Many good initiatives are taken to break the curve of the LTIF plateau, the question is: why is it so difficult to fight this ?? and how do we make the initiatives last and improve further?

 

Breaking the safety plateau

The fight to break the LTIF plateau curve is still ongoing in most shipping companies. Many good initiatives are taken, many courses are conducted, procedures are added to the SMS system, rules are instituted and monitoring carried out – yet many companies still haven’t managed to overcome this challenge. Accidents still happen; and often they seem to strike like a bolt from the blue. Why is it that this plateau cannot be combated by the good initiatives? The purpose of this article is to add further understanding to this question.

The short answer is that safety culture improvement initiatives are not strategically tired together nor are they embedded in the organisation’s daily work processes. In extension hereof far too often safety development steps are based on the latest trends within the business and not on a thorough evaluation and identification of the actual safety issues and gaps in the particular organisation. The initiatives are often focused alone on the development of individual skill instead of also ensuring the organisational capacity. And finally, safety managers tend to look for solutions within only one category of development areas like new IT systems, procedures, regulations, monitoring or training. However, in order to properly anchor new initiatives and skills it is important that the safety culture organisations ensure work processes that support the continuous focus and engage the right people to drive the process.

Safety culture organisations must ensure work processes that support the continuous focus and engage the right people to drive the process

Organisational factors to engender real change

In order to create a lasting safety culture an organisation must have a mix of dynamics or drivers strategically linked to support each other. Therefore a better understanding is required of the social and organisational factors that foster real embedment of high safety performance and encourage people to lead safety to a high maturity level.

To provide clients with an understanding of these parameters Green-Jakobsen has developed ‘The Performance Butterfly’. In short, The Performance Butterfly visualises four essential drivers that an effective safety culture development programme should contain and address;

1. Vision and direction for the desired behaviour and culture
2. Supporting means like systems, procedures and tools
3. Performance demonstrated in behaviour, leadership, attitude, motivation and mindset
4. Organisational anchorage ensuring integration of safety in daily work

Vision and direction

Any development project needs a common vision and direction showing the goal and way forward and expressing expectations. The vision is the overall goal, whereas the direction describes in more detail the ‘why, what and how’.

While the vision and the ‘why and what’ are often in place, the ‘how’ is typically lacking behind with the consequence that leaders and employees are left to find their own way in reaching the goal. Explaining ‘how to’ is essential to ensure alignment in understanding and providing good support in the progress.

If we take the toolbox talk as an example, all seafarers know they have to do toolbox talks, but often they don’t know what constitutes a good toolbox talk. However, providing clear directions will guide the employees in regard to what behaviour they are expected to show in order to perform well.

Often they don't know what constitutes a good toolbox talk

Still, well-defined visions and directions are only the starting point for creating safety culture development. Although visions and directions help setting the goals, they are not necessarily used actively to measure the actual performance, and thereby provide valuable overview of gaps needed to be filled or areas to be improved. To do so visions and directions should be backed up by supporting systems, specific behaviour and organisational anchorage of the focus.

Supporting means

Supporting means are IT systems, procedures and tools providing guidelines, structure, methodology and standards. Their support encompass alignment of principles and quality, they provide tools and guidelines, they ensure collection and filing of valuable data and knowledge sharing as well as a unified systematic approach.

But systems are of no value if not used. For the supporting means to be a living mechanism, it is vital that there are people to drive it. In some cases systems can even incite initiatives by requiring action or feedback, still, in most cases people are the primary drivers in this respect. Let’s go back to the toolbox talk example: the provision of a procedure and checklist for conducting toolbox talks will not in itself ensure that the procedures will be followed. Especially, it will not ensure that they are implemented in correspondence with the intended mindset. Here safety competencies and leadership are needed.

Performance

Systems define initiatives that require and generate certain actions and feedback. However, to utilise the system to the highest extent possible people must proactively ‘trigger’ the initiatives themselves (e.g. request information, work processes, tools, etc.). The more people are self-motivated to use the supporting means, the higher safety maturity is shown in an organisation.

