INTERVIEW WITH DR. TOM KRAUSE (part 2 of 2)

May 25, 2006
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Dear Subscriber,

Last week we presented part one of our interview with the co-founder and chairman of the board of Behavioral Science Technology, Inc. In this concluding part, Dr. Krause discusses topics ranging from the business case for safety, OSHA's relevance, "knowledge drift," personal coaches, cultural barriers, and a shift in focus from behaviors to exposures.

THE BUSINESS CASE FOR SAFETY

At the recent BST users conference in Dallas, there was discussion on the "link between safety and productivity." Do you believe the much-discussed business case for safety even exists? Why has it been so elusive to prove for a hundred years?

It is really difficult to conduct the kind of research needed to prove the business case for safety. There are so many variables involved that are difficult to hold constant across comparisons of different companies. You have differences in workforce demographics, technology, and culture in every workplace.

Safety is a tough thing to measure aside from OSHA incidence and frequency rates. And they are not a perfect measure. Rates accumulate over time and often come from small population samples. They often tell you nothing. Say you have two sites of 100 people, both with an incidence rate of three. One is making money and one is not. The OSHA rates won't tell you what is functioning well for safety in the organizations, or what is not.

I'm not sure we need to prove the business case for safety now. I have told executives and organizations that leaders who are good at safety are good at everything else in terms of leadership, and everyone in the room will nod their heads in agreement. Everyone knows this; people are already thinking this way.

Why do many executives seem to intuitively accept and agree with what you're saying?

They understand that it's a matter of culture. Culture produces good safety. If you have an organization that scores high on perceptions of justice or fairness, high on credibility, high on teamwork, high on upward communication, the organization will be good at safety and obviously productivity. Organizations functioning effectively will have these attributes across the board. And you can use safety to build these attributes. That's what Paul O'Neill did as CEO of Alcoa. He leveraged safety to build the cultural attributes he wanted for his organization overall.

CULTURE BARRIERS

Are the barriers that get in the way of building effective safety cultures any different in 2006? The traditional barriers have been things like management apathy, no resources, competing priorities, fear and mistrust in labor relations, resistance to change.

The most fundamental barrier in the last several years is the amount of negative change many organizations are undergoing overall. These can be changes in priorities to stay in business, using one person on a task in place of two or three, having two or three supervisors on a shift or in a department instead of, say, eight. It could be bringing in a new CEO, acquiring another company, or divesting a division. It is difficult to build a culture in this environment.

WHEN KNOWLEDGE DRIFTS

At the BST users conference there was talk about "knowledge drift." Is this "drift" tied to the changes you just described? What is knowledge drift, and what can safety professionals do to prevent it?

An example of knowledge drift is when we teach an organization to apply feedback. A feedback-rich environment is critically important to organizational culture. But what can happen is over time, that knowledge about feedback drifts into the organization doing things that are not good feedback practices. So perhaps the organization decides to do an incentive program. Now incentives for avoiding injuries is not the type of feedback we taught. This is a failure to understand the core principles.

When you perform a behavior, the environment needs to get back to you on whether your behavior was effective or not. This can easily drift to setting up a contest with incentives. It happens when safety application tools such as feedback are taught without adequate depth. And when people don't listen. The result: principles are not understood.

Safety professionals might keep an eye out for this type of drift in their safety meetings. Is the quality of the meetings drifting? Is employee engagement occurring in these meetings, or is it drifting off? You'd be surprised how often this drift happens.

PROFESSIONAL INTEREST IN LEADERSHIP

There was a good deal of discussion at your users conference about safety professionals assuming leadership roles. Hasn't leadership always been part of a safety pro's job description? Hasn't leadership always been a personal goal of professionals?

I think this shift to the emphasis on leadership is part of a pendulum swing. The attention of safety professionals always swings across a broad landscape of topics. Hopefully the current emphasis on leadership won't become a fad and go the way of all fads.

You see, at one point everything in safety, and other organizational functions, was top-down corporate driven. Programs were jammed down throats, so to speak. Then Deming came along and said it's no surprise these programs are failing, you've got to get employees involved. Then things like quality and productivity improved. But often this was done at the price of going around supervisors and leaving them out of it.

What you really want is integration. Integration was a key word coming from executives, union leaders, and other safety leaders at our users conference. That's the task in front of us: integrate the involvement of the CEO, supervisors, and hourly employees.

COACHING

In your acknowledgments for Leading with Safety you thank your friend and coach Phil Fedewa for "thoughtful insights on how to get things done... while maintaining order and balance across the wider range of personal objectives." Should every safety professional have his or her own coach?

If the world was perfect and there were no resource restraints, everyone would have a coach. Coaching is wonderful. No one is perfect and everyone can benefit enormously by having someone bring perspective to their work, what they're trying to accomplish. Often this role is assumed by one's spouse. But a spouse's perspective might be biased, too.

So if a safety professional is looking for a potential, informal coach, what should he or she be looking for in terms of characteristics?

The person has to have knowledge of what you are doing to provide perspective on you. And the coach's primary perspective is on you, not the organization. The coach is interested in your well-being.

It's not that a coach doesn't care about the organization. But a coach helps you through decisions and dilemmas. Say you are faced with hiring one of two people. It's a tough decision. A coach can help by being prudent, in the classic sense of the word "prudent." They separate their own interests to see the big picture. That's being prudent. A prudent person will see how your actions fit in the big picture. They have the objectivity to tell you things are never as good, or as bad, as they might seem.

OSHA'S RELEVANCE

There is not a single reference to OSHA in the index for Leading with Safety. Is OSHA irrelevant to achieving the safety excellence you discuss in the book? Is OSHA at all relevant to a safety culture?

OSHA is not irrelevant. OSHA is foundational instead. OSHA's existence in large fact lays the foundation to the whole thing safety professionals are trying to do. The most important event in the last 50 years in industrial safety is the creation of OSHA. Through its recordkeeping requirements, OSHA established a metric for industrial safety. Healthcare, for example, does not have that single metric, and patient safety would benefit greatly if it did.

FROM BEHAVIORS TO EXPOSURES

Leading with Safety seems to represent a shift in focus from behaviors to exposures. Is the behavioral process too narrow to achieve broad cultural goals?

Behavior-based safety is not the optimal process to achieve cultural improvement. It got too popular too fast, with too many projects done shabbily. BBS got muddy, confused, with too much of an emphasis on the behavior of hourly employees.

Behind the concept of exposure to hazards is the fact that behavioral observations will miss certain exposure risks. A person observing in a BBS process would not have seen that a gauge was set wrong, and that setting caused an explosion that killed three people. The gauge would not have been observed.

We have switched our emphasis at BST from the word "behavior" to the concept of what we call the "working interface." The word "behavior" is tainted in industry; it sounds like blame. You can explain and explain what you mean by behavior and it's still heard as blame. The "working interface" encompasses much more. It is where employee exposure interacts with system factors such as equipment, environmental conditions, and organizational actions. Many organizations fail to appreciate the relationship between the quality of their safety systems, the broader systems than enable safety, and what occurs in the working interface.

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