you’re feeling apprehensive about what you are about to do. For good reason: there’s so much that seems totally foreign to you.
What should you do?

  1. Go ahead, assuming your boss would not ask you to do something that is unsafe.
  2. Go ahead, assuming if there’s a problem, your co-workers will make sure you work safely.
  3. Stop, find your supervisor, and discuss the details of the assignment further before starting work.

You might be thinking, “What is this? A test question in new hire safety orientation?” Yes, it would make for that, but in real life, a new hire named Kina Hart, minutes into the start of her career, facing that choice, had to come up with the right answer.
Not in a classroom, out on the shop floor. A real test.
She was working her first factory job, to help with college expenses. Been there, done that. It’s not the least bit difficult to figure out how a twenty year old would answer. 
Or figure out how her story ends.
Despite misgivings – she was thinking “…what I’m doing, this seems a little bit dangerous. I wonder if I should ask?” – she started working. “I talked myself out of asking really fast, ‘cause I remember, just the day before I was telling Joe (the boss) I would do any job. And that I was a really good worker. I didn’t want to be the person to tell Joe I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m scared that this might hurt me.’”
Forty minutes into her first shift, Kina Hart suffered an injury that cost her left arm.

It’s not a new story – it happened three decades ago – but it is an all too familiar one. Now, Kina is a motivational speaker: “… I’m here to tell anybody that’ll listen to say there is no job, there’s no paycheck, there’s absolutely no amount of money that would ever be worth any part of you.”
Amen to that. For the last two decades we’ve been talking about that, writing about that, teaching about that. 
We call it The Case for Safety.
Stop Work Authority
Stop the job. Now the process has been elevated to an industrial term of art: “the exercise of Stop Work Authority.” Those who find themselves in harm’s way have every right to get themselves out of the way. Instead of a right, I prefer to think of it as a duty and obligation: they owe it to themselves, their family, and friends to do exactly that. 
Not to mention to the bosses they work for. I have yet to find a leader anywhere on the planet who wants to see any harm come to any of their followers. And leaders are expected to keep their followers safe. As a practical matter, any follower who puts themselves in harm’s way is not doing the boss a favor.
So don’t. Just say “No.” 
It’s a no-brainer. At least in theory.  But before you say amen to all of the above, you would do well to go back and reread what Kina has to say on that subject. Or course, this is a thirty year old story: perhaps that was then, this is now. 
Or not.
Stopping Your Job
Up to this point, we have focused on the follower’s exercise of stop work authority. What about you?  Ever put your foot down as the leader, and just said “No”? How’d that go? A standing ovation for doing the right thing? A big yawn: like, what’s the big deal with that? It happens all the time.
If that’s been your experience, consider yourself lucky: not every leader can say the same. You might want to thank your boss, and your boss’s boss, for getting that vitally important aspect of safety leadership right.
Sadly, not every leader has gotten that right, including some who were considered really good at leading. If you’re a regular reader of the NEWS, you will remember last month’s edition, which told the sad story of two leaders responsible for Apollo 1, Joe Shea and Gene Kranz.

Back in the 60’s, working for NASA, at the time of the ultimate “Can do” organization, those two of the best and brightest became swept up in the moment, saying, “Can do” when they should have said, “No can do.” Their collective failure cost of the lives of three of their astronauts.
Gene Kranz recovered from his failure. The following Monday, he issued what became known as the “Kranz Doctrine: Tough and Competent.” Later in his management career, Kranz was the leader in charge of saving the lives of three other Apollo astronauts, when Apollo 13 had its problem. Sometimes life gives second chances. 
Take note: Kranz carefully and deliberately chose the word “tough.” Don’t think for a second this is easy. He didn’t.
By comparison, Joe Shea, described as “brilliant but arrogant”, spent the rest of his life trying to figure out how he missed his moment.
Don’t think for a second the best and the brightest are immune to failure.
Problem Analysis
Enough about you, the leader. Back to those good followers of yours: how do you get them to do the right thing, stopping the job when that’s the right thing to do? In my book, that’s one of the most important questions every leader needs to ask – and have good answers to.
Do you think one darn good speech on the subject will do the job? Or one email, broadcast to all and posted on the bulletin board in the conference room?
Neither do I.
So, what do you do to make a difference? Specifically, to make this work process different?
The first and most obvious answer is to lead by example. There’s a corollary to Murphy’s Law that goes, “If you think something is easy, try doing it yourself.” Followers generally understand that better than their leaders. 
For a leader, saying no isn’t necessarily easy, as it comes at a cost.
As to what else to do, here’s a tool you might consider adding to the mix. It’s called a Force Field Analysis. Despite the fancy name, the Force Field Analysis is a very simple technique to analyze normal human behavior. Occasionally, I will break out the analytical tool when a leader is to the point of absolute frustration over some aspect of follower behavior like, “Why won’t they follow that simple rule?” or “Why won’t they report incidents that happen on the off-shift?”
All that’s required to put the tool into practice is to make two opposing lists: Why would someone do something? Why wouldn’t they? 
But please take careful note of those three operative words: why, would, and someone. In terms of the analysis, your view as to why someone else should doesn’t count. You might not be happy with the answers, but they are their answers. That’s what makes the process work: I’ve never seen it fail. 
The step that makes this a Force Field Analysis is to match up the opposing reasons on a T Chart; then, assign relative weights for the strength of each reason – on both sides of the ledger.
Do that, and the findings from your analysis will usually jump off the page: I see now. So that’s why…..
Just Say No?
Case in point: listen carefully to the words of Kira Hart, that once upon a time brand new employee, using her answers for a Force Field Analysis on her choice to stop – or go.

  • “…just the day before I was telling Joe I would do any job…”
  • “…I was a really good worker…”
  • “…I don’t want to be the person saying I don’t know what I’m doing…”
  • “… or I’m scared…”
Moreover, Kira:
  • was on her own to pay for college.
  • said in her job interview, “If you give me a chance, I won’t let you down.”
  • received a $2,000 advance before starting the job.

If leaders like Joe Shea and Gene Kranz can’t find right stuff to stop their job, how in the world could any leader expect Kira to do differently?
Talk about a no-brainer. To state the obvious: stopping a job is simple, but not necessarily easy. If you want your followers to do the right thing – stop the job when that’s what’s needed – you have to make it easy for them to say, “Stop.”
And hard for them to say, “Go.”
Paul Balmert 
August 2019

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