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#2: This is one of those dirty secrets people don’t want to talk about.

May 30, 2018 | 59 minutes 50 seconds

Series host and Chief Safety Officer Jill James talks to her good friend Brandy, a 10-year veteran safety professional from the mid-west. The conversation shares tips for earning credibility with employees (hint: recipe cards), the challenge of proving yourself to management in new environments, and how good it feels to finally get the win that helps. You’ll hear the word “trust” a lot, and learn why keeping your hands dirty with the workforce is a must. Also, how exposing management to hazardous working environments can be the right eye-opener. Beyond her career evolution, Brandy discusses her approach to safety management, what it’s like to take the job home with you each night, and reveals a deeper motivation. From the perils of beet sugar production to leading an industry-wide safety committee, this episode will connect with wherever you are on the occupational safety journey.

Transcript

Jill:

This is The Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and the Health and Safety Institute. Episode number two. My name is Jill James, Vivid's Chief Safety Officer and today I'm joined by our guest, Brandy, a fellow friend in safety. Brandy is from the midwest and is currently a safety director at a sugar beet processing facility. Welcome, Brandy and thanks for talking with me today.

Brandy:

Certainly, thanks for having me.

Jill:

Brandy, first question, how many years about have you been working in the safety field?

Brandy:

Boy, I should know that off the top of my head, let's go with about 10.

Jill:

About 10 years.

Brandy:

In safety and a handful of years before that in environmental.

Jill:

Wow, okay. Well over a decade of experience now.

Brandy:

Yes.

Jill:

The central question for each of these podcast is for safety professionals like you and I to share how we got into safety because none of our past seemed to be a direct route. However, today let's ease into your story taking it bit by bit as my favorite author Anne Lamott suggest as we tackle stories. Brandy, you have a college degree or degrees. What's your major and how did you pick it?

Brandy:

Sure, I started in my undergrad with environmental science and initially I started working in the DNR program so natural resources, thinking I would tramp around in the woods and love the outdoors in Minnesota here but I've soon realized that I probably didn't want to only make $20,000 a year. In changing my plans, I still focused in environmental and really looked at the industrial side of how to protect the environment. That's basically how I started my career in environmental compliance role. I was fortunate enough to get into a company where environmental health and safety was all one department and so right off the bat I had exposure to safety through the peers that I work with every day.

Jill:

In that first job, environmental health and safety, what did you think of the safety pieces? Were you picking it up as you went or did you think, "I'm sort of interested in that," or, "No, that seems kind of boring"?

Brandy:

It's funny you should ask. My first job after school was in the aerospace and military support industry. I recall very vividly one of the first times in a 7,000 acre facility that produce small caliber ammunition and walking through that facility and the different departments and the different expectations around safety, it was intense. It was very intense and not really having a lot of industrial experience prior to that when they handed me a copper tool that I needed to drag on the floor to stay grounded it really opened my eyes to the reality and the exposure and the hazards that these people worked in every single day.

While my focus was learning the technical aspects of environmental compliance versus this industry, it certainly was interwoven with safety through and through. I continued to focus on environmental but every time I was in a facility to audit them or to support them in whatever manner, it had a ton of safety related components as well.

Jill:

As you're dragging the copper rod around and every time you went back to those facilities, did the safety piece call out to you like this seems really maybe more intriguing than I'm doing right now or how was that feeling in you?

Brandy:

It was funny because initially I was super engaged with learning in the environmental arena. I mean, new career, learning the piece that that was my role. I was really engaged but after two to three years I started getting bored with the technical permits and the stuff and started really focusing on the people piece and how I could coach them. I was in more of a corporate role and supported about 35 manufacturing sites throughout United States. As I started becoming comfortable in my technical expertise, I started transitioning from the stuff piece and caring more about the people piece.

As my career blossomed and I changed jobs, I stayed in environmental for my second job but found that again the people piece called out to me much more so than the technical aspect, waste water and hazardous waste and air emission. It pulled on me basically and everywhere I went I had that opportunity to really engage in the safety arena.

Jill:

When did you make that transition into safety from environmental? Was it in job number two?

Brandy:

It was in job number two slash three.

Jill:

Okay.

Brandy:

Job number two had an upheaval in the environmental department. I worked for a large retail company where there were challenges and they chose to blow up the environmental department which I sat in and I was able to maintain a job with them under a project management scope which was okay for the time being but really had no passion for it. Fortunately enough, I started my masters degree when I was in job number two and that master’s degree was out of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities for public health with a focus on occupational health and safety. As I started working through that class work and building my more formal credentials in safety, I was able to get job number three which I sound like a job jumper but-

Jill:

No, not at all.

Brandy:

Every six, seven years you transition, right?

Jill:

...you take them.

Jill:

I think that started with some of the Gen Xers and it's certainly very common with millennials right now.

Brandy:

Right. I fit, I'm a tweener so I'm a little bit of both of those. Job number three, I finished my master's degree but I was fortunate enough to get in environmental health and safety which 90% of that job was safety supporting again about 23 facilities that produce corn or soybeans so changing out of retail and back into that manufacturing setting which I actually found much more rewarding.

