May 1, 2018
Sidney Dekker’s new book, “The Safety Anarchist” is a good read, worthy of your time.
I have learned a lot from reading Professor Sidney Dekker’s books and listening to his lectures. I think his works on modern safety management, just culture and “second victim” are truly ground-breaking. In addition, I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with Sidney in lengthy discussions and sharing the stage in public events presenting how to lead safety differently. He is gifted with a beautiful mind and a big heart.
I recently read one of Sidney’s latest publications, The Safety Anarchist, and found that he continues to stimulate new thinking for operational excellence and safety leadership.
The Safety Anarchist continues his proven approach of extensive research backed-up by detailed comments to refute much of the current thinking in safety management. Sidney disproves, debunks, and even ridicules many commonly-accepted safety tenets, including the incident triangle, behavioral approaches, Zero thinking and goals and even management’s obsession with LTIs and MTCs. But these arguments are not the most valuable part of the book.
Sidney has gone a step further than his writings to date. He lists three key elements, autonomy, mastery and purpose, that motivate people in non-hierarchical organizations and he expands on his previous recommendation to try safe to fail experiments to improve performance. He presents a pilot case to improve safety and operational performance by eliminating safety bureaucracy. His example was conducted with a group of Woolworth supermarkets and applies Sidney’s excellent research rigor in real-world stores. One store even wins a safety award. Well done!
Why are there not more of these examples? It seems like there are many practitioners experimenting in HSE and safety leadership, be they anarchists or leaders.
More than 20 years ago, JMJ was asked to conduct a safety leadership experiment on a large oil and gas project in Saudi Arabia. The risk assessments, done for project authorization, predicted cost and schedule ranges with 50-80% probability. The assessments also predicted more than 20 workplace and transport deaths. This level was unacceptable to the company and the project director and JMJ was asked to intervene.
JMJ’s top-down and bottom-up approach, Incident and Injury-Free (IIF), was implemented in the detailed engineering phase. It focused on integrating the companies, disciplines and functions to provide well-planned construction and improve future operations. After engineering, IIF, during the construction phase, included all levels of personnel on-site and then carried through to start-up. The project was completed with no fatalities. At the time many considered IIF to be a radical approach.
This global energy company then launched four pilots – in upstream, downstream, operations and construction. JMJ’s approach to catalyze leadership at all levels and bring safety out of the realm of HSE to the forefront of line management. It was effective again and the sites all improved performance and reduced incidents. The company also benchmarked the performance of the pilots against multiple other projects and locations – their own, those of competitors etc. and the data was compelling. IIF was rolled out globally and is integral to their operational excellence today, some 15 years later.
In a same story, but in a different industry, a global manufacturing company with 160,000 employees conducted an experiment at a location in the USA. Would adding Safety Leadership to their extensive (maybe too extensive!) HSE programs improve safety? The pilot was successful. It was replicated in other locations, in fabrication, in assembly and more. The data called for global roll-out.
Five years later:
Like the oil and gas operator in Saudi, IIF was radical for that company, too. Perhaps not anarchy, but radical.
JMJ finds the over-emphasis on and blind adherence to false principles and models of HSE management, stifling to improving performance. More importantly it is also preventing people trying to get work done safely and efficiently. It is also a burden to the work, the worker and management. In this regard, Sidney argues forcefully for anarchy, and why not? Let’s get out of the HSE box and away from the over-blown, constrained and inaccurate mindsets! But isn’t that what leaders do? The professionals I work with in HSEQ are perhaps the most fed-up and most ready to lead.
Anarchy may be what’s called for; certainly innovation is. HSE is over-managed and under-led. Change is needed to reach the next level of performance. People at all levels, in senior roles, in HSE and on the shop floor can cause this change and lead it.
Sidney relates that in his safe to fail experiment with Woolworth’s stores, he avoided the Hawthorne Effect becoming a factor in its success. The Hawthorne Effect recognizes that it is difficult to design an experiment with real people in real working situations that is free from bias. The intervention of the researcher, even asking questions, is much less causing change in the workplace, rather it stimulates positive improvement. In conducting research it is important to prevent this kind of bias in order to substantiate a hypothesis. Thus using placebos in medicine or a control group in organizations is a gold standard for research.
In the two JMJ client examples above, we believe the size and breadth of the data sets (numbers of locations and differing operating environments) meet the test of validity.
In The Safety Anarchist, Sidney refers to Appreciative Inquiry: a Positive Revolution in Change , the work of Cooperrider and Whitney. Their approach is the opposite to that of data control: their assessment questions are actually designed to change thinking from the very first interaction. Their bias is that people at work are the key to performance. Workers, be they airline attendants, bank clerks or furniture manufacturers, are the key to transforming the company. So why wait? The transformation of the company begins with the first questions asked of these critical players!
Similarly, a leader’s concern, regardless of his official position, is to influence and bias people in positive directions, and then build capability in them. In JMJ we develop champions for safety and quality in the workplace. (Note: champions not cheerleaders!). These people are volunteers, from line workers and supervision, who sign up to cause positive change from within the ranks. Anarchists cause change, but protagonists might be a better label when it comes to organization change.
Some time ago I was challenged to think more critically by Sidney’s writing and speaking. He and I have debated IIF and other matters. Today I am inspired by reading Sidney extol forward-looking approaches in his new book: story-telling and teaching, the application of Appreciative Inquiry, real-world experiments and more. His Woolworth experiment is characterized by leaders abandoning bureaucracy in favor of engaging people, listening and then taking action and discovering how to improve work, not just improve safety.
The case against 20th century management approaches and safety bureaucracy has been made. Let’s declare it closed and won. It’s time to move forward with high performance leadership leading the way. I agree with Sidney. Perhaps we will need to be radical or even an anarchist to start the journey. To carry through the change, we must then lead.Contact Us
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