Communication is about the who

My own arrogance gets in the way of my objectives much more than I would like to admit.

This post will take some time to explain. But if you make the journey with me, I promise that I will make a point 🙂

Throughout my career and life, a common theme continues to emerge. Yet, I always keep doing exactly what keeps causing me grief. And even knowing that today, I am not sure that I will really embrace the change.

In high school, I was in speech and debate. I was pretty good at it too. My real ability was to be able to BS. Give me a topic and watch me ramble on about items that were like the topic but not really the topic. I competed in two different categories. Both were limited prep speech processes. One was a formal persuasive speed (extemporaneous), the other was informal and more laid back (impromptu). I really loved impromptu. It gave me a lot of joy to talk about fun things of my own interest. The problem was that I wanted all my speeches to be impromptu. It was later in college when I went back as a coach and really saw the difference. My coaches in high school would explain and explain that extemp needed to be very fact based, formal, scripted almost. I always chose to do it my way. This limited me. I did well but never as well as it could have been. Why? I wanted it my way refusing to change my style to what the audience needed.

In college as a chemistry major, there were very different types of methods that I was taught. Quantitative, qualitative, and organic chemistry were very different in their approaches, even in the way they kept lab books and wrote up findings. In a typical me fashion, if I found one way of writing something up that I liked I kept using it. I would just write it like I wanted to. My professors would comment on my writing style and try to guide me. Again, I wanted it my way.

In my first safety job, I would write reports and send emails just like a scientific write up and then wonder why no one read them. I had to have it my way. Eventually, I learned better, but I was slow to learn that lesson (and still am as you will see).

When I began work on my masters in business, I wrote my papers just like a scientific paper. Again, I did good but not great. I had to learn to write based on the topic. A statistical review is (or should be) different from a leadership case study.

In another job, I became interested in safety training. I took on a mentor as part of a company program. I deliberately wanted someone in instructional design. I was paired up with an amazing person, who again, made me focus and reflect on not only what I needed to say but who I was saying it to.

My greatest challenge was my dissertation. It was an APA format paper. During the many, many revisions there were parts of the paper that continually gave grief to my mentor, my committee, the department chair, and multiple editors. I kept wanting to cite safety information as part of the work. From a psychology perspective, it confused those not in the safety field and was very hard to format. I, being a tenured safety person, refused to change that information. Quick sidebar for background: The dissertation format was 5 chapters. Each chapter was reviewed and revised between 2-4 times. My full dissertation of all chapters combined was on revision 11 when it was accepted for publication. What made revision 11 so different? I took out the safety citations that did not add real value to the psychological study. I could have potentially completed the work sooner if I had just not been so stubborn about communicating the way I wanted. What is even worse is that my dissertation was about creating meaning in safety training. The findings pointed to making the information pertinent to the employee. Evidently, I struggle to learn from my own work. 🙂

Why have a blog? Because I want to communicate the way I want.

That was a really long story to make a simple point. One that I still struggle with everyday. Before your next email, training, talk, or paper take a moment to really consider your audience. Is this what your audience needs to hear? Is it what they expect to hear? Is it something that makes sense to them? Is it meaningful for them? Will it have meaning for them? Are you delivering it in a way that helps them see the meaning in your communication?

Success vs Failure and a Method of Reflection

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

suc·cess                                                                                                               fail·ure

səkˈses                                                                                                                 ˈfālyər

noun                                                                                                                     noun

accomplishment of a purpose                                                                    lack of success.

 

INSTRUCTIONS/BACKGROUND:

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 I say safety culture, what comes to mind?

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.

SuccessPIc

The Superstar

The Evader

The Accepter

The Burnout

 

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.

Our data is speaking. Are we listening?

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?

When Your Safety System is not a System

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.

Slide1

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.

Linkages of Behaviors and Conditions

As safety professionals, we are always evaluating the linkages between conditions and behaviors. It is the behavioral choice that leads a person, both at home and work, to engage a condition that could be thought of as unsafe. From my work on the behavioral and training side of safety, I feel there are four ways that the conditions and behaviors come together to either improve a safety culture or lead to incidents or injury.

ConditionBehaviorInteraction

 

The first behavioral choice when encountering an unsafe condition is Conscious Avoidance. The person sees the condition, knows it is unsafe, and makes a fully conscious effort to avoid it. This is one of the most positive behavior-condition interaction. This creates valuable data for the organization and culture to go and fix and issue before it leads to an incident. The act of consciously knowing the hazard would suggest they would follow the system to report and remedy the unsafe condition.

