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Human Performance

Human Performance and Health and Safety is an Operating Philosophy

Dec. 6, 2021
Results in a company that is psychologically safe, and entrepreneurial, with Just Culture.

Human Performance (HP) is often called a Health and Safety program. In reality, HP is more comprehensive than a typical Health and Safety program as it addresses all errors. HP is an operating philosophy that results in a company that is psychologically safe and entrepreneurial with Just Culture.

HP and its concepts and principles are used to produce repeatable outcomes. HP works best when it considers the many on-the-job factors such as job site conditions, individual behavior, and results and looks for places for error control. HP takes a pragmatic perspective on human error identifying actions as not random events, but instead connected an organization’s people and the tasks they perform, their operating environment and how they behave in it.

The Human Performance Principles

There are five key principles of HP. We know them and they are important underlying truths toward creating a safe organization.  

  1. People are fallible; everyone makes mistakes.
    Error is universal. No one is immune regardless of age, experience, or educational level. No amount of counseling, training, or motivation can change it.

  2. Error-likely situations are predictable, manageable, and preventable.
    Recognizing situations that are prone to creating error is the first step. Calling attention to these hazards or removing them prevents error. 

  3. Individual behavior is influenced by organizational processes and values.
    The processes, business culture, and management within an organization is what contributes most to human performance problems and errors.  Fix the process and fix the error prone situation. 

  4. People achieve high levels of performance because of encouragement and reinforcement. All human behavior, good and bad, is reinforced, whether by what’s happening now or by past experience. The level of safety and reliability of an organization is directly related to the behavior of people within it.

  5. Mistakes can be avoided through an understanding of why they happen. This is a critical action for ongoing improvement. Anticipating how a past error can be prevented in the future is the most effective way of preventing future mistakes.

Sharable Moments —  Intersection of Health and Safety and Human Performance 

In comparing HP to Health and Safety, there are many similarities, especially in their recommended practices. Health and Safety, as defined by OSHA, has a primary goal of preventing workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths, as well as the suffering and financial hardship these events can cause for employees and employers. The recommended practices use a proactive approach to managing workplace health and safety and recognize that finding and fixing hazards before they cause injury or illness is far more effective than a reactive or after the fact approach. If an organization focuses on achieving goals, monitoring performance, and evaluating outcomes, the workplace can progress along the path to higher levels of health and safety achievement.

At Think Power Solutions, we look at HP and Health and Safety as two disciplines that go hand in hand. Our leadership has adopted an operating philosophy that it is an inevitability that people make mistakes. We expect them. But we also provide a work environment that supports identifying that error so it can be learned from and (hopefully) never repeated.  We provide the psychological safety so employees can take ownership of errors and remediate. We call these Sharable Moments that are a core part of our work culture of “Are you ok?” Let’s Fix it. Let’s learn from this sharable moment.”

Entrepreneurial Company — Result of HP Driven Empowered Employee Culture

A company that adopts the underpinnings of an HP program can also expect to become a more entrepreneurial workplace. If employees feel empowered and supported by the company with a real process in place that they can depend on to provide positive and reliable results, inertia, and reticence to make decisions is replaced by calculated risk taking and presumably, projects delivered safely, on time and from a workforce that enjoys high morale. 

There are many organizations that do not operate under any of these parameters.  These organizations instead identify errors, assign blame, and render a judgement or discipline for the action.  In this environment, there is little room for learning or teachable moment.  Instead, this environment leads to hiding errors, a chilling effect, and no opportunity to learn from past experiences.  A company can blame, or a company can learn and fix.

Real Life Experience of a Lineman  — HP in Action Before HP was a Formal Program

Before we had Human Performance and Health and Safety programs, two of the authors worked as journeymen linemen and did a lot of work in electric distribution. As young linemen, they installed numerous transformers or banks of transformers and always made it a practice to ask their pole buddy if the other person saw any reason why they should not energize the transformers. At that time, they both looked at all the bus connections (both primary and secondary) and required grounds from top to bottom.  When both were both satisfied, they energized the equipment. The authors did not realize that they were using two important fundamental actions in the human performance toolbox; 1. peer review, and 2. questioning attitude, as part of their daily work.

The authors also learned the value of effective communication. When the authors and their pole buddies were working out a pole, they would be so close together that their boots would almost touch. They never made up a connection that would energize any part of their work without first announcing “coming hot or energizing.”  The connection would not be made until the author’s pole buddies answered back.

Later in their careers, the authors worked as trouble shooters and were sometimes utilized as a switchmen. The authors remember their foreman telling them “If you switch incorrectly, you can stack dead lineman up like cordwood.”  This comment had such an impact on the authors that they can still hear the foreman’s instructions and that helped them truly understand how place keeping and effective communication so important. It was imperative that each step was performed in the proper order and that the authors understood exactly the task that was required.  As the real-life experience evidence shows, HP tools helps an individual maintain positive control of a work situation, ensuring that what is intended to happen is all that happens.

“Just Culture” and Psychological Safety — Results in a Great Place to Work

Human performance is much more than a safety program, but health and safety is one of the key goals in its execution. In fact, HP it’s not a program at all. It’s an operating philosophy that recognizes and accepts that mistakes and failures are normal at work. We shouldn’t be surprised when failures occur, but instead, be interested in determining what influenced or aided the failure and what changes or enhancements we should make to either minimize the probability that it occurs again, or when it does, ensure the consequences are minimized.

Evidence of a successful HP implementation in an organization is exhibited by a work environment or culture where employees are encouraged to speak up with both suggestions and concerns. Not to cause problems, but to foster a workplace that is constantly learning and improving. We often hear this type of work environment called a “Just Culture.” When employees are treated with respect and a sense of worth, they are proud to tell friends and family where they work. 

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