People thrive where safe conditions are created – Anonymous
Am I Safe With You?
Safety is key at any building site. A builder ensures that safety equipment is on hand to prevent unnecessary injuries as a building project ensues. A hard hat is required on-site to prevent head injuries from falling debris and other harmful objects. To forgo safety equipment and procedures creates a dangerous environment, regardless of how strong or aesthetically pleasing a structure is. A safe environment increases confidence, productivity, and quality. Evidence of this transformation due to safety was seen when Paul O’Neill transformed a failing company.
Safe for Transformation
Before he was Secretary of Treasury under President George W. Bush, O’Neill was tasked with transforming Alcoa, an aluminum company that was crashing fast. When O’Neill was announced as the new CEO, investors packed a ballroom in Manhattan for a meet and greet in October 1987. Expecting to hear how he would increase revenue, the silence was instead the result after O’Neill began talking about worker safety. To the investors’ disappointment, O’Neill believed that the safety of workers was the number one priority if the company was to transform. His underlying commitment was “safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution.” The collective disappointment did not deter O’Neill. He braved the waves of opposition and within a year Alcoa’s profit hit a record high by becoming one of the safest places to work. By the time he left Alcoa in 2000, the company’s annual net income was “five times larger than before he arrived.” By committing to a zero injury workplace, productivity soared at Alcoa.
Is it possible to replicate a similar environment in our lives? By similar, I mean we become safe places where others can thrive and grow into better people because they are around us. Just as O’Neill committed to a safe workplace, I believe that as we commit to being bastions of safety for others, they in turn can become their best through our example. The acronym H.A.T. will serve a two-fold purpose. First, it will guide us into becoming safe places, and second, it will answer the question, Am I safe with you?
A distinguishing factor for a business in any competitive business more often than not is the level of customer service or hospitality. Hospitality has a price and weight. The price of hospitality is caring for people while its weight is the impression it makes in the hearts of those who benefit from it. Although Alcoa was an aluminum company its most important asset was its people. O’Neill spotted this and took an approach that he was ridiculed for because he cared about the workforce. What effect did O’Neill’s approach have? The workers felt they could trust O’Neill because he was concerned for their safety. This undoubtedly left an impression on every employee at Alcoa. Excellence was the outcome and company transformation was the result. I have long held this quote by Dr. John C. Maxwell, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. We build others as we display a posture of care and concern for them.
Paul O’Neill did not pull his punches. He provided a realistic picture of Alcoa’s current position and his intention to center its transformation on safety. Instead of acquiescing to the pressure that comes from investor expectation to increase profits the typical way, O’Neill took a less traveled but more authentic approach. Author Simon Sinek says “authenticity is when you say and do the things you believe? O’Neill’s authenticity was on display with this one sentence. “I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America.” By devoting himself to authenticity, O’Neill created a culture of excellence that culminated in the company’s turnaround. Are your beliefs seen in what you say and do?
Safety, an area that mattered to every worker at Alcoa, was largely overlooked by the top brass. The workforce directly in contact with the metals that reached 1,500 degrees was the reason for the company’s profitability through productivity. When O’Neill showed thoughtfulness by concern for worker safety, he demonstrated to each employee that they were on his mind. I believe this focus got their attention and they in turn responded as quality and productivity went up. Thoughtfulness is a head and heart combination. Mother Teresa once observed, “There is a hunger for ordinary bread, and there is a hunger for love, kindness, thoughtfulness, and this is the great poverty that makes people suffer so much.” Thoughtfulness calls for a full engagement of our faculties through small daily actions that communicate one important point; I care. Why is it difficult to be thoughtful? Because it takes time and reflection. Thoughtfulness requires a retrospective posture of living where I consistently ask myself, “How can I make someone else’s life better?
Final Thought: Do people feel safe around you? Much like workers at a building site or an aluminum company suffer injuries due to unsafe conditions, we hurt those around us by not creating an atmosphere of hospitality, authenticity, and thoughtfulness. Your hard H.A.T. will insulate you from the temptation to compromise and act in inauthentic and insensitive ways towards those we ought to build. Now, let’s go and be builders.
Keep on Keeping on.