This week, Dr. Boyce is facilitating an intensive culture change process with a mining client in the South, and he asked if I could take the lead in writing our submission for this edition of Mining Quarterly. In so doing, I recalled that sometime during the late 1980s, I submitted an essay to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Our high school teacher said that three of the students would win a monetary prize and be invited to attend a luncheon off campus. That was enough for me to move out of my comfort zone and give the contest a shot. I had experience with the VFW through my grandfather, and pictured the members reading anything I wrote as some young freshman (even though I was a junior) grinning at my naiveite.
The focus I chose was one thing I knew well at the time — my own childhood. My essay covered each of my family members including: grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents, teachers, neighbors, and stepparents. Titles had less to do with responsibilities and more about bloodlines and age. Behaviors had to do more with experience and personal motivation than age and bloodlines. No one was acting responsibly within their traditional role, yet everyone there pitched in whether they liked it or not, and thus the youngest of us had to answer to many chiefs. Not many of these chiefs agreed with each other or even coordinated with each other.
To the observant youngster (me), success in anything — including the simple act of getting breakfast or to school on time — seemed an impossibility. At one point, there had to be at least 20 people residing in a four-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom house (a fact that I lived with but not many would admit to today). Try to get your needs met when you don’t have access to resources in a situation like that, and you hear people saying odd things like “you want dinner huh? Well, they want ice water in hell, too.” My family members were blue collar workers, tradesmen, union and nonunion alike. Some worked during the daytime and a few preferred to work graveyard shifts for Union Pacific Railroad, United Airlines, the U. S. military, UPS and more.
One said: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” Another: “Children should be seen and not heard.” I was categorized as a “shy” kid. This changed when I joined the drama club in high school. Family wondered, how could she be onstage when she can’t speak up for herself? I realized then that I never spoke up because no one let me have my turn to talk.
I did win this VFW gig. The crux of the essay was that I was — who I was — because of “the village that raised me.” I never had the influence of one but of many. For example, I never drank it, but I happened to like the smell of Cremora as that is what my grandfather used to put in his coffee while filling up the biggest Coleman thermos I had ever seen to take with him on the late-night shift at Shell. We know that what we do may influence others even in ways that cannot be detected. Therefore, I would like to think that somehow my tiny essay had some influence on a book that was later published titled something like “It takes a village … .”
I met Dr. Boyce in fall 2003. It took me some time, even with psychology, business and work-related experience to decipher exactly what he was doing when he talked about going on-site to a mine or working with builders and other trades. At the time, I was managing a high-rise property in San Francisco and had not quite converted to this idea that we can get people motivated without focusing on punitive action. In the business of real estate, that can also be challenging. Since then I have been able to accompany Dr. Boyce to workshops, training sessions, and speeches from California to the Netherlands.
I enjoy hearing the thoughtfulness and the tenacity of people we have encountered along the way. It’s a humbling experience when we see several large corporations follow the advice of experts, including Dr. Boyce, to empower their employees and allow them to participate in important decision-making processes, especially when those decisions could lead to life or death. I have also learned to track the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Indeed, there is a season for everything, including injuries. You can get ahead of that by having training and continuing education at the right time of the year.
Many may write better than me. But for culture change, there is no one better than Dr. Boyce. We all know that it takes a village to get the job done. Consider this next time you are invited to present something to your co-workers, write an article or work with a steering team: Never turn down an opportunity to contribute, no matter how insignificant you believe that opportunity to be. You may not know the positive or far-reaching effects of what you say or how it may lead to positive behavior change. When it’s your turn to talk, write or make your PowerPoint, take it; or when the situation dictates, agree to take someone else’s turn. Communication is not the only way we can influence people, it is THE way we influence people through words and actions.