Human and Organizational Performance, or HOP, is a new approach to occupational safety and health that’s becoming increasingly common at worksites around the world. HOP has some similarities with other forms of so-called new safety, such as Safety 2 and Safety Differently.
We recently had a discussion with safety consultant and HOP learning facilitator Helen Harris about her experiences implementing and using HOP for workplace improvements at two different companies in the oil and gas industries. Thanks to Helen for her time, insight and experience in the interview below.
Note: You can watch a recorded video of our discussion below or you can read a transcript of the discussion below that.
Here’s the video of our discussion with Helen Harris.
Convergence Training: Hi, everybody, and welcome. This is Jeff Dalto of Convergence Training and Vector Solutions, back with another one of our recurrent podcast/audiocast/webcast discussions. And today, we’re pretty excited. We’re in the world of safety and in particular, human and organizational performance or HOP. And we’ve got Helen Harris, a learning facilitator, and Helen has her own company called HOPHelp. So we’re really excited to have Helen, I think you guys are going to enjoy this discussion. In particular, she’s implemented HOP in the oil and gas industry. And with that, hello to Helen.
Helen Harris: Hi, Jeff. Thanks for having me.
Convergence Training No, thank you. We’re excited to have you. So, Helen, before we get started, I’m going to ask you tell us a little bit about yourself in just a moment and your experience. But for those who are new to the idea of human and organizational performance, and HOP, could you just kind To give us the brief lowdown on what HOP is?
Helen Harris: Oh, sure. Like you said earlier, HOP stands for human and organizational performance. There are a lot of people who call it some different things. I’ve heard people call it new view, or even safety differently, or safety differently theory is something that I heard recently. So it’s referred to in many different ways, but it’s pretty simple. It’s just a different way to look at how we can make improvements in our workplace. We really are looking more toward to the social sciences. Gosh, that’s hard to say. In order to better understand how we can build resilient systems.
Convergence Training So I thought it’s pretty interesting that instead of saying make a safer workplace, you talked about making improvements at work, so you obviously see this increasing resilience leading not just to safety improvements, but to all sorts of different improvements. Is that correct?
Helen Harris: Oh sure, absolutely. I think that this isn’t a safety program. It’s really a philosophy around how work gets done. And that applies to all work, any work, not necessarily just things that would make safety improvements in the workplace. So if you’re looking to make efficiency changes, HOP can work there. I know that there are some people who’ve tried doing some things on the financial end to make things like invoicing better. Getting those processes in place so that if you have dispersed workforce, you’re improving those processes overall. And again, it’s just going back to looking and studying how work is done successfully and implementing those changes across the board.
Convergence Training: Alright, great, than you. And now that we’ve got that introduction to HOP, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your own professional experience with HOP and in particular, using HOP within the oil and gas industry?
Helen Harris: Sure. So I guess a little bit about myself going back, I started working in oil and gas in 1997. And took a little bit of time, I was actually an SAP guru and an inventory control person back in those days, and really was looking for a way to transition into something that I was a little bit more passionate about, and that was safety. So in 2005 I finished my schooling and transitioned from more administrative-type of work into safety. It took me a little while, but I met Todd Conklin in 2012 and he completely changed the way I go about doing safety work. So I’ve been doing safety now for almost 15 years. And you know, since 2012, I’ve been really working very hard and trying to help companies make improvements using this new HOP philosophy and getting employees involved in the programs. Understanding that people make errors, and we all come to work to do good work, and kind of using those thoughts in order to make improvements.
Convergence Training: Great. And you mentioned meeting Todd Conklin in 2012. What were the circumstances surrounding that?
Helen Harris: Oh, yeah. So at that point in time, I was working for GE oil and gas and they were really starting their journey with implementing HOP in their different divisions. So they had selected me—I was “voluntold”–that I was going to be the HOP champion for my business unit and part of that was getting to study with Todd to understand the fundamental principles and then we went from there.
Convergence Training: Great. That’s a great lucky accident, I guess. And then obviously you helped implement and carry on HOP at other job sites in the oil and gas industry since then, is that correct?
Helen Harris: Yes, sir. I left GE in about 2014 and went to work for another service provider called Cactus Wellhead. And because they were a new company, a startup company, it was an interesting opportunity because I got to build in the tools in their program. So it was a little bit different than having to find ways to creatively put things into place in an already established system. So it was a really interesting learning opportunity for me to be able to do that. It was fun.
