The business book club: Ancient Chinese military strategy offers key lessons on deploying OSH forces
Wednesday 19th December 2018
From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
A region of seven nations was engaged in constant warfare. Sun Tzu was a general under King Helu and proved an effective strategist.
He wrote Art of War as a guide for military officers planning strategy. Sun Tzu saw war as a form of art, requiring thought, vision and dexterity.
Today, though, we might reclassify his approach as the "science of war" as he strips back and analyses the factors to consider when engaging an enemy.
Whatever could this book have to do with the art and science of safety management?
For centuries, business and military leaders and politicians have thumbed its pages seeking guidance on handling their subordinates and their competitors. Executive education programmes use it to inform modern management. If OSH practitioners are to be more aligned with the business world, this is a great place to start.
The little book -- just 70 pages -- presents seven key elements that make the difference between success and failure on the battlefield. These include: knowing the enemy; knowing one's strengths and weaknesses; understanding the physical environment; and the importance of maintaining morale among the troops.
If OSH practitioners are to be more aligned with the business world, this is a great place to start.
The text reveals that smart thinking, strong leadership and clever management of resources provide a solid foundation for success.
Using a metaphorical lens, seeing "combat" and "enemy" as synonyms for risk and accidents, and viewing the workforce as your army, you can use the book as a guide to improving workplace protection.
In the first chapter, Laying plans, Sun Tzu reminds us of the importance of good leadership: "The leader of armies is the arbiter of the people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in peace or peril-¦ The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources".
The book underlines the importance of culture: "We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country". On technical knowledge: "He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents [here, think 'risks'] is sure to be captured by them." The reader is reminded of the value of critical thinking: "Ponder and deliberate before you make a move".
But it's the lessons on people that are perhaps the most salient: "The sight of men whispering together or speaking in subdued tones points to dissatisfaction amongst the rank and file." And: "Carefully study the wellbeing of your men and do not overtax them."
There are even reminders on innovation and continuous improvement: "Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the variety of circumstances".
If you are ready to wage war on workplace risk and ensure that your army returns safely at the end of the day, Art of War provides an excellent treatise on thinking carefully before deploying your forces.
A timeless text, and highly recommended before you write your next battle plan.
But can changing laws lead to better mental health at work? Is it as simple as that?The letter to Theresa May promoted the workplace mental health first aider as an important tool, but it may have misdirected the debate.Mental health is complicated: the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has pointed out that most people with mental illness report that their distress originates at least partly from domestic issues.
It's an understandable desire; a strong safety culture takes a weight off the shoulders of an OSH practitioner because safeguarding themselves and others becomes every worker's concern and helps make poor risk control exceptional rather than a constant fear. (When the management guru Peter Drucker famously said culture "eats strategy for breakfast" he was only stating the fact that things as they are usually trump things as you would like them to be.)
That’s worth remembering if you find yourself in tough negotiations over what you believe are essential funds to maintain safety standards.Managing and finance directors often find that the variables influencing an organisation’s income stubbornly refuse to conform to their best-laid budgets. The lever left to them to maintain growth rates demanded by investors, or just to balance the books, is in-year budget trimming.
The authors share four keys for breaking the rules that reveal that the most effective managers focus on talent, outcomes, developing strengths, and finding the right fit.Conventional management suggests we should select people based on their experience, intelligence and determination. Buckingham and Coffman say break this rule: choose employees based on talent rather than experience.
In that time, IOSH members and other practitioners in our great profession have been at the forefront of progressive change in the workplace.Work-related accident and illness rates are still too high but have fallen where our profession and legislation, such as the UK's Health and Safety at Work Act, have raised the consciousness of safety and health issues among employers and workers.Yet we know that provisions for occupational safety and health vary widely, and recognition for our role in the workplace and wider society remains lacking.
Based on a study of 43 of the US's most successful corporations, the book explores new management methods - centred on employee empowerment, fostering innovation and decentralised control - and reveals the principles of good management that took those organisations to the top.
Excellence is defined as a work culture that empowers, values and motivates people