 

Example: Someone sees a puddle on the floor. They recognize the hazard, place a cone to notify others of the hazard, and reports it appropriately. A maintenance team is notified and fixes a leaky pipe. The environmental team is deployed for cleanup. The site fully benefits from this engagement.

 

Unconscious Avoidance is where a hazard is avoided but the person is not aware that they avoided a near miss or incident. It is good that they have an unconscious ability to avoid a hazard that the back-brain has determined to lead to injury. This is a primal reflex to avoid harm. The problem is that this does not help anyone else avoid the hazard. The hazard still exists. For those who might not have the finely attuned instinct of the Unconscious Avoidance, they would engage the condition and have the potential for injury.

 

Example: There is a puddle in the floor. Our Unconscious Avoider, changes their directional path to miss the hazard entirely. Nothing is reported. Nothing is fixed.

 

Where the Unconscious Avoider leaves the hazard in place, now enters the person that is Unconsciously Engaging the hazard. Once the hazard has been engaged, there are a few paths that are only directed by fate, luck, destiny, or whatever you want to call it. The site may get data from it, but only in the case of injury data or as a near miss. The Unconscious Engager can have an incident that leads to any number of consequences which can be as severe as death or as simple as nothing.

 

Example: So here is our ever infamous puddle on the floor. The Unconscious Engager (UC) does not waver or swerve. They walk right into the puddle. Here is where, it is complete out of our control. As a D&D fan, I will use the D20 analogy.

 

  • The UC rolls a 20, critical save. They walk right through the puddle. No slip. No Fall. Not even a loss of traction. Since this is a 20 roll, they recognize they just walked through a hazard and report it, so it can be fixed.
  • The UC rolls a 17. They walk right through again. But this time there is no report.
  • The UC rolls a 14. They lose some traction and report it as a near miss.
  • The UC rolls a 12. They lose some traction, but makes no report
  • The UC rolls a 9. They slip and fall with only a minor bruise. First aid only.
  • The UC rolls a 7. They slip and fall with a sprained ankle that needs medical attention. OSHA recordable
  • The UC rolls a 5. They slip and fall with a broken shoulder. Severe injury and lost time.
  • The UC rolls a 1. They slip and fall striking their head with fatal severity.

 

This example is not to make light of the severity of personal injury and suffering. There is nothing humorous about someone getting hurt from Unconsciously Engaging a hazard. The point of the example is to illustrate that once a hazard is engaged, there is nothing anyone can do to change the outcome. It is all up to the infinite variables of the universe. As safety people and people who care about safety, it is all about creating behaviors that mitigate unsafe conditions.

 

The final behavior is the most uncommon for good reason. It is the Conscious Engagement of Unsafe Conditions. In my career, I have encountered very few of these behaviors. These are ones who are actively seeking a method for injury. They want to create an example, utilize the system for personal gain, demonstrate their level of disgruntled attitude, or some other underlying motivation. Their goal is to exploit the unsafe condition to actively get hurt. There is still an element of uncertainty as they can never fully predict on control the outcome. They do, though, try to maximize the event to meet their personal goals.

 

Example: Once again the puddle is in the floor. The Conscious Engager walks rights through, assures they end up on the ground, and begins shouting for help. The injury leads to long term restricted duty and a moderate impairment rating with a final reasonable workers compensation pay out.

 

We cannot control the Conscious Engager before their intentions are known. What we can do is eliminate unsafe conditions. If we take away the opportunity, we create a better environment for all our people.

 

This interaction between behaviors and conditions is one that I have thought about for quite some time. It was actually an operations managers that said it most elegantly. He said that if we eliminate the unsafe condition we take away the opportunity for those who want to play games, and we create a better site. This led me to map out the chart and create the diagram. It was my desire to first understand the scope of the behaviors. From better understanding how the condition and behavior interact, it can help organizations lean to engage and empower their teams to create a real and improving safety culture.

The 5 Pitfalls of Safety Metrics

5. They are Reactive
OSHA rates were never meant for the process of being competitive metrics. Their use was to create comparisons for better understanding of injuries and focused programs. If the only item that projects bonuses or success for a company is injury rates, then the organization is missing the point entirely. Injuries should be qualitatively studied, and they systemically prevented. The data they provide is nothing more than a method of knowing where problem solving needs to occur. Once an injury has occurred, there are so many systems that have failed in the organization to create that deficiency. Using that metric as a driving force is akin to being tracking a quality metric of customer issues that resulted in catastrophic failure.

Items to Consider for Improvement: Quantity of safety work orders, time to close safety work orders, capital dollars spent on safety projects, hazards mitigated, safety audit findings closed, compliance calendar items closed on-time, employee interviews, safety committee projects.

