Tag Archives: managers

Chasing the Right Numbers on Claims

Managing a claims operation is challenging. There are so many moving parts, dynamics and procedures. Information comes gushing in like a fire hose, making it difficult for many companies to effectively assemble and organize it. It’s crucial to help claims divisions focus on the right numbers instead of chasing numbers that have no value.

Most claims leaders know that there are a few factors that affect the majority of claim outcomes. However, many times organizations will mistakenly target metrics “for metrics’ sake,” at the expense of common sense.

Traditionally, a claims supervisor or branch manager will receive metric targets from senior leadership. Unfortunately, the intent of these goals is skewed dramatically by the time they reach front-line personnel. For example, let’s take a company that wants to improve customer service by inspecting vehicle damage the same business day. While this is a noble idea and has the potential to increase customer satisfaction, branch level managers are often forced to abandon rational thinking to meet a specific “inspection metric” or quota. Managers will chase the numbers to obtain an inspection, often having staff appraisers take photos of damaged vehicles over fences or taking shortcuts in an attempt to meet requirements. This often leads to compromised accuracy and raises the question — “Does it really make sense?” It does to the manager who needs to meet goals and protect her job but does it truly increase customer satisfaction? Not necessarily.

Having a goal at the top doesn’t mean that the numbers will retain their true meaning by the time they get to the daily staff. It’s crucial to focus on figures that actually create better claim outcomes and customer experiences.

Here’s another example of how differing goals within a claims organization can skew overall results when managers are forced to manage to the wrong numbers:

Let’s say your insured damages another vehicle and that claimant decides to go through his own carrier for repairs. Now the carrier sends in a subrogation demand that includes excessive rental, overlapping operations, duplicate invoices and mathematical errors. Would it be a good idea to just pay what is being asked without reviewing for accuracy?

Well, for some insurers that don’t have the staffing or the expertise in the subrogation department, quite often an excessive demand like this might just be rubber-stamped. The subrogation department may be overseen by an individual who has been compartmentalized away from day-to-day claims. If this manager’s goals and metrics don’t include accuracy, he may just pay this overinflated demand.

Chasing the wrong numbers can give the misperception that the manager is achieving goals, but the best possible outcome wasn’t achieved.

So what’s the answer?

The key is matching numbers to desirable outcomes that make sense. Eliminate any metrics that provide little value and only serve to create busywork. With the wealth of data that companies are able to gather and analyze, the focus should be on information that has a direct impact on customer retention and quality service.

One must carefully focus on the right numbers to add value and help push the organization forward to achieving that ideal balance of client satisfaction and operational efficiency.

Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid as a New Risk Manager

The transition into your first risk management job can be difficult. Whether your boss promotes you into your first risk management job or hires you from another organization, you want to excel at your new position over the long haul. In part, that means avoiding mistakes. We often learn our best lessons when we fail, but some mistakes can seriously hurt your risk management program, harm your reputation or even derail your career. Here are 10 mistakes you can avoid.