Jill:

Sure. When you decided to go back to grad school and earn your master's degree, how did you discover that you want to just focus on safety? Was it some of what you had been gleaning from those first two jobs that helped you make that decision?

Brandy:

I would say again, recognizing that people piece felt much more appropriate for me to be focused on, it was one big thing but then in all reality it seems like when you job search in environmental or safety, it's traditionally globbed together, environmental health and safety. I knew in my future I would be moving to a rural area just based on my family dynamics and I thought how am I going to be most successful. I still enjoy the environmental aspects. I didn't necessarily want to give that piece up completely. How am I going to be successful in promoting myself in a rural area?

I really felt that third job transition it opened up the door for me to get into safety more holistically and it also opened up that door because of aid based companies. Finding a way to be successful in the goal of moving to a rural area was a big decision going back to school and building out my resume toward safety as well.

Jill:

Right, you diversified your portfolio based on what you assumed would be the opportunities in the geographic area where you're going.

Brandy:

You summarized that better than I did. Good job.

Jill:

I'm listening today. I'm taking it in. Thank you. Here you are then in the agricultural setting. Did you say the grain industry? In the grain, is that what it was?

Brandy:

Soy seed industry basically so soybeans and corn.

Jill:

Was that one of the first opportunities you had to really dig into this people piece that seems to be what you're passion is at this point in your career anyway?

Brandy:

Yes, I mean, I had the opportunity to go out and hear and see how people really had made it up by themselves in the job and that industry has some older facilities. We had to problem solve around a lot of different things that really required you to work with the folks on the floor and there to it fed that passion of looking at this person who could be my dad, my brother, my sister, whomever and saying, I don't want them to get hurt. I don't want them to struggle at work the way maybe sometimes people do. The safety piece is always good to look at and take away at least that struggle. If you can start with taking away that from their everyday concerns, I really think that it's a good place to start, it's a good place to put some energy.

Jill:

Right, it helps with their buy-in and believability into the work that you're doing on their behalf as well if they can authentically feel that.

Brandy:

Absolutely. I'll tell you what, the people, the men and women I work with in that position and the one I'm in today, they know what they're doing. They know their business best and if I can put my listening ears on and truly hear what they're saying and try to understand the day to day complexities that they face, I'm much better off and I'm much more believable and committed to what it is that we can do to change and improve the situation.

Jill:

I think that's a really important piece. I want you to bring us up to speed on where you went next but let's just focus for a second on how you did that because I think other safety professionals listening will want to hear a little bit about how do you go about engaging in those conversations with your employees. What's your approach? How do you become that trusted advisor to them that they want to tell you about their job and their work? How do you enter into that?

Brandy:

You know this world is so busy and especially in the position I'm at today I feel like there's so much work that I could be doing behind the computer screen but just give them the time. I mean honestly, give them focused time is a big thing where you're not checking the clock and, "Yeah, I got five minutes for you," or minimizing what they have to say. I think another big piece is learning who you're working with from a personal aspect and showing some genuine care as a human being. Everybody has things going on in life and if you can celebrate the good things in their life whether it be a new baby or marriage or grandchild, whatever it might be, a new cabin or hobby that they're excited about or really being that person that says, "Hey, I see you're not your normal self. How are you doing?"

Give them the time to actually process as a person first, I tell you what, that goes a long way and if you don't even talk about safety in that conversation, they remember that. When you do come back to ask their opinions or to ask about their position and the challenges they face or the good things that they face in regards to safety, they're willing to open up so much quicker and that wall of, "You're in management or you don't know what I have to go through," really comes down. I think you have to be sincere and that sometimes is hard when you have so much on your plate and you feel like you've got to run to the next thing.

Jill:

When you have those relationships built I think at least it also makes it easier for the employees to come to you when something is going sideways or when they have a concern, they're not like, "I don't know if I could talk to her about that," or, "They're not going to make a difference anyway so why would I?" I feel like people are more apt than to reach back to you when you built those relationships.

Brandy:

I wholeheartedly agree, another major component in what you're talking about is consistency so that they know what they're going to get from you. Don't waver on that consistency, don't treat people differently and that's sometimes hard to do because some folks you have a better relationship with or you just have more in common. You have to maintain that consistency amongst people and you have to also the other piece that's really important is making sure that follow through is kept up. When you say you're going to do something, you better do something because they remember everything you don't do.

Jill:

Right, do not overpromise and underdeliver.

Brandy:

Promise that. So true, so true.

Jill:

So hard.

Brandy:

Again, you walk around even with a notepad and writing it down and that visualization that they see that you're taking the time to even write it down that it matters enough that it hit your notepad is an indicator to them that you're taking it serious and that you believe in what they're telling you and that you're going to investigate and understand it further. I think that effort goes a really long way.

Jill:

You know that people piece in making those connections ... Real early mentor, I had somebody I barely knew but I learned something from him. I was doing internship after grad school and it happened to be at the department of military affairs. There was this general that would come and visit the installation that I was working at as a civilian. He would know everything about all of the people that he was talking to. I mean, this general, there's a lot of people in all of these areas, how could he possibly know some of these details about people? The general had this little secret. He kept recipe cards on individuals that he was going to be talking with and when he had met with someone he had their name down.