Convergence Training: Yeah, I haven’t met a lot of folks who have built HOP from the ground up at a company as opposed to retrofitting it, if you will.
Okay, for people who may not be familiar with oil and gas, can you give us some sense of the primary hazards in the industry and a sense of the safety management techniques that you had maybe at GE in particular prior to trying to implement HOP?
Helen Harris: Right, so for the service companies that I’ve worked for, primarily in facilities and fixed facilities, the hazards that you’re going to see are a tremendous amount of material handling, using anything from overhead cranes and then powered industrial vehicles like forklifts and JLG lifts and different things that are used to move big heavy pieces of equipment around. And then in the field obviously there’s a gamut, you’ve got exposures to different chemicals, you’ve got confined spaces, you’ve got hot work in close proximity to high-pressure equipment. So, just about any hazard for high-risk work that you can think about exists out there on a drilling pad. And those job sites are pretty diverse. You know, even in places like fixed facilities, you’ve got explosive assembly because they do use shaped charges to perforate a casing to help that oil come back into to a pipe. You’ve got tools that use radiation sources in order to measure, so you’ve got that bit, you’ve got some naturally occurring radiation that you have to deal with. I mean, just really anything that you can think of as far as high-risk work activities, you’ve got it on it well site.
Convergence Training: That’s good. I think people will find that interesting. I know I did, because I don’t know all that stuff. So thanks, I learned a couple things right there. Before GE switched to HOP then and you became “voluntold” to be a HOP consultant or advocate, what what was GE doing and why was there a sense that there was need for change in what they were doing for safety?
Helen Harris: Oh, so our programs were very compliance-based. And I admit that I was a very compliance-based safety person. And I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily not a compliance-based safety person now. But I do see that when you’re looking at your injuries trends, and you’re looking at things like your compliance audits, you can have facilities that have really good adherence to compliance. The programs are in place, they’re doing the things that they’re supposed to be doing, but they’re still having these life-changing injuries for employees. And so you have to start thinking about if we’re doing all of these things, right, that are compliance-based, then what else can we do? Especially like things like serious injuries and fatalities that are going on in facilities where everything is working the way it’s supposed to be, according to the programs that we’ve built based on compliance to regulation. So that’s kind of scary, right? Like you’re doing everything right. And now you’ve had this fatality or serious injury. You’ve got to start looking at what is it that’s actually going on here behind the scenes?
And, you know, it’s a hard transition. It really is, you have to kind of do some soul searching. And that’s what was happening at GE. How is it that our numbers had gone down to a point that they had plateaued, but every now and then we would have these outlier events that would result in, you know, significant day away way from work injuries or fatalities. There’s got to be something that we can do and try to understand why that’s happening. And so HOP was one thing that they said, we’ve got to change the way we’re looking at how we’re making improvements, because making more rules isn’t creating more safety.
Check out our article on Dr. Todd Conklin’s book about preventing workplace fatalities.
Convergence Training: Right. So within that context, and maybe you weren’t at GE long enough…but you were kind of switched to HOP because compliance-based focuses weren’t solving issues with SIFs, serious injuries and fatalities. Did you see a reduction in SIFs or has GE once HOP was implemented? Did they see that that benefit that they were hoping for?
Helen Harris: So I am going to guess and say that they have. Within my own unit, we had not had any fatalities, but we did have significant events, and those events did come down. I would say that we may have started having more-lower level events. But really, I even question that. I think that because we were starting to establish a workplace where openness and trust actually was being built through this program, that people were bringing things to our attention, because they knew if they did, then we would have a learning team and we would start to put things in place that was going to make it easier for them to get their work done, and be safer. And so I’m not sure if those lower-level events actually increased or if the reporting of those events increased.
Check out our article on psychological safety.
Convergence Training: That’s a good point. Data can be valuable, but it can be misleading as well.
Were you at the ASSE conference in 2017 in Denver when Todd Conklin did a plenary session with a GE rep?
Helen Harris: Yes.
Convergence Training: Okay, as was I. For those listening out there, if you want more information about GE transition to HOP, I’ll put a link in this article.
Here’s a video recording of that ASSE Safety 2017 plenary session with Dr. Todd Conklin and GE discussing HOP while others discussed BBS.
