I have to admit to an addiction. Nothing too exotic or illegal or, I would hope, detrimental to my family’s happiness – but an addiction nevertheless. ‘Breaking Bad’. For those of you already ‘in the know’ (yes, I know, you are the enlightened majority) I realise I have arrived embarrassingly late to this particular party. For those few who have not yet discovered this phenomenon, ‘Breaking Bad’ is an American television drama which has garnered numerous awards and accolades and that recently concluded after its 5th series. The programme follows the (mis)adventures of a Chemistry teacher after his diagnosis with a terminal illness and his subsequent efforts to ensure his family’s financial security for the future. This is no spoiler – as much is revealed in the first episode – and anyway, now that I’m finally at this party, I feel justified in expressing righteous disbelief that anybody is unaware of this. Why I am I telling you this? Well, other than the need to spread the word like some evangelical box set devotee, I’d like to discuss how every single episode brings to mind our work with behaviours and, in particular, Behavioural Safety.
Keystone enjoy a great reputation within this field (I’m assuming we’re still at the aforementioned party so I feel it’s appropriate to blow on any trumpet I happen to chance upon) and I personally take great satisfaction when partnering our clients to help create a safety culture of personal responsibility and accountability. Our methodology remains constant though the approach may vary from client to client. That’s why we have a suite of tools and techniques that we can employ as and when the situation demands:
- Theatre based group interventions
- Peer coaching programmes
- Conference and event presentation
- The Personal Safety Index diagnostic (developed in partnership with Cranfield University)
- Bespoke DVD production
- Process consultancy
The ideal solution for one company is rarely fit for purpose elsewhere, and experience tells us that each unique culture demands a similarly unique programme. There are, however, commonalities; universal truths that repeatedly come to the fore when we and our clients interrogate the challenges. In dangerously simple terms, it can be boiled down to the choices we make and the ‘why’ that leads to those choices… which takes me back to ‘Breaking Bad’. The main crux of the drama hinges on one man’s seemingly uncharacteristic choice when faced with a dilemma. The multi-award-winning star of the series, Bryan Cranston, explains the term ‘Breaking Bad’ as relating to:
‘Someone who has taken a turn off the path of the straight and narrow, when they’ve gone wrong. And that could be for that day or for a lifetime.’
Any safety professionals out there recognise the above statement? I’d suggest those of you that do recognise the sentiment will also be able to call to mind individuals that fit both the ‘day’ and ‘lifetime’ badges? Most of us know, or have encountered, the eternal maverick, the saboteur, the rebel – call them what you will. These are the people who continually push the boundaries of acceptability and take some pleasure, or at least satisfaction, in breaking the rules. Similarly, we have all, no doubt, witnessed the one-off rule breaker, the unlucky ‘just this once’ culprit – the ‘I just wanted to finish the job on time’ excusers.
They are each, and not exclusively, part and package of pretty much every culture my colleagues and I have encountered whilst consulting on behavioural safety – just two of the many types that occur in environments of potential risk. Led by their internal drivers, they make informed choices that ignore or discard the expected norm, that consciously invite heightened risk in an attempt to satisfy a personal motivator. And it’s this theme of informed choice – this invitation of heightened risk to serve a stronger desire – that makes this programme so appealing. In its exploration of the peripheral character’s own life choices – serving, as they do, as amplifiers and mirrors to the main protagonist’s tragedy – Breaking Bad reminds us of the ongoing challenge of ensuring our people are equipped and empowered to make the right decision for the right reason when it matters. I use the term ‘tragedy’ in the dramatic sense – that which portrays someone’s fall to disaster via a combination of personal failing and an inability to deal with external circumstances. Again, ring any bells when thinking about near misses and accidents in the workplace?
I could go on, not least to discuss the power of empathy both within good television, such as ‘Breaking Bad’, and within robust and effective safety coaching in the workplace. I suppose that’s the link that really stands out for me. It’s the way in which good drama invites us to empathise with troubled characters, conflicted souls and, therefore, offers some sort of catharsis by experiencing what it’s like to be ‘in their shoes’. This is mirrored in Keystone’s belief that an empathetic approach to safety conversations and challenges (at least initially) is at the crux of shifting a culture’s safety climate. Easier said than done, we know. That’s why we always take the time to get the right people at each site properly educated and equipped to initiate this approach. And talking of time, I’m aware my pulse rate is increasing, my fingers are fidgeting and my lips seem uncomfortably dry. It can only mean one thing – I need another hit of ‘Breaking Bad’. I’ll have to drop everything. For those of you that have seen series 4, you can empathise with that, surely?
Blog post by Jo Raishbrook