Years ago, I attended a journalism training that featured a panel of Pulitzer-prize winning reporters. As they recounted their experiences of uncovering those investigative features, I marveled at how they had time for such pursuits. Now, of course, I realize they didn’t have the time; rather, they made the time.
In our September/October print issue, we featured the 2023 class of America’s Safest Companies. After judging this competition for a few years, it’s safe to say you don’t win this award by accident. This year’s crop of winners, as in years past, stand out because they made the time and a commitment to doing the hard work. They also ask the tough questions—of themselves and of their organizations.
Creating a world-class safety program takes time and effort, but you can begin today. Even if you only have 10 minutes, that’s enough to get started. I recommend you ask yourself some questions, and then ask those same questions to your colleagues. That can help you understand your common vision and the roadblocks you need to overcome. Plus, seeking others’ perspectives will help you see more than you can by yourself.
Here are five questions to help you get the ball rolling.
1. What do you want to achieve?
It’s easy to get myopic by focusing on the daily tasks. But when you pause and reflect, you realize the world of possibilities.
As a child, you spent untold hours daydreaming and watching the clouds go by. Research shows that letting our minds wander is good for your health and our productivity. So, if you’re looking to start somewhere, start by dreaming big.
2. What are your work dreams about?
Dreams are a way for the unconscious mind to think through challenges. Of course, dreams don’t always make sense. (Why is there a goat farm in my house?). But, if you’re thinking about work while lying in bed or dreaming about work, don’t brush those thoughts aside. Your brain is likely trying to work through something. It’s important to listen to your psyche and to let that guide you. You may discover what’s really troubling you or find a solution to a pesky problem.
3. What is your end goal?
Plans help us prepare for future action. You don’t win a war without a plan, and you certainly can’t build a world-class safety program without one, either. Thinking about your vision will help you connect today’s groundwork with tomorrow’s action. Plus, an end goal can anchor you when making decisions and can help you endure any hardships.
4. What do you want to be known for?
Don’t confuse this question with “What do you want to be your legacy?” In my opinion, a reputation is more current and malleable, whereas legacy is finite. I suspect you will want to be remembered for your commitment to safety, but in the meantime, you need to be known for something else. Maybe it’s fun safety training. Maybe it’s being a stickler for forklift protocols. Whatever it is, own it. Because you build a reputation by delivering on something others can see and experience. And that helps reinforce your vision.
5. What are you hearing from your co-workers?
The next time you you’re talking with a colleague, or even hear some office gossip, think about what they are saying. Often, that juicy tidbit can reveal a safety risk.
As a journalism professor often said, “Once you hear the same answers over and over again, you know what to focus on.” Their answers can suggest what and how to act on something. What’s more, it demonstrates to your co-workers that you’re listening. And, when people believe they are heard, they are more likely to help.
Asking questions is a low-cost way to help you form a vision, gain buy-in and uncover solutions. You can ask questions at any time, either in a formal or unformal manner, and you can squeeze them into whatever gaps you have in your calendar.
I hope you use these questions to start your own safety transformation, and that your organization is awarded one of America’s Safest Companies in the coming years.