  1. Don’t rush in with all the answers. You may arrive wanting to form your own alliances and acquire your own team, but avoid making hasty decisions. Give current employees a chance to prove themselves before you transfer them or hire your own team. The same applies to vendor relationships. You can lose a great deal of knowledge about loss history and coverage negotiation if you immediately decide to switch insurance brokers. “Changing brokers can be a great way to create significant coverage gaps or an errors and omissions claim for your friend the new broker,” according to one Atlanta broker. Some vendor alliances, such as relationships with contractors and body shops, may be long-standing, especially in a small town. Rushing in and making changes can cause big ripples in a little pond.
  2. Don’t try to do everything at once. In my teens, I read a book called Ringolevio, about a kid named Emmett Groan growing up in the streets of New York City. One of his compatriots frequently warned Emmett when he was about to rush headlong into a decision, “Take it easy, greasy, you’ve got a long way to slide.” I found that advice very applicable in risk management. If you inherit a big job, you will be faced with hundreds of decisions, some big, some small. Take your time. While you may feel overwhelmed at first, chip away at the organization’s most pressing problems. Put out fires as they arise. Then schedule time for you and your advisers — your brokers, your attorneys, your actuaries and your managers – to develop sound strategies and plans.
  3. Don’t use a shotgun, use a rifle. If the organization is experiencing too many injuries, for example, don’t jump to an obvious solution like using more personal protective equipment. Talk with front-line supervisors, study historical loss data and consider several options before you throw money at a problem. Once in the door, interview employees, talk with other managers, meet with your vendors and set a few important priorities for your first six months in the job. Using a rifle approach means you’ll have to say “No” to some people. This can cause problems. When possible, explain why you’re declining to act on the problems or the specific issues others may present to you. The more transparently you operate, the less criticism you will face. Openness reduces speculation and helps avoid resentment.
  4. Don’t job hop. Most people can be very ambitious early in their careers. Yet too much ambition can hurt your career. Think long and hard before changing jobs. Bad bosses rarely outlast their employees. Deciding to change jobs because of a conflict with a supervisor is often short-sighted. The grass might seem greener on the other side, but sometimes that’s because of a septic tank (to paraphrase a famous comedian). These questions may help you avoid rash decisions.
    • Am I making the change solely to earn more money or for a more prestigious title? If so, will this change “pay for” what I will lose?
    • Am I making the change because I’m feeling unchallenged or bored? If so, what steps can I take to make my current job more challenging? For example, would becoming more active in a trade association, offering expertise to a local nonprofit or mentoring an up-and-coming risk management professional add challenge and interest?
    • How will this affect my retirement financially? Will I be changing retirement systems, or will I lose significant bonuses or vacation because of the change? Always factor those figures into the salary decision. This question becomes more important as retirement age nears.
    • How will this change affect my family and my coworkers? Our coworkers can turn even a challenging job into an appealing one. Do you really want to leave your coworkers? As for family, what ages are your children? Disrupting school-aged children can have negative, long-term consequences.
    • What are the odds I will regret this decision? Go ahead, we’re numbers people. Put a percentage to your decision, then ask yourself if you’re really ready to take that gamble.

    It takes months to settle into a new job. It’s often a year or more before we feel comfortable. Some studies show that many people who change jobs would have done much better if they had stayed put longer. Change for the sake of change frequently is not positive.

  5. Don’t entertain gossip about your predecessors. Some at your new organization may try to build an alliance with you at the expense of your predecessor. Short-circuit these conversations whenever possible. Tactfully turn the conversation to another subject or excuse yourself from the conversation. Try not to make an enemy of the person who is trying to get into your good graces.
  6. Don’t revisit your predecessor’s decisions. Especially when working with unions, you may find people lined up at your door asking you to revisit your predecessor’s judgments. Unless your predecessor’s conclusions hurt your overall program, don’t rush into undoing the decisions and the work he or she completed. You may not be operating under the same set of facts or with the same long-term vision that the former risk manager had at his or her disposal.
  7. Don’t believe your own PR. Never pretend you know more than you know, and don’t start believing your own “press.” While others may soon invite you to participate on panels and present at conferences, remain humble and teachable. It’s terribly painful to learn humility through humiliation.
  8. Don’t fail to communicate. A lack of communication is one of the most damaging mistakes a risk manager can make. A risk manager must have the ear of employees across the organization, from line supervisors to senior management. According to Don Donaldson, president of LA Group, a Texas-based risk management consulting group, “A risk manager needs to be an excellent communicator and facilitate his or her message across the entire organization. In my mind, that requires getting out of the office and pressing the flesh; seeing and being seen and listening, really listening, to determine what is going on in the organization.” Management by walking around is one strong tool in a new risk manager’s tool bag. Once people see that you’re willing to leave your office to discover what is happening, whether it’s on the shop floor or on the sewer line, they’ll more readily accept your expertise and counsel.
  9. Don’t get discouraged. “New risk managers may make the mistake of thinking that risk management is as important to others in the organization as it is to them,” according to Harriette J. Leibovitz, a senior insurance business analyst with Yodil. “It takes time, and more time for some than others, to figure out that you're more than an irritation to the folks who believe they drive all the revenue.” Over time, you will prove your value to the organization many times over. Until that day, quietly do your job and find encouragement from your risk management peers.
  10. Don’t forget to laugh. You will be privy to the peculiarities of human nature both at its finest and at its worst, so don’t forget to find the lighter side of situations when you can. A robust sense of humor will help you through the rough spots and build bonds with your coworkers.