Then he wrote down little tips about them like daughter has a soccer game or some fact about their family or some situation or clue into the conversation they had so the next time he arrived at the place he take out his little cards. He'd be studying before he arrived at the location so he could pick up where he left off. It was his way of doing that because humans being what they are when we have that lots and lots of people to manage, you didn't have the bandwidth to memorize everyone's story but he had enough clues for himself to pick up with people and I thought what a great idea.

Brandy:

That is so funny because in my time working in safety the one thing I really try to do is at least remember their name. Sometimes I get it wrong and they laugh at me and that's okay because I remind them I've got 400 people to remember. In regards to recipe cards, one thing that has worked for me and I use this a lot when I was traveling more and supporting several facilities because I did confuse who's where and what their background story was. If you use your contacts in Outlook, you can add notes to people's names. I would start putting notes just like that general where you write down three kids or the names of their spouse or whatever is really important to them. I would check my contact list before going to that plant because otherwise it all mishmashes together.

Jill:

I'll do the same.

Brandy:

That's an electronics way.

Jill:

It's the new way to do that, that was a story or something I learn probably gee, maybe 20 years ago.

Brandy:

It works.

Jill:

It does work. It does work.

Brandy:

You know what, when somebody talks to you about your family or whatever matters to you, you realize that they care about you because there's effort. There's effort in that.

Jill:

Exactly. We all appreciate that. We all appreciate that. You're in that job and how long were you there and then when did you make your next transition?

Brandy:

I was only there for about two and a half years. The position I'm in today opened up and it was close to my husband's family farm so that was the direction we knew we were going to move back out to this rural area. I basically just have the search engine open, if you will, for any type of environmental health and safety job in that area because it really never came up but maybe once a year something might interest me that was within an hour of the farm. When this position opened I threw my name in the hat and not really thinking anything of it. I really wasn't quite ready to leave the job that I was in but the opportunity was too great.

I went through the interview process and was awarded the job and I looked at my husband, I said, "Well, there's a lot of challenges there. Are you ready to help me get things going out that way?" He said, "Let's do it, let's move." It's what our family plan was and it just happened a little bit quicker than I thought it would.

Jill:

Right. In your work today, is it a balance between safety and health? Is it more safety or how's that? Are you still using both skillsets?

Brandy:

No. In fact, I would say I really support environmental from the sheer fact that I see things in the plant that maybe are concerning and then I tell the environmental department about that. My role is strictly focused on employee safety whether that be temporary employee, union employee, a management employee. Where I'm at today has a ton of variables and it makes the job really interesting.

Jill:

You have more than one location that you're supporting as well, right?

Brandy:

Yes. We have a processing facility here in Minnesota and then there's also a sugar processing plant in Southern California and a seed production facility for sugar beets in Sheridan, Wyoming.

Jill:

You get to travel around but you also have employees in distant location.

Brandy:

I've got a home base.

Jill:

Yeah, right. With this job, correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you've told me before you actually have, it's more than just you with safety. You do have some other people supporting your work especially in those other locations, right?

Brandy:

Yes. It has been a wild ride. I've been here now five and a half years and the department has transitioned dramatically. When I came on board there was one other employee with the safety responsibility and they were an entry level union employee. Basically you could bid into that job so there's no skillsets to support what I have been doing but the role was there and they were tremendous help because that position supports all the inspections that are required. In a facility that is over a section in size it's a lot of ground to cover.

That person does all of the fire extinguisher inspection every month, the [eye washes 00:20:16] weekly and so forth and so forth as many of us know there's just ton of inspections. Since I started, I've also been able to get an environmental manager under me and another union employee that does support all of the heavy equipment training. The department has grown. It's been really, really awesome to see that support from the company and investment in safety recognition that there's just a lot to do when you've got a facility like this.

Jill:

Everyone who is listening to this who's a sole operator is now suddenly totally jealous that you have people to help you in some of those areas, and it sounds like you had to build consensus for that to be able to have support to get that help. Was that a huge challenge for you? How did you go about getting some of those other positions in place?

Brandy:

Okay, that's a fair question. I feel very fortunate having the support here. I guess one thing that I was able to do is really utilize some negotiating skills. When you want help, what do you do? You highlight how much work needs to be done and so in defining the work that applied in the safety arena for the facility we run it was very clear that one professional could not accomplish doing just the programmatic, just the basic compliance aspects for the facility. When you provide that to your executive team and say, "This is how my vision of how I see us being able to accomplish this, please support it," at least it was logical enough that they were willing to provide that additional help.

Furthermore, we had been in a place where it was clear that opportunities were abound, let's just say it that way. There was a lot of work to do. Heavy lifting and so when it was summarized in front of them in a compelling way, it was clear support was needed.

Jill:

You built your case, you built your story and then you shared that story essentially with your management team.

