It’s X-citing

It’s X-hilarating

It’s X-treme

It’s the X-Matrix.

As leaders and from my personal experience leaders of safety programs, we are responsible for the one-year plan, the metrics to improve, and setting a long-term vision for the department. I personally love an X-matrix to help evaluate and visualize the process of setting these goals. I was very skeptical at first of if this process would actually work. What I found was that once other team members and leadership have seen the vision and agree, the x-matrix helps to keep everyone focused.

One of the troubles that I have seen and heard from other safety people is the overall leadership’s ability to quickly change priorities. In safety, they are focused on the fire that is in front of them rather than the reasons for the fires. For every injury, there is a sudden and intense focus to drop everything and fix that issue. I will be clear here, for every injury there should be urgency. An urgency that helps to drive a root cause and robust corrective action. But a new injury should not completely change the fundamental trajectory of the entire program’s strategy.

I have seen it so many times, where an incident occurs and then there are fast and unwarranted changes to system programs. One of the first principles of lean during a problem-solving event is to ask “if there a standard?” If the answer is “yes.” The next question is to ask “was the standard followed?” If the answer is “yes”, the standard needs to be updated. If the answer is “no”, the focus should be on the motivation and environment to encourage or discourage the use of the standard. The immediate reaction should not be to completely reinvent the entire program.

I have digressed, through. Let’s talk about how to complete an x-matrix. This exercise is best completed in a small group where the team understands the operation and the needs of the department. Many times, the safety person is the only person in the department. In that case, it is all yours to control. The process works through filling in the bottom five topics, then working clockwise. There are five topics per section. There can be fewer, but I would never recommend more. When thinking about strategy, you do not want to become ineffective by having too much to do. Focus on what is important and work the plan. I have found that five is the right number.

The bottom section is where the process begins. This is where you focus on the five items that will be your 3-5 year breakthrough objectives. Breakthrough is the keyword here. These are items that in the next 3-5 years that will create big gains on your department and the safety of your organization. Think about changing culture, driving learning, and systemically reducing risk. I love the idea of “begin with the end in mind.” If you have a great safety system in place in 3-5 years, what would it look like? What systems would be in place? What engineering changes would be implemented? These are the 3-5 year objectives that can make a big difference.

Next is the left-hand section of the matrix. This is where we would take a closer look at the next 365 days of progress. What is it that you need to get done this year that gets you closer to your 3-5 year objectives. We cannot fix it all today. Safety especially is about culture and motivation. As much as we want to do it all today, it is not something that can happen. This section is about this year. What is nice about this section is that you can use it to create headings in a year-long Gantt chart and set tasks under each of those categories to show progress. The tools work together to help create the vision, long-term strategy, and actions to drive the change.

Moving to the top section, we want to define the top-level improvements or priorities. These are the values of the organization or department. For example, it would be items like no injuries, no spills, robust corrective action process, everyone reporting hazards, etc. This section for me has always been about the culture that I want to see that aligns with the values of the organization. It is important to not forget that safety should be a core value.

The final section to complete is the right-hand side. These are the metrics that we want to improve. Think about your current safety key performance indicators. Generally, I do my best to focus on proactive measures. How many hours of safety learning? How many hazard reports were filed? What were the audit scores? Were incidents investigated in less than 24 hours? I also will admit that normally I do add reduction in injuries. Even though it is a lagging indicator, it is a KPI that I want to vastly improve. I want fewer and fewer injuries until there are none to report. I do not simply want a number. I want a system and culture that has created an organization that does not hurt people. This section is not to define your KPIs, it is only listing the KPIs that you are planning to make the most improvement in during this 3-5 year journey.

Now that we have discussed how to fill in the x-matrix, I will discuss in the next blog the tiny blocks that are around each section and how these are used to bring the x-matrix to life. All these items that we just spent so much time thinking about and filling in are now going to be interrelated. It is an interesting and eye-opening X-perience 🙂