In Exmar Shipmanagement they have carried out a Safety Maturity Assessment. It confirmed that they had taken the right initiative. See what they learned from it.
Interview with Marc Nuytemans, CEO, Exmar Shipmanagement and Niels Vanlaer, HSEQ and Marine Director, Exmar Shipmanagement
As the first step of a major Safety Maturity project in Exmar Shipmanagement, called “Taking the Lead” a Safety Maturity Assessment has been carried out. What has been the greatest value of this exercise?
The Safety Maturity Assessment is part of a larger exercise within Exmar Shipmanagement. I firmly believe that companies that go beyond compliance and that are value driven do better business. By being extremely transparent and by being a value driven company you become much more competitive.
We have already gone a long way towards that strategy but what is important for us now is to take the lead in safety with safety being part of a larger objective. One of the core values of Exmar Shipmanagement is Respect, not only towards other people but also respect for the environment, stakeholders and the world we live in. Safety is also and expression of respect towards human life, environment, etc.
As a shipping company you try to benchmark yourself with all kinds of protocol sources, for example the Intertanco, Intermanagers, etc. There are plenty of forums where you can get an idea of how you are performing, but sometimes you get the feeling that the baseline is simply not always the same – you have people who use another definition and other standards. If you don’t know if you are talking about exactly the same thing, it is difficult to have the same baseline. Therefore, the Safety Maturity Assessment gives you a real benchmark, which is objective and useful. Secondly, when you look at yourself you are always biased. You are always very good at finding excuses for yourself. Therefore, you have to use an outside party who uses an unbiased baseline. It is very valuable to have an outsider’s view on how you perform, much more than trying to do it yourself.
From the outcome of the Safety Maturity Assessment report elaborated by Green-Jakobsen did the results surprise you, and if so, what surprised you the most?
MN: There were no surprises, but I am convinced that without the help of Green-Jakobsen who are professionals in this matter it would be difficult for us to take the next steps. We are half the way on the ladder, but if we want to go beyond rules and regulations, – if you really want to carry safety in your hearts and let that drive your business you need people like Green-Jakobsen to help you achieve that ultimate goal.
NL: I believe I have the ability to be very open minded so I was generally not surprised about the overall results. Firstly, we had a high score on the executive commitment, and I knew it was there. On safety leadership competencies and on safety management processes and systems our scores were lower. That surprised me a bit and I would have expected our safety management system to be rated higher. Our external parties, e.g. oil majors and any other parties and owners, always give us good feedback on our safety management systems, and they are generally quite positive. Again, it is difficult not to be biased and we must remember that the assessment sees things from the end users’ perspective. It seems that they are somewhat critical towards our system despite all the efforts we have put into it. The response is that it is too complicated and not clear enough.
But, as Erik Green has told us: “it doesn’t matter whether you are ranked high or low; it is how you use it for the future”. We cooperate with Green-Jakobsen with exactly that purpose; we have identified the ten elements and a way forward to improve ourselves within these 10 elements.
Seen from – yet another biased – point of view a big company like ours is already playing in a certain league because we have taken the initiative to work with serious safety behaviour consultants on a project like this. So being in the top league, we want to be more in the top than we already are. Otherwise we wouldn’t have started this, and this focus is reflected by the executive commitment.
You say that the result was not surprising you. Did you have a feeling of how the safety is in your company and now you just needed evidence?
MN: It is nice to talk about what you want to do from your heart, but you also need to measure things. What you don’t measure, you don’t know and this is what Green-Jakobsen has done now. A lot of people still tend to do business by gut feeling, especially when it comes to more emotional things. You are far better off having a yardstick to measure things by and then take it from there. That enables you to measure improvements and to steer these improvements.
The report points at certain challenges and suggests ways of how to face them. What do you see as the biggest challenge when you look at the overall outcome?
MN: I would like to illustrate that by an example. From my teaching experience at the Institute for Transport and Maritime Management in Antwerp, where students from all over the world come to take a degree, I have observed two kinds of students: there are students who study to pass an exam and there are students who study to learn something. This is what we want to do together with Green-Jakobsen. We are now students who are studying to learn.
NL: I think that getting the leadership through is the most complicated one. Competence is a set of skills and a set of techniques, which somebody can acquire. Leadership is a level higher and is more difficult, so that will be the biggest challenge. It is not about demonstrating a technique, it is about continuously making sure that people are doing the right thing and help them and coach them in that.
Since the Titanic disaster safety has evolved considerably. Life boats and fire fighting equipment are no longer an issue for the companies, and it should never be so for a decent company. Now the issue is the behaviour of individual people, and of course that is much more complicated to grasp. You cannot buy it and that will be the challenge. When I studied safety engineering in the nineties safety was still stuck at the level of engineering. Economics and psychology had just started to seep into a few courses. But now safety is more about psychology and more about behaviour than anything else.