While these are just a few tips to help you in your new role as a risk manager, your peers probably can offer many more ways to ensure success. Over my career in risk management, I have found my fellow risk management professionals to be some of the most generous people in my life, always willing to share their expertise and provide me with a helping hand. Develop and lean on your network. If this is your first job as a risk manager, you’re in for a wonderful experience. Take time along the way to enjoy the experiences, appreciate the great people you will meet and appreciate the lighter side of risk management.

"Multi-Tasking" Managers May Not Be Overtime Exempt

Lawsuits based upon the misclassification of employees as overtime-exempt have been extremely common in California for the past 10 years. Given the incentives for filing such suits, it’s not surprising that the trend continues. A new case involving an assistant manager working for a major grocery chain provides importance guidance on proper classification and should serve as a reminder for employers to audit any position potentially misclassified.

The rules on employee classification can be tricky and a number of tests must be applied. One of the most important tests focuses on the employee’s job duties. In order to be properly classified as exempt, an employee must be “primarily engaged” in exempt duties. This means that an employer facing allegations of misclassification must prove the employee was performing exempt duties more than 50 percent of the time. This can be difficult when an employee also performs non-exempt duties.

This was exactly the issue with the grocery store assistant manager, and the jury was charged with determining whether or not she was misclassified as exempt. The jury was informed that duties such as forecasting sales, scheduling the work of employees, interviewing and hiring employees and preparing reports were exempt. Duties such as stocking shelves, gathering shopping carts and cashiering were non-exempt.

The jury was further instructed that the grocery store was required to prove that the plaintiff spent more than 50 percent of her time engaged in exempt tasks. This quantitative test requires, first and foremost, examining the actual tasks performed by the plaintiff. The jury was told that merely because an employee has the duty of managing is not sufficient to establish exempt status. They were instructed to examine the time spent on all of the plaintiff’s activities and classify the time as either exempt or non-exempt. If the plaintiff was simultaneously doing exempt and non-exempt work, the jury was to consider the primary purpose for which the activity was undertaken in counting the time as exempt or non-exempt.

The grocery store argued that the instruction on how to count the time of simultaneous exempt and non-exempt activities was wrong. It proposed a different standard for determining whether a manager is performing exempt or nonexempt work. The standard was based upon the notion that a manager does not stop managing just because she performs some non-exempt tasks. So long as the manager is still actively functioning in her managerial capacity, and addressing her attention to managerial tasks such as observing how the store is running and considering how to make the store perform more efficiently and profitably, how to best model and train the store’s employees in proper service activities, how to resolve any employee or operational problems that have arisen or are arising, and instructing employees in that regard, all the time should be considered exempt.

The plaintiff countered that the grocery store’s proposed standard is inconsistent with California law. She relied upon an opinion from the Labor Commissioner which concluded that it would be impossible for an employee to be engaged with managerial work while at the same time performing other, non-exempt duties. In other words, there can be no activity which is concurrently exempt and non-exempt. It must be one or the other. The plaintiff argued that where she merely answers a question while stocking shelves, she is not performing managerial work. Rather, she is primarily engaged in non-exempt production work. In order to count as exempt work, the manager must clearly disengage from the non-exempt activity and engage in the exempt activity.

Although the court stated the grocery store’s argument had some intuitive appeal, it ruled that California law did not support the “concurrent activity” approach. The court noted that the applicable regulations recognize that managers sometimes engage in tasks that do not involve the actual management of a department or supervision of employees. In those circumstances, the regulations do not say that those tasks should be considered exempt so long as the manager continues to supervise while performing them. Instead, the regulations look to the manager’s reason or purpose for undertaking the task. If the task is performed because it is helpful in supervising the employees or contributes to the smooth functioning of the manager’s department, the work is exempt; if not, it is non-exempt.

It is extremely common for managers to “roll up their sleeves” and pitch in with non-exempt production work. This is not a phenomenon isolated to small businesses. Employers must be aware that even if a manager never stops monitoring and managing, once the manager engages in non-exempt duties, there is a risk that the entire time performing those duties will be counted as non-exempt time when evaluating the “primarily engaged” test for exempt status.

The court’s opinion can be found here.