4. They are not Meaningful
Maybe it is great that an organization has five safety observations per employee per day. What is happening to that data? Is the data real? Sadly, I have heard of too many times where these audits are being an exercise in the creation of paper. The employees are creating sheets of paper with check marks on them to simply stay off the “bad list” of people who are not performing their audits. Here is a quick litmus test of if the metrics are meaningful. If the safety audits stats are posted in a public area are employees really interested in the results or do they walk past and roll their eyes. Employees know the truth of those metrics. I have heard too many times “We has rather have one good audit that makes us better than 100 that are pencil whipped.” Yet, that same organization continued to grade employees on quantity. If safety is important to the organization, then why to we allow this process to be driven by sheer quantity when quantity is at the expense of quality.

Items to Consider for Improvement: If you were to present the metrics to the site safety committee, would they find the data actionable and meaningful? Even better, ask employees what data they want to see. It can be insightful to see the items that employees find interesting or important to the their daily work. Most are curious about safety because it directly affects them. Don’t be afraid to get that input.

3. They are not Timely
Here is the scenario: A chemical company has a major release. The regional news is carrying days of coverage, the Chemical Safety Board, OSHA, EPA, and other agencies perform investigations. Everyone knows that a the site in their company / division / region / etc has had this significant event. The company proceeds to publish nothing internally to help other sites learn from the event. Over a year passes and the company releases a lessons learned and policy change based on that event. Those corrective actions are important but by this time they are meaningless to those working in the company. It has been too long. The employees are no longer as passionate about that event. It also sends the message that safety is not important. If production numbers or customer complaints are negative, the company adjusts immediately. Something that gains media attention takes over a year to fix. The importance and prioritization is not there. These corrective actions and the closure thereof has lost the meaning to the people which is who those actions should be protecting.

Items to Consider for Improvement: Any metrics that are being tracked or published should have be timely enough have impact on the employees. Even is there is a smaller event that only affects the local site, the information about the event and the corrective actions should be communicated soon enough to still make a difference to the employees. They should still have passion and concern for making a course correction. This will help in gaining acceptance to make those changes in a fast and sustainable way.

2. They are not Actionable
Each month the safety committee reviews the corrective actions that are over due that are safety related. Each month a few get closed and a few more go overdue. It is a continuous cycle. If the metrics are not driving a change to the organization there is no sense of continuing to collect them. I have seen where an organization required safety audits. The only data required to be entered and tracked what the quantity of audits performed. There is no action that is meaningful or has any impact to the safety of the team. The only action that is driven by the process is to create more paper. There was a huge miss in using that data to create real organizational change. There has to be a way for the data to have an action. If the site sees too many overdue corrective actions, then there should be a process to get focus on them and close the actions. If audits are being performed, there should be a way to create actions from the meaningful aspects of the data.

Items to Consider for Improvement: If the organization has a metric is has to also have a method for creating action. If the metric does not drive accountability and changes for the better, why continue to waste time collecting it. There should be a process for evaluating the data and finding meaningful ways to create action for the benefit of the employees.

1. You’re Guilty until Proven Innocent
This was an issue I just recently had to think more about. I saw a metric where there was a tracking issue of work delays. Sometimes, the work was stopped for reasons that needed to be corrected. Other times, the work was delayed to make the areas safer. If the work delay was not appropriate, there should have been corrective actions. If the work was delayed to make the work area safer, there should be positive recognition and rewards. The metric for success or failure did not have any differentiation from appropriate and not appropriate work delays. The supervisor either hit or miss the metrics. I was struggling to understand why supervisors were rushing even when safety was a factor. The leadership team did a nice job of recognizing supervisors when they delayed work for safety, and there was never any negative repercussions from stopping a job to make it safer. It finally struck me that the metric assumed the supervisor was guilty until they proved themselves innocent. They were in trouble for having the delay until they explained in the shift report or verbally that it was a safety issue. They did not want to have to prove innocence, so they rushed to never be delayed. We has the leadership team had to change the metrics to exclude all safety items to assure that we empowered the supervision to take time for safety. We had to make it easier for them to be innocent and not called out on a metric that they would have to explain away.

Items to Consider for Improvement: If employees are supervisors are avoiding certain metrics or items, ask why. Also, take time to think through graded metrics. Do the metrics make any assumptions of guilt? If so, there has to be an over-communication of the scope of the metric. To create a proactive and safe environment and culture, the metrics have to empower the supervision and employees not encourage avoidance of attention.