Ask Aubrey: Dead Man Question


In your recent article for Business Week, you state "A million hours without an accident, a reduction in errors, or perfect attendance can all be accomplished by a corpse. This doesn't qualify as valuable behavior and deserves no celebration." I will agree with the attendance issue. But, if you are the manager of a construction site or certain manufacturing concerns, the hours or days without an accident can be an important measure of how safety is treated (and whether you are doing your job to make it important at your job site). In many engineering situations, reducing errors is a huge benefit and saves the company hordes of cash. These are signs of real progress and cannot be accomplished by a corpse. Please clarify.  — Dave M.


Aubrey's Answer:

Thank you for your comment because it raises a point of confusion that others may have and I appreciate the opportunity to hopefully clarify it. The dead man's test is: If a dead man can do it perfectly, it won't solve your problem. In order to properly solve many problems in business, we first need to separate errors produced by behavior from errors produced by machinery or processes. If the errors are produced by behavior, then one of the best ways to reduce them is to do nothing. (If I produce nothing, I make no errors.) If the error is produced by a machine, someone must engage in active behavior to "reduce the errors" -- not a dead-man behavior. Making no errors is quite different from eliminating an error. You use the term "reducing errors" and I think what you are referring to is active behavior on the part of an engineer or team of engineers to troubleshoot and correct problems with a machine, process or procedure. Because they can only accomplish these things by some activity, they would flunk the dead-man's test, a good thing.


Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.