Brandy:

Absolutely, and really getting out on the floor and learning what people do was essential. I had to at least have that credibility to start with and it took me about two years before I could even build that case and be capable of speaking clearly to the questions that they would have afterwards. It's not something you just walk in and say, "Hey, this is what I want." You have to prove yourself and you have to show that commitment. All honesty, when I started this job I would bet on average I was working 12 to 14 hours a day five, six, seven days a week. It was a heavy lift though and I felt really obligated to get some structure in place to protect the people who work here and recognizing historic issues and they finally had somebody who's writing down the issues. It just took a lot of time to process what that meant and how to most effectively address all the concerns.

Jill:

Sure, you were triaging some of the worst scenario so that you could put them and weave them into your story but at the same time when you're putting in all these hours, you're actually being able to make a difference for the low hanging fruit that's the highest hazard things.

Brandy:

Absolutely. It was at a time in my life where I didn't have children so I could really focus and dig into this career and it was so incredibly rewarding to build that trust with the workforce and to understand the challenges that had plagued them year over year so maybe they just felt nobody was listening and the challenge to make that difference. Every day I went home I knew I had done something to protect somebody. That was incredibly rewarding and as I built this team, I don't get as many opportunities because a lot of the low hanging fruit is gone but now some of these big lifts that are six month year-long projects, when they're done, that sense of accomplishment comes back and I just feel like for safety, there's never going to be an end.

Jill:

An end. It's just learning about safety, right? I mean, we're never done learning about something with it.

Brandy:

That's what I love about it.

Jill:

Me too.

Brandy:

The human factor, sure, going back to my environmental technical background, you can read regulations and you can understand situations are different but when you add the human factor to everything you talk about and do, boy oh boy, it just changes. It just makes things so interesting and it challenges you in a way problem solving and strategy and communication every single moment of the day. I mean, that's what keeps me driven towards continuous improvement.

Jill:

It's fun if that's your thing with people. It is for me and that's been the most favorite part of my career as well. Regarding people and regarding building credibility, sometimes those of us in safety have to build strict cred with our employees and sometimes that means working shoulder to shoulder. Sometimes that means doing things you never thought in your life you would do.

Brandy:

I'm over here laughing, oh my goodness.

Jill:

What are some of those crazy jobs or task or things that you leaned into and just did and went home and thought you're never going to guess what I did today?

Brandy:

Super simple thing, and people may listen to this and think, "Really? That's not big of a deal," but it's a big deal to the folks on the floor. Unfortunately, the culture that I work in is management union. It's not all employees and so when somebody in management steps outside of a role, it could be looked bad on from the union like, "Hey, you shouldn't be doing that," or it could be, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe they're doing that." Even this week I picked up a hose and started washing down the floor because it was slippery. I don't mean just a little bit of floor, I mean a mile of floor like an hour and a half later I got the floor washed.

Not that big of a deal but when I had dozens of employees walk by, they saw that somebody in my position was focused enough and I said, "Hey, this is for your safety. I'm not going to walk through here when I have mud literally up to my knees." It's not just cleaning the floor a little, it's ridiculous.

Jill:

A lot of mud.

Brandy:

A lot of mud. That says something to the employees. There's that cred piece. I've been inside of some compliance spaces that most people don't fit. That is not my most favorite thing to do because I would realize I'm a little claustrophobic, didn't know that before. When you crawl inside of a vessel that your hard hat doesn't even fit through the space and we expect the employees to be working in there for eight hour shift or 12 hour shift, you get a good grasp of what we're asking these people to do. I'm not even willing to go in and at least view it or see it, what does that say?

What does that say about our management and our company that we expect you to but I'm not going to. From a credibility standpoint, when I crawl in there and I come out completely filled with soot and itchy with all the dust that's down every part of your pants and everything else, you laugh about it with the employees and they appreciate that you at least recognize the challenge they face.

Jill:

As the safety professional, you're taking every precaution to send yourself home safe as well so when you're demonstrating what you're doing in those really high risk situations, it speaks to them.

Brandy:

Absolutely. You know it's really cool because you take the time to ask them, "Hey, tell me how this is locked out." They're excited to show you what they know and that they've got this. We walk through the lock out and then I apply my lock and say, "Hey, can you try it, I just want to make sure. Let's look over the procedure one more time." We try it, everything was good, there's a sense of pride there. There's a sense of what you taught us were taken serious or I'm going to protect myself so don't worry. It's cool, that rapport that you build with the people even thought you're validating or checking what they're doing, they're doing it right.

They are excited about it. If there's a problem with it, you don't bash them over the head right away. Usually it's not on purpose, it's more of a coaching opportunity or a, "Hey, let me learn more about this. Why didn't we do this? Oh there's this challenge? How do we get rid of this challenge?" You can take the process more easily or whatever is going on but it allows you that opportunity to dig in a little bit more, to learn more, to understand the everyday challenges that they face. You're willing to get out there with them, it's pretty important. One of the other things I'll mention is we've got an area of our facility that has a lot of particulate and you know it's a required respiratory protection area and I had housekeeping tours that I was setting up.

