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The secret danger that safety leaders miss

So much time and energy in HSE is devoted to reducing physical risks in the workplace. But there is a secret danger that no one talks about, that has way more influence on safety behaviours. It’s called social risk, and it has way more influence on how you and your colleagues think, behave, and feel than you are aware of. The antidote to reducing the secret danger of social risk is good safety leadership, in particular creating psychological safety.

So much time and energy in HSE is devoted to reducing physical risks in the workplace. But there is a secret danger that no one talks about, that has way more influence on safety behaviours. It’s called social risk, and it has way more influence on how you and your colleagues think, behave, and feel than you are aware of. The antidote to reducing the secret danger of social risk is good safety leadership, in particular creating psychological safety.

Social risk

To understand what I’m talking about by social risk, try this little exercise:

  • Think of a time when you saw a deviation from a safety or quality procedure, and you challenged it.
  • Now think of a time when you saw a deviation from safety or quality procedure – perhaps you were part of it – and you didn’t challenge it. What were the factors that led to you acting differently in one situation than the other?
  • Now think of the deviations that occur everyday in your workplace, that have become normal, part of ‘the way we do things round here’. Why does no one resolve the issue or challenge it?

The chances are that among the reasons you didn’t challenge was the fear that you’ll be:

  1. Laughed at, or thought stupid or ‘soft’;
  2. Seen as ‘one of them’ (management, other team, area, profession) rather than ‘one of us’;
  3. Blamed
  4. Thought to be sucking up to someone or wanting to appear better than the others;
  5. Left vulnerable and isolated;
  6. Target of bullying or harassment; and/or
  7. At risk of losing a job or position…

This kind of fear is evidence of social risk. It’s something that influences behaviour far more than physical risk but is rarely given the same attention.

Social norms

Social risk has its basis in our need to belong which is one of the strongest drivers in human existence. Basically, we want to be part of a group and to fit in, and social risk refers to anything that threatens that belonging or our status in the group. Different groups have different social ‘norms’ – unspoken rules and power structures that govern what a typical member of that group does or doesn’t think/feel/say/act. The risk in social risk comes from transgressing the ‘social norms’ of the group.

Where social risk is highest

Social norms – the unspoken rules – can be particularly strong where:

  • Individuals work in an unusual, dangerous or remote environment and/or are not under the same kind of scrutiny as normal – site workers, soldiers, police and night shifts are good examples
  • There is little or weak leadership so norms and behaviours are set by the loudest voice, not the most informed
  • There is a dominant group of people working with a small minority – for example a largely male environment with a small female minority or vice versa, or a mainly white work force with a minority of BAME workers

In these situations – in a canteen culture or when things get ‘tribal’ – the social risk of being different is higher. We’re more likely to conform to what’s expected than challenge it, even if our physical safety may be compromised.

Psychological safety

When we tell people they need to have a questioning attitude, be open about mistakes, challenge, and ‘stop the line’- even to make suggestions or come up with ideas for improvement – we’re asking them to take a risk which can seem much greater in the moment than any physical risks involved.

For example – take a situation where a fire extinguisher has been used to prop open a fire door, enabling a group of people immediate access to an area that it would take them a minute to walk to otherwise. No one has ever challenged this and it has become the norm – there have been no fires so the physical risk seems minimal. The social risk for a colleague in questioning this and ensuring the fire door is shut is enormous, however. It has the potential to make them at the least very unpopular, or worse. Here, the immediate physical risk of upsetting the group can seem far greater than the distant risk of a fire. So it’s the social risk that drives the behaviour – the fire door continues to be propped open.

The additional risk – diversity

Social risk increases if the person questioning is part of a minority, where they may already have to work hard to show they fit in and are worthy of a place in the group. A woman might be afraid of being dismissed as a ‘typical woman’ or a ‘ball breaker’ if she challenges language or behaviour, or someone with a religious requirement might be afraid of being seen as awkward or unsuitable for the job of they ask for their needs to be met. Yet their contributions might be much more valuable BECAUSE of their difference. They could provide a new perspective that could save a life.

Safety leadership

If you’re a safety leader it’s not just about keeping people physically safe. You need to reduce the social risks by creating psychological safety, even for people who are different to you or your colleagues so everyone feels comfortable in giving their best.

Social risks can lead to catastrophic events. After the financial crash of 2008, Sir David Walker reported on the causes in 2009 in The Walker Report. In this he outlines how psychological phenomena such as groupthink – a term coined after The Challenger Crash – led to the catastrophic decision making that resulted in the crash. Groupthink can occur where the social risks of disagreement become too great. Groupthink also contributed to the Challenger event. The social risks of being the one to stop the rocket flying were too great.

PPE – psychologically protected environment?

People need to feel psychologically safe if we really want them to challenge, question, share mistakes, and stop the line – if we want to get the best from people full stop. Perhaps, therefore, we need to think of a different kind of PPE. Not personal protective equipment but a psychologically protected environment.

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How coaching can support ‘Continuous learning’ in the nuclear sector

This final blog in the series is about the third category of WANO traits – ‘Management systems’, and in particular the role of coaching in continuous learning. The coaching mindset is one of continuous learning, and coaching models provide a framework for the process. Coaching skills are also of real value when gathering operating experience feedback.

My last three blogs (see links below) have been about non-directive coaching and how it’s relevant to the nuclear sector. I’ve used the WANO ‘Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ to draw parallels between those traits and the mindset, skills and tools of coaching. This final blog in the series is about the third category of WANO traits – ‘Management systems’, and in particular the role of coaching in continuous learning. The coaching mindset is one of continuous learning, and coaching models provide a framework for the process. Coaching skills are also of real value when gathering operating experience feedback.

The coaching conversation – a framework for continuous learning

As mentioned in my first blog on this topic, coaching is effectively a conversation, but one with a specific structure, purpose ……. and shape. The structure, purpose and shape are designed to facilitate the process of continuous learning.

