In my first ever internal safety role, I was shocked to discover in my performance review that my results were tied to the injury statistics of the business units I was supporting.  In 2020, the way I enable people like you to implement learning teams, comes with a 100% money back guarantee.  The fine print is where we should be held accountable for change.  But you know what else happens in the fine print….

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.

This very day, my wife is going to the store where we bought our Sodastream, because it started leaking gas.  They are going to swap it over.  But the story of how we reached that result, is all in the fine print. 

But first let’s rewind the clock. 

At the start of my career as a health and safety advisor, I was genuinely surprised when I found out that the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate of the seven business units I advised would affect my overall performance rating and potential remuneration.  I had come from consulting, I was still very green, and the very reason I moved into an internal role was because I felt too removed from the real work of implementation, of making change, of getting results. 

What’s in the Fine Print?

When I say the fine print, what I mean is the nitty gritty detail that many of us skim over, when it comes to making commitments to someone else.  In my case, the fine print was the specific goals in my performance review, which were not in the employment contract I signed, but I did agree. that I would participate in a performance review process like this.  Surprise!

So the fine print in my performance review kind of shocked me, yet that’s kind of what I signed up for, no actually that’s exactly what I signed up for, right? To be close to the real work of implementation, of making change, of getting results. 

Think about where else you have fine print in your life.  The fine print almost always lives in a contract – a contract for purchase or sale, a contract for employment, a contract for a service.  Anytime you buy something, there will be fine print.  You almost certainly have the opportunity to read this, because it’s immediately above the part where you sign, or click BUY NOW. 

So how do we usually engage with the fine print? It happens at the beginning of a relationship, a transaction, a commitment.  And almost all of the time, we ignore the fine print, or skim over it.  Or sometimes, there is little to no fine print whatsoever, so we are in the realm of assuming what each party is signing up for. 

Much of the time, the fine print is designed to disclaim, disown and distance the provider, the seller, from taking responsibility.  We only offer a warranty as required by law.  Our returns policy does not cover this, that and the other thing.  We only guarantee a bare minimum level of service (despite the sales pitch promising more).  Is that sounding familiar to you?


And for most of us, the time when we engage with the fine print, is when someone needs to be held accountable, and often that’s because something isn’t going well. 


Sodastream and the Store kept their promise

So this leaky Sodastream of mine.  If you don’t know, it’s a basic device which has a canister of CO2 gas, and you put a bottle of water into it, press a button, and hey presto you have soda water.  Leaking CO2 gas is not what I expected from this product, and is kinda unsafe (though I didn’t do a full risk assessment). 

The store I called tried to look up my details in their system.  While the guy was doing that, he said that it might be tricky to get it dealt with, it maybe could be returned, or I might have to adjust it myself, or I might have to talk to Sodastream myself.  None of those options sounded good to me – I wanted a replacement unit which worked the way I expected it to, without having to argue the fine print that leaking gas is something we need to have a discussion about before deciding what to do. 

Finally the computer found my details, and it was still within warranty period.  No problems Mr Barrett, bring it in and we will exchange it.  Insert smiley face emoji. 

Re-writing the fine print

There are a bunch of legal principle which sit behind how fine print in contracts works, and how they are interpreted and applied.  That’s not my point here. In my performance review in that early job of mine, the power that be decided that my results were in part represented by a few safety statistics.  Now this is not the place to discuss the validity of that – but the message was clear – I am accountable for certain results, it’s in the fine print.

Fast forward to 2020.  A year of disruption, uncertainty, and some phenomenal resilience amongst our professional community.  I had to adapt too.  My plans were lots of flights, and lots of face to face time with groups of people just like you.  Instead, we pivoted to embrace and optimise virtual connection.  It’s easy to say, well, the fine print says that when surprising stuff happens, we aren’t accountable for results.  Instead, we re-wrote the fine print about a few things. 

You know I’m obsessed about how better learning drives performance, at the individual, team and organisational levels.  More and more people are seeing the potential that exists in practices such as learning teams, whether you are a new-view believer or not.  My work is enabling those learning practices to become part of individual skillets, team services, and organisational practices.  That is the work that pays for this podcast, by the way.

And right about now, when this podcast comes out, I am thrilled to say that we have enabled a really diverse group of individuals, both health and safety and operations people, to go from learning teams as a novel idea to implementing actual learning teams inside their organisation.  Every couple of days, a group member is implementing an actual learning team, getting an actual result, and gets to share their experience with the rest of the group. 

