World-Class Safety: Leading for Organizational Excellence

March 25, 2004
According to Pat McDonnell, president and CEO of the McDonnell Co., Lake Forest, Ill., "As soon as you accept 'good enough' instead of excellence, you're on a slippery slope to mediocrity."

He offered this "Best Test" to safety professionals attending the "Achieving World-Class Safety" Symposium in New Orleans on March 25 to determine if they have achieved world-class safety:

  • Is safety defined and understood?
  • Is the concept of safety embedded in the culture?
  • Does commitment to safety begin with management?

"Change requires trust," says McConnell. "Trust requires leadership. Leadership requires ethical behavior."

He said that there are six steps to organizational excellence:

  • Understand the fundamentals of change: theneed for change, the role of motivation - fear, greed and pride; and human dynamics, which McDonnell calls "the valley of death."
  • Create values-based community.
  • Practice principled leadership.
  • Develop strategic plan.
  • Execute plan.
  • Achieve continuous improvement.

According to McDonnell, companies need to change because they cannot progress doing things the same way. Plus, he added, excellence differentiates companies from their competitors.

Pride, he continued, is the real motivator. Fear is short-term and negative ("Do it this way or lose your job."), while greed ("Do it and win a prize.") only works in certain situations and is very oriented to the individual, rather than changing the culture. "Pride is the ultimate motivator in organizations of excellence," said McDonnell. "What motivates firefighters to run into burning buildings? The stock options? I don't think so."

In order for change to occur, he said employees will go through several steps, including denial ("We don't need this."); fear ("What if this doesn't work? How will this effect me?"); anger ("They can't make me do it."); resignation ("Tell me about this again."); and triumph ("Okay, let's do it.").

McDonnell calls this series of steps "the valley of death." "Traversing the valley requires a leap of faith by employees and the key tot hat is trust," he said. "Trust is a function of leadership, and trust begins with the culture."

To facilitate change, leaders need to promote four core values:

  • Integrity
  • Teamwork
  • Respect
  • Responsibility

"The question is whether to write them in Lucite and slap them on the wall," said McDonnell, "or really live them; celebrate them." Companies with which he has worked that have organizational excellence all have differing lists of corporate values, he noted, but they all share those four core values.

In addition, they have principled leadership. "Leaders are people of intelligence and character who understand and practice leadership. Is anybody here not a leader?" McDonnell asked.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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