‘DIAMOND’ CONVERSATIONS- a coaching model

At Beehive we describe coaching conversations as diamond conversations for two reasons:

OSCAR Coaching Model, used with kind permission of Worth Learning, showing the diamond shape of a coaching conversation.
The OSCAR Coaching Model, used with kind permission of Worth Learning, showing the diamond shape of a coaching conversation.
  1. Partly because, taking the OSCAR Model we use as an example, they begin with a sharp focus on a clear outcome; they expand to consider the current situation, they expand further as choices and consequences are considered before narrowing the focus down to a point of action and review
  2. But mainly because coaching conversations are priceless.

the ‘Three Whats’ Model of Review

Another example of a coaching-based, continuous learning model is this simple process of three open questions, the Three Whats. It’s a quick and dirty approach to gaining operating experience feedback on the go:

  1. What? (ie what happened, simple description)
  2. So What? (ie so what are the implications of what happened? What worked, what didn’t, what impact will this have?)
  3. Now What? (ie now what do we do differently next time?)

It’s not in-depth or complicated, but it might just be enough to stop people repeating unhelpful actions or behaviours, start improving the process, and give those people working a voice so their thoughts, feelings, experiences and expertise can be taken into account. And it encapsulates the continuous learning process – taking time to reflect and review after a task rather than mindlessly doing what’s been done before.

In summary….how coaching supports a healthy nuclear safety culture

Coaching in organisational life

Coaching has become a standard feature of organisational life, recognised as good management practice across sectors and organisations. Research has shown that coaching has a significant impact on performance, skills, well-being, coping work attitudes, and goal directed self-regulation, and can improve the functioning of individuals in organisations.

The role of coaching in health and safety

In the past rules, regulations, process and procedure have been the dominant modalities through which health and safety has been delivered. The overarching intention has been to achieve compliance. But compliance is no longer enough. Developments in safety thinking including ISO 45001 show that the next big shifts in the field of health and safety will be cultural, where compliance is no longer aspirational but a minimum. There’s a growing awareness that technical skills and capability aren’t enough to supervise or lead in a safety critical industry, and bodies like IOSH have recognised the value and adopted coaching with enthusiasm as you can see below.

Coaching and the WANO traits

My intention in these blogs is not to suggest that coaching skills are unique to nuclear – coaching skills are generic and transferable; just good communication skills, good management practice. My intention is more to show how closely the mindset, skills and values of the discipline of coaching match the WANO traits. Bitter experience has shown that shortfalls of these traits contribute to plant events, and when they’re present they contribute to a positive safety culture. Therefore, through a simple process of logical deduction, developing coaching as an activity and skill set can help an organisation move closer to a healthy nuclear safety culture.

‘Coaching to support a Healthy Nuclear safety Culture’ one-day workshop

Our nuclear workshop, designed and delivered in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear and with the help and feedback of nuclear organisations, is intended to give a taster, an introduction to coaching and how it might support your safety culture. We want to share what we know because we genuinely believe it can make a difference to nuclear safety. A one-day workshop won’t change the culture of a whole organisation directly. However, if you use the practical tools and skills you learn you can change the safety climate, and potentially improve everything from near miss reporting to contractor management and engagement. And who knows, that might be enough (though we’ll never know) to avert a disaster like Chernobyl.

Join us on June 12th

Join us on June 12th for our next one-day ‘Coaching for a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ workshop. It’s been designed and delivered by Beehive in partnership with NSAN, the National Skills Academy Nuclear, and has NS4P endorsement. The aim is to provide a basic introduction to how coaching can support you and your organisation in building a healthy nuclear safety culture. Contact Stacey Balmer at stacey.balmer@nsan.co.uk for more details or to book your place.

Flier for the new ‘Coaching to support a healthy nuclear safety culture’ one-day workshop, designed and delivered by Beehive/b.SAFE in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear


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Three reasons why coaching skills are invaluable for nuclear leaders

Coaching skills are invaluable for nuclear leaders. They help increase accountability, improve decision making and create a respectful work environment, all vital elements of a healthy nuclear safety culture

In my previous blog I used a quotation by Karl Weick. The basic message was, in high reliability organisations, when technical systems get too big and complex it’s impossible for a single person to understand them or anticipate problems. Humans need what Weick describes as ‘rich, dense talk’ (Weick, 1987) – communication that generates enough data to help inadequate humans make sense of what’s going on. Face to face talk is richest, and coaching encourages it to be richer. This is why coaching skills are invaluable for nuclear leaders.

This has real relevance to building ‘Management commitment to safety’, the second category of the WANO ‘Traits of a Healthy Nuclear safety Culture’. I never fail to be in awe of the managers in nuclear facilities. The responsibilities are so great, the risks so profound. They need every bit of support that can be given to help them do this. I don’t just mean technical training, or safety by design, organisation or even behaviour. I also mean in developing ‘soft power’ skills like coaching.

The problem with human cognition

I started studying human psychology and communication back in the ’90s. When I became aware of how complex it was, I was astonished that humans ever manage to create any kind of shared understanding, or get anything done at all. This familiar Youtube clip shows some of the problems with human perception – how easy it is to miss things when you’re looking for something else. Our senses are not, in many ways, reliable.

‘Nuisance alarms’ and ‘sign blindness’

The need to be constantly alert – to be paying attention at all times – is contrary to the way our brain works. From an evolutionary perspective we are designed to ‘tune out’ things that are constantly there that seem to present no threat, so we can save energy and attention for the real threats. This is why we have ‘nuisance alarms’ and ‘sign blindness’ – we switch off from things we don’t need to pay attention to any more. It’s one of the biggest issues with having achieved a safe working environment – when things are safe we automatically let our guard down, and we’re fighting against our cognition when we try to keep vigilant.

