Changing the Organization

May 1, 2010
Thought leaders. Everybody wants to be a thought leader.
Editors constantly get pitches from public relations representatives about interviewing someone from their company who is a thought leader. Sometimes a company decides it wants to be a thought leader. Then there are the true thought leaders, who not only think about things, but get out of the study and change their world.Even before I joined the publishing industry, I maintained that you could find leaders by asking and observing what they read. Thought leaders read Automation World. They read significant books. Then they take the ideas, own them, package them to suit their purposes and then enter the fray to make things happen.This issue focuses on safety. Reading a technology magazine, you might think that we would probe new technologies and products that are available to help make plants and factories safer places. Of course, you’re right.  We have a mix of articles discussing those, plus relevant standards. Those of us who have worked in manufacturing and have witnessed unsafe risks taken—sometimes with painful results—know that you can’t just legislate people into risk-free behavior.I’ve written the safety warnings and suggestions for owner’s manuals. I’ve also written warning labels for consumer products. While writing all of those things, I had to think of every possible dumb thing that someone could do with the product and then try to figure out a way to say, “Don’t do that.” It’s easy to begin to wonder if people are just plain clueless.That’s not entirely true. Sometimes we take risks because we’re tired, frustrated, angry or distracted. For my article,"Make Safety a Habit Throughout Your Organization", I interviewed several safety thought leaders. Much of the thinking these leaders did was devoted to coming up with ways to constantly remind people to think safety. They also worked to make safety a part of the culture of the organization. In this context, culture means a consistent way of doing things within an organization—things you do without needing to stop and think about them.One of the most important things a chief executive officer must do is to carefully choose those actions that should be repeatedly done by everyone in the organization. The great leaders think of every detail that is important to the success of the organization and teach people to do them over and over. In the March issue, I wrote about sustainability that way. It is the same with safety in this issue. A true leadership secret.Short-circuit standardsThe other feature articles on safety in this issue discuss standards to some degree. Standards and regulations are fascinating creatures. Sometimes, standard writers try to foresee every possible bad thing and write a rule that would protect against it. This is much like my owner’s manual tips. Sometimes, they assume a technology that moves on. We have three-pronged plugs in the United States because electrical standards writers considered the possibility of a short circuit in a drill. Drills were constructed of metal at the time. A short circuit meant electrocution of the person holding the drill.By the time the standard was written and in force, though, drill housings (and about everything else) were made of an insulating material—plastic. Actually, material technologies outpaced regulators. This can be the same whenever regulators try to prescribe technology instead of the process.While writing my article, I had the opportunity to interview Charlie Fialkowski, U.S. process safety manager for Siemens Industry Inc. The interview centered on burner management safety standards, but it’s relevant to all these safety discussions. Check it out here: to all you thought leaders taking time to read this essay—thanks. Now, go out and do it yourself.

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