Welcome back to the latest installment in our ongoing conversation about safety! I hope this finds you where you want to be regarding safe practices and procedures.
This month we are broaching a topic not normally associated with safety. I find this topic is not a hot subject in safety circles, nor in operations, either! And that’s unfortunate. The subject is the importance of feedback.
Seldom do I get feedback on the topic’s pertinence or how it relates to business and its profitability, good or bad. Yet feedback helps determine effectiveness and progress, or the lack thereof. Remember, anything not measured is not improved, as Peter Drucker made so clear.
Investors monitor profits achieved through their buying or selling. That’s a form of feedback. When a safety program is not cutting it, the decision makers become highly motivated to explore why. The reason, in numerous instances, is the absence of a healthy safety program. Insurance is high, lawsuits are often crippling, and marketing is difficult when safety standards are not met. The regulations are not going away. Like I’ve said before, safety does not generate income; however, it is an efficient method of keeping the money that comes in the front door from going out the back door.
So let’s look at the methods of feedback in safety. After going through thousands of JSA’s and JHA’s known as assessments or analyses, depending on administration, you might find that, of the feedback you get, only about 40 percent could be counted as “quality” or useful feedback. And that estimate is probably being liberal. Some 30 to 40 percent of respondents simply regurgitate what they perceive you want them to write down (with no applicability) and at least 10-20 percent of the comments are smart aleck remarks.
The sad part is that virtually 70 percent of the feedback is not scrutinized. The people giving the requested feedback may start off thinking someone is actually interested in how things can be safer. But after abundant feedback is given with no response or change, the process becomes an exercise in futility. The quality of responses quickly evaporates. Based on these numbers, the majority of the feedback is deemed worthless.
Why? The rewards of quality feedback cannot be directly monetized.
That’s why the TV series Undercover Boss was such an Emmy-winning success. A boss is only as good as the immediate people surrounding him/her. The tendency is to feed the boss guarded or distorted half truths. When the bosses went undercover, the real world was revealed. The boots on the ground have a different vista than the upper echelon within the ivory tower. Now that’s not really news. The people in the field are not aware of the battles up top, either. One could ascertain that there is not much feedback going up or coming down. The truth be told, neither can really relate to each other, due to the crevasse between the two.
Do key investors give feedback on what they would like to see, profit wise? I’m guessing yes: either by investing or selling.
Do key performers in the field give feedback on how their job could be safer and more productive? Again, I’m guessing yes, but it falls on deaf ears at the top.
Fortunately I’m blessed with a wife that constantly gives me feedback. Early on, in our 42 years of marriage, I also was reluctant and reticent to listen to her unsolicited feedback. She didn’t know my business, nor did I know hers. Does that make the feedback any better or worse? We then learned to discuss and exchange ideas and values. Now I have her exactly where she wants me.
Simply put, how much time does it take to create a receptive environment by asking someone “What can we do to make our company safer?” You might be surprised by the answers you receive by asking the top hands out in the field—people who are getting it done each day. Don’t delegate it out to mid-management or supervisors. They’ve been programmed and shut down by upper management before. Giving a truthful answer can cost them their job. They have worked hard to get where they are. They don’t want to “risk” having to start over with another company.
On the other hand, the stark reality is that the talent pool has, of late, become shallow and there is not much chlorine either. Also there is the realization that some do not care to climb the corporate ladder. They just want to do their job and get paid. No more, no less. Safety is NOT a value that everyone shares.
Until we get in “amongst” them, or seek feedback, we will never know. I feel that my 25 years in operations, domestic and overseas, with my 20+ years in oilfield safety, gives me a different perspective. The perspective was largely due to feedback, because I asked, I cared, I listened.
Let me hear from you! I am interested in your feedback. You can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, it’s not how many hits in baseball that counts! It’s how many times you reach home safely!
Dusty Roach is a safety professional based in Midland. He is also a public speaker on subjects of leadership and safety, and he maintains a personal website at dustyroach.com.