Goal Zero Leads To Risk-Taking
When organizations measure themselves against their numbers of failure can be an extremely dangerous approach. It leads the employees themselves to alter the way they deal with their day to day tasks, and not always positively.
Consider your health, what is it - is it 'looking' healthy? Of course it isn't, we all need to visit the doctor for a check up, to have our bloods taken and analyzed, to stress test our hearts to verify that the way we look on the outside matches what it is on the inside (for better or worse).
Having a zero incident goal within the organization is usually aligned to companies that perform in the middle of the spectrum, not at the top end. Organizations that perform at the upper end are those that focus on sustainable results and measure their performance on the things that they do, not what they don't.
How organizations decide to frame their goals towards excellence is critical. If they decide that their performance is substandard, what do they need to do to improve. What steps are required? How do we measure that we're doing these steps correctly?
Having zero incidents is not necessarily a reflection that all the steps necessary are being taken, it could simply be that the organization has been lucky or that employees are doing whatever it takes to meet the zero objective - usually exposing themselves to risk unknowingly. But once we reward luck, we head down the rabbit hole of basing our performance on luck. Once we 'luckily' reach an objective we believe that we have a sustainable result - I'm not sure this is what organizations really want. it'll only be after an accident that they'll be able to discover that the 'steps' that they thought were being done aren't actually being done.
Incidents are a failure in an organizations systems, they represent an opportunity to identify where and why failures occurred, and often the reasons are extremely complex. Assuming that no incidents are equivalent to safety excellence is also assuming that all those complex reasons of good performance are being done perfectly every time - is this a real reflection of the organization?
The zero incident goal promotes a mentality of 'don't fail' - but if you were to speak to management teams, more often than not they'd assert they want their workforce to have the mentality of 'can we do this better'. Focusing on not failing is a self-limiting mentality, it prevents the workforce from continually asking themselves "is this the best way we could be doing this".
Having 'goal zero' is lazy, it means that organizations don't have to breakdown their work and understand what excellence looks like and subsequently educate their workforce on the same. If organization took the time to do so, they'd understand what contributes to success and what attributes of the individual and organization are needed to motivate the success. This has a ripple effect into what employees will understand to be the values, behavior and activities that they need to do to contribute to success and what will be the result once they get there - more success, continuous improvement?