Monday, October 31, 2011

Back and Forth – Learning from our past

Recently, I heard a quotation that caused me to stop and reflect. It went something like “Life must be lived forward; unfortunately it can only be understood backward.” As we move forward in our lives, it seems that the lamp unto our feet and the light unto our path seldom provide more guidance than just enough to take the next step. We must learn from our history or be doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

I have had a few opportunities to change jobs. As I recollect, the actual number is right at 20. At each fork in the road, it has been worthwhile to stop and review my experiences with both the distant and recent past. What have I done well? What needs to improve? Which fork in the road should I explore that seems to be the better fit for who I am and where I have come from? With such consideration, there seems to be just a little more light shining on the path forward.

As I talk safety with companies and individuals I find there is a genuine interest in moving beyond the classic approaches. The focus on regulations and observations is still a need, yet these reactive tools don’t provide a zero incident safety culture. As you look to live forward why not give consideration to how you can build a more involved – creative past with new safety tool sets like perception surveys, Continuous Improvement Kaizen teams, specific safety accountabilities and the like.

The Doc

Monday, October 24, 2011

The End Game – Going from vision to action


A number of business publications emphasize the need to “Start with the end in mind.” This catchy phrase admonishes us to stop long enough to think out where we are going, and how to effectively get there before we jump into the fray and work on whatever issue is challenging us. What is the needed vision, and how do we begin and engage in this vision with actions that will get us and our organization to a worthwhile conclusion?

A while back, I was in charge of a mission impossible assignment to turn around an organization that had a history of miserable performance. One of the challenges was a highly adversarial relationship with a very strong union whose members had been abused for years by autocratic management. The end game was a need to get performance from both management and union members who truly hated each other, yet truly needed each other to keep from going out of business.

Sink or swim, what would it be? The only viable decision was to swim together instead of continuing the classic definition of insanity; doing the same thing and expecting different results- pigs wrestling with pigs. In turn, this required a vision of both sides combining forces with the enemy (each other), in an effort for all to remain employed. At the same time, we needed to meet the needs of a customer that was ever more unsatisfied with our inability to meet said needs, as we had focused on battling each other instead of fulfilling customer desires.

This end game vision required the leader-manager (me), to begin to humble myself and serve the needs of the hourly employees, salaried employees and customers all at the same time. After some significant time of personal reflection and thought, off I went to meet with the union leadership. At last, we began an extended period of slowly healing the perceived and real wounds inflicted on both sides. We mutually developed the credibility that allowed us to change our workplace culture so that we could work together effectively.

Many of us struggle with both what the vision is, and a plan for the actions necessary for its achievement. The Continuous Improvement approach to achieve organizational excellence would counsel us to back off from the fray, come away for a time of reflection, and follow the simple approach of “Plan, Do, Check, Act.” Are you currently struggling with a personal or work situation that would benefit from this approach of going from vision to action?

The Doc

Monday, October 17, 2011

How to change an industry’s safety performance

To make a change in an industry’s safety performance, the first necessary element is a Guiding Coalition/Steering team that will help work with the various idea/solution providers and the wide ranging customer base and their leadership. We have worked with similar Guiding Coalitions in: The Wind Industry; the electrical contractor transmission and distribution (T&D) – OSHA strategic safety partnership; North West Public Power Association (NWPPA); National Mining Association, as well as large decentralized industrial companies.

What follows is a meeting in which discussions center around: the players, the issues, the Guiding Coalition’s realities and the time constraints. In each of our above mentioned partnerships, we have provided a limited starting proposal that has a focus on one segment of the total organization spectrum. This is the pilot we believe necessary to prove the concept under field reality conditions.

The Guiding Coalition/Steering team follows the pilot performance progress each month as a part of the formal review process. Start up to final results typically takes 9 – 12 months. Each of the organizations we have worked with has had experience with other approaches to safety culture excellence and has decided to try our proposed solution only. However, it is not all that uncommon for organizations to do a “bake off” with more than one potential solution provider.

