15 July, 2015
"What if people in your organization became the engine of learning for your company, not the engine of productivity? What if the extraordinary leadership historically focused on driving the goals of production were now turned to transformational leadership beginning with safety?"
Note: This is Part X in a series of posts entitled "Evolving Beyond Behaviourism." To read Part IX, please click here.
On July 7, I had the privilege of speaking to more than 200 Korean Health, Safety, Environment (HSE) and management professionals and academics in Seoul. The topic, Behavioural-based Safety (BBS), is not one I normally address—readers of this blog will recall I am not a fan of “BBS”, regardless of the flavor.
Several professors and a senior line manager from the wood products industry preceded me in the panel. Each explained BBS and how to implement the approach. They also provided examples and statistics, making the basics of the program clear so the audience could grasp the fundamentals.
I then acknowledged BBS as a good first step to building a strong safety culture, and went on to make three provocative points:
BBS is not just about safety—it is really about people. BBS gets people talking, and its real value is in the communications and relationships it opens up. Open communications and strong relationships are a critical first step to building a safety culture.
The way to drive BBS isn’t by focusing on worker engagement, but by focusing on manager engagement! Getting managers involved in safety, especially communicating with and listening to workers is one of the hidden gems in BBS programs.
BBS could provide a good start in unleashing human behavior—catalysing the minds, hearts and expertise of workers, rather than herding them with incentives or predicting and controlling their behavior. The possibility that BBS could offer is in developing workers, not harnessing them.
None of these points are in the standard BBS playbook.
When establishing a safety culture, the biggest difference is made possible by addressing the behavior and practices of leaders. Leadership behavior will change the behavior of workers far more quickly and effectively than imparting A-B-C’s of workers’ moment-by-moment behaviors. The key to BBS success is creating a fundamental change in the behavior of management.
After the presentations were complete, our Korean OSHA host opened the floor to questions. A number of the questions were directed to me. Here are some of the most pertinent, along with my answers:
“We have implemented BBS for some time and it is stale, what should we do next?”
I encouraged the participants to go beyond the observational basis of BBS and take on the ‘invisible’ factors. Behaviour and systems are the tip of the safety iceberg. Below the surface is culture, attitude, commitment, management drivers and values (e.g., cost and schedule), and human factors like fatigue and work schedule, etc.
I asked, “How could you evolve BBS, ostensibly a see-do observational program, to take on the precursors and drivers of behavior? Are you willing to open the doors to developing your organization with your workers far beyond the last and least effective line of defence, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and body position?”
“I run a service company and the kitchen workers are subject to a number of injuries—cuts, burns and repetitive stress. Can you suggest a solution?”
My response: “Have you asked your workers about your concern? Try presenting them with the problem. As they are the experts at their jobs, ask them, ‘What would make this job more safe? How could I improve your work? What can management do to make your job easier? How can we work together to make this job more safe?’ Meet with them at the end of the week and talk about the week, what went well, where improvement can be made, etc.”
“Western companies seem to be more successful in safety than those of us in Korea. Why? What are we doing wrong? What do we need to learn?”
I suggested that, perhaps, Korea is at a crossroads. What was once a country in shambles from two wars just 60 years ago has now become a leading economic and social powerhouse. This took tremendous commitment from leadership, management and the populace. The cultural strengths of Korea are well documented: loyalty, service to country, deference to authority, age and experience, personal sacrifice, and unyielding commitment to achieve goals in the face of obstacles.
But today Korea faces tremendous global competition. Its continued economic success is challenged by China and many other countries. One could also say that this success has stalled.
I invited the participants to consider that perhaps the strengths of the culture need to evolve. Their strengths, when over-expressed, have become weaknesses, hiding deficiencies in organizations that not only cause harm but stall productivity and performance. For example:
Loyalty and deference to authority are hurdles to open communication.
The goals of production and schedule conflict with safety.
Errors are typically punished in an authoritative culture, so learning is blunted.
I posed the questions: “What if people in your organization became the engine of learning for your company, not the engine of productivity? What if the extraordinary leadership historically focused on driving the goals of production were now turned to transformational leadership beginning with safety?”
On 27 July, I am again speaking to a large audience, this time in Perth, Australia, at the Chamber of Minerals and Energy Conference. I have written here recently of the crushing economic pressure the Australian resources industry is facing, and its recent spate of fatalities. I believe these two are related.
I will be speaking on a panel in an informal format with Todd Conklin and Sidney Dekker, perhaps the two most well-known (and provocative!) writers and thinkers of our time and safety industry. I am eager to engage in a dialogue with Todd and Sidney that can further open the minds and hearts of Australian mining managers.
It is time to Lead Safety Differently in Korea and Australia. Maybe you can join us in Perth; if not, I welcome you to join the conversation by commenting here. Thank you for reading and for the leadership you bring to safety.