Coaching and ‘Management commitment to safety’

In the face of how challenging it is to keep vigilant, and in view of the nuclear safety culture traits associated with the second WANO category, ‘Management commitment to safety:

  • Leadership accountability
  • Decision making
  • Respectful work environment

Coaching, and the mindset, skills and tools associated with it, help managers to stay vigilant by using the knowledge, experience and perceptions of the people around them, rather than having to rely entirely on their own resources.

Three ways in which coaching skills support nuclear managers:

  1. When managers use coaching models and tools they:
  • help people think through and ‘own’ a course of action. This improves confidence and accountability. It therefore improves ‘Individual commitment to safety’
  • help people think through the choices and their consequences. This helps to ensure ‘conservative bias’ – making sure the safest course of action is taken

2. When managers use open rather than closed questions they:

  • gain valuable information from the people around them, which they couldn’t get themselves. Therefore, while accountability still rests with the manager, they have better information on which to base decisions
  • understand the thought processes behind how people act. This helps to highlight gaps in knowledge or awareness, and identify training needs

3. When managers adopt the Adult – Adult coaching mindset, the work environment automatically becomes more respectful:

  • the coaching process is one which treats people with dignity. They are treated as if they are capable of thinking and as if their opinions matter
  • in addition, people feel valued because they are listened to. Trust automatically increases

Coaching skills for nuclear leaders

The results can be transformational. However,I’m not suggesting that simply changing to a coaching style of management will solve every problem a nuclear leader faces. Nor am I suggesting that open questions are the only type of questions that are useful – that would be absurd.

My point is that coaching provides a set of skills that will increase the flexibility of response of nuclear managers. Managers need to be able to move along the ‘ask/tell’ continuum of management styles to respond most flexibly to a situation, particularly when things are going wrong. Coaching skills, and the mindset and tools of coaching, provide an alternative set of tools for those people with the awe-inspiring responsibility of keeping our nuclear facilities safe.

Ref: Weick, K,  ‘Organisational Culture as a source of High Reliability’ (California Management Review, Volume XXIX, Number 2, Winter 1987

Coaching and nuclear safety workshop

Join us on June 12th for our next one-day ‘Coaching for a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ workshop. It’s been designed and delivered by Beehive in partnership with NSAN, the National Skills Academy Nuclear, and has NS4P endorsement. The aim is to provide a basic introduction to how coaching can support you and your organisation in building a healthy nuclear safety culture. Contact Stacey Balmer at stacey.balmer@nsan.co.uk for more details or to book your place.

Flier for the new ‘Coaching to support a healthy nuclear safety culture’ one-day workshop, designed and delivered by Beehive/b.SAFE in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear
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How coaching supports ‘Individual commitment to safety’

Coaching can support ‘Individual commitment to nuclear safety’ by increasing accountability, promoting a questioning attitude and improving communication flow.

My last article about how coaching can support a healthy nuclear safety culture outlined the three categories of WANO traits:

  1. Individual commitment to safety
  2. Management commitment to safety
  3. Management systems

I’m going to take the first of these, and show how the mindset, skills and tools of coaching can contribute significantly to ‘Individual commitment to safety‘.

1. Individual commitment to safety

Trait: ‘Personal accountability’

This trait focuses on the need for people to take personal responsibility for their actions. It also relates to understanding the importance of sticking to nuclear standards, and taking ownership of behaviour and work practices. Working across groups, departments and teams to make sure nuclear safety is maintained forms a part of this trait too. 

How coaching can help

To be personally accountable for your actions – to recognise your own responsibility and agency in maintaining nuclear standards, for example – needs an ‘Adult’ mindset. That’s one that’s grounded, situationally aware, problem solving and accountable. Coaching, because it invites people to reflect, think through a course of action, consider different options and make a decision, invites an Adult mindset. (see Ego States model below)

A ‘Parent’ management style with too much ‘tell’ encourages an ‘Adapted Child’ mindset. This can result in people becoming resentful or resistant; a ‘jobsworth’, blaming others or being passive and over compliant – acting without thought or accountability. None of these are helpful in developing personal accountability.

"How coaching supports 'Individual commitment to safety'" bsafebuzz.com. The 'Ego states model, a model of personality in which different elements of the personality - Parent, Adult and Child are used as a way of describing and analysing communication.
“How coaching can support ‘Individual commitment to safety'”. The Ego states model is a model of personality in which different elements of the personality – Parent, Adult and Child – are used to describe and analyse communication. Ego states are ‘consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviour’. Parent ego state is split into the two functions Controlling and Nurturing, and Child into the two functions Adapted and Free. Coaching needs an Adult mindset, and invites an Adult ego state response.

Trait: Questioning attitude

The focus of this trait is the importance of avoiding complacency, challenging assumptions and the unknown, and recognising the uniqueness of the nuclear context. 

How coaching can help

A questioning attitude is the essence of coaching – it’s what coaching is all about. Knowing what questions to ask, however, and how to control and structure a conversation is a real skill which takes time and practice to develop. Coaching training develops and refines questioning skills, along with other interpersonal such as listening, non-verbal communication, feedback and goal setting. These skills are valuable for everything from improving the effectiveness of human performance tools to event investigation.

Trait: safety communication

The focus of this trait is on making sure there's broad, open, candid and free flowing communication, up and down the organisation.

How coaching can help

Karl Weick in ‘Organisational Culture as a source of High Reliability’ (California Management Review, Volume XXIX, Number 2, Winter 1987 ) asserts that “accidents occur because the humans who operate and manage complex systems are themselves not sufficiently complex to sense and anticipate the problems generated by those systems”. High reliability organisations need ‘rich, dense talk’ so that humans have the data to understand complex systems. The richest information is gained through face to face interactions.

Use of open questions, the basis of coaching, can increase the richness of face to face communication as it encourages people to talk and share knowledge, thoughts, feelings and concerns. Using coaching interactions encourages the free flow of information, as individuals are asked to think through and share their decision making processes and rationale for action.