Once the pilot is finished, the Guiding Coalition team decides on a roll out strategy that includes a limited number of other divisions/organizations who want to implement the solution process. This next phase includes: organization training; third party assistance; Guiding Coalition reporting and system wide communications on the progress. This progressive roll out continues and is actively reported on at national conferences and in publications to all allied organization sites. The Guiding Coalition team continues to monitor field reports and provide input to these groups as appropriate. They also assist in the documentation of the best practices and in so doing help to set, monitor and communicate the standards of the total organization community.

During the time of this guided roll out, specific culture questions are answered, personnel development is addressed, training is solidified, documentation is finalized, practical audits are developed and the diagnostics are modified, if necessary. The Guiding Coalition/Steering team has a hand in all this with various sub teams that are evaluating, developing and improving the tools and approaches being implemented across the industry. Each of the sub teams and their target process partners are chartered to ensure timing, scope, resource and deliverables. The data and input for the sub teams comes from the partners who are either rolling out or actively using the improved safety culture approaches.

And now some do’s and don’ts for such an industry wide initiative:
  • Choose the development and roll out organizations carefully. They must want to be a part of this effort and not just assigned to it. The effort required to be successful is not trivial. They have to stay the course over time.
  • Make sure the charters are done well. There needs to be excellence in defining and delivering time, scope, resources, good leadership, commitment and outcomes.
  • Perform initial and ongoing in-depth training that answers questions and develops knowledge of the safety culture excellence approach with all members of the Guiding Coalition/Steering team and the pilot teams.
  • Ensure the teams are well funded.
  • Make sure the Guiding Coalition/Steering team is relatively small, compatible and with no side agendas, poor relationships, predetermined outcomes, and the like. There also must be a couple of field savvy "boots on the ground" types who are a part of this leadership. They provide a reality check that is absolutely necessary to delivering the credibility that will be required for any industry wide initiative to be successful with the line organization hourly employees who are to live the new and improved safety culture.
The Doc

Monday, October 10, 2011

Six Critical Components for Safety Excellence

Dr. Dan Petersen was one of the great safety pioneers of the last 50 years. His focus was consistently on developing a viable safety culture that lived safety accountabilities at all levels of the organization. Organizations fully utilizing his Six Criteria for Safety Excellence are among the leaders in safety performance. These criteria are:
  • Visible Upper Management Commitment to safety. In most organizations it is difficult to pry executives away from their cost, quality and customer responsibilities and have them be visible in the workplace with respect to safety. Roles, responsibilities and associated activities are essential if we are to make the executives field presence accomplishable.
  • Active Middle Manager Involvement in safety. There is a reality for organizations having far fewer middle managers than in years past. This fact makes their active presence on a regular basis at the workface even more of a challenge to occur. Once again practical roles, responsibilities and activities provide guidance for these important people to make themselves known in safety where it counts most, on the front line.
  • Focused Supervisor Performance is another key attribute for excellent safety performance. Supervisors have very detailed and specific accountabilities for cost, quality and customer service cultures found in the typical operations culture. In safety this level of detail and daily accountability is often lacking. Once your supervisors get on the right track their safety performance improves remarkably.
  • Active Hourly Participation without a doubt is of major importance. The hourly employees are the ones who deliver performance with respect to cost, quality and customer service, why not safety too? They are used to accountabilities for everything except safety. Using this criteria makes a lot of sense, and besides that, it works very well.
  • The System is Flexible to Accommodate the Site Culture One size does not fit all safety organizations and departments. Yet, we often try to force a regulations and observations approach on all that exists. This just doesn’t work; appropriate departmental safety flexibilities are a necessity.
  • The System is Positively Perceived by the Workforce This is the feedback loop in safety excellence. We measure our employees’ perceptions and issues throughout the organization and then put teams to work developing and testing innovative solutions. If there is no effective feedback mechanism an organization quickly stagnates and then deteriorates.
An organization needs to identify what has to happen before it is able to make the leap from "talk" to active and visible involvement that can attain a sustainable culture of true safety excellence. The Six Criteria of Safety Excellence are an effective test for safety initiatives. Are these visible elements a part of your safety processes? 
The Doc 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Developing Meaningful Leading Indicators

