Putting new views of safety into practice seems to generate lots of uncertainty – the theory sounds good but we get cold feet when the practice doesn’t have a step by step playbook.  This is the story of a leader who shifted an entire utility organisation towards Safety II. 

Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap. 

Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way.  Welcome to you, you’re in the right place.  If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us, and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course, welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.

Kym Bancroft is an organisational psychologist turned health and safety executive, who was the head of Health and Safety at Urban Utilities.  Urban Utilities is a water and sewage utility supplying 1.4 million people with clean water and flushing toilets in South-East Queensland in Australia.  With thousands of employees and contractors, a high-risk work environment, and a network to build, operate and maintain, Kym led the health and safety transformation at Urban Utilities between 2017 and 2021. 

The audio quality in parts was a bit tricky, especially at the end.  But I’ve left it in, I think you’ll piece 90% of it together, and what you’ll get is too good to cut. 

Here’s Kym:

Did you notice that Kym and I didn’t really talk much about Safety II or safety differently, which are at the heart of much of the change that Kym is so well known for? Why was that?

In my mind, Kym’s success ultimately doesn’t really come down to those new view philosophies.  Sure they were the focus, but her success came down to bread and butter health and safety leadership, strategy, communication, and enabling change. 

With that in mind, here’s my three takeaways from that chat with Kym Bancroft:

Takeaway #1: Change can happen when you design it with intent, and then let it happen instead of forcing it to happen.  Kym knew the direction she wanted to take the organisation, and had worked hard to socialise the principles that might guide it.  But the secret of her success here is that she didn’t tell or require, or mandate change, the Vanguard, the guiding coalition, were merely invited to start, that’s it.  The genius in this is that you get early traction with early adopters, you get feedback from the change quickly, and you also learn where you aren’t getting traction or interest.  All of those things are learning that improves performance.  So much of the time, the best plan is not to force change but to let it emerge. 

Takeaway #2:

What’s our job when it comes to change? I don’t think we really make a change, we enable it.  Kym gave us some helpful insights about the differences:

Instead of having a complete and thorough plan, begin with principles and ideas, and let the plan emerge. 

Instead of having all the answers, get better at learning from reality as it unfolds. 

Instead of enforcing a plan you dreamed up, get better at creating the space for people to try it for themselves in their own time and space. 

Instead of doing the changes yourself, become an enabler for the change by and for others. 

Instead of owning the change, get better at capturing and spreading stories of change. 

Takeaway #3: I loved this quote from Kym when speaking to management or the Board: “Here are the results of your investment”.  We can and should be telling the story about the ROI we are delivering on what has been committed.  This is as much a story as it is numerical.  But It’s difficult to talk about return-on-investment (or return-on-value) unless, like Kym, you had a clear plan at the start about

a) how you would measure or evaluate progress, using pre-and post- measures,

b) capturing the change in language and conversations, and

c) telling the stories of the changes in meaningful ways to your audience. 

Many of you I know are interested in new view philosophies, so here are a few episode suggestions for you to check out in that subject area:

Todd Conklin and I riffed on many things new view in episode 54,

Bob Edwards took us through the principles of Human and Organisational Performance in Ep 77,

and we walked tough Safety-II in practice with its originator Erik Hollnagel in Ep 138. 

But don’t get stuck on the new views of safety – yes Kym made an organisation-wide shift in this direction, but that is definitely not the only way to improve your safety performance with a massive long-term change.  You can get started making much smaller, more digestible, and certainly less scary changes tomorrow if you really want.  Take my word for it, I work with organisations all the time that are doing just that. 

Thanks so much for listening.  Until next time, what’s the one thing you’ll do to take positive, effective, or rewarding action, to grow yourself, and drastically improve health and safety along the way?

Before you go, keep listening for a few words about the work which makes this podcast free for you.  Seeya!

You’ve probably heard me talk about learning teams, and might be wondering what’s that all about. Learning teams are an increasingly popular practical activity to help your organisation to learn better, in order to improve performance.

It’s not an investigation, it’s not a risk assessment, and it’s not a committee meeting – but a learning team approach can help to learn from the past, to anticipate the future, and to engage effectively with people all over your organisation or supply chain.

There’s not one way to do learning teams but some critical principles which will enable you to facilitate better learning whatever your situation.

I’ve created a few short videos which explain What is a learning team? If you’re interested visit safetyontap.com/what

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Feel free to share this with your team/colleagues!