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It’s time to stop being surprised by the unexpected.

Be curious. Be interested. Be willing to learn.

Having spent many years as supervisor, manager, and now vice president for a large electric utility, I have had the opportunity to see many things occur that were not expected. A couple of recent safety events reminded me of Murphy’s laws. Here is a quick reminder of his first law, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”.

I used to be surprised by the unexpected.

Before being exposed to HOP concepts, I was surprised by the unexpected. Most of the time outcomes are neutral or even positive. It’s easier to remember the bad things. Perhaps Murphy’s first law should also say, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong even those things we think can’t or never will.” This can often be credited to the ingenuity of humans. It never ceases to amaze me at just how creative people can be.

Their motivation can come from a variety of sources. It often comes from frustration and wanting to make work easier. Some might call them lazy, but I prefer what Todd Conklin refers to as “we are always drifting toward efficiency.”

As a leader, it can be frustrating when your folks do things that are just downright stupid. I’ve had the “pleasure” of explaining many things up the chain that were beyond my imagination. While having a discussion recently, a colleague shared one of his favorites from many years ago, which is a Darwin Award winner in my opinion.

After a rash of reversing-vehicle incidents, our company foolishly put a ban on “all” backing-up without a spotter. After getting boxed in by other vehicles while out on a job, our employee returned to their vehicle and decided his only option was to disassemble the fence in front of his vehicle. After pulling his vehicle through, he then reassembled the gate.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there. I will give him an “A” for effort. He proceeded to drive through a very well-manicured lawn leaving deep ruts, only to make it back to the road and find the owner had placed two large boulders near the road to prevent driving on his lawn.

But, wait. There's more!

Our employee thought the gap was big enough to squeeze through. Maybe you have seen those jeeps that drive over boulders. That’s how we found our vehicle – sideways between the boulders. Explaining this one up the chain didn’t go as well as you might expect.

Most jobs are more complicated or involved than were initially thought.

When Shane Bush says, “context is everything” he hit the nail on the head. Understanding the context of an event, requires you to first be patient and second be interested. Not all leaders have these qualities. I’ll admit that I don’t always either. Things I thought could never imagine, happen all the time. I shouldn’t be surprised.

Meaning? They are harder and take longer. This drives adaption and creativity, which is often very good until it’s not. This is why understanding the “blue line” is so important.

We all relate to Murphy’s laws because there is truth to them. In fact, following Murphy’s advice should lead us to the concept of building capacity to fail safely. This might be one of the easiest ways to get others to understand what HOP is about. For leaders though it means you have to accept that you don’t really have the control you think you have. People and systems will fail in ways that were never expected or anticipated.

I’m a huge fan of learning teams.

In fact, I have adapted many of the same concepts and techniques to how I lead. This starts with curiosity. Being interested rather than being surprised. Having a desire to learn and improve.

Learning teams create engagement – this is a big win for the team culture. While Gallup uses surveys to measure engagement, for me though, it’s not about a survey. Rather, engagement is something you observe and experience. When you participate in an effective learning team session you know it because everyone feels it.

As a word of caution, some people get hung on having a laundry list of action items. That is their measure of success, but I really think they are missing the boat when it comes to learning teams. I can think of no better response to being surprised when something happens than to having a learning team.

Still surprised by the unexpected? How you respond matters.

In my role, I constantly remind myself that the most important thing I must do is be deliberate in how I respond. This is also one of the “5 Principles” because it is true. As an engineer, I really like the R-Factor equation, which states Event + Response = Outcome. The outcome I’m looking for is to not be surprised and react, but rather to be curious and learn.

Focus 3 - R Factor

The events of life will always occur so there really is no reason to be surprised, the real challenge is to decide how to respond. One of my favorite responses is “let’s have a learning team.”

About the Author: Drew Seidel, VP Distribution - AEP SWEPCO

Drew is the CHOLearning Vice President with over 30 years in the electric utility industry directly responsible for operations, reliability, and resilience. Currently oversee the planning, construction, operation, and maintenance of the distribution system at AEP SWEPCO. Previously managed multiple gas and coal-fired power plants, which included winning a Navigant runner-up award for best large coal-fired plant in the US. Pioneered the integration of Open Book Management, Lean, and HOP including a winning Great Game of Business All-Star award. Certified Senn Delaney culture facilitator conducting over 100 multi-day sessions for over 2,000 participants. Implemented HOP at multiple power plants and within the distribution space for lineworkers, engineering, and forestry. Served as Incident Commander for large-scale multi-day storm restoration events managing more than 4,000 support resources. Have been a CHOL board member for over 5 years.


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