A safety consultant says taking a page from the military’s playbook — something called Commander’s Intent — can help companies achieve their safety goals.
In a presentation at the National Safety Council fall 2021 conference, Shawn Galloway, President/COO of ProAct Safety Inc., said Commander’s Intent is the overall purpose of something — the “why” it’s done.
Galloway said companies can leverage five areas of Commander’s Intent to communicate better so employees know the organization’s key safety objectives, what those objectives look like and why the company is going in particular directions.
1. Clarity of success
What does safety success look like at your company?
If you asked several managers that question, would they all have the same answer?
Galloway said this is the first step in clarifying what safety success is: getting all managers on the same page.
Without that unity, Galloway said companies unintentionally create many different cultures within themselves.
In general, Galloway said success in safety isn’t striving for perfection. Instead, it’s striving for continuous improvement and the mindset that we can always be better.
To get there, Galloway said three things are needed:
- The ability to get and repeat great results. Galloway recommends moving away from lack of injuries as a measure of success. Instead, measure leading indicators (more on that below).
- Know precisely what’s leading to your results. This is the hardest of the three, according to Galloway. To describe success you have to know how you got there.
- Adopt the mindset that, no matter how well we’re performing, we can do better. Galloway asks: Don’t we all have some practices that were acceptable five years ago that no longer are? That’s because our thinking changed. So since thinking always changes, we can always do better.
Example: Cintas has a value called Positive Discontent. It means they celebrate their success but they know they can always do better. Cintas has also stopped using the term “best practice,” and uses “better practice” instead. Reason: If we adopt a best practice, we might stop looking for a better way.
2. Clarity of intent
A study out of Harvard sought to measure what really motivates people at work.
Thousands of people kept journals, documenting what they were doing when they felt the most and least motivated.
The overwhelming conclusion is that the best motivator is visible progress toward a goal.
In the safety world, how do we show the visible progress toward a goal if a goal is defined as the absence of something — the absence of injuries?
Galloway said visible progress in safety has to be defined in observable terms so it’s possible to see we’re getting more of what we want.
Measuring a lack of injuries can lead to a dangerous mindset, Galloway said. If safety means not getting hurt, then doing anything that doesn’t get a person hurt must be safe. Galloway calls that flawed logic.
Although it may sound selfish, Galloway recommends answering the question “what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) when it comes to safety.
The key is to make the answer to that question more personal.
Take, for example, what an executive told employees at a town hall meeting. When he was three years old, he lost his grandfather in an industrial accident. The executive said he never had the opportunity to learn from his grandfather. He told employees that he wanted to make sure they are there for their grandchildren so they can learn from you.
Galloway said employees need to see how a company’s safety strategy translates to the thing people care most about: their family members.
3. Clear roles, responsibilities and results (3 Rs)
Galloway asks: Do employees see themselves as actors in your overall strategy?
Of all the types of supervisors at a company, the most overlooked are the frontline supervisors, according to Galloway.
Yet, these are the people who can have the most influence on other employees about safety.
How supervisors spend their time needs to be decided within your own organization in alignment with Commander’s Intent. Where are we going? What does success look like? Take the answers to those questions to determine what individual leaders need to do to achieve the outcomes.
Safety strategy needs to support the overall business strategy. Galloway said this is why business leaders need to take part in crafting the safety strategy. If safety leaders create the safety strategy without input from executives, there will be points of conflict with the overall business strategy.
If safety is truly a company value, executives can’t delegate values.
Galloways said safety pros need to evolve from grunts to guardians and then to gurus:
- Grunts have everything delegated to them, performing mostly paperwork and administrative duties, such as filling out OSHA logs.
- A guardian starts bringing in safety programs and tries to get supervisors involved.
- A guru is like general counsel for a company. They’re not running things, but they protect the organization and make sure it’s going in the right direction. They’re the subject matter experts.
4. Recognition of initiative and ingenuity
Galloway notes that, in Marketing, there’s something called “reinforcing the buying decision.” It’s making you feel good about your purchase after the purchase.
An example of that is, after buying a new car, the salesperson calls you to make sure everything is going well and if you have any questions or concerns.
It’s all about creating a good experience, because negative experiences tend to persist in the mind longer than the good ones.
Engagement is made of three things, according to Galloway: buy-in, participation and ownership. To get employee buy-in, get them to participate in the process (developing safety). Then they will feel a sense of ownership.
Getting employees to be motivated is a three-step process, according to Galloway:
- Identify and neutralize the demotivators (things such as constant change, withholding information, hypocrisy).
- Add in motivators (input, teamwork, seeing the value).
- Reward and recognize those who are going above and beyond.
How do you reward people? Simple positive reinforcement. Something as simple as, “When you did this, it helped us go in a positive direction, and I appreciate that.”
It’s important for frontline supervisors to use positive reinforcement and adopt more of a coaching style instead of command-and-control.
Galloway said coaching is three things:
- Focus on the performance you want, not what you don’t want.
- Feedback to encourage future performance, and
- Facilitation: Making it easy for people to support the safety strategy.
5. Indicators of progress
What are the indicators that tell an organization that it’s going in the right direction regarding safety?
Traditional lagging indicators (injury rates) don’t do that.
Leading indicators do, but Galloway said companies have to move beyond the first level of leading indicators: activity metrics.
He said by measuring activities and results, companies fall into the correlation/causation trap: “We were doing these things and got better results, therefore let’s do more of these things.”
This leads some safety pros to have the difficult job of convincing upper management that, when it comes to safety, they’re not as good as they might think.
The hierarchy of controls goes, top to bottom, from elimination to substitution to engineering to administrative to PPE.
Let’s say a company has a year without a recordable injury. But where were most of the controls? PPE? That leaves a lot of room for human error.
Galloway recommends instead, companies measure the interface between what they’re doing and the end results.