I told the CEO, I said, "Hey, Steve, come along with me." He's like, "What? What do you want?" "Come on, you're coming with me to one of the places in the plant," that's what I would consider miserable. I mean, we can certainly work there safely with the proper precautions but it's really not that enjoyable because there's just dust everywhere. Bringing my CEO out to that area, another way to build credibility is bring other people that your work force doesn't expect. Highlighting the concerns to somebody who has the power to change them I think your folks will appreciate that. They will recognize that when you're with them that you're doing it for a purpose and that purpose is for them.

My hope out of that would be, my result out of that would be that the recognition for ventilation or for suppressing that dust or fixing the machinery that's allowing that dust source. It's pretty cool when that starts to click in place because it not only gives your safety team credibility but it also gives your executives credibility and when you start doing that, your work force management will all start coming down and that communication starts flowing easier because there's a belief that when there's problem, things will be fixed. That's another really good way to build that credibility.

Jill:

Right, it's a both end. If you need help convincing a person in management that something needs to be elevated to a higher level for attention that's another way to do it is to have them accompany you in your work and not be scared to ask them to join you in those adventures either. I think that's really important. Like you said, it shows the employees that management cares and this person who's doing safety actually has their ear.

Brandy:

One of the challenges with that is they're going to ... That executive team member is going to ask you questions. You have to be ready to respond to what is acceptable, yes I have had industrial hygiene testing out here. Yes I have validated that the PPE were providing and the program that we've established is correct and accurate, and so it's good that they ask you those questions and learn more too from the technical safety aspects because it builds their ability to evaluate risk or to understand the magnitude of what's going on. When you're bringing those executive team members out there, those folks that have the ability to drive change, be prepared to answer questions.

If you don't know them, that's okay, you don't have to know everything but you do need to get back on what the answer at some point. There goes that follow up thing again because for a safety professional, you don't only need the credibility on the floor. You need the credibility business aspect as well because you're going to be asking for money, right. You got to prove that you're a priority and that you have good business sense in what you're asking for as well.

Jill:

Build your business case. Backing up to your meeting with your executive team to ask for those people to help support the safety team and you're doing some hiring, when you're building your case, your business case for it, were you using data combined with some of these anecdotal stories like you're telling now? How did you approach that so as you have a team of people who are listening you're hitting each one on what might resonate with them to make a decision?

Brandy:

Sure. I'm a super visual person. I struggle to just communicate without having a visual in front of me and so maybe that leads me to presentation style. I went out and I took photographs of every single piece of rolling stock in our facility and so we have a locomotive, we have a switcher, we have several pay loaders, we have forklifts, skid loaders, scissor lifts, and the list goes on. All in all, we have close to 75 pieces of rolling stock and so I took photographs and said, "What do you think the training looks like for this guy? What do you think the training looks like for this guy? Did you know that OSHA retires for industrial truck X, Y, Z," blah, blah, blah.

Then, I was able to hit the magnitude of rolling stock and I said, "What do you think our training statistics look like, guys?" "Well, they better all be trained." I said, "Really? Because here it is," then I had a print out, something physical for your team to walk away with and think about and the print out was a single page, that was it. Granted I had 350 employees and 75 pieces of rolling stock and I had a single page of training saying, "This is where we're at today. If we have any problem with this equipment causing an injury, how do you think this people should be trained to operate the equipment safely?"

Jill:

Beautiful.

Brandy:

By the way, we have some non-compliance here, that usually gets people going to, you give them the visual. "Okay, I've got lots of equipment. Okay, I have nobody trained. Oh my god, what are we going to do?" Crisis. By the way, OSHA dictates we do a lot more than this.

Jill:

It worked.

Brandy:

It definitely worked when I was lobbying for somebody to help me with heavy equipment training.

Jill:

That's a great story.

Brandy:

There's pieces but you got to try to hit everybody's mode and everybody thinks different so you can give them a visual. If you can give them something to walk away with that's more physics based, so your point field data speaks and a lot of times data speaks really loudly to people in this positions. Then you add in, "Oh, did you know that the general find is X, Y, Z amount? Oh, did you know that powered industrial trucks create X, Y, Z numbers of recordal injuries across United States?" You give them the stats to really chew on and if you really have to, you try to do the hit them at the heart, "Hey, do you know anybody who's been hurt on a farm?"

Being rural area, a lot of family businesses will think about the guy who got his arm ripped off in a PTO or something like that. You say, "You don't want that to happen here where you're responsible for it, Mr. CEO. At the end of the day, this is your ship to sail." When people get hurt here, you should care. Fortunately, I feel like our team here is very intuit and quite frankly they got me running like crazy because they have high expectations. I really appreciate that.

Jill:

They do care, right, you'd rather have it that way than the other end of the spectrum.

Brandy:

Absolutely. It's unfortunate, some of us in the safety profession, your point about not having the support to get help, some of us don't have what I feel really fortunate that I do have. What do you do in those spaces? I guess a really good question, what do you do when you don't have support? It sounds super generic but for those of you that are feeling hopeless right now, you do the very best you can, that's the answer. These are the very best you can.