So, what was your experience when you started trying to implement HOP at GE, so it was a change, and then you also implemented HOP, essentially from scratch at your next place of work in oil and gas. How was HOP perceived, or what challenges did you face, with rank and file workers, safety managers, and safety professionals?
Helen Harris: Okay, so I’m going to kind of start backwards. You said the safety folks last, and honestly, and I’ve said it before, I was not the biggest fan of HOP initially. This was a pretty significant change in thought. And so it’s pretty scary. And it really did feel like even if I did the soul searching and said there’s got to be something more that we can do that’s not compliance based. The want to create more rules to create more safety, because that’s what we have traditionally done, was really hard to break away from. As a matter of fact, my initial introductions to HOP was just through a little bit of reading of some articles and some information that had come through when I was “voluntold” I was going to be the HOP champion and I was really resistant. So it didn’t surprise me that when we tried to roll this out to the HSE leaders within our business unit that they were not excited. I mean, it was definitely telling them that their baby was ugly. And they did not like it at all.
And so I hope that now I’ve gotten to be a little bit of a more gentle coach. Because it is a little bit scary. It’s a big change in thought, it feels like initially that somebody is telling you that everything that you’ve built your safety career on is fundamentally wrong. And really what I think is that it’s not an either/or proposition, you do still have your fundamental compliance-level things that we have to do. Those are regulations, we are required to do them. And to be good stewards for the companies that we work for, those compliance pieces have to be in place. It’s just a different way of looking at the way that you’re introducing things to workers and taking their struggle and angst and building those things in, so that you’re meeting your compliance requirements. But you’ll also have a great opportunity to bring employees and…talk about the best employee-involvement program ever! You’re really listening to them and getting their opinions on what it is that you can, you know, how do we avoid the error traps? So it’s, even though it can be scary, like it was for my teams, it’s totally worth the effort.
Convergence Training: That’s a good point about how you could meet with resistance from safety professionals, because it probably seems threatening, and it seems like you’re saying everything you’ve done up until now has been worthless or whatever. And I remember the first time I learned about HOP and safety differently, which was probably from Ron Gantt, and kind of just thinking like, this guy’s really not intuitive, and I’m not a safety professional. But it sounds like the second question was about the employee base, the rank and file base? And it sounds like you’re saying, they took to HOP immediately. Is that true?
Helen Harris: Right. It was, because maybe before we were telling them this is all the stuff that you can’t do, but still go get your work done. That doesn’t feel very helpful to them at all, that feels like all you’re doing is building these barriers, right? And in a sense, we were, administrative barriers to try to keep them safe, where what they wanted was an opportunity to voice the struggles that they were having, and have somebody help them to find ways to safely accomplish that work. And to understand that you’re creating a goal conflict here for me…most of it is goal conflict. We’ve got this goal conflict here, I’ve still got to get my work done, how can I do this, and this is where my struggle is. Giving them an opportunity to tell you where that is, and changing from the, “No, you can’t do that,” to “Let’s see if we can do it this way and make it safer for you to do it and take away that angst.” Man, they love it. They love it. It really does, it builds community and team teamwork for your organization whenever you do that.
Convergence Training: Great, which kind of fits in with what Amy Edmonson talks about with teamwork and the like. Then those are two of our population bases–safety professionals and employees. What about upper management? Have they always accepted this glowingly? Or what has there been their take been?
Helen Harris: I think that initially, there’s probably the same thing. There’s a little bit of all this that does not feel quite right. However, when you’re coming to your executives from a position where, “Look, I can show you the data. We’ve done all of this work. We’re doing the right things, but we’re still having these events that are significant.” At that point in time, I think there’s probably more HSE people than not that have had a boss, or a manager, or an executive come to them and say, “Just tell me what I need to do to fix this. I don’t want these events anymore.” And as safety professionals, we have to be ready and prepared to give them a different option, something that we haven’t heard before. And if they’re asking for help, here it is. Let’s go get it done.
Convergence Training: Alright, great. So let’s talk about your second job, the one after GE. How did you start rolling out HOP at that new workplace?
