We recently published what we called an Introduction to New Safety Guide. It included a LOT of contributions from safety professionals around the world discussing emerging thoughts and fields in occupational safety and health, including Safety-II (think Erik Hollnagel here), Safety Differently (think Sidney Dekker here), Resilience Engineering (think Hollnagel again and David Woods here), and Human and Organizational Performance, or HOP (think Todd Conklin here).
The New Safety Guide was a big success and we definitely recommend you check it out—and we thank all the contributors.
In this article, we thought we’d give you a short list of ideas to help you get started implementing some of the key ideas from Human and Organizational Performance/HOP at your workplace.
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HOP is often talked about amongst safety professionals, and it owes some of its origins to the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) in the wake of the Three Mile Island nuclear incident in the United States. So you’d be excused for understandably thinking HOP is all about safety.
But HOP is really not about creating safety, at least not exclusively, but instead it’s about helping workers create successes for the organization. And as part of that, what you might think of as safety from a traditional perspective will improve as well.
How can you do that? By understanding your organization’s real goals, but also by learning more from the workers and helping them create those successes. And you can do that by improving the resilience and capacity of the systems at your organization in which people work. As Todd Conklin puts it in the guide, “Safety is the presence of resilience, the presence of capacity, the presence of tolerance in a system.” It’s not about managing uncertainty, but managing our responses to uncertainty and complexity.
So instead of thinking of safety as “the absence of incidents,” think of HOP as helping the organization achieve success, learning from workers, and working with learners to create a more resilient, adaptive organization to allow for more successes under varying work conditions.
As explained by Todd Conklin, there are five fundamental principles of HOP. He’s even got a book with that title that you should check out.
If you get those five principles internalized, you can then base your own actions at work on that solid foundation. The five principles are:
Over time, managers, supervisors, and safety professionals have sometimes had the tendency to think that workers are the problem that needs to be controlled or removed.
This mind frame can lead to poor relations between safety professionals and workers as well as things like too often attributing “human error” as the root cause of a workplace incident.
HOP doesn’t see workers as the problem. Instead, HOP sees workers as the answer or solution.
Here’s how Dr. Conklin talked about this in the guide:
“Workers aren’t the problem that you fix. We don’t live in a world where the only lever we have to create safety improvement is the worker. We actually live in a world where probably the least effective, least comfortable, and least likely lever to pull in order to make change is the lever that impacts the worker and the worker’s behavior.”
Many times, when HOP is introduced at a workplace, workers instantly “get” and appreciate it. However, it’s not always so easy for upper management and supervisors to understand or buy in on.
Here’s how Dr. Conklin explained this point in the New Safety Guide:
“The most important group of people you’re going to talk to is the leadership of the organization. This new view of safety doesn’t need a lot of time and training and exposure and message management to the worker level. They understand this. Workers understand the power of context, the power of the system, and they understand safety as a capacity and doing work.
The group of people that really has a hard time with this shift in thinking is your leadership. Spend as much time as you can with those leaders, helping them redefine safety not as an outcome to be achieved, but in fact, as a capacity to manage.
Help them redefine the definition of safety. Safety is not the absence of accidents. Safety is the presence of controls. Help them understand that as we talk about managing safety differently, what we’re really talking about is just that they must manage safety differently. They must manage safety as a part of normal work, and they must manage safety as a capacity.
We don’t look for the presence of risk. As a senior manager, we look for the absence of tolerance, the absence of defenses, the absence of controls. Risk is normal. Risk exists in the work we do all the time. And one of the best ways to get this message communicated is to have them look at safety the way they look at finance - have them look at safety risk the same way they look at financial risk, because they will tell you financially when they designed the business, the business is diversified because of risk, they’ve built tolerance into the system. They’re monitoring financial stability all the time, and they’re looking at normal operations. Have them take those same ideas and move that towards managing high-risk operations in the organization.
My last advice here, because I think this is really important, is when managers push back because they have lots to lose or they’re less than comfortable with the idea that responsibility and accountability for safety is moving closer to them, not farther away from them, don’t get defensive. Become instructive, because when managers push back around this new philosophy, what they’re telling you is that we haven’t done a good job explaining how this change impacts them and what they will do and how they will respond.”
One easy way to start implementing HOP today, start learning more about work as it’s really performed at your workplace, and start finding ways to help workers create even more successes, is to go out and ask workers questions. What are they doing and why? What’s challenging for them? What are risk they encounter you doing know about?
And of course, (1) listen and (2) act on what they say.
Just do that and you’ve got a great start for day 1 of your HOP journey!