Coaching and safety

I hope in this article I’ve done enough to start to convince you that the process of coaching in the nuclear workplace, along with the mindset and skills developed as you learn to coach, and the mindset encouraged in the person being coached, all help to develop and support ‘Individual commitment to Safety’.

Tomorrow I’ll explore coaching’s contribution to the second category ‘Management commitment to safety.

Join us on June 12th for our next one-day ‘Coaching for a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ workshop. It’s been designed and delivered by Beehive in partnership with NSAN, the National Skills Academy Nuclear, and has NS4P endorsement. The aim is to provide a basic introduction to how coaching can support you and your organisation in building a healthy nuclear safety culture. Contact Stacey Balmer at stacey.balmer@nsan.co.uk for more details or to book your place.

Flier for the new ‘Coaching to support a healthy nuclear safety culture’ one-day workshop, designed and delivered by Beehive/b.SAFE in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear
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How coaching can support a healthy nuclear safety culture

The mindset, skills and tools of coaching have direct correlation to the traits and attributes identified by WANO as being characteristic of positive safety culture.

Previously I blogged about organisational culture , outlining the four things you need to know if you’re looking for change. One of the four things was that organisational history is part of culture – what’s happened in the past influences ‘the way we do things’ today.

Chernobyl

I was reminded that events in an industry’s history impact on the culture of the organisations in it as I read Serghi Plokhy’s sobering book ‘Chernobyl – History of a Tragedy’. The Chernobyl event in 1986 changed the world; it also transformed the nuclear industry. Nuclear operators realised that they needed to work together and learn from each other to avoid further catastrophe. The result was WANO, the World Association of Nuclear Operators, formed in 1989.

WANO traits

WANO’s mission is:
‘To maximise the safety and reliability of nuclear power plants worldwide by working together to assess, benchmark and improve performance through mutual support, exchange of information and emulation of best practices.’ *

As part this, WANO published the Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture. which describes the traits – defined as ‘pattern[s] of thinking, feeling and behaving’** – found to be present in a positive safety culture. The traits are grouped into three categories:

  1. Individual commitment to safety
  2. Management commitment to safety
  3. Management systems

Framework for discussion

What WANO doesn’t do is prescribe the best way of developing the traits. Instead they’re presented as a ‘framework for open discussion’** and a way to keep nuclear safety culture evolving. Beehive Coaching and Leadership Development Ltd has been providing learning and development to the nuclear sector for over a decade and we’re an organisation with coaching at its heart – the clue’s in the name. To contribute to the ongoing discussion I’d like to show how the discipline of coaching, and its associated mindset, skills and tools, can help to develop the traits and therefore support a healthy nuclear safety culture.

‘Change the conversation, change the culture’.

The WANO document states that shortfalls of the traits have been shown to play a big part in plant events. The decisions and actions that led to such incidents as Three-mile Island and Chernobyl, for example, were a direct result of plant culture, traced to the beliefs, values and shared assumptions of the organisation**. In my past blog I show that culture has complexity, breadth and depth as well as history, which makes changing it a long term project. But there is an organisational development principle which is a good place to start culture change. That is – change the conversation, change the culture. When we change communication in an organisation we go along way to changing culture too.

Using coaching to develop and support a healthy nuclear safety culture

Coaching is a conversation, but a conversation that has a specific:

  • structure and purpose
  • mindset
  • skill set
  • series of tools and models.

non-directive coaching

There are different styles of coaching but the style I’m talking about is ‘ask’ not ‘tell’. It’s about using questions rather than giving instructions, and crucially, open questions. The non-directive focus of coaching conversations – using open questions in a structure which guides the individual or team through reflection to decision making and action – is what gives coaching its potential to transform. It increases situational awareness, improves problem solving and decision making and increases accountability. It puts the human into human performance in a way that no other approach can.

Highly regulated industries and dependent safety culture

A non-directive approach can be a big challenge to hierarchical organisations with a traditional management style, however, particularly in highly regulated industries. In these there’s always a danger that the necessity of compliance to regulation can result in a dependent safety culture, characterised by a ‘tell’ management style where compliance is not only the safety focus but the safety aspiration.

But compliance is surely the minimum to be aiming for, whereas building commitment to the intent and principles behind the regulation is the key aim of supervision and management. And building commitment requires a different set of skills and a different style of management to ensuring compliance – one that coaching training can provide.

how coaching relates to WANO’s three categories of traits

Over the next three days I’ll be taking each of the categories of WANO traits in turn, to show how coaching can make a significant contribution to each. To join in this conversation, and to share the impact coaching has had on your organisation, or the impact you’d like it to have, subscribe to the blog.

Join us on June 12th for our next one-day ‘Coaching for a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ workshop. It’s been designed and delivered by Beehive in partnership with NSAN, the National Skills Academy Nuclear, and has NS4P endorsement. The aim is to provide a basic introduction to how coaching can support you and your organisation in building a healthy nuclear safety culture. Contact Stacey Balmer at stacey.balmer@nsan.co.uk for more details or to book your place.

*https://www.wano.info/about-us/our-mission

** WANO Principles PL 2013-1 ‘Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture@

Flier for the new ‘Coaching to support a healthy nuclear safety culture’ one-day workshop, designed and delivered by Beehive/b.SAFE in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear
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Transitioning to ISO 45001 – four things you need to know about organisational culture

Find out why an organisational culture change initiative is like reading Stephen Hawking’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’

In my blog post ‘Why ISO 45001 is a safety revolution’ I mentioned the key differences between ISO 45001 and OHSAS 18001. One of them is the need to understand the cultural context of the organisation and what drives it – an aspect of ISO 45001 which has no equivalent in OHSAS 18001. As an organisational development consultancy, organisational culture is the backdrop to everything that we do – if you work in an organisation it’s the back drop to everything you do too. It’s also something that is often misunderstood. To understand organisational culture, you need to know the following four things. Hopefully, when you do, this will help you to ‘build in’ not ‘bolt on’ safety to organisational culture.

