How coaching can support a healthy nuclear safety culture

b.SAFE Bitesize - a series of short training, webinars, blogs, podcasts and videos on all things health and safety
b.SAFE Bitesize – a series of short training, webinars, blogs, podcasts and videos on all things health and safety
b.SAFE Bitesize – ‘How Safety Can Support a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’

In this podcast, the first of a series of four, Sara Lodge describes how coaching supports the development of a healthy nuclear safety culture.

Coaching

As both an activity and a management style, coaching has, over the last 20 years, become a mainstay of organisational development. This is because it:

  • increases accountability,
  • improves morale,
  • increases productivity
  • and increases well being, among other advantages, in both coaches and those they coach.

The benefits of coaching to the world of health and safety are also being more widely recognised. Because of this, IOSH, among other bodies, is promoting ‘Coaching for Safety’ programmes to support safety practitioners in their roles.

Nuclear sector

The nuclear sector has fallen behind in this. While much has been made of the need for a safety culture specific to the needs of the nuclear sector, there seems to be little recognition that development of these traits require a different set of skills to technical. This is something that we’ve noticed in our work in highly regulated sectors. While cultural or behavioural change initiatives may be outlined in detail, the skills required to achieve them aren’t. Therefore, while money may be spent on change programmes, because little money or effort is put into developing the skills essential to their success, the programmes fail, or are not as successful as they could be.

Coaching skills

I argue that coaching skills, which incorporate:

  • goal- and outcome setting
  • active listening
  • questioning skills including open, interrogative, exploratory, probing, confirmatory and challenging questioning
  • summarising and consensus building
  • collaborative problem solving and action learning
  • empathy and relationship building
  • constructive challenge
  • feedback and appraisal
  • reflective practice

Nuclear safety culture

Are all vital to building the kind of nuclear safety culture traits which evidence shows are needed to avoid major events, and I’d argue to investigate them.

Listen to hear the first part of my explanation why.

It’s time for a ‘soft’ SQEP*

* ‘Suitably Qualified and Experienced Person’

A couple of years ago I gave a presentation to the North Wales IOSH branch on behavioural safety and safety culture. There were 70 people – their biggest turnout in four years.

As part of the presentation I showed the following slide and said, ‘OK, these were the answers, so what was the question?’

what-makes-a-1

The response was immediate – ‘the attributes of a good manager’, which is true. The actual question was ‘What makes a good supervisor/site manager?’ and I asked it of fitters, supervisors and site managers as part of research I undertook with Bangor University and Alstom Power Services (see my blog ‘We need a new approach to safety education’). Further discussion showed that there was wide recognition that these attributes in supervisors and managers helped to reduce error and error pre-cursors and supported other behavioural safety elements such as open reporting, questioning attitude, stop the line and human performance. So far, so good.

However, when I asked, ‘So how many of you and your organisations actually recruit or train for these attributes in your engineers, supervisors, QHSE managers or site managers?’, the answer was – none. That’s quite an incongruence – while it is widely recognised that these attributes play a significant role in creating a safe working environment, this recognition was not reflected in recruitment or training practices.

Communicating culture

In 2011 The Work Foundation published a report entitled ‘Good Work and Our Times’ in which it emphasised the role of first-line management in communicating culture in an organisation. Supervisors and managers are the people who create the day to day experience of the employees working for your organisation, who set the behavioural examples, who create the climate in which safety is carried out, who have the awesome responsibility of setting people to work in dangerous environments. They are the people who put into practice the organisation’s culture on the front line.

Yet how many of them understand that this is a  crucial part of their role? And how many of them are suitably qualified and experienced to do this, equipped with the knowledge of human behaviour and motivation, team behaviours, communication skills and with the emotional resilience, to fulfil this role?

b.SAFE D2iP ‘Dependency to Interdependency’ Safety Leadership Programme

Beehive’s flagship leadership programme – the b.SAFE D2iP Safety Leadership Programme

Beehive designed  a behavioural safety programme – the b.SAFE D2iP ‘Dependency to Interdependency’ Safety Leadership Programme – based on the research results for Alstom Power Services which resulted in significant changes to behaviours in first line supervision and management. Those changes had a significant effect on results, but the effects were further reaching. Once the behaviours became embedded it became apparent that the agency fitters used did not have the behaviours that Alstom now required. The drive and initiative of QHSE manager Mick Edwards, who was at the forefront of the behaviour change project, led to us working with the agencies rpoviding the fitters-introducing the behavioural model, explaining the need for a different approach to recruitment, and giving guidance on how to interview for behaviours. In short, introducing a whole new perspective on what being SQEP – suitably qualified and experienced for a role – meant.

The D2iP is now our flagship programme and we’ve delivered it in the power and rail sectors to excellent results.

Better recruitment cheaper than training

It is far cheaper to recruit people with the right attitudes and behaviours than it is to change the behaviours and attitudes of people already in role. This extends to recruiting people who are open to learning and change. But first these attributes and behaviours have to be taken seriously by the organisation in relation to risk and safety. They have to become part of the organisation’s criteria for recruitment, and those recruiting have to understand why and how to interview for behaviours and attitudes, as well as technical or operational qualifications and experience. Which leads to the question – is it time for ‘soft’ SQEP?

Join us on September 26th and November 18th 2019 for our next one-day ‘Coaching for a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ workshops. They’ve 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

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 September 26th and November 18th 2019 for our next one-day ‘Coaching for a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture’ workshops. They’ve 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