Breaking Through The Barrier Of Hardnosed Workers, Part 4

Winning Them Over
In Part 3 of this series, safety officer Ken Malcolm talked about the importance of building trust between hardnosers and those who try to change them. To this, Malcolm adds respect.

“Give them [hardnosers] respect,” he says, “and problems go away. They might not like you, but when you handle people accordingly, someone is always watching, and that tough but fair method gets you respect.”

Trust and respect form the pivot point that directs difficult employees away from dysfunction, toward responsibility. Hardnosed workers will never trust or respect you more than when you demonstrate to them that you have their best interest at heart.

You do this when you create intentionally interpersonal safety training to meet the intensely interpersonal weaknesses of workers.

Intentionally Interpersonal Safety Training
Not all worker resistance is of the severe magnitude experienced by the desperate general manager described in Part 1. But to any manager who suddenly realizes that “good employees” in his organization are on the verge of spinning into the Cycle of Rejection (see Part 2), the situation can seem as serious.

Such was the panicky attitude of a global manufacturing company's operations excellence director when he realized that his plants' safety representatives, were, for no apparent reason, beginning to resist his carefully crafted 5-year safety excellence plan. Midway through the plan, he found that the ability of his safety representatives to engage employees — younger employees in particular — was less than he initially believed.

The harder he pushed them to engage employees, the more they resisted. Sound familiar? The interpersonal skills of his representatives required improving in a manner that did not risk further alienating them, so he called the author for help.

Since hazard recognition was the next focus of the 5-year plan, it was decided to integrate relational skill development into the safety representative's hazard recognition training program. An emphasis on reaching younger workers was included. One of the company's values, integrity, served as the drumbeat.

The human development goal was to help the representatives understand the difference between the preferred behavioral tendencies of older workers, such as themselves, and the preference of the plants' predominately younger workers. An easy four-part behavior profile was incorporated to help the participants understand the difference. From earlier articles in this series, you may recognize this goal as helping the hardnoser understand why people do what they do.

The safety management goal was to teach the representatives a simple 1-2-3 hazard recognition process that could be persuasively communicated to employees.

The resulting outline for the 8-hour training course delivered by this author is as follows.

Course Achieving Safety Integrity through Hazard Recognition
Length 8 hours
Format Live presentation; interactive workshop
Section 1 Hazard Recognition: A Matter Of Integrity
Participants are asked to think of hazard recognition as a matter of integrity, as a way of “doing the right thing.”
Section 2 Clearing the Value Path to Hazard Recognition
Participants learn about a “perfect storm” of negative social influences that hinder employee “buy-in” to hazard recognition. How to turn these negatives into positives is taught.
Section 3 Capitalizing On Communication Desires to Jump-Start Haz Rec
Participants learn a behavioral approach to hazard communication — capitalizing on the communication craving of Generations X and Y — in order to achieve employee engagement in hazard recognition.
Section 4 Making Haz Rec Work Simply
Participants learn a simple 3-step process for Haz Rec — observe, interpret, apply — that engages everyone in the routine practice of hazard recognition. A 3-question mechanism for gaining accountability is taught.
Section 5 Using Behavior Recognition Skills to Build Haz Rec Effectiveness
Participants learn the strengths and weaknesses of each behavior type so that they may better recognize how employees allow hazards development and loss to occur. Correcting unacceptable behaviors before an incident happens is taught.

Learning Objectives

  1. A review of the company value of integrity in relation to hazard recognition
  2. A simple effective 3-step method of hazard recognition
  3. A knowledge of the participant's own core behavior tendencies
  4. A method to accurately recognize (read) the behavior tendencies of others
  5. An understanding of how to 'sell' hazard recognition to others via persuasive communication skills targeted to the behavior tendencies of others
  6. A strategy for maximizing hazard recognition through the networking behavior of Gen X and Y

The effectiveness of the intentionally interpersonal approach to safety training was immediately evident in the participants' feedback. Hardnosed safety representatives are not easily fooled. Most have seen a dozen lackluster varieties of the “safety flavor” of the month.

“He left no stone unturned,” said one. Grasping the dual nature of the training, another said, “Not only did I learn about safety recognition but I also learned more about my own personality and the personality of coworkers.” [The course emphasized behavior, but the common use of “personality” is close enough.]