Jill:

With each day. With each day, I would completely agree with that, and make those connections with the people and do the work where you can.

Brandy:

Take and truly evaluate the risks because if you can prioritize your energy, because there's only one you for those things that are highest frequency, most severe potential, and you focus on them, you are doing a service to that employee base.

Jill:

That's right. That's how I've approached my work over the years as well because as we've established safety's job is never done and there's always a new thing. It's not like you end your workday and go, "Oh good, I got everything done today. We'll start over tomorrow." It just doesn't work that way. It doesn't work that way. You manage to get some help for yourself. What it's been like for you managing people in safety? That's an opportunity that not everybody gets to have either. What's been surprising? What it's been like?

Brandy:

Managing people in anything you do I think is totally different that managing a program or even not being the direct supervisor. Once you become the direct responsible supervisor, it's different. This is the first job I had where I directly manage a team and it's been a really awesome learning opportunity. I've been blessed to have amazing people on my team and it's really fun to get to know folks and try to lift them up. I've always kept the rule of thumb as if your employees are happy, they're going to work a lot better and they're going to have that passion and that energy every day that you need them to have. Have a bit of reality, a bit of humility when you mess up and be open with them.

I think it's all about building trust and it's so important that you are capable of putting yourself out there. Employee, "I don't know all these things, help me, help me. What is it that you see?" Be collaborative at least for me I choose collaboration with my team versus dictating what they do. I choose to ask them about their interest points and try to assign them where their strengths are aligned. I think that's really important too. Too often and I think it's an old school way of thinking, we try to assign jobs that people struggle at with the thought that it will give them the opportunity to improve. Right?

Jill:

Right, right.

Brandy:

We really like this other model and there's a program out there called Strengths Finder.

Jill:

Yes, I know it well.

Brandy:

It’s a really cool way of evaluating your team strengths and matching them and partnering people to be the most successful either with the project you assign or the challenges that are out there. You know somebody is really good at future thinking and somebody else is really good at communication or whatever it might and you partner the right team.

Jill:

Executing on something.

Brandy:

Exactly. You’ve got folks that have great strengths that are going to make that project run perfectly and they feel really good about it because it’s fun for them instead of being knocked over the head constantly. I believe in that, I believe in giving people the time to actually do their review but I don’t just do it once a year. I usually will meet with my staff at least four times a year and if we’re having problems, I’ll meet with them more to talk about, “Here’s the project you signed up for when we talked about your goals for the year. How’s it going? What else is more important right now?”

Jill:

Do we need to change something? Yeah.

Brandy:

Exactly, it’s not written in stone and I think it’s really important people understand that too because you want them to work on the most important priorities and if their project they thought about a year ago is no longer the biggest priority, why are they stressing out about it. That takes time and it takes a ton of energy and as much as you invest in your team you’re going to get back. It means that I’m not on the floor as much as I’d like to be but I trust my team and that means there’s three of us out there on the floor instead of one. You got to look at it that way.

Jill:

Right, right. Yeah, I completely agree with you on working toward your strengths or with your strengths and if anyone listening is wondering what the heck we’re talking about. The assessment Brandy is referencing is called the StrengthsFinder and it’s an assessment that was developed by Gallup where people take a quick test essentially to find out what the top five strengths they’re naturally born with. It’s not something that necessarily we developed overtime but what are we naturally strong and what are we naturally good at, and then once you know that about your team and the people that you work with it helps figure out like how to be build a team, how to approach someone on something. It’s really interesting, so StrengthsFinder if anyone’s curious to follow up on that. Brandy, what’s your number one strength? Do you remember?

Brandy:

I tied, I was responsible, responsible was one and I’m a woo.

Jill:

Woo, the woo, I’m not a woo but do you want to explain what woo is?

Brandy:

Man, I haven’t taken my StrengthsFinder for like three years but I’m a woo which means it’s somebody walks in the room and throws a party.

Jill:

Right, exactly. It’s winning people over.

Brandy:

Yeah, people are excited to visit with you traditionally because you bring that energy to it.

Jill:

Yeah, exactly. My number one strength is something called activator which means I’m good at … Well, the thing that drives people crazy with activators is … My leading question is, “Okay, I’ve heard enough, when can we get started?” Activators always want to go like, “I’ve got enough now, let’s go,” and activators are also really good about building consensus around something and getting people excited about it to take kind of that first step. Yeah, anyways, it’s an interesting thing.

Brandy:

It’s fun to lead by positive versus putting you into, “Well, you need to work on this so here’s a project for you,” that starts out negative all over.

Jill:

Yeah, you need to get better at ... Totally, totally, totally. Now that you’re in a position where you’re essentially mentoring people, how do you find your own mentors? How are you finding help for yourself now or do you have a mentor right now?

Brandy:

Well, I have learned something over this time about, I don’t know, towards the beginning of my career actually. I went to a class and I had a really good manager as well that told me all about having a board of directors. Now, it doesn’t mean that you can just have one mentor, you don’t need just one person to help you out, in fact again the whole concept that there’s lots of different skillsets out there and just because you have challenges with some of them doesn’t mean everybody does. I have a group of people that I rely on and it depends on what the challenge is on who I call. I feel like I’ve grown dramatically from a strategy standpoint as my career has more, into more of this leadership role.

