When it comes to internal motivation for a professional, I feel that safety has some unique aspects. The discussion last month was about Success vs Failure. I had a lot more questions than answers. When it comes to working in the safety industry our customers are varied and sometimes have very different ideas of what deliverables or items are important. Our company, our employees, the environment, and the community are just a few groups that rely on good judgement, proper ethics, and proper education from the safety person. When it comes to managing or understanding the cultures that make a safety person seek success or avoid failure, there are many aspects and variables that can be evaluated and understood.
The first step to managing is understanding. Something that I enjoy doing as part of a group activity or even as a method of self-reflection is to conduct a survey of defining success and defining failure. It has been my policy to share my results with the team and allow members of the team to share on a voluntary basis with others. I do required that I get to see the results either as part of a one-on-one or through a text correspondence, which ever make them most comfortable. I even allow typed sheets with no name to be left in my office. I will say, though, that has never happened. They should feel comfortable expressing their opinions. Your team should have a level of comfort and safety with you for this to be effective. If you are a leader of others, I have found this exercise to be insightful and value added in understanding your team and their principles.
By understanding and observing the team, it becomes more apparent of their grouping in success seeking vs failure avoiding. I hope this is helpful and insightful in better engaging and understand your team. There are so many impacts that affect the life of a safety person. Culturally, organizationally, and individually, the safety person is impacted. This shapes the response to issues, the implementation of policy, and general attitude. It is should be the goal of good leadership to observe and impact these variables when possible to create the most effective HSE process.
Here is the basic format of the exercise:
DEFINING SUCCESS ACTIVITY
accomplishment of a purpose lack of success.
A key component of a lean system to work towards a goal. This is usually phrased as “what does good look like?”
Once someone knows how “good” looks and is defined, the process can be changed to become closer and closer to good through improvement.
The same can be said for success. Unless we define success, we cannot know if we achieved it.
In this exercise, I am asking you to define success for you as an individual contributor to define what you see success is for the organization in EHS.
With every endeavor there is also a chance for failure, and that must also be defined. I am again going to ask that you to define failure for you and the organization around EHS.
For each question, there should be one to three answers that are no longer than a sentence long. Success and failure should be simple, gradable metrics.
These will not be shared among the group unless you choose to share them. I will use these as part of our one-on-one discussions to help us focus on where the direction needs to be heading.
ACTIVITY: DEFINE SUCCESS
1) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what success is for you as an individual contributor to EHS.
2) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what success is for our organization for EHS
ACTIVITY: DEFINE FAILURE
1) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what failure is for you as an individual contributor to EHS
2) Using only one sentence, create one to three definitions of what failure is for our organization for EHS
When you think of your organization approach to safety, what picture comes to mind? As a safety professional or someone who is committed to safety, take your personal opinions away. Take the 50,000 foot view of the culture. If your safety climate had a mascot what would it be? What would it look like? Was it good? Was it bad? Was it funny? Was it sad?
Your organization is a series of micro cultures of the pockets personal experience. The individuals working each day are a key determination of how that culture functions and its motivation. Here is another vision question: On any given day, how you categorize or picture the typical leader in your organization? What is their mascot? What is their theme music?
These are strange questions, but they create an interesting outcome of what your safety climate is telling you and how that culture is affecting key results.
I love the lean process. Here are a few quotes from W. Edwards Deming that will help illustrate the point that I have not yet made. 🙂
“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”
“Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting”
In my experience, there are really four key organization that are present based on the people that are leading those pockets of influence.
I hope that we can all agree that a safety person or even a safety team cannot be the key safety cultural influencers in the organization. It is the leadership and the front line supervisors that make those decisions and drive the safety climate of a site, company, or organization. Each day with each decision, the safety culture is shaped and molded into the presentation and personality of those leaders.
Now think of which of these four categories your supervisors fall into. What about the company? What about the organization? How does each feed into the other? How do these traits affect the overall safety system that is in place? What does it mean for the future of the safety system?
I have lots of questions. These are the same questions that I ponder each day. It is through understanding that we as safety people can start to make adjustments in how we manage. This drives the evolution of the safety systems.
For the next few months, I will focus more on these drivers of success and/or accepters of failure, some of the tools I have used, and some of the adjustments that can be made to help adjust, improve, or accelerate the culture of the team.
