This is my first article for the Safety Differently audience, and I wanted to share my thoughts around learning and improving to embed Safety Differently.
For those who are referencing my name for the first time, I am one of the authors of the book, “The Practice of Learning Teams: Learning and Improving Safety, Quality and Operational Excellence”, with a foreword by Dr Todd Conklin.
I have worked as a practitioner of risk management in the health and safety space for about 18 years, and specialize in major harm and fatality events in the workplace. I was drawn to Safety Differently and in particular to Learning Teams for a number of good reasons.
My primary belief is that we should use both successful work and unsuccessful work as an opportunity for ongoing learning. When organizations enquire or intervene, we should consider that this learning opportunity is different for workers as it is for the organization.
In all my time so far in dealing with human misery, I am still waiting for find a new hazard that caused a ‘life changing event’ for a person or people. In fact, not only were the hazard(s) well known, the controls themselves were also well known. I have struggled to understand how the opportunity of learning for workers happens within a traditional investigation. No one ever came up to me and said, “Can we do that again, I learnt so much from the interview” or, “That corrective action has inspired me to learn and improve”.
Yet, of interest, this is exactly the response I hear from workers after participating in a Learning Team, with conversations such as- “Why don’t we use Learning Teams more often, I learnt so much” or, “I felt valued by being part of a Learning Team, being listened to, being part of the solution” and, “It has made me see things differently”.
The new view is powerful and full of so much promise as we move towards the shift from innovators to early adopters and the mainstream market.
I remember in the late 1990’s the book, “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore in which he explored the Technology Adoption Life Cycle — which begins with innovators and moves to early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Moore identified that there is a vast chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. While early adopters are willing to sacrifice for the advantage of being first, the early majority waits until they know that the technology actually offers improvements in productivity.
This chasm happens. The objective is not to eliminate or eradicate the chasm. We need to acknowledge the chasm and do things differently to reduce the space between innovators, early adopters and the more mainstream market. What we need is to create a gap and not a chasm. We can extend yourselves to bridge a gap, but we have to jump to cross a chasm without the certainty of knowing where we are going to land or how painful the fall will be.
This hypothesis formed part of our critical thinking when writing, “The Practice of Learning Teams” with my fellow authors Glynis McCarthy and Brent Robinson. The organizational needs and wants to embed system change is different between these markets. The innovators and early adopters by their nature embrace the opportunity to try things. Yet how we try things and how we embed things into operational practice is different. Mainstream organisations look for transformation rather than innovation.
With Learning Teams, the skill of the facilitator is vital in supporting the environment and learning outcomes. Being able to describe what this is and how to get there is different in these markets between innovation and transformation.
Learning to become a highly competent Learning Team’s facilitator takes more than just training. Whilst the concept of “give it a go after training” may be acceptable for innovation, it does not provide the layer of support to “cross the chasm” into the mainstream “transformation market”.
I find it ironic that we apply doing safety differently to get a different result, but we don’t try embedding practice differently to get a better result. Does this allow the environment to exist in the drift towards failure of embedding safety differently without needing a different approach?
For example, for a Learning Team facilitator that transformation journey is unique, unless you know where you are going and how you will get there. Without a roadmap to guide you, you possibly won’t reach your intended destination.
It takes time, application, reflection and refinement of practice. It takes both success and failure for that person to learn and improve. We need to support people to build the resilience needed for success and failure. After all, surely failure is normal?
In the book we explore this awakening and awareness as:
- Unconscious incompetence (you don’t know what you don’t know).
- Conscious incompetence (you know what you should be doing, but you realize that you’re not doing it as well as you could).
- Conscious competence (you will feel comfortable in the role of facilitator and further deepen your practice).
- Unconscious competence (you will be able to facilitate without straining to be competent).
And it is normal that you feel you regress back through the stages of competence before recognizing that you have developed mastery of a skill.
We identify the need to have a framework that allows both the organization and the person to know:
- What does good look like?
- Where am I currently at?
- Where do I need to be?
- How will I get there?
- What support will I need to be successful?
- How do I share my success and failures to learn and improve?
Whether your journey is just beginning or you are already a highly competent person you will find immense value in participating in a community of practice of others. Learning from others, sharing your stories and be part of something bigger is critical in embedding system change.
By having a framework that allows us to see where we are going and to measure ourselves against what good looks like, it helps us to reduce the chasm to a gap with the ultimate goal of embedding safety differently for everyday safety of work.