Still another of the 75 participants said, “It wasn't what I expected.” No, it isn't, which is the point. It met felt needs, unlike other safety training. Added the participant, “I liked the straight talk.”

Most telling is the participant who stated that she will “use these ideas at work and at home.” It is a reminder that the greatest needs are life skills. Another participant said that he would use the course material to “make personal changes.”

Intentional Results
Success is never guaranteed. But the intentionally interpersonal safety training advocated in this article has proved successful in every work environment from which the T-JTA data that defines a hardnosed worker was extracted.

In addition to improving the measures of traditional safety management — recordables, lost times, observations — several measures of human resource management effectiveness were improved, including personnel turnover rate, workers' compensation claim rate and various measures of employee engagement or attachment.

One large maritime company saved over $20 million during a 2-year period as the author and his colleagues worked with them to conduct a company-wide interpersonal safety training program.

An organization committed to breaking down the barrier presented by hardnosers may reap the unimaginable “better results” spoken about by John Bennett in Part 3. But to do so requires a shift in management perspective — from a reactive posture in which the hardnoser is viewed as an object to be conquered to a proactive policy of ministering to the hardnoser's needs.

Below is the story of one company that made this commitment. It's the company whose desperate general manager initially called the author in Part 1. Remember him? He is the one who thought that his supervisors were acting like troubled kids. And he was right. So was his inclination to react in the right way.

Enabling A Safe And Profitable Transition
One beneficiary of the blended safety training approach was Chotin Carriers, Inc., now a part of the Kirby Corporation. Kirby's impending buy-out of Chotin, a small company of 120 employees, only added to the human resource and safety management challenges faced by Chotin's general operations manager, Arnie Rothstein.

Chotin's overall personnel turnover rates for the years previous to the buy-out were respectively 47%, 40%, 44%, 35% and 41%. Rothstein conservatively estimated that each employee turnover cost Chotin a minimum of $4,300, or an average annual turnover cost of $349,760.

Starting in Chotin's buy-out year, the author administered a series of training programs that addressed both the safety need of Chotin and its human resource development challenges. The result was that Chotin's turnover rates dropped to 20.3% and 2% respectively over a two-year period, saving Chotin thousands of dollars in personnel turnover costs.

During the same period of time, Chotin's safety performance was also improved. The company's total injury index rate (per 200,000 man-hours) dropped from 8.0 to 4.32, a 46% reduction. With an estimated cost of over $30,000 per lost time back injury, special emphasis was placed on reducing lost time injuries. The result was a 64% reduction in Chotin's lost time injury frequency rate.

Better than these results to Rothstein was the sweet aroma of employee cooperation, evidenced by one of the company's reformed hardnosers, who said, “I've learned more from this training than I've learned in all the other training put together.”

Why Bother?
It is convenient to be like the skeptical Cleveland-area businessman in Part 3 who views everything in this presentation as silly “social work.” But the evidence presented here suggests that you can not pretend that a sub-culture of hardnosed workers does not exist.

Take it from an expert in destructive behaviors. If there is one thing that delights a hardnoser — that encourages his resistance — it is knowing that management will ignore him, allowing him to run amok. Such tolerance provides him with a complete sense of control. It justifies his retreat into emotional isolationism, disengagement, and dysfunction.

Ignorance by management is not bliss. There is a price to pay for such folly.

Massive amounts of money are spent on strategies that, at best, merely limit the ongoing damage done by change-resistant employees.

No amount of pre-employment screening can solve the problem. No human resource policy, employee management strategy, or performance evaluation criteria can deter it.

Nothing short of a purposeful, committed effort to provide hardnosers a path to healthy personal development will decrease their resistant nature. Safety is the open door to that end.

Bibliography

“Focus On Teamwork, Attitude Improves Quality And Safety.” The Waterways Journal. April 25, 1994: 41-44

Newton, Ron. No Jerks On The Job. Irving, TX. PenlandScott Publishers, 2010.

Riddle, Glenden P. An Evaluation Of The Effectiveness Of Stress Camping Through The Use Of The Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis Exam. Research Project. Dallas Theological Seminary, December 1978.

Taylor, Robert. Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis Manual. Thousand Oaks: Psychological Publications, Inc., 1992.

