Human and Organisational Performance (H.O.P.)
What is Human and Organisational Performance?
Human and Organisational Performance is a new way of thinking about how we can improve work. It is based on the premise that humans are error prone and that if we expect people to do things right all the time, we are most likely going to be disappointed – a lot! (Andrea Baker) It’s about understanding how humans perform and how we can build systems that are more error tolerant and is based on the works of thought leaders such as Todd Conklin, Sidney Dekker, James Reason and many more. For many years we have tried to make workers “care more” and “pay more attention” to what they are doing so that they won’t make mistakes. It seems that we have run that course about as far as it will go. In this new way of thinking or “new view”, as many call it, we are making this change happen.
What if we are less surprised by human error and failure and instead became more interested in learning? What if we realized that many of the conditions that led to failure were not identified in our standard hazard analysis tools? What if there was no “root cause” or “chain of events” that led to the failure in some sort of linear fashion? Let’s talk about it and see if there may just be a new way to respond to failure. And let’s look at the complexity of failure and consider the possibility that it happens more from normal variability than from some anomaly. And let’s talk about taking the time to learn before we act!
The results organisations that adopt Human and Organisational Performance are experiencing are staggering. They are seeing managers change their response to failure. They are seeing improved employee engagement. They are gaining more operational intelligence than ever before. They are doing this by bringing the workers and planners together to discuss how work really gets done, not how management thinks it gets done. In this setting, conversations are more open and honest and because we are changing our response to failure, we are getting a much clearer picture of just how difficult it is for workers to get work done. HOP isn’t really like any sort of traditional program (i.e. Lean, Six Sigma, ISO etc.). While these programs are great and bring much-needed structure and improvement to our organizations, HOP is more about our conversations, about the way we treat each other, about listening and learning from those who do the work and appreciating their depth of knowledge in the way operations run. It’s about better collaboration.
The Fundamentals of Human & Organisational Performance
Human and Organisational Performance is based upon five following principles. The five principles shape and influence the way organisations think and act and the way they view both success and failure. Broadly they form a perspective of how they view the world.
1. Error is Normal
We have known this for several decades, but it is still all too common to see accidents and incidents attributed to human error. H.O.P takes the view that error is normal and is rarely a cause but rather is a symptom of ‘deeper trouble’ within the systems in which they occur. Error is dependent on the context and is at least as complex as the system that created it.
2. Blame Fixes Nothing
Blame may feel satisfying, at least in the short run but, blame fixes nothing and in the long run generally does much more harm than good. The H.O.P perspective is that those involved in accidents and incidents are second victims that require support but also have an important role to play, a role that involves restoring and learning. Through taking a restorative approach we can make things better for all parties concerned.
3. Systems Drive Behaviour
Accepting that systems drive behaviour means that we will look for deeper more meaningful stories and understanding when things go wrong. Simple explanations generally go something like this…If the worker had made a better choice, paid more attention, had greater situational awareness etc. none of this would have happened. To some degree, this may be true but it is also very unhelpful. The H.O.P approach is to look at the context in which work or normal operations happen. What are the underlying conditions that are driving or shaping the behaviours that we are observing? This would include looking at the local work conditions, goal conflicts, trade off’s, resources and constraints as all of these have an influence. None of this happens in isolation either, stepping further back we must also consider organisational and even societal expectations implicit or implied (think policies, decisions metrics) as these also shape and influence behaviour. H.O.P takes a system view and embraces Systems Thinking as the means to understand and improve the complex world of work we manage.
4. Learning is Vital
Many current methods and tools deliver little in the way of learning. Often many of our tools are focused on compliance and telling rather than listening, learning and understanding. The H.O.P perspective is that learning is vital! When things go wrong, we must decide if we want to blame and punish or learn and improve (Conklin). Learning about the deeper story yields much richer information that enables us to make more appropriate and effective changes and improvements. Beyond learning from what goes wrong, more valuable is learning about normal work. If we accept that all the conditions that are present in accidents are present in normal work, we can learn just as much if not arguably more from normal work not least because we have a much larger sample. Through a combination of new approaches (Learning Teams) and enhanced traditional methods (Pre-& Post Job Briefings, Audits etc.) we can gain amazing insights about what’s really happening in our organisation.
5. Response Matters
How leaders respond matters…a lot! When things go wrong, we must first contain our own response to failure. Responding with empathy, understanding and curiosity may not be the norm in some organisations but it essential to engender an atmosphere where learning and improvement can happen. This can be described as creating psychological safety. By being curious and providing some ‘breathing room’ for effective learning to take place, deeper and richer insights can be gained, this, in turn, leads to more effective action and a more engaged workforce.
Clearly, these five principles are integrative and work together. If we combined these principles into a simple sentence to describe H.O.P we could say;
Error is normal, and systems drive behaviour, therefore, we need to manage our response as blame fixes nothing, we need to get far better at learning!
In addition to the five principles, H.O.P accepts complexity over simple linear explanations and views quality and safety as the presence of capacity as opposed to an absence or negative events.
Many traditional safety approaches seek to constrain and control performance often through bureaucracy, best practices and top-down command and control. While there may well be a time and a place for all of those, used alone as a panacea for performance improvement they often become detrimental to performance while having other harmful and undesired side effects.
The H.O.P approach is to identify and amplify the positive capacities already present within the organisation as well as optimising system conditions and reducing constraints, where possible. Ultimately the focus is on creating the conditions for success not just to avoid failure. H.O.P in its very nature does not take a binary view of what is valuable and what is not in safety practice but rather looks at the context of an operation, understands and develops what is working and reduces or removes those that are done by tradition alone. Critically, H.O.P is an integrative process. For example, it requires a holistic approach that involves leadership, management systems, people and practices. It combines old with new while being sensitive to the specific context and the needs of those involved.
H.O.P and Safety II, Resilience Engineering, Safety Differently
What about these terms Safety II, resilience engineering and safety differently? How do they relate or compare to Human & Organisational Performance? It’s true that there are certainly a confusing number of terms being used to describe different facets of what has been collectively be referred to as the “new view” of safety. It is our view that we have several terms with different origins that have finished up in a very similar destination. Many of the approaches and methods that would be accepted, promoted or utilised by H.O.P practitioners would be equally useful for an organisation adopting a Safety II or Safety Differently approach.
For a critical analysis of H.O.P and its connection to Safety II and Safety Differently, see the HOPLAB for articles on this subject.
Why H.O.P, why now?
Burgeoning bureaucracy, increasing compliance demands often internally imposed and safety performance that in many industries is asymptotic has led many organisations to search for different ways of doing safety. Some organisations have gone so far as to state that their safety efforts have made organisational performance worse while delivering no safety benefit.
The H.O.P perspective is that safety is just one of many emergent outcomes from work, as such its key focus is on making work better and building capacity to ensure success. By taking this approach we can improve across a range of outcomes including quality, safety and productivity. Just as Safety II has been referred to as productive safety, HOP through its holistic view aims to optimise system conditions to support and enhance the likelihood of desirable outcomes.
Organisations that have adopted HOP have experienced;
- Greater engagement, commitment and ownership from frontline personnel
- Enhanced performance across a range of measures
- Reduced bureaucracy and more focused processes and work practices
Our H.O.P Services
Southpac International offers comprehensive Human & Organisational Performance services. These range from comprehensive public programs led by world leaders in the field to coaching and mentoring services and assistance with implementing H.O.P philosophy into your organisation’s existing tools and management systems.
See the pages listed below to learn more about our courses and related H.O.P services.
All Southpac courses can be customised and delivered in-house either alone or as part of a more comprehensive involvement.