One of the best catchers in Major League Baseball history, Yogi Berra, died Tuesday, September 22nd at the age of 90. Berra had a way with words, ironically while butchering the English language, and his statements were appropriately deemed “Yogi-isms”. Within a few of his quotes, laced with sharp wit, there are some important lessons for safety professionals and leaders across industry and discipline.
“We made too many wrong mistakes.”
This quote says much more than most six word phrases can. It has to do with how we view mistakes and has many implications for how organizations approach learning and improving. We can see mistakes as wrong, and as the work of a few bad apples. In this case we would subscribe to a backward looking accountability. However, as safety professionals, we need to see them as learning opportunities. This equates to a forward-looking accountability. With a forward-looking accountability, we focus resources towards helping the agency learn from the events and ultimately improving.
“You can observe a lot by watching.”
This quote says a lot about being engaged with the frontline staff that work within an agency. You do not learn from staying locked in an office. By submerging oneself into the frontline working environment, one unlocks a necessary perspective that allows safety staff and leaders to close the gap between work as prescribed and work as performed. Ultimately, you learn by engaging with the people who do the most difficult jobs.
“The future ain’t what it used to be.”
Things seldom go as planned. You are supposed to be one place, you think you are in another and in reality you are really somewhere else. Additionally, with the benefit of hindsight it is too easy to look back and oversimplify decisions and actions following adverse events. To truly understand decisions and actions one must search for the second story, which is the explanation of actions and events that pierces the surface level descriptions of failure. David Woods may say it best of all with “the past seems incredible, the future implausible.”
“Bill Dickey is learning me his experience.”
Here, Yogi nicely conveys the power of learning from experience. Tools and guidelines can only take a worker so far. And even then, the rules and guidelines may not be supportive of the work a frontline employee is engaging in. Organizations are becoming increasingly complex and workers are adapting to be successful. This is where we often perceive resilience exists. Resilience is present within organizations when experienced staff learn successful performance adaptions. As a safety leader, one must leverage that experience whether it be adaptive or maladaptive to understand when adaptions can be shared or when they are indicative of practical drift.
“I always thought that record would stand… until it was broken.”
We constantly see the pursuits to zero. Whether it be accidents, lost time injuries, equipment failures, etc., past success cannot be a guarantee of future safety. Things can go wrong even when everything seems safe. Organizations need to be prepared for this and never be comfortable. Always put the foot down and invest in safety measures prior to adverse events occurring.
“In baseball, you don’t know nothing.”
While specific to baseball, this quote easily translates. Having the realization that you know nothing is important. This helps in not letting your mental model dictate how work is perceived at the frontlines. Closing the gap between work as imagined and work as performed is incredibly important. Safety professionals need to be open to minority viewpoints and divergent opinions. The more perspectives or stories the better; they all contribute.
“I never said most of the things I said.”
It is important to temper initiatives and understand unintended consequences. The communications that occur through systemic changes or different safety initiatives may bring up diverse opinion on how success is achieved. If an organization is trying to decrease lost time injuries, one may put a computer in front of a frontline worker at a hospital. Is this what leaders were communicating? Maybe, but lets assume they didn’t. Being aware of goals and their competing contingencies will allow you to pick up on sacrifice decisions being made to achieve success.
“You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”
I believe this is important in context of supporting employees. Supporting employees in the wake of failure develops commitment to the organization. If you support individuals when they are involved in adverse events, they will support your agency to learn and improve. They will do this by contributing rich accounts of how issues unfolded so they can be adequately addressed. In addition they may support your agency even when things do not go wrong, which can come through participation in reporting systems. Ultimately, staff need not be engaged in promoting safety. If they are not supported in their times of need, they are not going to support agencies during theirs.
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
It is easy to continuously collect information from the different surveillance systems that an agency may have, whether they be for investigation, reporting, safety culture survey, etc. The hard part is making change based on that information, especially if nothing catastrophic has occurred yet. However, in order to make progress and constantly temper organizational performance at the edge of failure, one needs to influence change. It is time to stop collecting information and time to start acting on it.