Accidental Shooting on Rust: Asking the Right Question

As details emerge about the accidental shooting on the movie set of Rust, two questions are being asked:

  • Who is responsible?
  • How strong is the safety culture on movie sets?

The first question will solve a very narrow problem, and the answer is unlikely to prevent another tragedy. On the other hand, focussing on the second question can address the root cause of all accidents on movie sets.

In many organizations, internal investigations focus only on the first question. Not surprisingly, the same type of wrongdoing happens over and over again. What management needs to understand is that when investigators turn over their final reports, it is not the end of the matter. The report should signal the start of a conversation that aims to answer “What is it about our culture that allowed this to happen?”

Here is what Maggie Goll, a prop maker, had to say about Dave Halls, the crew member who gave Alec Baldwin a gun loaded with live rounds, just after yelling “cold gun”, indicating that the gun was safe:

“This situation is not about Dave Halls. … It’s in no way one person’s fault,” she said. “It’s a bigger conversation about safety on set and what we are trying to achieve with that culture.”

Link

As I’ve said many times on this blog, culture is an outcome of your processes. In a strong safety culture, Halls would have double-checked the gun, then Baldwin would have done the same. Chamber open, barrel inspected, light flashed inside the barrel to make sure that it was clear. Without safety processes that are followed by everyone, you cannot claim to have a safety culture.

Focussing on safety culture is how you significantly reduce accidents on movie sets — and in all organizations.

Similarly, focussing on ethical culture is how you significantly reduce wrongdoing at your company.

Don’t stop at “Who done it?” Ask the culture question too.

Library fines are not fine

The New York City Public Library system recently gave compliance professionals a lot to think about.

The typical compliance program follows this recipe:

  • Identify expected behaviors
  • Punish those who don’t comply

In the world of libraries, patrons are expected to return books on or before the due date. If they don’t, they must pay a fine.

So it was a bit surprising when NYC decided to forgive over 400,000 patrons whose library accounts had been suspended because each owed more than $15 in late fees. All fines were wiped clean. In fact, all fines have been eliminated going forward.

Looking at its data, NYC noticed that most blocked accounts belonged to children and teenagers living in poor neighborhoods. In other words, NYC had blocked the very people who most need libraries. Someone with common sense saw that it was a ridiculous situation and put an end to it.

This situation reminded me of the Israeli daycare that started to impose fines on parents who were late to pick up their children at the end of the day. The fine eliminated the moral obligation that parents had to be on time, and they now saw the fine as a permission to be late, as long as you were willing to pay for it.

Of course, parents will eventually pick up their kids at the end of the day. But when it comes to books, poor patrons facing fines will not return them. The fines don’t work. Perhaps more than a million books were missing from the libraries because of the fines.

Tony Marx, the president of the NY Public Library system, put it wisely when he said that if you treat people with respect, they will respond in kind; allow patrons to return the books late, and they will return them.


In your organization, is there a rule that is broken over and over again, despite the punishments imposed on the delinquents? If so, could your compliance program be at fault?

Neither snow nor rain nor overtime

The US Post Office has been in financial trouble for years.

As a governmental entity, it has reacted to those difficulties like most commercial enterprises: cut staff, and ask everyone to do more with less.

Fewer mail carriers means longer days. Longer days means overtime. Overtime means larger deficits. How do you curb overtime? Give pay raises only to supervisors who keep overtime low.

And so, for years now, there has been a well-known, and well-documented practice of supervisors not paying their mail carriers’ overtime. Should we be shocked? Hardly. This outcome was predictable.

The real culprits are those executives who created financial incentives to eliminate overtime. And they are getting off the hook. Instead, supervisors have been forced to lie, and front-line carriers are being cheated.

Make a list of your financial incentives. Then make a list of your ethical and compliance issues. Put the two side-by-side. Can you draw lines from one list to the other?

Next appointment

Florida’s governor doesn’t believe in vaccine mandates. So it wasn’t a surprise when he appointed a new chief medical officer who shares his beliefs.

When leaders make important appointments at the top of their organization, they are telling everyone where the organization is heading.

So the next time your CEO appoints a Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer for your company, pay attention. Was the new CECO an internal promotion or an external hire? How did the CEO describe the job in the official announcement? What were the CECO’s major accomplishments at her previous job? What did she promise to do in her first communication to employees? Can you tell if her focus is going to be on compliance, ethics, culture — or all of the above?

Some appointments bring peace of mind. Others don’t.

You just need to act accordingly.

Why are you measuring?

Strathern’s Law states that “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

Seth Godin put it in terms that E&C professionals can appreciate: “As soon as we try to manipulate behaviors to alter a measure, it’s no longer useful.”

Just think of Wells Fargo’s “Eight is Great!”. Need I say more?

If you use metrics at work (and you do), ask yourself why they are in place:

  • Are you trying to identify pain points, and allocate resources to alleviate the pain? Or,
  • Are you trying to change behavior?

If the sole (or primary) purpose of your metric is to encourage or discourage a particular behavior, you may be headed for trouble.

Retaliation in plain sight

The man who saved over 1,000 people from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is now facing life in prison for criticizing his country’s president.

Paul Rusesabagina’s heroism was captured in the movie Hotel Rwanda. His humanitarian actions are known and praised all over the world. With such notoriety, one would think that he’d be untouchable. Yet, while in exile, he was tricked into boarding a flight to Rwanda, and then cowardly accused of terrorism. After the charges were filed, his attorney was forced to leave the country. This his happening in plain sight, and no one seems able to right this wrong.

If such a man can suffer retaliation, imagine how one of your front-line employee feels when deciding to report wrongdoing they’ve observed. They are not famous. They do not have powerful allies. What can you possibly say to this employee to convince them that all will be well in the end?

Nothing, really. But you can show them how you try to prevent retaliation, and how you don’t tolerate retaliation when it happens.

Do this over and over again, and you just might give someone the courage to speak up.

Fake vaccination cards

Yesterday we saw yet another story of fake vaccination cards being sold.

In the early days, cards were sold in person for about $20. Now they are sold for as much as $200 on the internet.

With one vaccine now fully approved by the FDA, many employers are requiring employees to be vaccinated. It is safe to assume that some employees will attempt to circumvent this requirement by producing fake vaccination cards.

What should the discipline be in such cases? To find out, it helps to ask the question “Is this a breach of performance or a breach of trust?” A breach of performance is often easily remedied with training or a second chance. Not so for breaches of trust. In such cases, we need to ask ourselves “Can I trust this person again? Can I trust this person with the job I gave them? If they were willing to lie about this, what else could they be lying about? Am I allowing them to put others at risk?”

A breach of trust often leads to termination. Is your organization prepared to do so with fake vaccination card?

Service first

Zappos famously considers itself a service company that happens to sell shoes.

What if all companies sought to serve first?

What if all companies sought to serve ethically, with the product being secondary?

Imagine what your day would be like if your newspaper, your grocery store, your car mechanic, your lawyer, your mortgage broker and your clothe shop all sought to serve first.

Stuff happens

What is better than sending your teenager to a driving class? Also telling her what to do when she gets into a fender bender and gets a ticket. What’s better than that? Role-playing the incident two or three times until she gets it right.

Similarly in the workplace, we should not only teach employees about rules and values, we should also teach them what to do when they observe wrongdoing. Better yet, we should role-play the actual reporting process. It’s easy to say “If you see something, say something.” It’s a lot harder to actually do it, especially if you’ve never done it before.

Most drivers will get into a minor accidents. Most employees will observe wrongdoing. Why not prepare them?


HT to Seth Godin and Mary Gentile.