Can I confidently give advice, at the same time as not knowing what to do? Can we hold people accountable, and also be fair? Can we be kind and caring leaders, but maintain professional distance as well? Welcome to the world of paradox.
Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap.
Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way. Welcome to you, you’re in the right place. If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.
Today I’m chatting with Dr. Tristan Casey. Tristan is a Lecturer at Griffith University’s Safety Science Innovation Lab and co-founder of ‘The Culture Effect’—a collaboration between Griffith and QUT that provides commercial research services to the industry. Tristan is experienced and endorsed Organisational Psychologist with extensive experience in work health and safety. He has an interest in teamwork, leadership, and organizational culture. Tristan teaches into the Graduate Certificate of Safety Leadership and Bachelor of Social Science at Griffith University. Recently, he completed his second doctorate, this time in safety leadership. Tristan is currently working on research around the management of safety amid COVID19, psychological safety, and safety climate.
Tristan and I met many years ago, we were both speaking at a very cool TEDx style event organised by the Emerging Safety Professionals group in Brisbane, Australia, and he has been on my potential guest list for a while. What better time to catch up than right after he and his colleagues swung into action to do some research to give us better insights into how we as health and safety professionals have been working in the thick of Covid. We tossed around heaps of potential discussion themes, and today’s one just jumped out at me. It jumped out at me because it’s the sort of thing which I describe to my students and clients as a big P.
Let me explain.
There are most often two things which we need to work on to grow, improve our effectiveness and drastically improve health and safety. One is practice. The actions and activities that we choose to do or not do, that we are capable of doing or are areas for development. Practice is where our intent meets reality, and where potential impact becomes real impact. An example is how to ask better questions, or how to pitch a new idea to your leaders. But I say that practice is a little p, because on it’s own, working on improving practice will only give you incremental improvement. The other P, the big P, is Principles. These are the foundational things that guide the way we think, and in turn guides our practice. Many of us are unaware of the Principles which inform us. An example is the principle of consistency and control, the principal that if only we achieved consistency and improved control of work and people, safety would improve. Another example is the Principal of the Boundary. That we believe that there is a clear boundary to the things we do and influence in a business and that we can’t or shouldn’t step over that imaginary boundary. Now you can work out for yourself whether these Principals are known to you, are operating in your professional work, or whether you have alternate or even opposite Principals. I spend a good chunk of my time making change happen with clients by identifying and improving Principals, big P, not just practices, little p.
So when Tristan suggested we talk about how his research had uncovered a number of paradoxes for safety professionals, my ears pricked up. Paradox is a great example of Principal that informs our practice. Even in episode 148, before Tristan and I even talked about this idea, I mentioned the paradox of experience in our profession – that the experience we seek to gain and grow equally needs to be dismantled by ourselves and those of us who are less experienced. The best bit is that even when we focus entirely on Principals, which can be messy, complex, and challenging, not only do we grow more, we can still skim off the practical actions we can take to improve.
I think Tristan knows the format for these conversations, as he really nicely finished off with practical actions we can take. So I’ll keep my summary of these brief:
Takeaway #1: Start noticing all the paradoxes which are all around you. Tristan’s research percolated three main ones during COVID: business viability and caring for people; central and distributed decision making; the need for facts and the absence of facts about the current situation. They are all around you, start looking for them.
Takeaway #2: Start having conversations about paradoxes with your leaders. Make paradox visible, so you can talk through the messiness of it all. Most of us have been managing through one or more of our own personal paradoxes, so the question is not whether we are capable of living in paradox, the question is can your organisation better manage through paradox if you are all talking the same language, and making them explicit together?
Takeaway #3: Be intentional about what to then do in the face of paradox. Tristan described the idea that we can either trade one-off or try and synthesise them. The latter is far more realistic, and he described temporal, structural separation, and my favourite, creative synthesis. We are in an awesome position to help our business to creatively face a paradox, and to facilitate how leaders navigate through it.
Before you go, three other episodes which relate to today’s conversation. Speaking of creativity, this is one of the top skills of the future, and one seriously lacking. In episode 75 I chat with Mykel Dixon about the central role of creativity and how we can improve by being more creative in our work. In Ep143 with Ian Borges, we explored how we can rethink the Principals of work to create more autonomy & trust to deliver better results. And Ep109, the One in the Arena. This episode is for those of us who choose to tackle the complex, to go beyond a mere job, and to push our own assumptions and Principals. When it feels scary, you are on the right track. Listen to this episode so you know that you are not alone in the centre of the arena, that’s where I hang out too.
Get my handwritten reflection notes, a template for your own reflections, and the transcript of this episode all for free over at safetyintap.com/ep149
Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, what’s the one thing you’ll do to take positive, effective, or rewarding action, to grow yourself, and drastically improve health and safety along the way? Seeya!