You may compare with issues in the traffic: People know what a safety belt is but it took about 30 years to make people use it. Many things are not so much about knowledge – that is the competence. Everybody knows you cannot drink alcohol and drive. So the decisive factor is whether you take the second glass of bubbles at the reception or not when you still have to drive home. And that is behaviour, which is steered by so many factors that it is very difficult to handle. That is why we went to a specialist like Green-Jakobsen.
In your opinion what are the most important issues in the list of action points given in the report from Green-Jakobsen? And how do you see this process?
MN: The headlines in this process are: Defining best practices, safety leadership, understanding the all encompassing role of safety, which is part of our core values. The major project that we have with Green-Jakobsen is not a stand-alone project. It is part of a larger objective where we want to make our successful company even more successful. To do so we have to go beyond what people do in the business. In the shipping business change takes time and people do business like they have done for 30 years or so. If something goes wrong people are probably driven by rules and regulations. The industry is generally in favour of self regulation, but, in my opinion, it is not capable of doing so. Every time there has been accidents we have seen major corrections from politicians who try to steer this by legislation. For the last 4-5 years we have been trying to go beyond that here in Exmar Shipmanagement. We simply want to use our values to drive our business.
Is there a general goodwill throughout your entire organisation of the project that you are launching?
MN: We definitely see a goodwill, but it is very difficult for people to understand where we want to go and that there is a role to play for each and everyone in this company. A top-down management style where people are told what to do in order to achieve the company goals is not compatible with the project we initiated with Green-Jakobsen. We need people’s buy-in – they have to be the value carriers. So apart from the initiative we are doing with Green-Jakobsen we did a gap analysis between the current values of the company and the values people would like to see. This gap must be closed as well, so you need to make people finally realise that they are driving the business.
When it comes to commitment and accountability, people really must believe in the company values, and we will work very hard to explain to our people that the company is not mine, nor is it the board of directors’. It is THEIR company. If they really believe that they can contribute to the daily success of the company then we can achieve great things. I think that we are well on our way in that sense but of course it takes time and of course you have to roll that out. These are our good intentions but as we have 40 ships sailing the world seas we have to reach out to them and make sure that everyone within the company is at the same level. It takes time and it also takes professionals like Green-Jakobsen who can help us to reach out and create a buy-in from everyone.
Has the assessment changed your own mindset and/or the executives’ mindset about safety and how they are going to approach the safety development?
MN: I think this is a pretty weird question because if it would have changed my own safety mindset it means that I would not have realised from the beginning what we want to achieve. So, no, it has not changed my personal mindset about safety. We are quite a few people in this company who have been the driving force behind this idea. So knowing what we want and where we are heading we realised we need someone to help us reach that long-term goal. We have the long term vision but we need short-term strategies to reach your long-term vision, and Green-Jakobsen are extremely professional in this field. Often in companies where a group of people are developing a certain idea they never succeed in reaching the goal because they don’t know how to do it. And if you are not aware of that it results in frustration and the idea is not realised. We don’t want that – we want to reach a certain degree of maturity within this company, and we need everybody to think this is a great idea.
NL: It has made a difference for me personally and for my function in the sense that I am now much more inclined to put the responsibility back on board. We had a culture implying that we, the HSEQ department, are responsible for safety. Now we see ourselves as facilitators and nothing more! And I think that is an important evolution. It is like turning a big tanker – it is often going very slow. So still, we often have the reflection that “we will solve this problem for you” but now we realise that the problem must remain “out there” because they are in the sharp end. But we will help out with it. That is a shift in the thinking.
With regard to the executives, change might be in the communication, as the assessment has affirmed that the executive commitment is there. So we have a very good idea of what we want. Translating it into the right language and embedding it is the challenge.
There is also still a challenge in the communication between shore and ships because it is a cascade system. We throw of a lot of “water” through the cascade and it all has to seep through all the layers of the organisation. Often we see misinterpretations, so communication is highly important. Actually, we have not communicated much about this programme yet because we want all elements to be ready and really develop it before we communicate it. Our wariness is due to the fact that you only have one chance to do it right. If the message is wrongly received on board, then you have a problem, which you have to rectify and rectifying communication is never ideal.
How do you look at the forward progress of the project?
NL: I am pretty eager to go ahead waiting for the next phase to begin. All the expectations are there, but we are still putting everything in position. Probably in about one month it will start rolling. By then we will start with the courses and the trainings on board, and then it will really move. Right now we are full of expectations but it is not really “physical”.
We feel very comfortable with this project and the Green-Jakobsen team we are working with. We are really on one line. Furthermore, we have hired a junior safety engineer (coming from a non-maritime world) and he is responsible for this project. With the combination of a good team of “outsiders”, my department and the executive commitment we feel enormously supported. And that’s important because we don’t have inside battles to fight first. So I am very confident but also very impatient.
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