Whether you should measure workplace behaviour to promote a strong safety culture tends to be a bit of a Marmite question.

Some people tell me that they hate the idea. They believe that measuring behaviour can actually destroy culture as it creates a target-driven focus that distracts from the sense of engagement that you’re trying to achieve.

Some love it. They’re passionate advocates who believe long-term learning and understanding of behaviour through measurement is the only way to sustainably improve your culture.

Then there’s the misguided. People who think the only point of running a behavioural safety programme is to get information on current behaviour. I despair whenever I find this because measurement becomes the goal instead of better quality discussions to improve safety.

Measurement and understanding of behaviour is essential

An unfurled tape measure

It’s the only way to build proactive learning. Stopping accidents through learning before they happen is far more preferable than waiting for someone to be hurt before you begin improvement. So when you’re trying to improve your culture, measurement is a critical part of making your programme work in the long-run. But please do not fall into the trap of making your culture change programme only about this measurement process.

I’ve seen programmes degenerate into something that’s exclusively target-driven. All it delivers is a very demotivated and cynical workforce. Not what you want when you’re trying to drive effective engagement.

How to do it right

If done correctly you can take your measurement process beyond simply tracking behaviour. And make it into something that drives the engagement for safety that you’re looking for.

Here are my top five tips to get your behavioural and cultural measurement right:

  1. Decide what you want to measure and why: this is about achieving a vision of safety excellence so spend time defining what key behaviours you really want people to follow before you implement any system. Make sure they’re clear, easy to understand, promoted and fed back regularly on how well you’re embedding them.
  2. Use a system that involves everyone in the measurement process: I’ve seen many systems that depend on information being sent to one central person who types or scans it in for analysis. This means you miss an opportunity. Modern behavioural tracking social software like Engage encourages individuals to have more effective conversations about safety by empowering them to use it themselves to record information. The social aspect turns one-to-one conversation into a company-wide discussion.
  3. Appoint a cross-representative team to deliver regular and effective feedback: One of the biggest barriers to long-term change is the infamous measurement black-hole. Make sure your team knows how to effectively feedback what’s been learned, however good or bad. This could be spoken informally at team meetings, or presented formally in well-designed communication briefs. Whatever you do though, keep it regular and don’t make the mistake of restricting it to management meetings or leave it as an uninspiring graph on a notice board.
  4. Emphasise quality of discussion about behaviour, as well as quantity: If you focus on numbers and not quality, people become cynical and start making information up. If you only focus on quality of discussion but don’t give people a target, the frequency will be nowhere near what you need for effective change and people will eventually stop doing them. So make sure you get the balance right by giving people a sensible target but work out how to test and improve quality through clever use of your information.
  5. Drive continuous improvement process throughout the system: Help everyone involved in behavioural discussions to understand how to support continuous improvement of the system. Give them formal channels and encourage groups to meet regularly to share improvement ideas. It will keep them engaged in the process and strengthen a high-quality feedback loop. When you get the chance, go and learn from other businesses too – steal with pride!