Tag Archives: Massey Energy

Honor and Esteem our Workers; Protect our Workers – Two Simple Reminders on this Labor Day

I have two simple recommendations for Labor Day:

#1 – Let’s honor and esteem our workers.
#2 – Let’s protect our workers.

There seems to be a whole lot of anti-labor sentiment these days.  That is, I think, a little wrong-headed.  And it reveals some very short memories.

Let’s take them in reverse order:

#2 —Let’s protect our workers.

So, here’s the thing.  People can be cruel, horribly abusive to other people.  So can companies, with “bad” leaders and “negligent” policies.

And, well-meaning people can be “duped” by those with whom they do business.  Yes, Virginia, there are companies that abuse its workers.

Do you remember the case of the sweatshop workers making clothing for the Kathie Lee Gifford line?  When it was first reported, Kathie Lee stated firmly that it was not happening.  She then discovered it was.  She apologized, and worked toward better worker conditions, appearing at the White House while Bill Clinton was President, to counter international sweat shop abuses.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire - March 25, 1911

Or, do you know the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire?  Here’s the summary paragraph (from Wikipedia):

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. It was also the deadliest disaster in New York City until the destruction of the World Trade Center 90 years later. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three;[1][2][3] the oldest victim was 48, the youngest were two fourteen-year-old girls.[4] Many of the workers could not escape the burning building because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. People jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.

In the aftermath of the fire, within two years the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union “had organized roughly ninety percent of the cloakmakers in the industry in New York City. It improved benefits in later contracts and obtained an unemployment insurance fund for its members in 1919.”  (from the Wikipedia article:  International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union).

So, protecting the workers seems to be a long-term, and ongoing need.  Further reminder:  let’s remember that Chesley Sullenberger, leading a team of true professionals to land an engine-less airplane safely in the Hudson River, served as the Air Line Pilots Association safety chairman.

And this is a true ongoing need.  Workers need safety; workers need protection.  There is a long history of companies cutting back on safety.  (Remember Massey Energy, the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 were killed in an explosion in 2010. — “In 2009, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration cited Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine for 495 violations and proposed $911,802 in fines.”)  You might want to read: Fatalities Higher at Non-Union Mines—Like Massey’s Upper Big Branch.

Labor Unions take safety and protection quite seriously.  I don’t blame them.

Now to the first of the two:

#1 – Let’s honor and esteem our workers.

I’ll keep this simple, and quote from Abraham Lincoln, from his annual message to Congress, 1861:

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Protect our workers.  Honor and Esteem our workers.  Two good reminders for this Labor Day.

I’ve Been Thinking About Ethical Responsibilities…

Do not, under any circumstances, tell a lie – of either commission or omission.  Do not stretch the truth, exaggerate, or make ___ up to get out of trouble or make yourself look good…
Do not attempt to project different images depending on whom you’re with.  People can spot inauthenticity…  Show up as yourself consistently.  Unless, of course, you are a jackass.

Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership:  A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today

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I’ve been thinking about ethical responsibilities…

You remember ethics don’t you: the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation. — Moral duty and obligation.  Duty…obligation. In other words this is important stuff here.

First, let me state the obvious. To put it in terms well known from the Bible, “all have sinned, and fall short…”  Including me.  And, I say with confidence but no mean-spirited intent, including you.  So, yes, we all have some work to do in this part of our lives.

But it seems to me that falling short has hit epidemic proportions these days.  I don’t know where to put the blame.  Is it the argument culture that Deborah Tannen saw coming?  (see this earlier post here).  Is it exacerbated by the constant spin required on today’s cable news, which flows from this argument culture mentality?  (see my partly tongue-in-cheek Campbell Brown for CEO! here).  Is it our lawyer-laden era, in which if anyone with any power admits fault, then the liability becomes too great?

Or is it a true, genuine, really, really alarming decline in ethical standards?

I don’t know.

But this is what I think I do know.  We have more and more mistakes being made (from the mining disaster to the Toyota problems to the oil rig disaster) where there seems to be a pattern emerging:

• a serious problem occurs;
• part of the cause of the problem is some form of negligence;
• evidence surfaces that warnings were given, but not adequately heeded;
• and then when the full disaster hits, there is some form of denial and shift of blame  (“it’s not my fault!”)

In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande describes how for most of human history, most big problems were issues of ignorance.  We really did not know what caused disease, we really did not know how to successfully treat a heart attack.  But the pendulum has now swung to the other problem:  human ineptitude is now a bigger problem than human ignorance.  We know more – we just don’t deliver on what we know.  And, as Gawande states:

Failures of ignorance we can forgive.  If the knowledge of the best thing to do in a given situation does not exist, we are happy to have people simply make their best effort.  But if the knowledge exists and is not applied correctly, it is difficult not to be infuriated.

In the latest illustration of this problem, we have a lack of transparency by BP.  They have a genuine, whopping disaster on their hands. The ripple effects are massive, from lives lost, to jobs lost, to the environment damaged, possibly on a massive scale.  But as we follow the BP response, we see the pattern I described above, and during the aftermath we discover that it has taken a lot of pressure – a lot of pressure! – to even get video released of the oil leak for scientists to study.

We all, of course, could give many more examples – from plagiarism by famous authors (there are substantial new plagiarism discoveries regarding now quite discredited author Gerald Posner) to failings of elected officials in categories too numerous to enumerate.

