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Ahhhh. The calling card of any manufacturing facility, power plant, or energy concern—the ROOT CAUSE EVALUATION (RCE). The dreaded. The expensive. The resource sapping. The RCE. We lead this Leadership In Action piece by challenging a long-held assumption. Namely, are we using RCEs correctly? Our thinking suggests that we could be a whole lot better here. Let us explain via story.

Two months ago, we sat in on a monthly safety meeting with a major manufacturer. After many months of sub-par safety performance, they were able to rattle off two months of ‘best-in-class’ or ‘best-in-history’ safety performance. Leaders and managers, alike, smiled and even clapped. They started talking about a Safety Celebration. We weren’t buying it, so one of our ELP Leaders raised his hand and asked, “Where’s the RCE?” The Plant Manager quickly shot back, even a bit agitated, “Didn’t you hear? We just had our two best months ever! We only do RCEs when we’ve fallen short of a standard. Here, we surpassed any safety metric we’ve ever had.” Our ELP Leader was not deterred, “Well, how do you explain that? You went from 5 sub-par, even horrible safety months, to two of your best. How do you explain that? How do we replicate that? What caused that? What is different or better that drove those results?” The Plant Manager quieted and a slow smile started. He got it.

Most organizations employ RCEs when things go bad and when operations go off-track. Pioneering, top-performing organizations do the unthinkable—they do RCEs when they get a string of good performance. Bad RCEs involve ‘circling bullet holes’. In other words, its postmortem and the damage is already done; it is a reactive—not proactive—exercise. Good RCEs mean learning from what we are doing well and applying it to other parts of the organization. As an aside, this is tough to do and requires discipline, as we don’t tend to question our successes, we only tend to question our failures. For instance, we’ve got one client who is nearing a record of on-line performance—a breaker-to-breaker run—a feat done only once in their history of refueling outages. We’ve prodded them to ask the why question. What is the organization doing that has caused this uptick in sustainable performance so a) we can continue to exhibit those behaviors or execute those principles, and b) we can transfer some of these practices to other parts of the organization. Lady luck cannot be the answer on why performance has improved. There is a reason. Finding it is the hard part. How can we possibly know how to continue great performance, if we don’t know the recipe? Applying the principles of RCEs to good performance allows us to arrive at and then follow that recipe.

Ray Kniphuisen knows a thing or two or three about RCEs. Reach out to Ray to learn more about how you can leverage RCEs for entirely different reasons—to sustain revolutionary performance rather than just learning from mistakes. His email is

In January we suggested that you spend more time in the field. As we enter Q4 it is worth revisiting this extremely important leadership activity.

We frequently ask leaders, "What behavior do you need to work on that would have the biggest improvement on organizational health and performance?" What is your answer? The number one response we receive, regardless of industry, is time in the field. Some responses were: "I need to be in the field to ensure the folks know how important what they are doing is." - - "How do I know they understand our expectations if we don't observe our associates in the actual performance of their jobs?" - - "Praising or coaching a behavior in the moment is so much more powerful than after the fact." - - - "Money is made . . . or lost . . . in the field, not behind my desk."

Who could argue with these reasons? However, when pushed a little more to understand what a typical week looks like, we find that leaders spend 24-44 hours a week in meetings or reviewing reports and metrics. Unfortunately, this does not leave much time to be close to your associates in the field.

What does ‘time in the field' mean? The truth is it should mean different things to different people. If you are the first line supervisor of a maintenance crew, it means having the correct PPE (personal protective equipment) on, and being in the field where the work is taking place. If I am leading a customer service department, it might mean walking the floor where calls come in and periodically listening in on a call. In all cases, it means providing real-time, and specific, coaching and feedback! "Good job reviewing the check-list prior to performing that task!" or "To be even more effective next time, you might try . . ."

Stephen R. Covey would call ‘time in the field' a Quadrant II activity, not urgent, but important. Ironically, we say "YES" to the urgent because we give it a false sense of importance. Some people go from one urgency to another, and in the absence of urgencies don't really know what to do. It is true that some things arise that must be handled, but the challenge most of us face is saying "NO" to the unimportant.

We all want more hours in the day, but the truth is we get the same twenty-four as everyone else. What can you say "NO" to, so that you can say "YES" to getting in the field? What is the consequence (positive or negative) if you miss one or two meetings a week? Conversely, what is the consequence (positive or negative) if you spend one or two hours a week in the field?

So, here is the challenge: finish your Q4 strong with a purposeful presence in the field.

We all need to ramp up our time in the field. ELP Founder and Principal Robin Bichy is ready to share how ELP can improve yours. Her first name is her email:

... their first name.

This is so simple it seems absurd, even ridiculous. But it isn’t. There are a few books that are seminal. And there are a few leadership experts that are truly iconic. Dale Carnegie and his book “How to Win Friends & Influence People” fit those descriptions.

One of his maxims is that people value one word over all others—their first name. People want to feel valued, different, and special. They want to feel a connection to another. Perhaps, the easiest way to build that human connection is to use a person’s first name. At ELP, we commit to using first names with each other, with our clients, and with everybody—across all mediums: texting, emails, face-to-face, etc.

We spend a lot of time in nuclear, and we received some feedback that one senior engineer was failing at building some connections with his 30 or so direct reports. We got feedback from those that he led that, “he seemed distant” and other responses that included, “I feel like a number to this guy” and unfortunately some input that said, “I don’t even know if this guy knows my name. I’ve been here for six years, and he’s yet to call me by my first name in-person or over email. It seems so disrespectful to me.” Based on some of this feedback, we intensely coached this individual to use first names in any and all correspondence. He said that it wasn’t his style, and he’d need a day to think about. The next day, he came back with some data—if you can believe that—regarding our request. He said that he’d lose between three and six minutes each day by having to use first names in text, email, and face-to-face. We thought he was joking. He wasn’t. We asked him to sacrifice six minutes a day and try this small act.

It worked. Or, at the very least, it made a dent. People forget that when we address someone by their first name, it makes the recipient feel good and valued. Surprisingly—or not—it also affects the leader. By using first names, the relationship must get more personal. Trust us here. There’s nothing that you can do that is easier. That demonstrates more respect. That closes the social distance. Than using the first name. So, unless you are in the military, where first names are off-limits and where high social distance is desired, consider this small tactic to build some bonds.

By the way, and speaking of first names, email Robin to learn more on how ELP can change your culture. Her first name is her email: