We’ve spent the last twenty years promoting the principle that engagement is good and creating environments for that to happen. The more conversations people have, whether it’s about safety, quality or frankly any business issue, the better the situation is going to get. It’s a simple principle to understand – when people talk they assess issues, when they assess issues they start to learn, and it’s learning that affects mindset and ultimately changes behaviour.
Technology is the enabler behind this. It’s now possible for people to access software anywhere at anytime so they can report information related to safety. As a means for ticking governance and audit boxes it’s incredibly useful for businesses. However, one of the potential downsides to this is what I call the ‘reporting black hole effect’. If you provide people with the means to report issues quickly and easily, they might just do that. And if you set targets they might report a lot of information.
The management bottleneck
Unfortunately, a lot of information reported comes with a lot of expectations about what should be done with that information, often without a lot of guidance about which pieces of information are the most important.
Systems people facilitate a sort of 1-to-1 model of information sharing. Management provide the technology for employees to share, who do so with the expectation that management will deal with that information properly. Yet the volume is often so enormous that it’s difficult for managers to do that.
The result is that employees stop sharing information because they can’t see anything useful for their efforts – killing any decent conversation about safety issues.
It’s a difficult conundrum to solve because the technology is provided with the right intention, but managers really are creating a rod for their own back. Increasingly, I meet management teams with a manic fear in their eyes as they drown under the weight of their own information.
How to avoid drowning in your own information
It’s surprisingly straightforward when you recognise that most answers to safety issues in a mature organisation are solved by the employees themselves.
Set the expectation that employees are empowered to take responsibility for their own issues and pick technology that facilitates communication, sharing and learning between each other, not just up the management chain.
Managers can facilitate and support conversation where the whole community decides it’s appropriate, but most of the time their role can and should be about enabling people to have their own conversations amongst themselves, not just reporting upwards to their managers.
Move from 1-to-1 information sharing to 1-to-many and you’ll be surprised just how quickly technology can enable conversation rather than kill it.