If knowledge of concepts that would prevent all accidents, events, injuries or fatalities caused by a person were available, would you accept that information? Clearly, the answer is you should want to do all you can to prevent bad things from happening to your fellow employees and the company you serve, especially if you hold a leadership position.
I first learned about Human Performance (HP) in 1997 when I was the Mechanical Maintenance Supervisor at the Duane Arnold Energy Center and had the pleasure of serving 30 of the finest mechanics in the business. I cared about each person on my crew and didn’t want bad things to happen to them or their families.
During my tenure at the plant, I had the pleasure of attending a supervisor-development seminar held by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO). During one of our leadership sessions, we had a presentation on HP. The information fascinated me so much that when the instructor ran out of time for the class, I begged our facilitator to allow the instructor to come back and finish. I was turned on to some information that changed my life. I heard information that gave me the ability to prevent first aid cases, injuries, OSHA recordable events and fatalities caused by people.
When I got back to the plant, I couldn’t wait to start sharing this information with my co-workers. I knew if people embraced the HP concepts, we could prevent many events caused by people. I didn’t know where to begin. Fortunately, the industry started a national campaign for nuclear sites to start developing programs to educate employees about HP. I also discovered that another employee who had spent two years with INPO on a rotational assignment was preparing to teach classes at the plant.
Over the next two years, we trained the entire plant’s personnel on the principles of HP. Two years later the plant wanted to take the concepts of HP to the next level. Although we had educated our people on the principles, we didn’t have a formal program, so our leadership at the plant created the position of Human Performance Consultant. This position reported directly to the plant manager and was responsible for setting up a comprehensive program for the plant to follow.
I was selected for the new position and spent the next six months researching all the utilities’ programs to identify best practices. That was the easy part. The hard part was implementation – getting people to accept and use the tools HP provides.
Why do people reject information that can help them? I’ve learned that change scares all of us, and HP requires change in the way we are trained to do our jobs, in the way we are evaluated in the performance of our jobs, and in the way we are viewed by other people and the organization.
Basically, our belief system has to change. This is a very difficult thing to do because it’s personal. We can’t make people embrace a concept. We hope we can strongly influence and inspire them with knowledge, facts and proven measurements on the benefits of the concepts. With that information, we encourage people to make the decision to change.
I also learned that for HP to be successful, it has to start out as a process of effectively and consistently communicating information to others. When you start talking about programs, people think procedures. Following procedures seems to insult people. I’ve heard people say, “I’ve been working here 30 years, no procedure is going to tell me what to do,” or, “I don’t have time to review procedures; I have wrenches to turn,” or, “Do you want me sitting around looking at procedures or out there working?”
The truth is that organizations want and need well-trained people who are willing to take the time to ensure they have all the tools to perform a job 100 percent correctly the first time without any injuries or events. The key to understanding HP requires internalizing, understanding and believing in five principles:
1. People are fallible, and even the best make mistakes.
Every crew or organization has people who are gurus, or experts in certain tasks – the person the boss can count on to get the job done no matter what. We reward these people; we praise their behavior; we make them the exception for the team; we trust them, and we overlook some of their negative behaviors like arrogance, cockiness or brashness, to name a few. We cover for them when they get out of hand with statements like, “That’s the way they are.” Please don’t think I’m implying all company gurus have bad behaviors because many are great people. Nevertheless, admitting they are fallible can be hard for those people, as well as for the crew, the supervisor and the organization.
2. Error-likely situations are predictable, manageable and preventable.
This is where responsibility comes in for everyone involved in the process. This principle includes the entire organization. No more blaming on either side – workers or management. Everyone is responsible for working together to identify error-likely situations. Once the situations are identified, manage them until you can put things in place to prevent them. This process requires time, commitment and resources. Many organizations lose traction here because they’re stuck in the blame game.
3. Individual behavior is influenced by organizational processes and values.
Leaders of any organization must decide on the culture and values they want to have in place. This is not something to take lightly. Spend some time evaluating best practices of organizations in and outside of your industry to find out who has a great culture. Discuss adopting those principles or values with your team. Facilitate deep discussions or values that everyone can agree to and emulate. Discuss how you’re going to communicate these values and develop a “Change Management Plan.” Organizations can get in trouble when people think they are above the rules or make statements like, “That doesn’t apply to me.”
4. People achieve high levels of performance based largely on the encouragement and reinforcement received from leaders, peers and subordinates.
I ask people to think back to a time when they performed or worked their best. Was it for someone who appreciated, respected, valued and genuinely cared for them as a person or someone who treated them badly, thought they were useless and disrespected them? The answer is always the first example – someone who treated them well. Don’t underestimate your influence on people. If you start highlighting the strengths in a person, you’ll get great results. Don’t wait for people to prove themselves; start celebrating them now.
5. Events can be avoided by understanding the reasons mistakes occur and application of lessons learned from past events.
I recommend every organization learn how to perform “Root Causes” on events and equipment. It is important to understand how a situation occurred, where people were involved or equipment failed. Get people in on the discussion. Don’t demean them; don’t “shoot the messenger”; let people share, so everyone can learn. Then, work together on eliminating the reasons the error occurred.
HP is personal. HP saves lives, stops injuries, prevents events and provides an environment where all can succeed, prosper and be safe. Make the personal decision to get on board.
Bob McCall is the General Manager, Transmission Assets at Progress Energy Corporation in Raleigh, North Carolina.