Before we begin, here’s a question:

What is an organisational culture change initiative like reading Stephen Hawking’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’?

You’ll have to wait till the end of the blog for the answer, but here’s the first thing you need to know about culture:

1. It’s complex

Organisations are ‘complex systems’ – open systems to be exact. The ‘systems’ bit means that all the different parts of an organisation are connected, so something happening in one area impacts on the others through the ripple effect. The ‘open’ bit means all those parts are also connected to the outside, so changes outside impact inside. The ‘complex’ bit is that the connections between the parts aren’t necessarily obvious or even visible, so the impact of changes inside or outside can be unpredictable. In addition, organisations are constantly moving and changing as internal and external conditions change. All of which make organisations, and therefore culture, complex.

2. It has breadth

From bsafebuzz.com 'Transitioning to ISO 45001 - four things you need to know about organisational culture' - a blog post to help those wanting to 'build in' not 'bolt on' safety to organisational culture. How all the different elements of an organisation are connected through core values, the beating heart of the organisation.
Beehive SySTERMS Model showing formal connections through the core values of the organisation

Culture encompasses everything in and about an organisation. It isn’t held in HR, it isn’t a ‘thing’ that is ‘bolted on’ – that sits alongside strategy or in corporate – it is everything. The structure of the organisation, its strategy, the systems, the employees and training, management, resources, and the patterns of how these functions interact – all of these are part of the culture. So, culture is both complex, and it has breadth.

3. It has depth

Most of organisational culture is invisible – held at what’s called the ‘psychological’ level. Like an iceberg, part of it is above the surface but more of it is below. This means you’re unlikely to be aware of it most of the time because it’s just ‘the way we do things round here’. In fact the only time people are really aware of the culture is in the first two to three months of a new job, or after a merger where two cultures are brought closely together!

The things above the surface include what you can touch, like the uniforms, offices and reception areas, company cars, PPE, for example, and what you can see like the branding, and behaviours – how employees speak to and treat each other, how conflict is dealt with, what happens in meetings, etc.

Below the surface are the intangible and invisible parts of culture – the collective mindset, attitudes, beliefs and values that drive organisational behaviours. What’s above provides the clues to what’s below. A great example of this are the ‘symbols of power’.

'Transitioning To ISO 45001' - four things you need to know about organisational culture to make it easier. If you want to make a cultural change it's helpful to know these four things before you begin. Understanding the complexities and the multi level nature of culture means you can anticipate and plan more effectively.

‘Symbols of power’ are the things that demonstrate who and what’s important – who gets a parking space or company car, who gets the best office, the state of the works canteen, helmet colour, who’s late for meetings without comment. There can be a difference between what’s said, in the mission statement or company values, and what’s done – that difference is part of the culture too. If you want to know the real values, look at what happens, not what’s said. For example, on the Niceberg, CEO Mr C Gull is giving friendly fish a V sign despite the mission statement ‘to be nice’.

4. It has a fourth dimension – time

In the same way that our past experiences shape us as a person and influence how we feel about what’s happening in the present, past organisational events impact on how employees respond to what’s happening in the present too. If there has been a poorly executed job evaluation in the past where employees felt undervalued, for example, the next time a significant change is introduced there may be more resistance. Past events and the feelings associated with them are communicated through stories told that can develop into powerful organisational myths. These can be exaggerated over time, and rarely challenged.

So in a nutshell:

In order to transition to ISO45001 you need to understand the cultural context. To help you do this you need to know: organisational culture is complex. Organisational parts – functions, teams, departments, sites – are interconnected, and therefore interdependent. The connections aren’t linear, though, or immediately obvious or even visible because they include what’s under the surface too; collective values, attitudes, beliefs, emotions and experiences. Most of culture is held in that out of awareness place – what’s above the surface only provides the clues to it. This is the case whatever the size of the organisation, but the bigger the organisation the more complex it is.

Example – introducing a questioning attitude on site

  • Introducing a questioning attitude sounds straightforward – you tell people, if you’re uncertain or think something is unsafe, ask a question or challenge. But for it to be most effective, and referring to the Beehive SySTERMS Model:
  • Employees need to have the communication skills and confidence to challenge constructively – asking ‘what the f***!’ isn’t what’s needed here (Employees).
  • If employees are recruited on the basis of technical skills alone this may not be the case (HR SYstems).
  • If the training function has a technical focus there may not be the capability within the organization to develop the communication skills needed (Training).
  • If soft skills are not seen as important (Values) there may not be the money made available for soft skills development (Resources).
  • Managers need to have the awareness and confidence to deal constructively with questioning and challenge (Management).
  • In traditional hierarchies where managers tell and others do (Structure), having employees question may feel like too big a challenge to ‘how we do things round here’ (Values).
  • An employee who questions a manager in this environment is taking a big risk.
  • If someone questions and is knocked back, that story could become part of company folklore where it can act as a barrier to change.

So, how does all this answer the question: why is an organisational culture change initiative like reading Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’?

Answer – Because they are both started with the best of intentions, but rarely finished.

They’re both rarely finished because people underestimate the amount of time, commitment and energy required to finish them. In a short-term, fast-changing world anything that doesn’t create immediate results is likely to be side-lined, and the importance of ‘soft’ power, and the intangible elements of culture are often not taken into account in the planning. This can result in a re-structure, but with the same core values, beliefs and mindset, and therefore the same behaviours, causing the same problems.

First steps in culture change

To truly ‘build it in’, safety has to become a core organisational value – running through the organisation like words through a stick of rock; role-modelled by directors, adequately resourced and measured, a key part of business strategy, the backdrop to every decision made. The good thing is the shift from OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001 shows that that is now recognised – it is the future of safety.

Beehive SySTERMS Model – building safety in, not bolting it on

What are your experiences of culture change or behaviour change? Do any of these four things ring true for you? I’d be interested in your examples.