Convergence Training: With GE, it was a little bit different because we had to kind of build some things in, and so we started with building vocabulary around HOP and the tools that we were going to use. And then we immediately changed from doing incident investigations to using learning teams to study all of our injuries and significant near misses, they all went through learning teams in order to improve processes there. So it was kind of a funny story, that at the end of the implementation, because we started implementation in September, so we had gone a year and four months and at end of that year, people said, “Wow, you guys have had a pretty striking improvement. And it just feels different. When you walk into your facilities, it just, there’s a different feel. When you go into those places, what have you guys done?” And we said, “Well, we did what you told us to do, we implemented HOP.”
I can’t say enough about how much it builds trust. When you ask people, what is causing you issues, and you actually listen to their ideas on what needs to occur to make an improvement, and they see that happening. It’s almost like you’ve always said “How do I get people to report near misses? How do I get people to report hazards?” Really, you have to listen to them. And then give them some visible response. Close that feedback loop so they know what it is that has happened, what you’ve been able to do and what you haven’t, and that communication is just key to making that improvement shift. And remembering those HOP principles really does help keep your mind open and
help you to make connections with those frontline workers.
Convergence Training: Great. And for those listening, I guess two points here. Do you know off the top of your head what are the five principles of HOP? I’m not sure I can list them off the top of my head.
Helen Harris: I can try… so people are fallible. We’re all going going to make mistakes….
Convergence Training: I’ll save you. For those listening. I just did an interview with Todd Conklin about this. I’ll put a link in the article.
Helen Harris: Yeah, they’re great.
Convergence Training Yeah. And I might even, while we’re talking, go off to a different web tab and find those five HOP principles. But secondly, for those who are not familiar, learning teams often come up in conversations about HOP. Can you explain what a learning team is while I find those 5 principles?
Helen Harris: Sure. So learning teams really are bringing in people who do the work that you’re studying. So there’s a task that you want to learn more about…I actually prefer to learn from successful work. But sometimes you have a near miss or first aid or injury that causes you to want to learn specifically about a task. And so you would bring in people who are familiar with that task, and you have a coach or facilitator. Sometimes it’s good to have somebody who’s unfamiliar with the task come in, because they have really great questions. And you come together and you really look at what are the conditions that exist around performing this work, like talking to the work team and saying, “Just tell me how it is that you make this work happen.” And during the course of those conversations, you’ll understand that there are hazards and things that get introduced as the work is being done. And it’s really just the slightest difference in the coupling of events and those conditions that make a difference between whether that outcome is positive or negative. And so, when you’re studying successful work, the reason I like doing that so much is because people don’t have their guard up. They’re really open to just telling you how it is that they get it done. They will bring in “Oh, wow, during this part, you have to be really careful because if you don’t watch X, then Z’s gonna bite ya.” Those kinds of things. And so you have an opportunity to open up the discussion about “How did you figure out that you needed to do A to be able to avoid that hazard?” And then it gives you just a rich picture to look at to say “Okay, now I know where it is that I need to focus some attention” and ask them, “Is there anything else that you can do that’s helping to prevent that energy transfer from occurring so that nobody gets hurt?”
And it’s really, it’s great. It’s kind of an interesting opportunity as well, to kind of point out “Oh, so look, look what it is that you’re doing, you’re managing your work successfully. But what if this one thing goes wrong? Have we put enough in place to keep you protected while you’re doing that work?” And it’s really fantastic, because it gives people a different way to look at things, such that we’re not trying to guess what if this happens, it’s what if this does happen? Have we put in the defenses that we’re going to keep you safe? And what are those defenses that you think are going to keep you safe that add the least amount of resistance for you, like I don’t want you to have to fill in a work permit in order to be able to walk across this pathway Tell me what it is that you think is going to help us perform this work safely without being an additional burden.
So conducting learning teams is really about talking with your work teams to understand how work actually happens, and not what we think happens because we’ve seen it written in a procedure
Convergence Training: Right, and for those listening, people in New Safety often talk about the difference between work as performed and worked as planned, the black line and the blue line, and that’s what we’re talking about here.
Helen Harris: Right.
Convergence Training: I’d like that your initial discussion of HOP talked about using HOP not just for safety but for other things and that your discussion of learning teams discussed using learning teams not just for incidents, but also successes. And I was able to track down those five principles of HOP (here they are): (1) People make mistakes, (2) Blame fixes nothing, (3) Context drives behavior, which is kind of that systemic approach that you were talking about, (4) Learning is the key, which I guess is why we call learning teams learning teams, and then (5) how management reacts to blame matters.
