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30 Minutes with Bob: A Case Study in Smart Leadership

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Many years ago, we visited an Ohio steel mill to conduct safety culture training for hourly employees. To our surprise, people were excited to see us and anxious to get started on the training. This is not always the case with an 8-hour safety training class. I asked one employee why people seemed so enthusiastic and he replied, “30 minutes with Bob!”

A Case Study in Smart Leadership: “30 minutes with Bob!”

“30 minutes with Bob” was a program implemented by their new plant manager (named Bob). He replaced the outgoing plant manager who was recently fired. His predecessor was an old-school, crack the whip, motivate by fear type of manager. He had created a toxic environment where people were living in fear for their jobs and were afraid to speak up about anything. 

When Bob took over, his first order of business was to set up 30 minutes to meet with all 200 people in the mill. These “30 minutes with Bob” meetings were simply designed for Bob to get to know employees and hear about their suggestions, concerns, personal lives, and anything else that they wanted to talk about. Bob encouraged people to sign up for these meetings in person, during meetings, via email and through other communication channels. People loved it! Several employees told us that these meetings proved he cared about employees – even those who hadn’t met with him yet.

A common complaint from employees is that leaders don’t spend enough time listening to them and responding to their issues. Over time, this can lead to “us versus them” thinking between field and office personnel. Setting up programs to tear down these silos is good for safety and boosts morale. Research demonstrates that employees bring up more safety issues (Mullen, 2005) and exhibit fewer risky actions (Størseth, 2004, 2006) when they believe leaders care about their safety. 

Take action: 

Consider setting up 30-minute meetings with employees in your facility to discuss issues that are important to them. This is especially helpful with new leaders. Having an open-door policy and setting up casual meetings with employees demonstrates your active caring for their safety. This is good for safety and great for morale!  

At Propulo, we work with leaders to find new ways to actively engage with employees to improve safety.         

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