Did you watch the post-game interview with Nick Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide after the Tide won the NCAA football championship back in January? Nick certainly doesn’t rest on his laurels. He knows that enjoying success for too long is dangerous, especially in the high stakes game of college football. When asked if he will enjoy the victory, his response was something like, “we’ll give ourselves 48 hours to enjoy it.”

 I’m sure that much of his audience was thinking, “all the hard work of your staff, players, coaches, and you’re only going to enjoy it for 48 hours?!”

I knew coach Saban as a young, driven position coach at West Virginia University, nearly 30 years ago. And as most great coaches soon realize, success can ruin a leader, a team, and even a culture. And when it comes to safety performance, the same is very true.

Four Reasons Why Success in Safety is Scary

  • Lagging indicators such as recordable and lost-time rates can make some leaders too comfortable and allow their front-line leaders and their workers to slip into a danger zone, both mentally and physically. As a small component within any culture for safety, lagging indicators should not be the primary metric within an organization that allows us to feel good for any length of time. Use proactive safety metrics to set your path forward and plan accordingly.
  • Success brings about a false sense of security and pride for some supervisors and workers and they lose their daily focus, especially when it comes to the basics, the “little things,” such as using the right PPE, materials, tools, equipment, procedures, and people for the task. Great companies ensure that their workers come to play every day – that means paying attention to “the little things” which are really the “BIG Things,” when it’s all added up.
  • Workers don’t take their typical timeouts and communicate with each other in order to adjust to changes in the environment and work activities so they can mitigate respective hazards. Success has a way of creeping in and allowing some individuals to feel that “corrections and adjustments” don’t really need to be made and the job will get done without problems, issues, and accidents, so why slow down?
  • Standards of performance in your culture for safety have to be set and kept, each and every day. When we embrace some degree of perceived success for too long, we get soft, and allow standards to drop.

A little housekeeping issue left unattended, a visitor walking by without PPE, or not communicating a clear safety concern in a timely manner. All of these issues reveal that our sense of urgency and standards for safety may be slipping. Yes, success will do that too!

Great leaders in great organizations don’t rest on safety success for too long. Great coaches and great leaders like Nick Saban know that being too comfortable with one's success and enjoying prolonged celebrations get in the way of sustainable excellence. And who can argue!

Shortly after the game, AJ McCarron, the quarterback of Alabama, alluded to the fact that there will be a team meeting in two days, and coach Saban will talk to everyone about preparing for next season. The Crimson Tide's path forward will be set, the hard work will begin, and Nick Saban will not let success get in the way!

This blog article is used with the permission of David J. Sarkus.