But it really does boil down to this:  our ethical responsibilities are not being treated responsibly.

I’ve grown fond of this phrase:  “you get what you pay attention to.” I think it’s time for companies, and organizations, and elected officials – really, all of us – to pay a lot more attention to our ethical responsibilities.

Sometimes a “C-” is not “Good Enough”

Admiral Rickover asks: "Why not the best?"

Why Not The Best?
“In your life was there ever a time in which you did less than the best?” If the answer was “yes,” the follow up question was:  “Why not the best?” – asked by Admiral Hyman George Rickover (Admiral Rickover would ask this of all Naval Cadets, and the story was oft re-told by Jimmy Carter).

Good enough is good enough
“When good enough gets the job done, go for it.  It’s way better than wasting resources (And, remember, you can usually turn good enough into great later”).
Fried and Hansson, ReWork

Think “good enough.”  By “good enough” we mean absolutely, definitely, not our very best, not perfect.  We are actively encouraging you to perform occasionally below standard…  Men are better at saying, “OK, this is good enough in my eyes.”
Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, Womenomics

Six Sigma
Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors).

“Zero Defects”
Zero Defects” is Step 7 of “Philip Crosby’s 14 Step Quality Improvement Process”

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Good enough is good enough – until it is not.  Then good enough is a disaster.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few days.  The thoughts were prompted by a couple of news items, with some numbers buried within the stories that have deeply bothered me, and a whole lot of other folks.

Greenspan argues that a "C-" is "good enough" ("I was right 70 percent of the time.")

Consider these numbers:

Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said Wednesday of his two-decade career in government: “I was right 70 percent of the time, but I was wrong 30 percent of the time. And there were an awful lot of mistakes in 21 years.” (read about this here).

“86 percent of mines are safe.” (I heard this stated in an NPR interview by a spokesman defending mine safety – I don’t have a link).

The list is pretty long that describes business decisions, practices, “quality control” issues, where good enough is not good enough.  The airplane safety was not good enough when the President of Poland and a plane load of others died in a crash that, at first reports, may have been caused by an unsafe airplane and pilot error.

Alan Greenspan was clearly not practicing the right levels of “good” when he was only right 70 percent of the time.  In fact, when Greenspan said it, here was the response by the committee chair:

That prompted Phil Angelides, the commission’s chairman, to say Thursday that he would consider himself a success if he was right just 51 percent of the time. “I don’t aspire to reach what Mr. Greenspan thinks he has reached,” he said, in a sardonic tone.

And a mine safety figure of 86 percent mines deemed safe is clearly not good enough – just ask the families of the twenty-nine dead miners, as they labored for a company with an abysmal safety record and an attitude that clearly placed profits over human safety and even human life.

One of the true business and society and life challenges is this one:  when is “good enough good enough” vs. when is “my best” critical?

I agree with the “good enough” movement – except when I don’t.  I don’t mind a “good enough” free pen in a conference center.  I don’t mind receiving a text message with a spelling error.  But I would like the very best airline safety, if you don’t mind.  And when Alan Greenspan argues that his 70 percent right was good enough (that is a “C-” in most grading systems), I think it is time to dust off Admiral Rickover’s question.

It’s Not My Fault – I’m Not Responsible

In a 2006 internal memo to underground mine managers, Blankenship’s exasperation with what he saw as excessive caution was evident: As the New York Times reported, in the memo, Mr. Don Blankenship (CEO of Massey Energy Corporation) instructed the company’s underground mine superintendents to place coal production first.

“This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills,” he said.

(read about this here).

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Here’s a business book that needs to be written.  How to Handle a Real Mistake – I Mean, a Real Whopper.

There is a long list of people who should not write this book:  The CEO of Massey Energy Corporation, the CEO of Toyota, Alan Greenspan.  And the list is really much longer.  They all seem to have the same message, that in one way or another, is this message:

“It’s Not My Fault – I’m Not Responsible.”

Now, of course, I do not believe that the CEO of Massey Mining personally caused the death of those miners (though his company is certainly negligent; possibly criminally negligent), nor did Greenspan personally cause the crash, nor did the CEO of Toyota personally design the flawed vehicles.  But in each case, and many more, the warning signs were clear, and no leaders stepped up and yelled fire loudly enough to clear the theater.

And if you listen to interviews with such people, especially Don Blankenship of Massey Energy, they come across as evasive (and, though this is quite subjective, there seems to be a genuine compassion shortage).

Whatever else business leadership is, it is this:  the leader assumes and takes and acknowledges responsibility.

And I assume we have now learned this truth (although, many do not seem to have fully grasped it):  there will be big time mistakes made in companies.

Some of these mistakes or deficiencies can be life threatening.  And it is the job of a leader to say, “if we find a mistake, a deficiency, in our company that is life threatening, then we stop what we are doing, now, and solve this problem.  Now!”  Any failure to do this is a clear statement of priorities, and reveals the true priority — of profit over human life.

And I will state my bias – any leader that places profits over human life is not worthy of leadership at all.

The Wall Street meltdown may not have endangered human life like Massey Energy and Toyota, but the tendency to say, in one way or another, “It’s not my fault – I’m not responsible” is not the kind of leadership we need in this very difficult era.

Someone needs to actually lead!