The most important 2 seconds of your career

Posted by on Mar 2, 2012 in Facilities Management, Incidents/Downtime, Leadership, Training | 0 comments

The lights flicker, your phone starts making “message received” sounds, and the radio crackles with excited voices.  You recognize that something is not as it should be at the facility and you’re the person on duty with the responsibility to respond.  It becomes apparent that the power system is in distress.  The orders come over the radio to shift the “E” lineup to backup.  You run to the “E” power room and quickly move the switch to the backup power supply position.  You hear the breakers actuate, and then the unthinkable happens – the lights go out.  The ironic thing is that shortly after you turned the switch, your mind actually was pondering the possibility that you could have heard “D” instead of “E.”  And sure enough, the actual order, as it turns out, was to place D into backup and not E.  Your actions caused a loss of power to the facility, compounding the initial problem.

Let’s rewind the scenario.  What if, instead of charging off to “save the day,” you actually took two seconds to ascertain what the real situation is or to verify/repeat back what you heard on the radio?  In all likelihood, you would have been able to avert the mistake and the real possibility you’d be making a forced career change.

We in the mission critical facilities operation fields are really in the risk-mitigation business.  It is our job to keep the facility running, averting situations that may cause a risk to the continuation of our operations.  When you truly recognize risk mitigation as your top priority, your decisions and everything you do will fall in line with that purpose.  Taking two seconds, then, to confirm and properly understand an emergent situation is a habit that supports that goal.

The reality is that there are very few times or situations that require split-second response, and in many of those situations the design of the system/process will normally be self-protective or be designed to fail in a safe way.  In fact, if you think about it, for most electrical issues, the reactions of the system have already taken place by the time that you learn about it.  With cooling or heating plants, you usually have some thermal mass in the facility that allows time for thought and recovery.

My point is that it should be a personal habit that, before you take an action that can have significant consequences, you take at least two seconds for thought.  Take a few seconds to re-verify, consider the ramifications of your intended actions.  Doing so could save your career.  If you are a manager, this act of consideration before action should be a requirement in any mission critical organization.  Make it a requirement, be the example of it, validate that it is being done, and reward those who practice it.

One bit of further advice for leaders:  I highly recommend this habit when you respond to questions or before you speak to a group.  From my personal experience, it has a tendency to prevent “foot-in-mouth syndrome,” and come to think of it, could prevent forced career changes for the leader too.

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