PS Beehive is running a free safety culture seminar as part of its ‘b.SAFE@Brathay’ partnership at Brathay in Cumbria on March 29th 2019. We’ll share the results of our research with Bangor university into organisational culture, and our trust-based safety culture model, the D2iT. For more information please contact info@beecld.co.uk.

Beehive is working in partnership with the National Skills Academy Nuclear (NSAN), providing one-day ‘Coaching to Support a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ workshops. The next workshop is on June 12th 2019, venue tbc. For more details please contact Stacy Balmer:stacey.balmer@nsan.co.uk

The first step in any change is a gap analysis – identify where you are now and where you want to be so you can plan the next steps. There are many ways of doing this – an ISO 45001 audit, a safety culture analysis, or a more general cultural 360 like the OCI, the Organisational Culture Inventory. For more information contact info@beecld.co.uk

We need a new approach to safety education

Good listener, communicator, empathetic, ‘psychologist’, compassionate, approachable, motivation of self and others, consistency, team builder, leadership and resilience. No, not the job description of a social worker or primary school teacher. But answers to the question ‘What makes a good supervisor/site manager?’, asked of Alstom field service engineers at their annual conference, as part of research into safety culture Beehive conducted with Bangor University.

The answers were a surprise, but were consistent with the answers from fitters and technicians when they were asked the same question out on site. It wasn’t that domain knowledge, role experience or commercial awareness counted for nothing. It was that these were not what differentiated an indifferent or bad supervisor/site manager from a good one. It was the ‘soft’ skills that made the difference.

So what? you may ask. Well, pointing to a supervisor who had those skills, a site manager interviewed said, ‘If I had ten of him my life would be so much easier.’ That’s because misunderstandings, duplications, omissions, conflicts, errors – things that are often caused by poor communication and relationships – are all things that divert time and energy away from productivity. Having people who can build good relationships reduces the chances of these things.

That’s because interpersonal skills, and the stronger and more positive relationships that they build, are the oil that makes every function of an organisation run more smoothly. 

But it does matter, it matters to safety. Shunichi Tanaka, head of the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority commented when operatives at Fukushima were sprayed with contaminated water in 2014, “Mistakes are often linked to morale. People don’t usually make silly careless mistakes when they’re motivated and work in a positive environment.” Dr James Reason states that “A pretty good safety management system with 100% buy-in is better than a perfect system with 0% commitment’.  Morale, motivation, positive environment, buy-in – all created through ‘soft’ skills, all playing a vital role in error avoidance, even making up for imperfections in the system. A key question is, however, does safety education reflect this?

I’d suggest not, and in two ways. One is that the focus is still on ‘hard’ skills, a reflection perhaps of a prevailing attitude that health and safety is only about rules and regulations, procedure, compliance, restriction, hard measures and absence of negatives. But health and safety has a profoundly human focus and if organisations want to get beyond where rules and regulations, process and procedure will take them they need to change their perception of what constitutes safety training to include personal development and those all important ‘soft’ skills.

The other is that the training methods used in safety education can lack imagination.  An organisation’s safety culture is created in the training room as much as anywhere else. If people groan at the thought of safety training that association is likely to pervade people’s attitude to safety out on site. If we want people to be interested in safety, to see it as engaging and relevant to their role, to be proactive about it, then safety education has to be interesting, engaging, relevant, and active too. Empathy isn’t learned through PowerPoint.

We may assume that people already have the interpersonal and communication skills they need to work safely out on site, or that they will learn them on the job. A look at the prevalence of communication issues as a root cause or contributory factor in event reports suggests that this confidence is misplaced. As a participant at our recent safety culture seminar asked, ‘Which of us here has ever been taught how to have a proper conversation?’.  Safety education needs a rethink and refocus.

Beehive is running a safety culture seminar in partnership with the Brathay Trust in Ambleside, Cumbria on March 29th 2019. The event is free though places are limited. Bed, dinner and breakfast are available for the night of 28th March at Brathay on the edge of Lake Windermere. For more details or to book a place please contact Sara on sara@beecld.co.uk or Erja Nikander on 01492 550 960 or erja.nikander@brathay.org.

Safety practitioners need interpersonal skills – five tips for behavioural interviewing

Introduction – why bother with behavioural interviewing?

In a previous blog ‘Do we need a new approach to safety education’ , I outlined the types of knowledge, skills and attributes (KSA’s) we were told through focus groups made the best supervisors and site managers. They were overwhelmingly interpersonal – technical skills and experience were important but were not what made a GOOD supervisor/manager. This is being more and more recognised – IOSH also recognises the importance of what I like to call ‘soft power’ (I hate the term ‘soft skills’) as the increased interest in non-directive coaching training shows.

There are two ways that you can ensure your safety practitioners and managers have the interpersonal skills needed. One is to develop them in-house. The other is to recruit for them – often more successful. That’s where behavioural interviewing comes in.

What is behavioural interviewing?

Behavioural interviewing is also known as structured or competency-based interviewing. The questions in behavioural interviews are designed to test for the specific KSA’s associated with a job. The questions are very specific, with the answers matched against criteria that have been developed based on the job role. This helps to make things fairer for the candidate and easier for the interviewer.

Behavioural interviewing is great for establishing if a candidate has the behavioural attributes, for example interpersonal skills, rather than just the operational or technical knowledge and experience, needed for a role.

The KSA’s that can be tested in an interview depend on the job and the organisation. Some common KSA’s are:

AdaptabilityOrganisational
awareness
Team work
Compliance Influencing interest in others
CommunicationFlexibility Integrity
Dealing with conflict
Emotional
resilience
Self-awareness
DelegationRisk-taking

What follows is our five top tips for behavioural interviewing:

1)  Use behavioural questions

Behavioural interview questions measure the interviewee’s behaviours, abilities and experience in a particular field, using examples from personal experience rather than from theory or in general.

Generally questions are ‘funnelled’ from the general:

‘How do you deal with conflict at work’?

To a specific example:

‘Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a conflict with a contractor?’

