Leading with Receding Resources
Use these five strategies for getting the most when times are screeching for the least.
- By Robert Pater
- Oct 01, 2009
Many companies kick back reflexively
during tight times, like a crossed knee
tapped by a rubber mallet. The same
old reactions — cutting staff, shearing
offprograms, retracting into turtle mode while
simultaneously upping generic Safety slogans ("Pay
attention," "Be careful," "Think before you act," etc.).
High on the pressure, low on the strategy. Perhaps
reducing expectations, but often just the opposite;
like pushing an athlete to beat previous best times
while simultaneously cutting his nutrition.
But a wise strategist knows that even initially grim situations
also have potential upsides. She takes this a further step to glean
the greatest leverage from all decisions and actions, especially when
every resource is precious. So here are five strategies for getting the
most when times are screeching for the least.
1. Maximize all your assets. The corporate Safety Director of
a large oilfield services company reflected, "We've gotten strong
results, but I can't help feeling we're leaving money on the table."
And he was right. Doing well doesn't mean you couldn't potentially
do even better with more honed strategy and appropriate interventions.
Case in point: In my experience, many companies fritter away
potential resources. They fail to get supervisors fully aboard and
committed to Safety. They don't unearth their existing strengths
(e.g., uncovering personal expertise and advanced hobbies of managers
and workers that could be creatively applied to Safety). They
let sleeping Safety Committees lie rather than awakening them toward
becoming active and expert communication agents of change.
They don't effectively train workers to in turn train their peers and
then anchor newly learned skills.
Make sure you realize best value from every action and intervention.
You can do this, for example, by reducing resistance/objections
to incoming changes in advance, setting everyone's expectations
of returns and what each individually will do, clarifying your
role in making change happen, nursing new changes during trial
periods, steering quick course corrections, eliciting early reviews,
and feeding back pioneer successes throughout the organization.
2. Reduce drag. Don't waste energy beating dead horses. Surface
and eliminate anything — policies, equipment, signs, training,
programs — that no longer produces strong results (i.e., time and
resources wasted on interventions that have diminishing returns,
that no longer get worker or management attention, or have lost
Look for interventions where supervisors barely go through the
motions. Or where there are management level disconnects. Worker
friction that prevents getting strong ROI. Rather than blaming
others — which just creates more drag and wastes energy — look at
what you can readily change to elicit interest and excitement.
Identify and reduce internal obstacles to improvement. We've
heard professionals in many companies complain
about their own corporate attorneys or contracting
pros who block bringing in new interventions that
could considerably reduce injury costs. In this case,
having exhausted other measures, apply the martial
arts principle "Be water, not rock"; consider enlisting
the power of as high-up an executive ally as you can
find to overcome any internal obstacles.
3. Move to a proactive stance. When times are
tough, many default to entrenching. But ironically,
overprotective reactions often result in deteriorating returns. Rather,
focus on heading off potentially costly problems in the bud, not waiting
for the other shoe to drop, locking the barn door after the horse
escapes (pick any expression).
So if you know you have an aging workforce doing physical
work, don't wait for a likely cascade of costly soft-tissue injuries to
fall. Transmit skills for better directing attention, getting most physical
leverage as well as protecting vulnerable parts of the body (with
aging workers, these include shoulders, neck, back, and knees).
If your buildings, grounds, and machinery are long in the tooth,
look for early measures to cost effectively prevent a later profusion
of slips, trips, and falls and other injuries. Remember that "timely"
4. Look for partnerships. Share the load, don't go it alone. Team
up with other branches and sites to develop high-level interventions
(you pilot one, and they'll try out the other) and to share costs. Work
in a similar manner with contractors to address common problems.
And find out whether/how local professional associations might help
solve problems cost effectively. Consider how you can get more from
local business group alliances.
5. Utilize proven service models. Tight budgets can motivate
better research and benchmarking to find breakthrough implementations
that provide the most value. Don't waste dear resources
on pigs in the poke — interventions that seem too good to be true
(a $25 back belt that solves all lower-back problems rips to mind).
Make sure you're likely to get best returns on your investment.
Cheaper but ineffective really wastes money. If you have limited
funds, make sure they're well spent to create a resounding impact.
Scarcity can be the parent of elevation. Focus on getting the most
mileage from your plans and actions. Turn efficient interventions
into a powerful force for step-change.
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.