Transforming Safety Measurement: Leading and Motivating for Excellence
Updated: Jul 18
As a safety consultant, I've observed organizations struggle with their safety measurement approaches, often focusing solely on incidents and reactive accountability. This leads to a culture of fear, malicious compliance, and a "fail less" mentality. We must shift our mindset and embrace leading indicators, motivation, and strategic measurement to drive true safety excellence. In this article, we'll explore the limitations of lagging indicators, the importance of motivational measurement, and key questions to develop transformative safety measurement systems.
The Limitations of Lagging Indicators
Relying solely on incident metrics for safety measurement becomes ineffective as organizations improve their safety management systems and culture. Injury data transitions from prescriptive to descriptive, eventually becoming demotivating and almost pointless. When zero incidents are achieved, how do we continue to improve? Are our results due to purposeful initiatives and accountability, or simply luck? We must consider whether our safety strategy focuses on avoiding failure or achieving success.
Measurement as a Motivational Tool
The true purpose of measurement is to direct, align, and motivate behavior. Unfortunately, many organizations instill fear rather than excitement with their safety measurement systems. Executives deploy various measurement systems to validate operational health, but safety often lacks a balanced scorecard or transformational measurement dashboard. We must strive for a measurement approach that inspires and engages employees rather than instilling fear and avoidance.
Developing Leading and Transformational Measurements
To transform safety measurements, we need to ask critical questions and collaborate with leaders and influential followers within our organizations. Here are key questions to guide the development of leading and transformational measurements:
What does excellence look like in behavioral terms? Define the observable behaviors that indicate progress towards safety excellence. When we focus on behavioral outcomes, we can provide feedback and coach for performance rather than relying on trial and error.
How desirable are the beliefs within the organization? Beliefs shape decisions, behaviors, and the stories shared. Conduct perception surveys to measure desirable beliefs and identify any gaps between current and desired perceptions.
How does common practice align with desired behaviors and experiences? Assess the reality of day-to-day activities and compare them to the desired safety behaviors and experiences. Identify areas for improvement and alignment.
How will you market safety? Don't overlook the value of branding, positioning, and reinforcing the buying decisions for safety. Develop measurement systems that solicit discretionary effort and engage employees.
What initiatives will support the safety excellence strategy? Ensure that new initiatives are measurable and demonstrate progress in beliefs, decisions, behaviors, and stories, rather than solely focusing on results.
Delegate Priorities, Not Values
To make safety a core value, it cannot be delegated solely to the safety department. Values are reinforced when key decision-makers consistently exhibit behaviors aligned with safety. Involving decision-makers in creating and continuously evolving the measurement strategy is crucial. Measuring the right things and celebrating progress should be a collective responsibility if sustainable safety excellence is the goal.
We must move beyond lagging indicators and reactive accountability to drive safety excellence. Motivational measurement systems that focus on leading indicators and desired behaviors are key to fostering a culture of continuous improvement. We can develop transformative measurement approaches that inspire and engage employees by asking critical questions and involving key decision-makers. Let us prioritize motivational measurement and shift our mindset from "fail less" to "achieve success" in our safety efforts.