How do you maintain high performance under pressure?
This is the question the High Performance Thinking Project I've been leading at Moly-Cop has been seeking to answer. Helping the workforce understand the influence of various non-optimal mind states on decision making; the goal to improve decision making, safety performance and problem solving in key moments when it matters.
Mind states such as frustration, stress, fear, distraction, complacency, and rushing to name just a few reduce our ability to make good decisions, limit our ability to accurately perceive risk and be pro-active. The goal is to reduce safety incidents but also to improve decision making and leadership across the plant, at all levels.
This is working, early data suggests a 30% reduction in safety incidents over the last 6 months. Numbers to be proud of, but what makes me truly excited about the potential is in the examples of leadership that are emerging. One example arose last week that I would like to share with you. I received the email below from one of the managers participating in the project. You’ll also find some of my commentary and explanatory notes to help you with the context.
Note: the email is show in italics and my comments are throughout in bold.
I would like to share my experiences over the last 72 hours with particular focus on the decision making of individuals in those MOMENTS THAT MATTER.
On Wednesday I received a call from my Mother saying that my Father had suffered a Heart Attack and was being transported to hospital by ambulance and that I needed to make my way down to Orange, at that time obviously I was concerned about the health of my father but I also had to control my own emotions as I had a 5 hour drive ahead of me and I could quite easily have been distracted by what was happening and could potentially place myself in a situation that I could not get out of on the road. I took my time with journey and while it took me an extra 30 minutes to get there it was the right thing to do for my own safety and the passengers (My partner and son who was travelling with me).
Aa key lesson: stress changes the way we perceive and make decisions. We carry an increased sense of urgency, we can feel justified in rushing - 'got to get to Dad quickly'. The importance of the moment allows us to feel justified in taking more risk. His ability to recognise this natural urge and 'think it through' allowed him to recognise that getting there is safely is important, that his partner and son are in the vehicle with him, other road users still matter, safety still matters. Also, he was able to "clear the deck" and minimise distraction, understanding that there is nothing he can do until he gets there and getting there safely is the only task - one thing at a time.
Upon arrival I learnt a few things which I feel are very relevant to our workplace and the way we approach our work especially around when things change, and an abnormal condition is identified and making good decisions in those moments that matter.
When I went in and saw him in recovery I asked him one question putting on the hat of his son but also the leader of a team I asked him what did he learn and his response to me was I need to stop smoking, I looked at him waiting for something else however that is all he had. So then I gave him my two bobs worth about not ignoring the signals when things change how we need to be smart and make good decisions.
This is GOLD! how often do we treat an abnormal event as a 'one-off' ignore it and hope it goes away. This can be a mild heart attack, a strange looking colour on a mole on our skin, or a piece of machinery not doing what is expected. There is a deeper lesson here about our avoidance of truth - see below. The obvious lesson is to again 'think it through' notice something is different to expectation (the expectation is clear because we thought through the task properly to start with) stopping and considering it more deeply. Get a second opinion, 'does this look right to you? is a key ingredient to safe work, but also good planning and productivity decisions. It is worth dialing in when something isn't right and taking a closer look.
I honestly have no idea how he made it through I do not think many people would survive 3 x mild heart attacks over 4 days and still be alive today to tell his story.
For my family and our teams, I certainly feel that there are some significant learnings that we can take away from my experience, my Dad is alive today more from good luck than anything else.
Feel free to share this story if you wish to, see you all on Monday.
Thank you, Guy and the business, for allowing myself and also my Son Jack who is in Rail for the support to be here in Molong.
Self-protection and avoidance of truth
Our brains' main priority is to keep us safe and all the brain has for a barometer of safety are some evolution driven defaults applied to your life experiences. Some of these 'defaults' include;
In this example, Dwayne’s Dad "everything is normal, nothing to see here" response to the earlier chest pain incidents. From his brains point of view, if he did turn his attention to it and accept that the chest pain is likely to be a heart attack then,
So, strangely enough, he avoids seeking the truth because the potential implication of the truth is so significant. IF it is in fact a heart attack it would be serious, and high-risk surgery, and significant lifestyle and habit changes.
It is an easy misfire of “pain avoidance” to make, and one we've all got a version of. Avoiding a potential truth because of the consequences that arise if our suspicion is in fact true. Ignoring a problem is a short-term effort to avoid pain and maintain control - it never usually works because the problem doesn't go away. As in this case, all of the consequences arose anyway, worse in fact because of the increase damage done by experiencing the multiple heart attacks.
Values and 'my way of being' influencing decision making
The lessons Dwayne draws for his workplace are clear; noticing and ignoring problems rarely make them go away, and usually make it worse is one among many.
For me the most powerful message is that self-awareness and emotional intelligence are the difference in these key moments. The decisions to focus on getting there safely, in spite of the time pressure to get there quickly. The non-decisions to take warning signs seriously and act upon them are the difference.
If a task isn’t going to plan, do your people stop and re-think it, or simply ‘keep on going’ in the hope it’ll be OK?
These are the small moments that influence big outcomes. Great lesson on the power of emotional intelligence.
If you want your leaders to be able to demonstrate this level of self-awareness, then drop me a line and let’s discuss.