To specific probing:

‘How did you deal with the stress the conflict caused? How did you manage your team through the conflict? What did you actually say to the contractor which helped/didn’t help? What would you do differently next time?’

2. Use the STAR approach when preparing for interview

The acronym in this context isn’t stop, think act review! STAR here stands for:

  1. Situation or Task
  2. Action
  3. Result

This is a helpful acronym both for interviewers – it helps you to recognise and match/mark the information provided to the success criteria, and for interviewees – if you use the structure to prepare for interviews it will help you to give answers in the right way.

  1. Situation/task – describe the situation or task, focusing on what is relevant to the question
  2. Action – explain what you did; use detail; focus on self not team; explain how and why
  3. Result – explain what happened eventually; explain what you accomplished and learned

3. Matching/marking

Before a behavioural interview the interviewers decide on the type of answers that would score points for or against the candidate. Then they can match the responses to the criteria. For example, for conflict management the behavioural indicators may be:

Positive indicatorsNegative indicators
Accepts more than one
point of view,
Listens to understand
situation and needs of
others,
Accepts own part in the
process,
Strives to find a workable
solution,
Understands impact of
conflict on a team,
Learns from experience,

Sees conflict as the other
person’s problem,
Imposes own view of the
situation,
Apportions blame externally,
Unaware of effect on
those around them,
Leaves issues unresolved,
Does not reflect on or
learn from situation,

4.  Beware ‘psychological bias’

Any human decision has some degree of bias – we take an instant liking to some people and disliking to others. The behavioural interview questions, the agreed criteria and mark schedules are designed to reduce the chance of this. However, there are psychological influences that will still have an effect. An interviewer might ask more questions if they have a positive impression of the interviewee, and stop asking questions if they have a negative view. Some common biases it is helpful to be aware of are:

Halo/Horn Effect – when you rate a person high or low on all performance factors because of the general impression the individual has created, (‘She seems nice, she must be good at her job’) or because of a single factor , (‘He supports Man U, he must have good judgement’)

Negative or Positive Leniency – some interviewers are consistently too hard or too easy in evaluating candidates – people are never bad enough for a low mark or never good enough for a high one – or stick to the middle line too much. Ratings that are consistently middling, too harsh or too easy can result in the whole interview process being skewed.

5.  Reduce psychological bias using the ORCE Model

Using the ORCE approach can help reduce this. ORCE stands for Observe, then Record, then Classify and then Evaluate. It’s a way of approaching the interview process which will help you to gather all the information you need. It also helps you to be fair about the person’s performance. Take each stage in turn and ask your fellow interviewers to make sure you’re on the same page.

What’s your experience of interviewing? How successful have you been?

Beehive can provide Behavioural Interviewing workshops to support companies shifting to recruiting for a wider skill set. We also provide interpersonal skills development through our b.SAFE D2iP Safety Leadership Programme. In addition, we offer a unique Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) Level 3 and 5 certificate in Coaching for Safety.

Can anyone be a mentor? Six things a good mentor needs

mentor1991 was the year DI Jane Tennison first hit our screens in Prime Suspect, fighting sexism and crime in equal measure. It was also the year I joined the West Yorkshire Police on the leadership fasttrack and got my first formal mentor, a previous graduate entrant.

My first – and last – mentoring meeting was just long enough for him to tell me that as he didn’t think women had a place either on the force or the fast-track he wouldn’t be wasting his time on me.

The force’s rationale was sound – this was exactly the kind of situation that cries out for mentoring; a significant and challenging step into the unknown. But it was also why the effect on my confidence and motivation was particularly devastating. A previous graduate entrant may have the ‘context-specific expertise and knowledge’ that the European Mentoring and Coaching Council* identifies as being necessary for effective mentoring, but it takes more than that to be a mentor.

My experience in the police came to mind recently when I read an Institute of Leadership and Management report into mentoring, one finding of which was that while 76% of managers saw themselves as acting as mentors, only 24% of the millennials they ‘mentored’ agreed.**

In addition, according to the TUC, while mentoring is expected to play a large part in maximising the potential of apprentices, ‘despite the increasing recognition of the value of mentoring there is a lack of clarity over what is meant by mentoring and how it differs from the support typically offered by the apprentice’s line manager, training provider and/or assessor.’*** This suggests a perception, skills and knowledge gap which it might be timely to address, given that the government is looking to have 3m people in apprenticeships by 2020.

For an organisation to get the most out of mentoring, a number of things need to be in place. Both mentors and mentees need to understand the process, the roles and the way that people face challenges, progress and learn. Some level of formality in choice, training and monitoring the mentoring programme also gives the organisation oversight of the process and its level of success.

As well as this, mentors need to:

1.   Have a ‘growth’ rather than a ‘fixed’ mindset – Dweck’s work on mindset and feedback is a valuable resource

2.   Understand diversity, in particular the prejudices that can influence how we open up or limit opportunities for people depending on gender, race, age etc

3.   Have the skills – listening, feedback, coaching – that will best enable the mentee to integrate learning and develop their thinking. David Clutterbuck states that the ability to build rapport is crucial to mentoring in a way that it is not in coaching – the relationship is key

4.   Be exemplary in their behaviours. Mentors act as role models not just in behaviours but in attitudes – to customers, colleagues, management and suppliers. They provide a far more powerful induction into the culture of an organisation than any formal induction process

5.   Understand how different generations in the workplace view their career, learning, team work and feedback. There are significant differences between Boomers, Traditionalists, Generation Xers, Yers and Millennials. Being aware can help all parties get more from the relationship

6.   Most importantly, get a kick out of seeing people develop and grow

The origins of mentoring are said to lie in Homer’s story of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca. Odysseus asks his faithful, wise and trusted friend Mentor to take care of his son, Telemachus, while Odysseus is away – watching over him and guiding him through his transition from boy to man. On that basis of the origins of mentoring my real mentoring came from my tutor constable who I shadowed during my first weeks on the job. He loved policing and was an exemplary officer, but most importantly he liked seeing people develop and grow in the job. His values, enthusiasm and the way he did the job shaped both my approach to policing and to mentoring.