That did not come naturally for me, it was one of sitting now with a couple of different people that I felt did that really well. For me, I sought out people who did things really well where I didn’t feel as comfortable or confident in. From a mentorship standpoint, I look across the company I work in but I look outside of the company as well because sometimes it’s nice to have a clear view and somebody who doesn’t know all the politics that go in the job you’re at because they give you the information that you really need to synthesize and bring back to the problem. It’s unimpeded in a sense. I have a whole lot of people I rely on to mentor me and I guess that’s something that I learned really early on.

Jill:

I love that idea how you frame that as your own board of directors, that’s genius. That’s genius and you know the thing about our profession is often when we’re solo operators where we are, it’s hard to find people within our own companies to ask some of those really specific things to and the great thing about our profession is there’s really so few of us that we really like to help one another.

Brandy:

It’s so cool too because you really can’t claim it’s copywritten or anything like that. You can share your stuff, there’s nothing that’s proprietary about safety and it’s kind of the way I think, Jill, the community, to your point that small community of safety professionals, we embrace each other and lift each other up because there’s nothing to compete over, we all are making a difference in society and making sure all of our employees are going. If I can share something that I learned, hey, awesome, that makes it even better.

Jill:

Right, right. Agreed, agreed. Like you I’ve built my own board of directors too and I love the way that you frame that, I’m going to use that now for myself and you’re right.

Brandy:

Awesome.

Jill:

I have key people that I reach out to for specific things and you’re right when you reach outside of your company it does help kind of synthesize or gives you a new way to look at something and yeah it’s great, I love that, I love that.

Brandy:

I had a really cool opportunity too, I’ll mention in regards to mentoring and pure mentorship, not that I’m trying to blob out all these things but The Minnesota Safety Council I’ve felt done a really nice job of making regional groups where for me our regional group gets together I think quarterly. It's a good quarter of the state safety professionals that are part of the Minnesota Safety Council will get together and bring our problems to the table. That way I’ve got 15 other safety professionals, and other safety professionals that hear about the problem and helping problem solve it or throw out even a nugget that I can run after.

It makes it so much easier because we all have such different experiences and we all have I think something to share. That’s been a really cool, a place to share ideas and a way that networking and that safety community can help each other and there’s other groups like the ASSE that get together and you can sit down in that work. I just find that so incredibly valuable not only for the problems you’re trying to solve but again if you’re able to help somebody else solve a problem, it feels good. I think most safety professionals are in this area because they want to make a difference. Sometimes we get assigned safety like some of the folks that I’ve worked within my previous jobs.

It’s one of six hats that they have to wear and it’s more of a burden. I have always found that it’s unfortunate when a situation like that happens because you have to actually find the buy-in, you have to push the buy-in on safety on the safety person on that facility, that’s not right.

Jill:

Exactly. Right, right.

Brandy:

It’s also one that you have to have a lot of patience because even if things do change fast, they never change fast enough. I have found a tremendous amount of patience in this arena because if you beat yourself up over all the things you wanted to have happen faster, you forget that you might not have control over it.

Jill:

You’re right. It’s very much of marathon not a sprint.

Brandy:

Yes, yes, and if I’m going to send out any advice just remember you don’t have control over everything like I wish I did.

Jill:

Exactly, we wish we had the safety magic wand but we often don’t.

Brandy:

Another bit of advice would be when you go home, go home and don’t carry it on because that’s how you get burnt out. I think our profession can be one that people get burnt out on.

Jill:

Yeah, that’s a really good tip. How do you go about turning off that safety button?

Brandy:

It’s hard, it’s really hard especially since my facility runs 24/7 the majority of the year, it’s really hard but I think the biggest thing for me and it took me awhile to figure this out but the biggest thing for me was trusting the other supervisors and trusting that I did the best I could to prepare them to be my safety advisor out on the floor. On nights and weekends if I’m not here and I come in sometimes on nights and weekends but when I’m not here, it’s going to be okay because I prepared the other staff to take the lead and I think that’s a huge piece that sometimes is forgotten that we don’t prepare our supervisors to be successful.

Jill:

Yeah, exactly, exactly. I’ve been in the same situation as you and it took awhile to get people to a point where I felt like it was okay and that they stopped calling 24/7.

Brandy:

You know that and they’ll be like, “We knew that you’d wake up easily.” That’s exactly what they say.

Jill:

“We know you’re going to answer, we know that you are there and really sorry for waking you up but.”

Brandy:

Yeah, but.

Jill:

Then you get the story and you know that you’re succeeding when those calls and those texts are to decrease because you’ve taught them to fish adequately and they’re doing it on their own. In the beginning-

Brandy:

It’s a lot.

Jill:

It’s a lot.

Brandy:

Remember that 12 to 14 hour days I was talking about, it's a lot.

Jill:

It’s a lot.

Brandy:

It’s worth it.

Jill:

You’ve been there, yes, been there, done that. That’s great, I love that.

