Jerry Muller wrote a phenomenal book called the Tyranny of Metrics, which he opens by saying “the title is not meant to convey the message that metrics are intrinsically tyrannical, but rather that they are frequently used in ways that are dysfunctional and oppressive”. And that, by friends, is a fitting way to begin this awesome dialogue about safety indicators and metrics. Let’s begin.
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.
My guest today is Dr Tristan Casey, who you will know from Episode 149. I’ll explain how we came to be talking about this, suffice it to say that Tristan did some work with an organisation who wanted to improve their WHS metrics, I dangled that on social media to see if anyone would be interested, and the interest from you almost broke the internet. So, as promised, I’m bringing you this chat with Tristan to talk through a new way of looking at health and safety metrics, as Jerry Muller would say, to help us all make them a little less dysfunctional and oppressive.
Tristan is an awesome pracademic, who bridges the gap between research and theory, with the real world in practice. He has worked with government, regulators, high risk industries and certainly toiled away at Covid-focussed research and work over the past 18 months. And he’s got the goods.
This is a can of worms, and we well and truly opened it up! Here’s my three takeaways from that chat with Dr Tristan Casey:
Takeaway #1: It could be the case that the measurement crisis most of us experience, stems from a general lack of clarity on indicators, data, what they are for and how valid they are. We either get lumped with reporting we don’t believe in, or defend current reporting because we can’t see alternatives. This model can help you improve, but it won’t be much help unless we all get more confident about what indicators are for, and why we want to reinforce some and change or remove others. That’s what professionals do.
Takeaway #2: Indicators are a story, not something inherently valuable on their own! This model which Tristan has framed up for us, helps us differentiate between which part of the story different indicators are telling: Driving Indicators motivate and track action; Monitoring Indicators check what impact our efforts are having in terms of capacities for managing the safety of work; Learning Indicators capture lessons and provide feedback into our efforts and our indicators. And almost peripherally, there are Outcome Indicators which describe most of the lagging indicators we are familiar with, what the outputs are of the work system. The big takeaway here is that the model and the labels helps us shape the story and emphasise different parts which don’t get nearly enough airtime with our current data and metrics.
Takeaway #3: Knowing how we can improve indicators doesn’t make your job much easier to actually make that change happen. You will experience all sorts of resistance, objections, fear and confoundment when you try and change the way indicators tell the health and safety story. Tristan’s early words are useful leverage for you – you’ll want to amplify the pain and uncertainty and unhelpfulness with your current approach to create motivation for people to move to whatever you propose as alternatives. Amplify how complex they are, how vacuous macro reporting is, how overwhelming, how little decisions get made using the data – these are all things that should make leaders uncomfortable and your leverage comes from amplifying that discomfort. Pave the way for a new approach.
Here’s the best part! Not only has Tristan has been kind enough to prepare a tidy little one-page summary of his Safety Indicators model, we’ve secured permission to share the entire full original report he prepared, thanks to his very generous client. This is the stuff which will help you to take ideas into action!
I started with a quote from the Tyranny of Metrics, which I highly encourage you to read. And I’ll finish with another quote from Jerry Muller, where he ruminates on:
“the distinction between human affairs given to systematisation and abstraction, where decisions can be made based on general rules, versus situations where good decision-making demands particular, contextual knowledge” .
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