EHS 4.0 is upon us. Many companies are leveraging technology to facilitate, organize and grow their Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) programs. The influx of technology and EHS information management systems have made it more convenient than ever before for companies to collect and store EHS related data. However, it is one thing to collect data, but it is quite another to use data to make positive change.
As information gathering becomes more convenient, it is important to remember that information is not communication. This is a catchy slogan, but also a great reminder of an obvious truth. Without established communication pathways, the detailed EHS information that you work so hard to collect is doomed to wither away in a labyrinth of database tables. For the information to be useful, as a positive change agent, you need to develop a feedback process for communicating the information to the right people in your organization. Creating an effective feedback loop will help turn your data inputs into actions for improvement, unleashing the valuable insights from the information that you work so hard to collect. To develop an effective feedback loop, you need to focus on the “4-Ws” of data planning: why, who, what, and when.
Determining why you want to share data and insights with the organization will provide direction for additional data feedback loop planning. The answer to this question might seem simple. You want to share data to measure performance. However, is the why the same for different levels of the organization? Your reason for sharing data with top management might be to give them a high-level overview of the overall trends in the safety program. In contrast, your reason for sharing data with frontline supervisors and employees might be to drive small or sometimes major tweaks in work processes that have been identified as high-risk. Different levels of the organization will have different whys and therefore require the data to be shown in a different way. Once you have developed your whys you can move onto the next “w” in the 4-Ws of data planning, “who.”
Defining your why has helped you establish the reason for sharing the data within your organization. Now, let us focus on who should be receiving the data to make your communication goals a reality. Typically, when we think of the individuals that are interested in data, the people who come to mind are management and executives. These individuals have a great level of influence on organizational change, so it makes sense to include them in the data review process to foster buy-in. However, be careful not to lose sight of the frontline workers and employees. Frontline staff have the most in-depth understanding of how work gets done and while management and executives can drive change from the top down, frontline workers can drive organic change from the bottom up. Including the frontline in the data review process will help drive change at the task level where work gets done, while also ensuring that process improvements are practical. Incorporating management and executives in the information communication process is important, but to encourage an all-encompassing feedback loop you can’t forget the frontline where work is getting done. Now that you have determined “why” you are reviewing data and “who” needs to be involved in the review process, you can focus on “what” data should be shared.
What information should be presented to employees in your feedback loop? Usually when we think of safety data, we think of incidents and near miss counts, rolled up into summarized rates, percentages, and trends. This type of data visualization might make sense as a general overview for management individuals, who need to be informed on trends during monthly reporting, corporate reviews, and benchmarking meetings. However, when you are involving frontline employees in the data review process it is important to make the most actionable data available for review. Specific observation or incident details allow frontline employees to understand exactly what the issue is and from there discussions can be had to drive improvements. Injury rates and other summarized data will paralyze action because there are too many factors going into the summarized data. Is the month over month injury rate going up due to PPE deficiencies, system defects, a lack of observations, or training flaws? It is hard to tell. When you are determining what data to show during your data review processes, keep in mind the reviewer’s role in the organization. Summarized safety data, that might be meaningful and engaging to management, may not have the same impact on frontline workers who need more actionable insights to avoid and minimize at-risk conditions in the workplace. To promote engagement and moreover, action, you need to give the individuals involved in your data review processes access to the type of data that makes the most sense for their role in the organization. At this point in the planning process we have outlined our “why”, “who”, and “what”. Now it is time to tackle our final segment of data planning and determine “when” our information will be communicated.
The last step to developing a data feedback loop is defining when the data will be reviewed. Often when we hear the phrase “data reviews” what comes to mind is monthly, quarterly, or annual metrics tracking. Unfortunately, that means only reviewing your data twelve, four or even one time throughout the course of a year, respectively! This type of infrequent review may be acceptable for keeping an eye on high level trends and might be suitable for management reviews; however, providing frontline employees with data, twelve times a year or less, will not give them enough feedback to help reduce risk. To drive engagement in the data review process you need to get data in front of your frontline employees as often as possible. The more immediate the data review, the more pertinent the information, and the more beneficial the insights. When our reviews are timely, many of the same conditions exist and it is easier for employees to see the changes that need to be made, which promotes action in the feedback loop.
When developing a data feedback loop remember the “4-Ws”: why, who, what, and when. Focusing on these four keys of the data planning process will help you to develop a data review feedback loop that has purpose and practicality for the workers at every level of the organization. Remember, information is not communication. To promote action and to provide value to employees we need to turn the inputs into actions for improvement.