Mentoring is an important organisational learning process and knowledge management tool, and ideas such as reverse mentoring – a younger person mentoring an older one in areas like technology and social trends – increases its scope and value. At a time when businesses are rightly investing so much in apprenticeships, it’s never been more important to get mentoring right.

Do the mentors in your organisation have what it takes? Are you sure they are communicating and role modelling what’s important in your organisation? If not, contact Beehive/b.SAFE at info@beecld.co.uk. We provide both ILM accredited and bespoke mentoring and coaching training, and have provided mentor and mentee training most recently for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s SME Mentoring Scheme, The National Skills Academy Nuclear, and The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Research Fellows’ Mentoring programme.

*European Mentoring and Coaching Council International Mentoring Survey 2015

** ‘Workforce 2020 – Managing Millennials’, Institute of Leadership and Management

*** ‘The Role of Mentoring in Supporting Apprenticeships’, Andy Hirst, Christina Short and Sini Rinne of Cambridge Policy Consultants, Research paper 20, April 2014

Why ISO 45001 is a safety revolution

I introduced our last b.SAFE@Brathay Safety Culture Event (held at Brathay Hall in Cumbria) by saying that there is a quiet revolution taking place in the field of health and safety with the advent of ISO 45001. ISO 45001 is the new international safety standard that replaces OHSAS 18001. The new standard is designed to change the position of EHS from one of being ‘bolted on’ to the business to it being ‘built-in’ to organisational systems. This shift in focus represents a real opportunity for cultural change.

Key differences between OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001

A look at some of the key differences between the two standards might help to explain why. ISO 45001 includes:

  • Understanding the cultural context of the organisation and what drives it
  • Recognising the needs and expectations of stakeholders – neither of these two have an equivalent in OHSAS 18001
  • Changing focus from ‘management’ to ‘leadership’ and from ‘ensuring’ to ‘engaging’
  • Increasing worker participation, engagement and consultation
  • Moving from procedure and records to ‘documented information’
  • Considering the objective and result of communication, not just who, when and what *

These changes have the potential to be what’s known in the field of organisational development (OD) as ‘second order changes’ – change that can transform organisations.

Transformational change

Not all change that takes place in organisations is the same. A useful way of thinking about the differences is as First and Second Order Changes

Slide1

First order change is evolutionary – incremental, linear, doing more or less of what’s already done, making minor changes and adjustments that enable things to be done better or faster and not really changing anything fundamental about the beliefs, values or ways of working of the organisation. It’s adaptive and incremental – an example might be refining existing processes and procedures, or finding new ways to collect or report data, or reminding people about correct PPE. It’s about regaining balance – the homeostasis of the system.

Second order change is revolutionary – it’s not about doing the same thing faster or better but doing something different. It’s transformational not incremental, requiring unlearning and relearning, and it both enables and requires people to think, feel and behave differently to how they did before. Second order change includes cultural change and an example might be, well, any of the differences between OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001:

  • Understanding and embedding EHS as part of the wider organisational and stakeholder system;
  • a shift in focus and style from management to leadership
  • engagement and participation rather than policing
  • accountability for the effectiveness of internal and external communications

Are all changes that have the potential to transform the safety culture of an organisation.

Why behaviour change initiatives usually fail

Most behaviour change initiatives fail because the type of change required is misdiagnosed. Most culture change initiatives fail because the wider implications of the changes required aren’t fully understood or accommodated. What’s needed at this point is not just someone with expertise in health and safety. What’s also needed is an understanding of organisational development.

Organisational development and safety

Organisational development is a field which includes:

  • Managing planned change, in a flexible manner that can be revised as new information is gathered.
  • Not just creating change but reinforcing it 
  • Applying changes in the strategy, structure, and/or processes of an entire system, such as an organisation, a single plant of a multi-plant firm, a department or work group, or individual role or job.
  • Improving organisational effectiveness by:
    • helping members of the organisation to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to solve problems by involving them in the change process, and
    • by promoting high performance including financial returns, high quality products and services, high productivity, continuous improvement and a high quality of working life. CIPD OD Factsheet

Helping your organisation make the change

Beehive is perfectly placed to help organisations make the changes to mindset, skills and tools needed to transition to ISO 45001 because we understand the organisational side of things. We know what needs to change in the behaiours, and structures – we have associates who ca audit your organisation so you can plan your transition. If you have certification to OHSAS 18001 you will have a window of three years to migrate to ISO 45001 to maintain the validity of certification (see NQA Information re 45001). And because ISO 45001 represents an opportunity for cultural rather than simply procedural change, the sooner the change begins the more likely you are to gain the greatest benefits.

This is the first of a series of articles in which I’ll consider each of the differences between the two standards from an organisational development perspective. The next article will be ‘Safety SySTERMS – what drives culture’.

Click here for more information about b.SAFE

Click here for more information about Brathay Trust

For more information about our next Safety Culture Event at Brathay on March 29th 2019 please email info@beecld.co.uk

Click here to find out more about our Transforming Safety Behaviours Workshops

*The NQA ISO 45001 Health and Safety Briefing outlines the key differences between the two standards. The differences outlined above relate to points:

  • 4.1 – Understanding your organisation and its context – what drives your culture? 
  • 4.2 – Understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties – engaging with stakeholders
  • 5.1 – Leadership and commitment – changing from ‘management’ to ‘leadership’, and from ‘ensuring’ to ‘engaging’
  • 5.2 & 5.4 – OH&S policy & Participation and consultation – increasing (or introducing?) worker participation and engagement
  • 7.2 & 7.5 – Competence & Documented information – a move from ‘procedure’ to ‘documented evidence’
  • 7.4 – Information and communication – considering not just the who, what and when of communication but the objective and the result of it