Toolbox Talks: One size fits all … if you happen to be that size


The idea of one-size fits all is great in that it creates some uniformity and it’s easier to deliver just one, universal product. However, it generally doesn’t create the ideal customer experience. It ends up being one-size fits all—but not very well. Sometimes a standard approach for everyone is just not a good fit.

One size of safety glasses works for the majority of your people. However, one glove size would be problematic and one-size-fits-all steel-toed safety shoes don’t exist. If you expect people to use gloves then you need to give them the right fit; that’s why you provide small to extra-large options. You need to further dial in the fit when it comes to shoes by providing numerous sizes and half-sizes.

The need for a better “fit” depends on the application. The same goes for your training.

Some training is universal, like filling out timesheets or parking lot safety. Everybody has the same responsibility and takes the same actions. Some training needs a little more nuanced, like harassment or discrimination training. Everyone needs to NOT harass or discriminate against their co-workers, but supervisors have the added responsibilities of identifying the behaviors in others, stopping it, and taking corrective actions—not just avoiding the behavior themselves.

Some training needs to be highly specialized, like increasing technical proficiency. The office staff need not learn how to make a clean bead when welding. When it comes to Human Performance, Behavior-Based Safety, or other performance improvement initiatives, we tend to treat it like it’s universal training when it’s closer to specialized training.

A good analogy is a football team. On the surface, we would accept it if someone said, “This team would perform better if we were all faster. Let’s focus on training to increase team speed.” This would greatly benefit a large part of the team. Running backs, wide receivers, defensive backs, linebackers, special teams coverage and maybe even the mobile quarterback could all use an extra gear. Even those big bodied linemen could benefit from quicker footwork and faster hand techniques.

But do you really care about your long-snapper’s 40-yard dash time? What about the coaches? Does their straight-line speed help the organization’s performance? Take a look at the latest Super Bowl winning coach, Andy Reid, and you can guess that his agility had little to do with the team’s exceptional performance. What about Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis? He’s part of the team, but if he was part of the “team speed” training, it wouldn’t benefit the organization at all.

Putting Andy Reid or Mickey Loomis through cone and ladder drills makes as much sense as a one-size fits all approach to performance improvement. To create a Human Performance culture, people with different responsibilities should have different roles and take different actions. However, what often happens is everyone is given a lesson on Tools, Traps, and Latent Organizational Weaknesses and left to figure out for themselves what they should be doing with this information.

Workers and players, leaders and coaches, executives and owners, all have different roles but also share the same goal: winning – however that is defined for your organization. The workers in the field, just like the players on the field, tend to get the attention but their performance is greatly impacted by the leaders and executives.

Ignoring the role of management and upper leadership is probably why your previous performance improvement initiatives didn’t stick. It was a bottom-up approach. Leaders didn’t know how to coach it and executives didn’t know how to manage it.

Think of the challenges your frontline leader is facing. If your organization is like most, you took your best worker and made him/her a leader. Being a good worker is a different skill set from being a good leader, but this new leader was just promoted and asked to figure it out.

It’s like taking your fastest player and making them the Head Coach because, well, they were really good at being fast. This sounds insane, but how often do we see the super-doer become the supervisor without the training and guidance they need?

Just as players, coaches, and managers have different roles in improving the performance of the team, your workers, leaders, and executives have different roles to improve the performance of your team. Don’t start a process that thinks performance improvement is a one-size fits all approach, as it’s doomed to fail. Understand that your shared goal is accomplished when EVERYONE knows their distinct role and the unique actions they need to take to meet their responsibilities to the team.