The 05/29/08 NYCOSH NEWSLINE contains an article by Liza Frenette that also appeared in New York Teacher Magazine on 05/22/08. In the article, Ms. Frenette describes a hazardous waste situation at a high school on Long Island, New York. According to her sources, the substances had been oozing and bubbling up through science classroom drains for up to two years. When a teacher inquired about the safety of the situation, the inquiry was reportedly ignored. It took a brave whistleblower to correct the situation. The harm that may have occurred in the meantime is still being addressed.
This article reminded me of how often business owners or organizational administrators operate in fear and later cause themselves greater harm than in they had confronted the situation immediately. Of course, we’ll never know for certain whether the Long Island high school’s situation would have been different. But it seems rather obvious that failure to respond to a potential toxic waste leak could create a more hazardous situation for the people and property around the substances. I am also surprised by the failure to act, yet I recognize I don’t know the full story. I will reserve judgment to those better qualified.
Regardless, we can all learn from the mistakes of the school’s administrators. Please take your employee concerns seriously—all of them. I am not suggesting that you accommodate every request, but be able to explain with specificity your reasons for taking actions or having the policies that you do. My corporate management experience leads me to believe that many decisions are made as a reaction to damage that has already occurred. I suspect all of us know someone who had a particularly bad situation with something, and many of us took that person’s story as absolute fact. We then responded by copying the remedy he or she discovered through the hardship. No questions asked. We didn’t take the time to investigate the situation fully, and we were surprised when the remedy didn’t work for us.
We want the quick fix. We want the magic solution. Are you ready? Here it is:
Every situation is unique and must be addressed as if it has never happened before. It hasn’t. it may look just like what happened to an elementary school in Niagara Falls or to someone your employee told you about. But it’s absolutely impossible that the exact same event occurred at a different time, in a different place, with different people, and different circumstances. Keep your mind open. Do not make assumptions. Listen and investigate fully. Communicate your action with specificity, not only to assure your employees their concerns are being addressed, but also so you have greater clarity and confidence. Clear and confident leaders are readily followed.