Helen Harris: Yeah, exactly.
Here’s our interview with Dr. Todd Conklin discussing the 5 Principles of HOP.
Convergence Training: So we already talked a bit about the results of your HOP implementations. Can you talk about that a little further, especially maybe…it sounds like serious injuries went down at GE and people liked it after initial trepidation for safety professionals. Any other thoughts about the results of your HOP implementations?
Helen Harris: I can’t express enough that once we gave workers an avenue to really talk to us about the actual hazards of their work, and we listened to them, and there was a visible feedback loop, they could see what it is that we’re doing many times…like more times than I can even tell you, they were the ones that were involved in the initial ideas of what we needed to do to make that work easier for them and safer for them. And so they were totally bought into those, right? Like, I think you probably have heard that if you want your kids to eat broccoli, you’ve got to get them to actually help you make the broccoli. And I would say it’s very similar in making improvements in the workplace, people who are involved with those changes, they’re just more bought into it. So that, I feel, is more important-giving them an avenue to start those conversations. And it did more for the culture-and I hate using that word-it did more for safety culture than anything else that we had done previously.
Convergence Training: I don’t want to drag you too far astray, but why do you hate that word culture or that phrase safety culture?
Helen Harris: I just think it’s an easy kind of catchphrase. And I’m not sure that everybody always knows what it is that they’re meaning. Like, if you say, tell me what the perfect safety culture looks like, I think people still struggle with it. And so just from a vocabulary standpoint, I don’t know that it’s a good word for us to use until it’s more well-defined by a greater majority of the folks. I just think it’s kind of a fun catchphrase for us.
Convergence Training: Yeah, yeah. It is one of things that safety people say all the time, and I’m not sure what it means either. I’m not sure if anybody knows what it means. I know marketing people who talk to me about safety culture. And no offense to them, I’m sure they’re great marketers, but they act like they know what safety culture is. And I think sometimes we just all forget to step back and ask ourselves, what is that? What am I even saying? Yeah. So, okay, a lot of times when you roll out a new program at work, it works for a while…I hear this sometimes with lean manufacturing or something…and then it dies. And I think this kind of story is common with implementations of new processes and programs. Has that been an issue with HOP? Is there a secret for sustaining it? Or does it just add excitement and negate that need?
Helen Harris: No, I think that once you learn it, and you understand the principles, it’s hard to forget those, right? It’s hard to…there’s something in your head. I think all the time, especially in terms of blame..you talked about that before as being one of the principles, that blame fixes nothing. It really fixes nothing. And if you’ve ever been in training with anybody who’s doing HOP, they’ll say, “OK, so you fired the guy, what did you fix?” Nothing. You’re going to put another guy who fits the same profile back in that same job, and they’re going to be faced with the same conditions. And nothing has been fixed, except for putting a new person in there. They haven’t done anything, right? So you’re not ever going to forget those lessons.
But I do think that it’s easy to slip into…I don’t want to call it complacency, I don’t really know why I don’t want to call it complacency. But it’s easy because it’s comfortable, especially when it’s new, to go back to some of the more traditional thought processes if you don’t have somebody kind of poking you, to push you to stay in learning mode.
So I have found it helpful to actually build the tools around what it is that you want to learn. So, as an example, I’ve used Gen-Suite since I’ve started working for GE, even when I left GE, I used another electronic management system to track all of my incident data. And so going back to that and saying, “Okay, I’m asking, in my software, all of these questions,” or if you have an incident form that you’re filling in, and it looks really close to what it is that your worker’s comp information that you need, then you’re not capturing the information that you got from your learning team. You haven’t talked about what performance modes those workers were in and the language is just different. And so it’s been helpful to go back in and actually make your tools match what it is that you’re looking for in those learning teams. You know, is there anything that you can learn that can be spread to other parts of the business that needs to be in there. And so making those tools match whatever it is that you’re doing to roll out HOP, then those questions need to be on there.
One example I have is about risk assessments, all of us have traditional risk assessments and I really am not very fond of a traditional risk assessment anymore. I get very concerned when we’re giving a numeric value to something and, like one software system that I used, one of the questions in helping you determine what your risk level was, “Does the company have an HSE management system that is implemented?” And if you answered yes, all of a s