Brandy:

The legacy leave behind let’s say I get those opportunity and win the lottery at least I know that I’m not leaving a big gaping hole because I built a bandwidth here to support the company in general. It’s hard to get that supervisor buy-in but they’re the people that you need to get bought in first because they have the biggest influence in on the massive flow there.

Jill:

Absolutely, absolutely. Maybe one last question before we end our time together. Do you have on a day that you’re maybe thinking, “Here we go again. Here’s this job,” do you have a story or situation that motivates you that sometimes you have to lean into or remember lean back into to keep you moving ahead?

Brandy:

Yeah, I have one that generally has driven me and I have one that’s more recent and I’m going to pick the one more recent because that’s what resonates with me now. This is one of those dirty secrets people don’t want to talk about, right? Three months into my starting at the job I’m at, we lost an employee, we had a fatality.

Jill:

I’m sorry.

Brandy:

Thank you. Every time I think about that, about the thought of losing another employee, about what his family also gone through, about the fact that he should still be here that he was going to retire in two months and free time to be doing his hobbies. Every time I think, I just can’t keep going, I think of him and it doesn’t have to be as morbid as what I’m sharing, it can be anybody who makes a difference or who you look at and said that shouldn’t have happened or I could’ve changed that. I guess for me I think about that employee and I think about other employees that have had strained back or something that has impacted their life so greatly that they’re not going to be capable of doing what they love. That’s what motivate-

Jill:

Very much the same for me and I tend to remember and lean in to those stories when you’re dealing with those safety cliches that sometimes come our way of, “Oh but nothing’s happened,” or, “I have been doing this way for 30 years.” Right, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. If people only knew how many times safety professionals hear those words or all that safety stuff just makes the job more dangerous or takes longer or harder, or it was only going to take me this long then that’s when I lean into those same stories like you’re talking about with your employee loss because it does matter. It does matter in those cliches or just that, they’re simply cliches.

Brandy:

I kind of get sassy and I give them a cliche back usually.

Jill:

Right.

Brandy:

Then they stop.

Jill:

I know. Hopefully I don’t have a big eye roll going on at the same time.

Brandy:

The good part is most people around here know me well enough that when they say it they’re going to get a reaction and usually they say it out of jest, we’ll leave it with that.

Jill:

That’s awesome, that’s awesome. Hey, you know what, maybe I do have one last safety question for you or something to share because if I remember correctly you had an interesting opportunity to be on a board for something specific or lead the charge for something or beginning something. What was that success story that you had?

Brandy:

Oh my goodness, Jill, remind me.

Jill:

Let’s see.

Brandy:

I know what it was.

Jill:

Okay.

Brandy:

I’m guessing this is one of the stories I’ve told you, right? Our industry is beet sugar processing and there are several processors throughout the United States and there’s a foundation called the Beet Sugar Development Foundation. That group of companies that the whole industry basically gets together and shares best practice or goes off and does studies and share the information that’s funded across the board. I asked our VP of operations, “Why don’t you have a safety committee in that group of people?” He said, “Well, that’s a great suggestion, you’ll be leading that.”

Jill:

Awesome.

Brandy:

We’ve been having a safety committee across the industry now we meet once a year and it’s been for the last four years and we have branched away from the general meeting that happen, it was already established to where they talk about research or other operational best practices. We meet with that team because our executives from each business are also there, we meet with them every other year and we also the opposites years meet at the facility. It’s a really awesome opportunity where we have a lot of issues and I get to host if we were at my facility, 15 other safety professionals that are in the same industry. The amazing thing that happens is it’s a little bit scary and daunting because you’re like, “Oh my god, what are they going to see that I’m going to be embarrassed of?”

Jill:

People are coming in, right. What did my eyes missed?

Brandy:

Right, but it’s really cool because again it’s all in the same vein, “Hey, I see you have the same problem, we fixed it by doing this solution,” or, “Whoa, we never thought of doing that,” and you don’t even have those conversations in a meeting room because you don’t think of talking about it but when you're out on the floor.

Jill:

Right, because you can’t see it.

Brandy:

Exactly, it brings up such amazing conversation. We have been going now like I said four years and we’ve been in two different facilities, well actually like four in one meeting because they were located very close together but really cool opportunity to partner across the industry and network and talk about having similar issues. Not everybody can say they’re seasonal, they’re union, they’re 24/7, all of these challenges that a normal response or solution just doesn’t apply. It’s just super cool to get with that group and work through some of the stuff that we’re doing.

Jill:

Well, way to get a seat at the table and to make history all at the same time simply by asking the question.

Brandy:

Just be ready to take that one on but it’s been really fun and really rewarding.

Jill:

That’s awesome. That’s so awesome. Brandy, thank you so much for taking your time today to share your story. I really appreciate it and I’m sure our listeners will appreciate it too. Thank you all so much for joining in and listening today and thank you for the work you all do to make sure your workers make it home safe every day. You can listen to all of our episodes at vividlearningsystems.com or subscribe in the podcast player of your choosing. If you have a suggestion for a guest including yourself, please contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.