Breaking Through The Barrier Of Hardnosed Workers, Part 3

Turning The Corner
Admittedly, Part 1 and Part 2 of this series may be a bit discouraging to the solution-seeking reader. But as a wise professor states, “There is no implementation without, first, evaluation.”

So what has our evaluation revealed?

First, the dysfunctional nature of the average hardnosed worker employed in traditionally change-resistant work sectors is representative of his greater employment family, both labor and management. It is not the portrait of an isolated employee or two. The nature is systemic, as are its crippling effects.

Second, the extent of potential behavioral dysfunction in hardnosers is staggering. The research data points past the occasional whimsical, inane antics of the passive-aggressive worker who simply annoys others. It directs us to the darkly devious behavior of someone, or a bevy of someones, who is self-destructive, emotionally unengaged, and constantly looking to jump off the ship after lighting the fuse that may blow it up.

Third, management has largely failed in its attempts to wrestle control of the workforce away from hardnosers. Traditional quick-action employee management strategies lack the foundational understanding of both the cause of defiant behavior and the dysfunctional team dynamics that it creates.

Last, management has often chosen the wrong method to seize control of hardnosers. The preferred tactic has been to tighten control through the repeated issuance of compliance standards. Such “what to do” and “how to do it” standards stiffen the hardnosed worker’s resolve to reject management’s ploys.

Engineering consultant Kevin Sorbello fittingly compares the change-resistant workforce to a dysfunctional family in which “those making the rules unconsciously see themselves as adults in charge of children.” Conversely, he notes that workers of lower rank see themselves as being “treated like children by unfit elitists. The fact that this scenario is so ubiquitous,” he says, “is disheartening.”

In light of this stark portrayal, what can be done to heal a defiant and dysfunctional employment family?

Capitalize On Dysfunction
One word points us down the right path. It keeps cropping up [five times above]. The word is dysfunctional. There’s a reason it is our key word.

Dysfunction brings with it opportunity. The same weaknesses that define dysfunctional workers are the ones that open the door for us to help them personally and to improve the cooperative nature of the entire workforce.

But this can’t happen until we acknowledge several hard-to-believe truths about the nature of hardnosed workers. These are beliefs gleaned by the author after four decades of listening to, observing, profiling, and helping dysfunctional people.

1. Hardnosers really want to improve.
They are really not into self-flagellation, though they expect it to happen (defeatism) — they’d rather have the opposite: success.

2. Hardnosers are stuck and need a push.
They really don’t know how to solve their own problems, nor why they are stuck in a defeatist rut.

3. Hardnosers want simple honesty.
They will not trust you until you first demonstrate to them your complete honesty.

4. Hardnosers desire compassion, not charity.
They innately sense the difference — one is considered condescending and offensive to them; the other is acceptable.

5. Hardnosers respond best to old-fashioned “tough love.”
They desire hard boundaries, particularly those that help them achieve hard-to-reach goals.

6. Hardnosers want you to earnestly listen to them.
They want to tell you vital information about themselves — their real and felt needs — that enables you to help them mature.

It is difficult for some skeptics to embrace these beliefs. It is easier to adopt the attitude of one Cleveland-area business owner who believes that “most employees with bad attitudes come that way and it is not up to you to be a social worker.” To him, any alternative to improving the quality of workers other than perfecting the hiring and firing process is “silly,” even if personnel turnover costs are astronomical.

Safety officer Ken Malcolm at Safety & More P/L begs to differ. He says, “Hardnosed negatives can become hardnosed positives.” The key, he says, is trust.

Malcolm states that trust does not exist because “the past experiences [of workers] have not been good.” He suggests that workers have rarely been exposed to managers “who put value on worker input.” Perhaps they once worked for a grumpy guy in Cleveland. More likely, they’ve been jaded by repeated exposure to the Cycle of Rejection described in Part 2 of this series.

Agree with it or not, the path to profitability involves helping hardnosers cure their dysfunctional behavior, a task that starts with listening to what they say about themselves and about control-minded authorities.

Listening For Needs
Within the well-worn contentious discourse proffered by hardnosers is an easily recognizable admission of their foibles.

  • I have trouble accepting authority of any kind.
  • I am emotionally cold and uncaring.
  • I often say the wrong thing in the wrong way.
  • I don’t trust anyone enough to give them my loyalty (everyone is out to get me).
  • I am not a good team player.

