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?

Measuring SQDC in Safety

For a safety department to be its most effective, it requires the evaluation of the group along similar metrics as others. I have been fortunate to have had some really good mentors in my career that have helped me to craft the way I look at running a safety department and measuring success.

 

In most major industries there are four key metrics that they are responsible for. I have seen this same method/metrics in automotive, food, and chemical. It is a positive process as it shows the balance that must to struck to have a successful business. These metrics are Safety, Quality, Delivery, and Cost or simplified as SQDC. A business can run without these metrics in harmony, but they are rarely highly successful.

 

So, what does it mean to measure to SQDC in a safety department? Here are some of the ways I have found make it the most meaningful for the team and larger organization.

 

Safety:

This is what we do, so it should be simple, right? Yes and no. I have always thought about what is the safety metric for a safety team. First and foremost, a safety team should not get hurt. They should be cautious and aware.

 

Beyond injuries, this metric for me has always been more about the message that I am carrying with me every day. What is the thirty second elevator talk that I would give that day to communicate safety to anyone. One lesson that I have always found to be true in safety is that you cannot overcommunicate a message. People need to hear a safety message as much as we can get in front of them.

 

Examples could include:

“Did you hear about the near miss yesterday? Here is how to stay safe”

“I read in the news of an injury happening. We have that hazard. Here is how to stay safe”

“Did you know we have not had ‘insert event here’ in a long time? Here is what we have been doing right.”

“Some bad weather is moving in today, remember our evacuation plans for bad weather.”

 

It is important that communication is a big part of how we define success in safety every day.

 

Quality:

Quality for a safety professional is based on our policies and procedures. Are they up-to-date? Are they relevant? Do they help those who they are meant to service? Have they been reviewed on some basis?

 

Where we help to maintain the high standard of quality is through assuring our processes and procedures are in good condition and help set the basis for accuracy, precision, and consistency.

 

Delivery:

Delivery is the service we provide to our customer. These can be in the form of audits that help find ways of improvement. It is the time that it takes to answer questions about the policies. It is also the metrics that we report out as part of the standard work. Each day the safety professional is called upon to deliver any number of these styles of items to the organization.

 

Cost:

There are a few ways to look at cost in the safety department. The first is helping to create and maintain a working budget. Be accountable to predicting big projects and special needs. Communicate early and often when there will be misses. Help the organization see where you need funding to help sustain and create strong processes to make the site safer.

 

Some organization also measure workers’ compensation costs. These can vary from state to state and are very reactive. They still, though, can heavily affect a company’s bottom line. It is important to measure and manage this process.

 

Overall, running a safety department with key metrics that match and mirror other departments helps to build transparency and trust into the system. These processes are valuable as they can help the internal team and the organization to see that there are processes that can be measured, implemented, and improved.

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.

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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.

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.

The Evolution of Safety Auditing

There are many ways that safety programs are audited and evaluated. There are some that are internal to the organization or site and there are others that are used external. Some companies use the idea of intra-site auditing where safety people from other sites perform a documented audit on another site. Year-over-year there are rotations among all the sites. The other choice is the organization chooses to hire an external auditor on a contract to perform these evaluations. There are also opportunities to leverage the organization’s loss prevention or insurance company to assist with performing or coordinating audits.

As a safety professional, it is easy to enter a site an find multiple unsafe behaviors or conditions. From a strictly technical standpoint, there are always opportunities for improvement. The reason an audit should be conducted is to get an idea of where the total compliance attitude sits on the organizational scale. Getting lost in the trees and forgetting that the forrest exists does not create benefit.

Regardless of how an audit is performed, there are some basic items about an audit that gives indications about the performance of the audit team, the site behavior, and the organizational culture. I have created a scaled list of how an audit should give insight to the organizational compliance.

Poor performance = few findings. High complexity

When a site is still developing the audit should be focused on big ticket items like: creating a lockout program, training employees on hazard communication, performing personal protective equipment surveys, and creating written programs. Inundating the site with lists and lists of detailed items is not helpful in this phase. They should be focused on simply developing programs. It is the idea that something is better than nothing. The natural cycle of continuous improvement will help the details become addressed.

Medium Performance = high findings, low complexity

When a site has become the typical performing organization, the transition begins to see more punch list style items. Depending on the overall performance of the site, this will drive the number of those items. The major items of program creation are gone. In their place is a list of items that need to be completed to enhance compliance such as labeling specific bottles, updating placards, and

Good performance = Few findings, low complexity

One of the best auditors I know has three categories of findings that he creates as part of his process:

Nonconformities are findings where the program is not implemented or not followed

Deficiencies are where the program is in place but there are elements that are not up to the standard

Opportunities for Improvement are where the auditor finds ways that the program can be improved and is fully in compliance.

A good performing plant will be mostly focused on the opportunities for improvement. The complexity will be low, there will be minimal findings, and the goal is to keep the momentum rolling. The site has many good aspects of the program, but even a good program can go bad if it does not seek continuous improvement.

Overall, the process of auditing is value added when it is properly scoped, controlled, and helps create improvement in the process. The sake of auditing for auditing sake is overall a losing prospect. The audit program should have a governing policy and process that should be followed. There should be a defined outcome and mission statement for the audit. It is through planning and a focus on improvement that the audit program brings true value to a safety organization.