21 Mar Why benchmarking is such a dilemma
It’s tricky to compare your safety culture performance with other organisations and it’s a matter many practitioners like you struggle with, as I found out in our recent breakfast webinar on benchmarking.
Plus it’s not as straightforward as comparing yourself to other organisations, even in the same industry sector because accident/incident data isn’t that reliable. It’s often the only published data companies give out and because it’s a reactive measure it doesn’t tell you much.
What you must look at is more proactive: at the bottom of the triangle, with near misses and safe and unsafe behaviours. Companies with higher levels of maturity focus here on what they measure and investigate not just LTI rates.
Where are you focused in your organisation?
Maybe you don’t really know if your accident/incident data is that accurate if people don’t recognise the need to report injuries, let alone near misses. At lower levels of cultural maturity people don’t see that you can prevent injuries in their job so they don’t mention them to anyone because there’s no point.
When you try to assess your cultural maturity level you have many options to choose from, like surveys and audits for example. All will give you data to work with and probably a profile to compare your scores to. But the danger with surveys is people often score how they think they behave – in practice this may not be what happens.
You must focus on real actions, not just expected action, to be sure of your level of cultural maturity.
Managers are often good at talking about what they know they should be doing but not always as good at doing it. If you ask them if they talk to their staff about safety? They’ll say yes. But if you ask the staff how often they see a manager who talks about safety they may give you a very different view:
“We see some but not many bother to come down and when they do it’s just to have a go about something”
So not all managers get out onto the shop floor and they aren’t seen as positive about safety even if they do.
We developed our benchmarking tool to not only check if these behaviours are taking place, but to measure how well they’re being received across all staff levels, by asking questions to test and confirm what managers and directors report.
From this we put together detailed recommendations that directly help staff progress along the maturity levels. This is often the hardest part for those who do their own survey, as it isn’t always obvious were to start in terms of making improvements.
If comments come back about lack of visibility of managers, bringing in a KPI for walk rounds or near misses reported may seem like an answer. And you’d be right to an extent because getting them out of the office is a good starting point to increase their awareness of what’s really going on.
Managers need support and training to do things really well
Holding effective conversations and rewarding safe behaviour aren’t natural skills that all managers have and they’re skills rarely taught on management development programmes.
When faced with an unsafe situation that looks like it’s been going on for years they’re just as likely to leave well alone in the hope that a supervisor will deal with it. Or worse still, find the supervisor openly allows it and say nothing to them either. So this has actually undermined the safety maturity level, not improved it.
So when you implement action based on your survey findings, don’t rush into changes that may seem like a quick win without considering every angle. And if you find yourself with a lot of survey data that doesn’t give you an obvious way forward, get in touch or post a comment below and I’ll help you make sense of it.