You can also hear their pleas for help.

  • Help us accept authority, not persistently fight back.
  • Help us live emotionally healthy lives, not crawl into an emotional shell.
  • Help us develop better interpersonal skills, not alienate others.
  • Help us bond with each other and the company, not be disloyal.
  • Help us be better team players, not self-interested individuals.

These needs should sound familiar — they directly correspond to the “snapshot” of a hardnosed worker described in Part 1 of this series.

A hardnosed worker is a self-destructive, emotionally self-centered, uncontrollable person who would rather cut-and-run than commit.

From this snapshot, the human needs that it reveals, and the failure of traditional means to change hardnosed behavior, you know that there is only one action plan — one line of attack — that will result in positively changing a resistant workforce into a cooperative one. But, like the hardnosed Cleveland businessman, you might have trouble admitting it.

You have to help them develop the relational skills that they lack.

But don’t let this series tell you the obvious, though it bears repeating. Let the desperate general manager from Part 1 of this series say it. He’s the one who in 1992 initially linked the characteristics of a juvenile delinquent to the antics of his hardnosed employees. The assistance he sought from a troubled youth expert is as difficult as it is simple.

“I simply want you to help my people treat each other as people,” he asked.

He knew the problem pointed to a lack of interpersonal skills. So do you. And so do the perpetrators, who secretly want your help.

But how do you provide assistance without risking further rejection?

Using Safety To Change People
Job safety is the only joint partnership with management to which the hardnoser has ceded a modicum of control and cooperation. It is the only “face saving” venue in which he consents to [non-craft skill] personal development. To him, change for safety’s sake is grudgingly agreeable.

With safety training comes the opportunity to change the hardnoser, if the correct approach is utilized. Felt needs should be front-and-center — the odor of command, control, and compliance should be reduced.

John Bennett, VP of M.C. Dean, urges us to remember that “it is not about the system, regulations, nor policy or procedure. It is all about the people.”

Ill-conceived training strategies in which personal development is added-on to standard compliance training rarely work. Hardnosers are stubborn, not stupid. They can sense a convenient manipulative end run by management. Ever hear them call leadership training “charm school?”

To achieve human change requires a more carefully crafted safety training strategy than most organizations currently employ. Such a strategy demands a more need-sensitive safety management system.

What is recommended here extends beyond simple supplements to standardized compliance training programs. What is needed is a radical redesign of safety thinking in dealing with a sub-culture of resistance.

Above all, one hard-learned lesson about securing cooperation from defiant people must be remembered. You must meet their felt needs before they will fully give you what you want — compliance and control. If safety doesn’t do this, you remain stuck in the sink hole of opposition, forever containing resistance rather than correcting it.

Life Skills Are Felt Needs
A felt need is simply anything people consciously lack and desire. As noted, the hardnoser consciously but quietly desires self-improvement, particularly in life skills.

One example is the need of supervisors to learn practical leadership skills. As new supervisors quickly rise from the lower ranks of organizations, many supervisors suffer from the lack of leadership development inherent in on-the-job training.

Joe Johnson says that new supervisors are likely to be “given a ‘white hat,’ put in charge, and sent out in the organization with instructions to make things happen safely.” But of the leadership creation process, Johnson asks, “What ‘tools’ have these individuals been provided to insure he or she will be a good safety manager?”

In addition to leadership skills, other life skill needs that are likely felt by hardnosers of all ranks include:

  • Interpersonal communication skills (all aspects)
    • Accurate listening skills
    • Accurate shaping of the message to the listener
    • Accurate delivery of the message for acceptance
    • Accurate use of reflective listening, clarification
  • Relationship building
  • Behavioral awareness and pattern recognition
  • Anger management/tolerance/empathy
  • Team building
  • Critical thinking and decision-making
  • Coaching and mentoring

Under the confines of employee development and safety training, we have regrettably postponed meeting these needs until it is too late, after the worker feels under-appreciated. Properly, these are the needs you should start meeting at the beginning of new hire orientation.

What Do I Do?
The practical answer to the initial question — What should I do to change hardnosed workers? — is as basic as it sounds complex.

To change a hardnosed work force, you should implement a hybrid training program that simultaneously combines traditional safety-related training subjects with topics that develop the character of the hardnoser in their expressed area of needs.