The more people are self-motivated to use the supporting means, the higher is the safety maturity of an organisation

High safety performance calls for a working environment pervaded by accountability, feedback culture, and safety leadership. Accountability motivates people to activate necessary or valuable tools, procedures or knowledge in order to drive safety performance to achieve the objectives established for them – for instance directions and procedures for toolbox talks. However, people often lack clear guidelines on what good performance is, and how they are expected to behave to become the good role model. They need training and support to attain the right mindset from the environment around them.

A high safety performance also requires a genuine feedback culture where intervention and use of one’s influence power to create continuous improvement are present. A typical pitfall is however that the higher people rank in the hierarchy the less feedback do they receive from their surroundings – especially in the maritime industry where old hierarchical norms set the scene. This is a challenge that needs to be addressed, as superiors are strong culture carriers because of their authority.

Well defined safety leadership competencies are the foundation for ensuring the necessary skills for leaders to drive safety. Safety goals should be set and initiatives distributed and followed up on. And all employees should be trained to have the needed competencies.

Organisational anchorage

Finally, for a safety development programme to be effective and sustainable its initiatives should be fully embedded in the organisation – otherwise the initiative will have a tendency to stall. To achieve organisational anchorage safety performance should be integrated into relevant development and HR processes like recruitment, promotion and retention processes, competence management, induction etc. Also, safety should be a natural part of all work processes and operations and should also be addressed in the daily communication between office and ship.

Intervention and use of one's influence power can create continuous improvement of the safety performance

Description and structuring of ‘who does what when’ generate actions to be taken on the expressed visions and goals. Therefore roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined and distributed and actions should be implemented in the daily work processes. In the example with the toolbox talks real embedment could be ensured by requiring toolbox talks to be carried out prior to every work task and not just when the officer in charge feels for it – or every Saturday while planning next week’s operations. – A procedure, which is in fact taking place on vessels in some shipping companies.

Another vital driver for organisational anchorage is continuous monitoring of KPI’s and safety goals, evaluation of safety performance and follow up. One of the best ways to motivate people to make changes is to make the focus area a personal measurement goal; what gets measured, gets developed. Moreover you need people to stand behind the development initiatives. Whereas systems and processes can support a development project, people are the real drivers of sustainable change.

Systems can support a development project, but people are the real drivers of sustainable change

Example: Implementing effective competence development

Let’s take the example of implementing effective competence development in a shipping company; buying a well organised system is not enough to ensure real anchorage of the initiative (supporting means). To make this project a success, more drivers should be brought into play. Employees need a vision and direction clarifying why and how they are expected to use the system and what competencies they are expected to possess (Vision and direction). Furthermore, all relevant people should be trained in how to work with the system, how to evaluate competencies and how to make action plans for filling possible competence gaps (Performance). And lastly but very importantly, you need to make sure that the initiative is not slowly dying out shortly after launching it – another typical pitfall. This should be done by anchoring it in the daily working processes and HR, e.g. by implementing a competence management work cycle making sure competence development is carried out regularly (Organisational anchorage).

Example: Enhancing risk assessment abilities among juniors

Another example could be a wish to enhance the risk assessment abilities of juniors. In this case it is not enough to send crew on courses and expect a change in risk management and behaviour when they return. You have to support the training with a company vision and direction for the focus point to ensure alignment of performance. You need colleagues and leaders to show acknowledgement and support of the behaviour. Also, regular follow up and measurement of the crewmembers’ new competencies and performance is vital. By addressing all four performance drivers instead of just providing courses for individuals, the competence becomes an organisational capacity instead of just competence development of a few individuals.

By addressing all four performance drivers the competence becomes an organisational capacity

The organisational dynamics

Small initiatives can create a big difference – but they will only consolidate if the right conditions are present. When we want people to do something in a new way – and keep on doing it, it is essential to understand social and group dynamics and know how the organisation learn and adapt. By considering and working on all four factors; direction, supporting means, performance environment and organisational anchorage in daily workflows, you will support the process of real embedment and sustainability to the best result.

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Stine Skelbo
Stine Skelbo
Senior Consultant
Copenhagen

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