Dipping the Herd

June 19 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway

Suppose an individual deliberately skipped a few steps in an essential task procedure with serious injury or fatality potential. The individual knew precisely what they should do but intentionally deviated from the rules and procedures. Leadership knows exactly who this individual is, their choice and why they made it, but instead of dealing with the individual, they decide to "dip the herd" by issuing a new, more extensive set of rules and guidelines for all employees.

From now on, instead of working through, the five steps to accomplish a certain task and remain in compliance with company policy, everyone will have to go through nine steps. Is it any surprise that employees will be angry at management for this collective punishment? That they will think something like, "That bozo intentionally bypassed steps, and your response is to make me take more steps? What's going to prevent the same bozo from breaking these rules, too? Or the next bozo? Why are they punishing us?" This reminds me of my time in the US Army basic training. One person messed up; we knew what command was coming. "Everyone! Drop down and beat your face!" We all did pushups.

People doing pushups.

Dipping the herd is a phrase that comes from animal husbandry and describes what happens when some cattle in a herd are infested with ticks. The rancher can't know how many others are infested, so the entire herd is "dipped" by being made to walk through a vat of liquid medicine that comes up to their heads.

The federal government recently dipped the entire US population by issuing new regulations requiring PayPal and other payment platforms to report to the IRS when anyone using their services receives more than $600. It's undoubtedly true that some PayPalers are running business payments through the platform and aren't reporting all their income. But it's also true that many people use PayPal for personal purposes.

Suppose Shari sends her brother Stuart money for a set of pricey concert tickets he bought on her behalf, then sends him more money to contribute to an upcoming family party. If Shari sent more than $600, PayPal would have to report this to the IRS and Stuart may have to prove to an IRS auditor that the money was for concert tickets and family parties, not some secret business he's running.

I wonder if these new IRS regulations will really stop the rule-breakers. Those who are determined to dodge taxes may, for example, move to crypto currency, leaving the rest of us to deal with the additional IRS paperwork and hassles. I also wonder whether compliance with tax regulations is any better in 2023, when the US Tax Code is 6,871 pages long, with another 68,000 or so pages of regulations, rulings, and tax guidance, than it was in 1773. The tax code was a whole lot slimmer and simpler then, but Bostonians still dumped tea in the harbor to protest taxes!

Balances of consequences is essential for shaping behavior, and accountability should be proactive and reactive and is both behavioral- and results-related. When you punish everyone for the decisions of a few or even one individual, people start to question existing rules and policies, and resistance to change should be anticipated. If an individual made a mistake, learn from it before knee-jerk reacting and dipping the herd again.

*This is a modified excerpt from my new best-selling book, Bridge to Excellence: Building Capacity for Sustainable Performance.

"Be accountable to yourself, your team, and the organization. If everyone is accountable and does their part, the work gets done." — Chris Boleman, president and chief executive officer, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

"The best demonstration of enforcement of the rules is when coworkers coach one another on best practices. The objective of rules enforcement is to correct behaviors, and discipline is only utilized when coaching has failed or when a violation is egregious, repeated, or presents a significant risk." — Mark Kehne, plant manager, Cardinal FG

"First, make clear the rules of engagement and the consequences of failing to follow them. I think this is basic respect for employees that is sometimes forgotten. Once this is in place, it is all about clear communication in real time of instances of recognition as well as improvement." — Michael J. Devane, vice president of operations, CertainTeed

Shawn M. Galloway

Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.

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