I distinctly remember combing through near miss data one day and having an “a-ha” moment. I could see that trouble was on the horizon. I was for sure thinking that the site was choosing not to report safety issues that really mattered because they felt it was not getting fixed. I had the data to show this was occurring. I had safety committee minutes that seemed to also indicate the same. I had the opportunity to run with my theory and make some dramatic proclamations and changes.
Then I took a few deep breaths . . .
I asked a friend and co-worker his thoughts. Together, we decided that we would go out and ask a few simple safety questions to see if interviews had the same conclusion as the data. To my absolute surprise, there was not an issue. There was not a deeper underlying organizational issue. The employees were not angry or dissatisfied with level of attention to safety. Sure, there were things they wanted fixed. It was not, though, the level of safety climate failure that I was projecting. I was so close to making a very large leap of faith and being completely wrong. First, I thanked my co-worker for his input. Second, I learned to validate and verify my data.
We in the safety profession have a great luxury at our finger tips that we sometimes forget is there. The data we look at every day is living, breathing, people who we can interact and ask questions of on a daily basis. Data is good. It helps in finding opportunities and making recommendations. Validated data is better, and we have that ability at an instant.
Each day there is a real chance to better understand the aspect of our data. Building on the SQDC process of business metrics, safety is the only one that can actually talk and explain the real issues that occurring at that moment. Quality, Delivery, and Cost metrics do not tell a story every day nor do they have the ability to literally tell you what is creating their positive and negative experiences.
There are many times that I have to remind myself to stop, think, and go interact. I know that sounds terrible, but think of all the times in your safety career that you are asked for metrics. What’s our OSHA Rate? How many lost time injuries? What does the trends in the behavioral observations say? How many people are trained in that process? How must waste did we generate? My guess is that you are aggregating this data daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. Along with any time there is an issue or problem solving event. It is easy to get lost in creating, communicating, revising, and managing numbers. The truth is that each number we crunch is a person that can help us understand it better.
Our safety data (aka our people) is talking to us almost constantly, are we really listening?
There are times where a company will seek to implement a safety program. They will create all the necessary programs, procedures, meetings, audits, employee committees, and many other processes that they feel have made other companies successful in safety. They will even brand all the programs as their safety management system or process. The trouble, though, is creating the linkages that actually makes the safety system functional. Just having all the parts of a system, does not make it work.
A functional and successful safety program actually needs to be a system of components that work with each other and communicate effectively across one another. Imagine a human body with no nervous system. It has everything it needs to be alive and working, but there is nothing that makes everything work together. There is no harmony. There is no communication.
The model provided is not extensive map of everything that makes up a safety system but is a representation of how everything needs to interact in a way that is functional. Each piece is equal to one another and has to complete a communication loop with all the other functional systems. It is the safety management system itself that acts as the bond between the items.
The idea of a safety management system is quite ethereal in talk, but exceptionally valuable and tangible in practice. I have personally seen organizations that have all the components of a safety management process but the system was not there. Auditors would come in, see all the pieces, and yet feel there was something just out of their grasp that was not right. Here is my shameless plug: This is where an experienced safety professional is invaluable to an organization. They are the ones that personify the system in action. They create those communication bridges and help make the system functional.
So what are some of the ways that safety management systems fail to function? I am glad you asked:
- Lost in translation: The management system is the great interpreter of the all the parts. The Emergency Response Plan has to be able to talk to the Management Review in a language that they both understand. I remember early when the ADAAA was enacted. The workers compensation laws were affected. The idea was that if there was a job that a restricted employee could perform, the organization would make an “offer” for the temporary position. This created quite the confusion with the HR team on their version of job offer. There had to be someone to help each understand the other. With that idea in mind, does your safety management system help to allow each part be understood by the other?
- They just don’t talk anymore: Each part has to communicate with the other. Does the change management program ever talk to your KPIs? If so, how? The best way is to map it out. Take each part of your management system and make a grid across the top and bottom. In each intersection there should be some methods or process that facilitates communication between each item. This can be a time consuming project, but it is exceptionally revealing in the functionality of the system.
- There is no feedback: Communication is a two-way street. One part of the whole cannot simply dictate to the other. They have to be giving feedback to one another and improving from that communication.
A safety management system is vitally important to the overall health of the safety programs. Unfortunately, there are times where that system can cease to function effectively. When a situation arises where it seems that everything is in place but something does not feel right; take a moment to assure that your system is communicating.