The many questions about the resilience concept

During numerous talks, we have had with existing and potential clients, it is clear that the general understanding of Shell’s Resilience concept is still fragile. Far too often we hear questions such as;

  1. What is resilience?
  2. Is resilience all about running the Shell modules?
  3. How can we make the principles of resilience work on board?
  4. How do we help our seafarers understand the resilience concept?

This article tries to come up with a few answers to these questions. The key message is that resilience is stimulated through a high level of employee engagement. The article also suggests a strategy on how companies can help their seafarers explain that resilience processes – to a greater or lesser extent – are actually taking place on board, with or without the Shell programme.

The ability to build resilience

The idea of building resilience among seafarers has been introduced by Shell during the last few years in an attempt to build more self-efficient labour, and thus, stronger organisations to deal with the changes of the dynamic shipping environment.

The ability to build resilience is a challenge for many companies. The reason for this, we believe, is very much due to the following factors; 1) The lack of ability to explain the value added through higher resilience; 2) The understanding of what resilience is at the workplace and 3) The question of what initiatives to initiate (apart from Shell’s own programme) in order to build resilience.

The reason is very much due to the lack of ability to explain the value added through higher resilience

However, a point of criticism raised by many shipping companies are the learning materials developed by Shell. In short, the materials are very professionally prepared, and the intentions are good, but many officers do not find it very helpful in the facilitation process. The Shell materials are simply too difficult to grasp for those who are to facilitate the on board learning process. The principle behind seems simple enough but the materials the facilitator must go through prior to the facilitation is often perceived as ‘very heavy’.

Resilience through engagement

The most communicated definition of resilience is: ‘the ability to bounce back and learn from adversity’ (Dyer & McGuinness, 1996). However further analysis is needed in order to reach a proper understanding of the concept, and it carries a great need for additional talks. Besides, it indirectly (mainly) focuses on the ability to ‘bounce back’ and learn from a negative event, but seen from a conceptual perspective why don’t we also focus on our ability to learn from the positive events too?

However, while going through Shell’s own materials and looking at their own choice of definitions there seems to be another way of seeing resilience, which appears to be more straightforward:

Using the word ‘ENGAGEMENT’ suddenly makes it easier to understand what a company can do to build resilience. The belief behind is that higher employee engagement (in safety-related processes) will improve safety; in this respect Green-Jakobsen couldn’t agree more. Thus, Green-Jakobsen believes that the positive outcome of high employee engagement is an increase in safety-related dialogue, reflection and awareness; which again stimulates a human’s ability to manage work processes safely.

Using the word ‘engagement’ suddenly makes it easier to understand what a company can do to build resilience

For Green-Jakobsen (and for Shell) building resilience is equal to increased employee engagement at all levels of the organisation. But in addition to only ‘bouncing back’ and learning from adverse situations, Green-Jakobsen emphasizes that the improved resilience should be understood as the ability to organise dialogue, reflection and learning processes that make organisations ‘bounce correctly’ after both positive (supportive) and negative (adverse) events.

But in addition to only ‘bouncing back’ and learning from adverse situations, the organisation should be able to ‘bounce correctly’ after both positive and negative events

Since the founding of Green-Jakobsen, we have tirelessly and persistently been promoting the belief that safety predominately needs (all) employees who constantly assess, discuss and develop their own and others’ safety performance. This principle was described in our article: ‘Building resilient safety cultures takes more than a campaign!’ (Green, 2017). Employee accountability towards safety in this article is described as an important prerequisite for building resilience.

So, how can we stimulate employee engagement?

It is easy to understand why crew on board vessels have to carry out risk management. But in many shipping companies the engagement of all employees is limited, thus limiting their influence on the end-result. The understanding and belief that employee engagement stimulates a more resilient safety culture is, in other words, not visible and present.

All departments (both ship and shore) have work processes and play an active part of the organisation’s value chain. To a varying extent, they all influence the ‘end product’, which is the final, overall safety performance – but not all departments fully understand or are aware of how, when, where and what they influence.

Not all departments fully understand or are aware of how, when, where and what they influence

When the talk falls on safety performance, we often only involve higher-ranking employees.  The idea behind is that it is the responsibility of the most ‘clever’ and ‘experienced’ employees to ensure that others are safe.

But no person regardless of rank, experience and capability, can have a full overview of all situations on board.

As suggested by the American philosopher and psychologist William James, to understand reality we need the engagement of many. Only then and through continuous dialogue do we develop a stronger understanding of reality and are therefore more capable of dealing with it.

How your seafarers can explain that they are building resilience

As previously described in the article: ‘Building resilient safety cultures takes more than a campaign!’  employee engagement shown as continuous questioning, evaluation and reflection of own and others’ safety performance is a prerequisite to ensure a resilient safety culture (Green, 2017). In principle, any dialogue, reflection and learning process, which is addressing the existing safety conditions (reality), is a safety resilience building process. Shell’s own case-based materials stimulate this process, but it doesn’t address the crew’s own safety cases and it does not ensure on-going resilience processes.

Any dialogue, reflection, and learning process addressing the existing safety conditions is a safety resilience building process

When engaging employees, the keyword is to focus on processes such as safety performance debriefs and evaluations which are stimulating a process that will make people continuously discuss their safety performance and making corrections/improvements if assessed necessary. Performance debriefs, evaluations and learning processes are embedded in the following activities and processes and can therefore support the argument that employee safety engagement processes are taking place:

Individual evaluation and development

Feedback from superior and colleagues
Self-critical evaluation
On board safety competence development process

Crew/team reflections and evaluation

Toolbox talks
Post-work debriefs
Crew Safety Diagnosis – Safety Delta (see
On board hazard hunts
Sign off safety surveys
Work process evaluation during safety meetings

Company evaluation

Yearly safety surveys
Safety Maturity Assessments
Crew sign off safety surveys

Learning and development

On-board learning
Learning from safety reports and debriefs
Verification of change

Safety Delta is an effective way to comply with Shell’s resilience and reflective learning programmes

Time and time again, we are asked if the Green-Jakobsen Safety Delta programme complies with the Shell resilience and reflective learning programme. The short answer to this question is – we believe – yes; Safety DeltaTM, which was introduced by Green-Jakobsen in 2015, is an efficient tool to develop resilience in the shipping companies and on board, and thus, it complies with Shell’s resilience programme and reflective learning standards.

The DNA of Safety Delta is building employee engagement (both ship and shore) developed through a cycle of Diagnosis (safety performance evaluation and reflection), Dialogue (engagement) and Development (learning).

Safety Delta is an efficient tool to develop resilience in the shipping companies and on board

However, in addition to the focus of the Shell programme, Safety Delta also focuses on learning from positive events rather than only from the negative events. Moreover, it ensures focus on own work and processes, supports the development of employee engaging processes and competencies and most importantly – it keeps engagement alive.

Green-Jakobsen wishes to develop a resilient and proactive safety culture where we learn before a negative event/incident happens rather than learning after this event/incident has happened.   

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Erik Green
Erik Green
Managing Director and Partner

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