The Opportunity - "Tom" is a highly effective leader in a large specialized construction firm and has had a long, highly productive and successful career in construction. Tom is respected in his company and throughout his segment of the construction industry as a strong advocate for workplace safety. He was delighted to learn one day in early 2004 that his company was being considered by a new client, a Fortune 50 company, for a potential $250 million construction project, as part of a world-class installation. This project would be a big win for Tom's company; Tom knew his firm was the front-runner to win the contract.
The Rejection - Tom was stunned, however, when his company did not even make it through the prequalification process. How could this have happened? Tom's company was well-profiled and qualified for this work; they were the leading specialized construction firm in their part of the country! They had an excellent working relationship with all their clients, especially in the public sector. Tom's firm possessed an outstanding environmental record; as well as state of the art equipment and experienced personnel. Their safety record was equivalent to, and in many respects better than, their competitors. How could they have failed the prequalification process?
The Reason - Tom requested a meeting with the Fortune 50 company and its project management firm to understand not only why they had been disqualified, but also what was needed to address the gaps which had caused the disqualification. To his dismay and surprise, Tom was told that his company had been disqualified due to its "relationship to safety." While the company had outstanding documentation of safety policies and procedures, regulatory compliance and employee training, the prequalification process revealed weaknesses in the company's leadership, organizational culture, employee involvement, behaviors and individual intentions around safety. The cumulative effect of these weaknesses led to the potential client's conclusion that Tom's company's relationship to safety was insufficient to work as a partner with the owner and project manager on a project requiring world-class safety performance.
The Realization - When Tom sat down with the rest of his company's senior management team, a lot of soul-searching ensued. Leadership had never liked the fact that people got hurt, even sometimes killed, on their jobs but they reasoned this was a dangerous business, and they had expended a lot of money, time and management's attention on training, policies, procedures and regulatory compliance to improve their safety performance over the years. They had maintained a good safety record, at least by industry standards, and their work was largely with public sector clients who only required them to meet industry standards. Now leadership realized, if they wanted to move into the growing private sector market, they had to 'up their game' around safety which meant something besides additional policies and procedures, training and focus on regulatory compliance.