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The Importance of Choosing What Not to Do

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

I've observed a common trend in safety improvement efforts: the focus is often on adding more procedures, programs, and processes. However, true effectiveness lies not in accumulation but in strategic refinement. It’s essential to balance what we add with what we might need to eliminate. This approach is not just about compliance but about aligning with the needs and values of our 'customers' - the employees, supervisors, contractors, and managers who engage with our safety systems.

The Customer Perspective in Safety

Reflecting on Henry Ford's perspective, we realize that customers may not always articulate what they need, especially in the context of safety. Our role as safety professionals often parallels that of consultants to business leaders, guiding them towards practices that align with contemporary safety expectations, even if these needs aren't explicitly stated by the workforce.

Historical Lessons in Safety Innovation

The story of the early introduction of seat belts in cars, as recounted by Peter Drucker, is a pertinent lesson. Initially rejected by consumers, seat belts only became valued much later when public safety consciousness evolved. This tale underscores the importance of understanding what our 'customers' value in safety and guiding them to recognize the need for certain measures.

Identifying Value and Impact

Our primary responsibility in safety management is to realistically identify and anticipate impacts. This involves ensuring our safety initiatives align with what is valued by the workforce and the broader society. It’s not just about the correctness of our actions but their relevance and acceptance by our 'customers' – those within the organization who engage with our safety systems.

The Strategic Framework: Prioritization and Simplification

A strategic framework in safety should prioritize efforts that align with safety objectives, performance goals, and cultural improvement. This involves a keen understanding of what adds value and what may be redundant. Strategy involves making deliberate choices about what not to do as much as it does about what to do. Constantly adding new elements without removing outdated or ineffective ones can lead to an overwhelmed and disengaged workforce.

In the oil and gas industry, achieving safety excellence requires a careful balance between introducing new safety measures and phasing out those that no longer add value. Listening to and understanding the needs of our 'customers' is crucial before rolling out new safety initiatives. By adopting a strategic approach that prioritizes valuable efforts and eliminates redundancies, we can drive better safety outcomes and foster a positive safety culture. Remember, effective strategy is as much about deciding what to forego as it is about choosing what to implement.

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