The key is seamless simultaneous integration. Safety and human development should be taught at the same time, not as separate courses.

To avoid the Cycle of Rejection discussed in Part 2, the hardnoser must not feel that personal manipulation is the purpose of the training, nor should it be. Yet he should also walk away with a sense of obligation to practice (note: different than “comply with”) what is taught.

To make a life-changing combination of safety and personal development training workable requires two organizational commitments.

1. The organization must improve its quality of training.
A higher level of training is required, as is a better quality instructor skilled in safety, communications and human development. Revised curricula must be employed. Cattle-call training must be replaced with a caring personal attitude.

2. The organization must meld its safety and operation cultures.
A unified work culture is required, one which leaves hardnosers no wiggle room for discarding their training lessons under the excuse of “safety behavior” versus “operational behavior.” Operations cannot be allowed to deprive the hardnoser of training’s human development gains.

John Bennett underscores the mistake of trying to create a safety culture within an existing company culture in order to change people. He states that the tactic “is incongruent with the overall mission of the company.” Bennett suggests that “building upon the existing culture and simply inserting the safety aspect” is a more sensible way to build a unified work force. “Involving people in a sincere way,” he says, “will produce better results than were heretofore imaginable.” The hardnoser agrees wholeheartedly.

The Essentials
For the best results, a hybrid safety training program should immediately focus on the greatest needs of the hardnoser: interpersonal communication skills, emotional openness and honesty, and relational teamwork. All these needs share a common denominator. They point to the hardnoser’s fundamental lack of behavioral understanding.

Rarely are hardnosers properly educated about behavior — they do not bring such knowledge with them to the job. Most struggle with discerning why people do what they do — many ascribe the wrong motive to other’s behavior. It’s easy for hardnosers to fall into the Cycle of Rejection.

As explained in Part 2, answering the why question is vital to securing the hardnoser’s cooperation. If you desire to tear down the walls of resistance in your work force, here’s what you need to know.

  • If you help the hardnoser understand his unique behavior temperament and its affects on him — why he is prone to repeat certain behavior patterns — he will call you a friend.
  • If you show him why others act as they do because of their unique behavior temperaments, he will call you a good friend.
  • If you teach him how to build productive relationships with others despite their differences in temperament, he will call you his best buddy.
  • If you do none of the above yet try to change him, he will think you are simply attempting to control him. We’ve seen where that leads.

It is essential to integrate a simple behavior paradigm into every aspect of safety training. Uncomplicated behavior assessment profiles like the DISC or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® can serve this purpose. These are accurate, easily integrated “tools” that produce the type of behavioral understanding needed by hardnosers and non-hardnosers alike.

But this is no shill for the traditional haphazard use of behavior profile tools to soothe the ruffles of an agitated work force or as a guest speaker’s play toy. This is a call to deeply interweave two narratives — safety management and human development — on a consistent basis to meet the targeted needs of employees.

This author will attest to the instant magic brought by behavioral self-discovery through platforms like the DISC or MBTI. One unforgettable incident occurred when the cigar-chomping director of one company’s division first saw the results of his DISC self-analysis. The director’s cigar dropped from his mouth as he stood up, staggered about the training room with his analysis, and shouted, “This is me! This is me! This is freakin’ me.” Presto.

But that momentary magic is useless unless it is converted into tangible results while sustained within a framework of a safety training program that is designed to simultaneously control and change lives.

To do this requires a bold commitment from executive managers that are tired of butting their heads against behavioral barriers. Let the general manager mentioned in Part 1 remind us again that the alternative, letting hardnosers drag the company down, is “not an option.”

What this commitment looks like in practicality, and the results that it can accomplish, will be the subject of Part 4 of this series.

Bibliography

“Focus On Teamwork, Attitude Improves Quality And Safety.” The Waterways Journal. April 25, 1994: 41-44

Newton, Ron. No Jerks On The Job. Irving, TX. PenlandScott Publishers, 2010.

Riddle, Glenden P. An Evaluation Of The Effectiveness Of Stress Camping Through The Use Of The Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis Exam. Research Project. Dallas Theological Seminary, December 1978.

Taylor, Robert. Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis Manual. Thousand Oaks: Psychological Publications, Inc., 1992.