The six sigma methodology for manufacturing has a relentless focus on achieving zero errors in the workplace. Upstream (or leading) indicators/metrics are a vital part of the error proofing processes that assist the facility teams in focusing on their progress toward zero errors in all that they do. This has not been a part of the approaches used by most organizations when it comes to improving safety performance. Fortunately, a six sigma tool utilization approach is currently being tried by a number of safety leading-edge organizations.


These groups are focusing in on the upstream activities that deliver the downstream results instead of just utilizing “rear view mirror” techniques which concentrate on past injuries; things we do not want to happen. As the thought and action leaders in safety concentrate on error proofing the upstream processes that have been proven to reduce and eliminate injuries, they too have found a need for leading safety indicators.


In the history of safety, there is not a lot of evidence of safety indicators beyond counting injuries, incidents and observations that are all reactive to conditions in the workplace. A model that goes beyond injuries and observations is presented in Dr. Williamsen’s article on Six Sigma Safety as published in Professional Safety Magazine. Therein are details for six levels of tools that can assist an organization in relentlessly pursuing a safety culture that does not tolerate injuries or incidents.


Each of these levels of proactive improvement in safety performance must also have proactive/leading indicators of how the organization is doing in eliminating injuries and incidents.
  • Level One deals with regulations, policies, best practices and procedures which are fundamental to improving safety conditions in an organization. This is a very reactive level of safety do’s and don’ts, which focus on the traps that exist in every organization’s workplace. The leading indicators in this lagging approach to safety performance allow an organization to concentrate on the activities all need to do on a regular basis to eliminate hazards in the workplace. Safety work order systems, along with Action Item Matrices for injury Root Cause Analyses solutions, are typical examples of value added level one leading indicators.
  • The Level Two leading indicators deal with what is visible in the workplace. We must all effectively react to these if the visible issues are to be eliminated. Here, the focus is on observation programs, Near Miss Resolution, Inspections and the like. We need to track completion of proactive activities that help reduce the visible issues if injuries are to be eliminated.
  • Level Three moves into the proactive world of safety performance excellence. What are the safety accountabilities that people from all levels of the organization must consistently do to deliver a culture of value added engagement in safety excellence? Leading indicators in Safety Accountabilities revolve around the work of Dr. Dan Petersen’s Six Criteria of Safety Excellence. The focus is on value added safety activities from people at all levels of the organization.
  • Level Four is all about determining what our people believe are weaknesses in the safety system and culture. Once again, Dr. Petersen’s Six Criteria of Safety Excellence is used, in this case dealing with the safety perceptions of the total workforce. The leading indicators at this level deal with what our people believe needs to be improved.
  • Level Five is the engagement of employees throughout the organization in Continuous Improvement teams that are working diligently to improve all the issues noted in levels one through four. Here, the leading indicators are Action Item Matrices that the teams are focused on completing.
  • Level Six deals with the passionate leadership that becomes the guiding coalition once the Continuous Improvement teams are performing. As the teams attack and resolve the problems the organization used to live with, a major culture shift occurs. More and more people throughout the organization engage. They become the passionate zero incident safety culture leaders that has this approach become self sustaining. The leading indicators at level six deal with the activities of this ever increasing group of leaders.
Significant safety culture improvement and "zero-incident excellence" isn’t a matter of prioritizing. Rather, it requires incorporating safety as a core value and integrating well-defined, practical accountabilities with associated leading indicators — into the organization’s overall operations from top to bottom. Safety accountabilities become a key metric tied directly to job performance - just like those for production, quality and customer service. These indicators are used to establish a culture of safety accountability that addresses why incidents happen in the first place. This kind of safety culture has every employee engaged in appropriate, practical activities. In turn, they don’t tolerate any unsafe activities or conditions.


The Doc

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