Companies waste countless resources measuring the wrong things, not measuring at all, or failing to keep "the most important thing, the most important thing." So often safety strategy falls short of defining what a healthy safety process looks like in precise, measurable terms that lead to action and enable a prescriptive approach to safety efforts in the workplace. Further, companies that set and reach a target of zero injuries can't claim success unless they know precisely what they did to achieve it and how to measure the performance it takes to sustain. Excellence is achieved when successful performance is continually repeated, unprompted, producing predictable results.
Check Your Prescription
Earlier this year, I made an appointment to visit my personal physician for the most benign of reasons: the annual check-up. While sitting in the exam room waiting for my doctor to enter, I wondered if this year's visit would begin and end like all those before—uneventfully. I imagined the appointment would begin with pleasantries, a litany of the usual questions, a cursory exam and subsequent discussion on the signs and symptoms of anything the doctor felt we should address. Over the years, I have come to expect the occasional round of tests or bloodwork to dig a little deeper and follow up on anything out of the ordinary before receiving his professional diagnosis and prescription for treatment. That's how it's supposed to go, but this year the annual check-up with the good doctor was quite different.
The door to my exam room opened slowly and the doctor entered quietly, his facial expression blank and neutral. The doctor was not making eye contact with me, and there were no pleasantries or any of the usual questions, not even as much as a handshake. With an outstretched arm, he handed me a prescription for Cyclophosphamide, a medication given to treat patients with certain types of leukemia. Almost mechanically, he began to discuss the side effects I could expect from taking the medication. I was predictably stunned, sitting with mouth agape as I listened to the doctor describe how uncomfortable I was going to be for the next 6 months of treatment. It wasn't until the doctor finally made eye contact that he realized he had just made a terrible mistake. He meant to enter the adjoining exam room where his patient, newly diagnosed with leukemia, was waiting for his script. The doctor had simply entered the wrong room.
While this was an unfortunate mistake, the business lesson was not lost on me. It occurred to me that organizations can make the same mistake in their safety journey. Just as doctors don't prescribe treatment plans before conducting a careful and accurate diagnosis, the best companies make it a priority to assess the health of their culture before deciding what initiatives matter most and how to implement and ultimately measure them.
Read the full column here.
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