Goals and Vision in Safety
Safety is the industry of lower order goals (see Figure 1. Goal States). Safety functions under the false slogan ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’. It chooses to ignore a much better aphorism and that is: ‘you can’t count what counts’.
We have known for a long time that neither lead or lag numerical indicators tell us much about safety and tell us nothing about culture, except that metrics is a cult within the safety industry. The cult of metrics is the cousin of the cult of zero. You can read more about the measurement cult here:
- Muller, J., (2018) The Tyranny of Metrics
- Zilak, S and McClosky, D (2014) The Cult of Statistical Significance
- Slovic, P., and Slovic, S., (2015) Numbers and Nerves
And there has also been considerable work on the delusions of KPIs and Performance measurement tools. One of the best research projects I know that absolutely smashed KPIs for safety etc is Digging Deeper, a comprehensive review into the NSW Mining Sector commissioned by the NSW Mine Safety Advisor Council (https://resourcesandgeoscience.nsw.gov.au/miners-and-explorers/safety-and-health/about-us/mine-safety-initiatives/digging-deeper). There is other research that demonstrates that KPIs for safety drives corruption and dishonesty. There is no evidence anywhere that demonstrates that rewards for safety actually improves safety, it fact it’s the opposite.
The elephant in the room in all this discussion about performance and KPIs is the curse of Behaviourism (https://safetyrisk.net/the-curse-of-behaviourism/). All of this fixation with measurement and KPIs was recently shown as corrupt by the Banking Royal Commission (https://financialservices.royalcommission.gov.au/Pages/default.html). Indeed, it’s clearly demonstrated that KPIs most often encourage unethical behavior. But don’t go looking at the AIHS BoK in Ethics because it doesn’t even discuss the matter. Yet, fraud, dishonesty and duplicity with numerics is one of the most challenging moral dilemmas for this industry and the BoK doesn’t even discuss it, not the dynamic that drives it – zero. Similarly, the process of standardization in many industries eg. schooling does not improved outcomes but simply leads to ‘game playing’ about statistics.
In all of this mythology of measurement we have lost sight of what matters, higher order goals that can be neither set nor measured. In the following graphic we use in SPoR training (see Figure 1. Goal States) we show how semi-measureable goals and higher order goals are situated to lower order goals (metrics and numerics). Higher order goals like: fidelity, trust, transparency, care, helping and a host of essentials for the health or organisations cannot be set or measured. If you try to set higher order goals as measurables you essentially destroy them. When considering higher order goals one needs an entirely different non-behaviourist worldview to tackle the problem. So the beginning of improving organisations and safety is first of all ditching the mythology of measurement and behaviourism.
Figure 1. Goal States.
Once one is able to ditch behaviourism and metrics mentalitie, then one can go about a new and visionary approach for improving safety. Safety doesn’t improve with more of the same, and there’s not much about that communicates any vision at all. I certainly see no vision coming from the stasis of safety associations or from the engineering/science focus of the safety industry. If you want vision in safety you have to step outside of the old wine skin.
When it comes to higher order goals we need to shift thinking towards intuitive, tacit knowing and a new consciousness of motivation and perception. A good start is Higgins: Beyond Pleasure and Pain and Moskowitz The Psychology of Goals. Both of these researchers completely smash the delusions of measurement and the nonsense ideas of motivation associated with behaviourism. People are not the sum of inputs and outputs, BTW, gaol doesn’t work either. The idea that punishment alone changes behavior is also pure mythology. Sorry to tell you the issues of motivation, goal setting, perception and change are a wicked problem.
When we do the SPoR Ethics Module (https://cllr.com.au/product/an-ethic-of-risk-unit-17/) we explore the ten critical ethical issues for safety people none of which are in the AIHS BoK. Good old head in the sand safety, why discuss the essentials to the ethics of risk when a grand delusion and mythology will do.
One of these critical concerns in the Module is the unethical nature of KPIs in safety and current processes set up to measure performance, that don’t work. However, the only way to really move forward on the issue of ethics in measurement is to dump the delusions and corruptions of behaviorism and I can’t see that happening soon. There can be no vision in safety if one is anchored to zero or behaviourism.