Thursday, June 23, 2011


Many years ago I played saxophone in my middle school band. I wasn’t very good at all. Typically I was either 3rd or 4th chair. That depended entirely on how many saxophones there were that semester, 3 or 4. In band if you wanted a promotion to a higher chair you had to “challenge” the chair in front of you. Friday’s were challenge days. We would go around the band and listen to each challenge. Typically the 2 players would each play the same piece and they were judged by the band director. If that challenger played it better they advanced to that chair. Sometimes challenges would be issued to show an expertise in a specific technique. I remember challenges issues entirely on breathing at the correct spots in a piece.

I will always remember one particular challenge. I was in the flute section. Our band director had been working with us on keeping our fingers close to the keys; basically not wasting energy and time by completely straightening your fingers when a smaller motion will get the job done. So the 3rd chair recognizes that she had an advantage in this area and challenges the 2nd chair to a piece. Here’s where it got interesting. She challenged him based on two criteria, accuracy and keeping fingers on the keys. Both musicians played the piece and then the director had to make a decision. The 3rd chair flutist clearly had mastered the concept of keeping her fingers near the keys. However the 2nd chair played the piece with more accuracy. So what do you do? Which of the 2 challenge criteria trumps the other? Without any ground rules in place before the challenge he decided that a tie meant no change in the positions.

No you’ve probably already realized that this post isn’t really about who sits where in a middle school band class. At our company we have a long standing safety creed. Until a few years ago it read,
“No job is so important and no service is so urgent that we can not take time to perform our work safely."
I have no problem with that at all. It’s simple and to the point. When I would get spot checked while on site my supervisor would ask me what it meant in my own words. I would typically say something like, “It’s just your phone or your internet. Nobody should have to get hurt to make this work.”
Well a few years ago we were bought out by a larger company. And that company made a slight change to the safety creed. It now reads,
“No job is so important and no service is so urgent that we can not take time to perform our work safely and in an environmentally responsible manner."
Hmmm. Now like our band director I am presented with a possible conflict. I have no problem with either of the goals expressed in this creed as long as they don’t conflict with each other. But what about when they do conflict? I can think of several cases where the most environmentally responsible thing to do would not be the safest thing to do in the short term. What if a coworker is being attacked by a Canada Goose? Whose side do I take? The coworker’s or the threatened migratory bird? While I have no criticism of either goal, I just think that bringing up environmental issues in the context of a safety creed waters down the creed and could actually make a situation more dangerous.
Now on to other issues. How many times do we find ourselves in situations like this? Do I swerve to miss the animal in the road and endanger my passengers in the process? Or make a professional decision without considering the family? I guess my only point is that you need to be clear which goal would trump the other before you get into that situation.


  1. it's all about knowing priorities. its amazing how our mind can sometimes just work them all out without thinking, and sometimes it can take days on end to come to a decision on something, which at it's most base level is just organizing priorities.

  2. My favorite version of the slogan was one I saw on a van commuter's cubicle in Bedminster back in 1987 or so: "No job is so important and no service is so urgent that we can not take time to pack it in and hit the parking lot by 4pm."

    Seriously, my nearly twenty years with the company (laid off just before the 2005 buyout) leaves me thinking this slogan change is misguided. Not so much because the priorities seem likely to come in conflict often, but because it dilutes the message.

    The original slogan was an implicit promise to the workers: The company may ask you to do some difficult and demanding jobs - jobs which are important and urgent - but they would not demand that you endanger yourself any more than absolutely necessary.

    The revision offers no new promise or contract. It's really just an additional demand - you the worker will not only do the work but will do it in an environmentally responsible manner.

    I also have issues with this as a slogan because in my estimation the vast majority of environmental impact is determined by corporate policy. The actions of individual workers doing their jobs, the actions they themselves can change, are relatively small potatoes.