Where the fine print falls short

If you go to university, especially in a vocational course which means it’s for a specific job, the university doesn’t guarantee that result.  Their fine print sells us short, saying we will give you the piece of paper.  But many of us know that’s a far cry from an actual job.

If you buy a book, the only thing the fine print guarantees is that it is X number of pages on a general topic.  Sometimes you can’t even work out the topic, and often the name on the cover is not the person who actually wrote the book.  You see how little the fine print commits? A book should commit to making you laugh, or help you escape into another world, or learn something new.  But no, the fine print falls way short. 

If you do training (as a trainer or as a student), the only thing the fine print guarantees is X amount of time in a classroom or of video, and X workbooks or handouts or slides, and maybe a certificate to say you were there.  That’s all the fine print says.  Even assessments, we all know that most assessments are total BS – so knowledge, competency, performance, none of that is part of the deal.  But what is the result we are seeking?

In 2020 I decided that I would enable as many people as I could to implement learning teams, because God knows this is the year we need to do lots of learning to both maintain and improve performance.  So we offered a 100% money back guarantee that learning teams is the result our group would get.  I was on the hook.  And they are coming thick and fast.  No refunds, no fine print conversations, people are actually getting the result they wanted. 

Nowhere to hide

If you implement a safety management system, we don’t make any commitments that it will improve safety results.  There is no fine print that puts anyone on the hook. 

When we do audits, the fine print, especially for consultants, is lengthy, disclaiming away how much our audit could have missed, and that results are not generalisable and should not be relied up on for legal compliance etc etc etc. 

When we develop procedures, the unwritten fine print says ‘hey worker, this is for you, it will keep you safe’, but what it actually says is ‘hey worker, this is something you need to follow because we are trying to use a one-size-fits-all approach to control the work you do, and I wrote it in my language, and it’s really for auditors and regulators just in case they appear’. Even when there isn’t literal fine print, there is always some kind of fine print. 

I don’t know about you, but I am in this game to deliver results.  The fine print, literal or figurative, is often vague, unwritten, or unspoken.  The fine print has an important place.  The fine print is where parties make commitments to each other about results and value exchange. 

For so many of us, we have been doggedly focussed on results this year.  We have been adaptive and responsive to our organisation and peoples needs.  We have provided frank and fearless advice, and been clear when it’s highly uncertain.  We have been unapologetically focussed on identifying, assessing and managing risk.  We have stopped or done less things in the name of safety, the low value things which no one has missed.  You changed your fine print this year, continually re-shaping it, and have done an awesome job. 

I’ve talked a bit about learning teams today, but that’s not the focus of this podcast, though our guarantee is a useful example.   Some of you will have been thinking about learning teams, and wondering whether learning teams can, or should, be a part of your 2021 plans.   If that’s you, keep listening after the music and I’ve got something to share with you. 

Today, I want you to think about how clearly your fine print is laid out for those people you seek to serve. I want you to think carefully about how generous, or how restrictive your commitments are in your fine print. And most of all, I want you to think about how bold and courageous you can be, so your fine print clearly commits to the kinds of results that will help the people you seek to serve. 

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!

(Secret extra bit for people interested in learning teams….)

Hey, thanks for hanging back.  If you’ve had learning teams on your mind, it can be difficult to work out whether they will be right for you or not.  Some of our current case study group members have an organisational wide approach to learning teams, which we’ve been able to help tune up, and others are just starting with one, to see if it flows into two then 5 then who knows. 


I can’t give you a definitive guide to deciding to implement learning teams or not, but I can help to clarify the biggest questions or concerns you have.  So here’s my gift to you.  I will put on a webinar which is 100% focussed on your questions.  AND, I will put together a kind of Frequently Asked Questions summary document so you can get something in writing to reflect on, or discuss with other people in your organisation.  How will we make this happen? If you send me an email, with the subject line FAQ, type out your biggest question or concern, I will write this webinar for you, and create that FAQ collection for free. 

I don’t do pushy sales stuff, it’s possible that we could work together, but I want to lead with value for you first, that way you get some clarity, if we don’t work together I know you’re good, and if we do, that would be awesome too. 

What you will find is that many of your questions will be similar, so it won’t be a million things to think about, we will get some great clarity on the few biggest questions many of us share. 

So send me an email, with the subject line FAQ, type out your biggest question or concern, and I will give you both a webinar and a collection of FAQ’s a responses.  Hope that will be useful for you. 

And here’s your FREE download of the full transcript of this episode.

Feel free to share this with your team/colleagues!