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My HOP Implementation Manifesto Pt. III: Letting Go

Hello my HOP folks – it’s time to burn some stuff down! This part of the journey isn’t for the faint of heart. But, if you’re ready to move to the next step of our Human & Organizational Performance journey – lets go. 

In this article, I want to continue to dive into some of my personal experiences with and thoughts and opinions on the implementation of Human and Organizational Performance. In the first two parts of this series we discussed overall strategy and the importance of targeting organizational assumptions and norms. In this portion of the series we’re going to dig into the “hang-over” that we have from traditional approaches to safety. I’m going to challenge some sacred safety cows, advocate for dismantling and destroying certain aspects of traditional safety programs, and probably push you outside of your comfort zone if you’re new to the concepts of “Safety Differently.” If you haven’t read part I and II, I would suggest getting up to speed first:          

Letting go is hard; we really don’t like letting go. Letting go is hard because of many reasons that we’re not going to get into here. We’re not going down the “change is hard” rabbit hole; let’s just say change sucks and letting go is hard. But, I’m here to tell you to “embrace the suck,” let go, and lean into it for the greater good.

I can’t begin to imagine every situation that exists; I can and will only dive into the “heavy-hitters.” But here’s a quick and easy test to see if you should scrap something within your organization (and yes this applies to practically everything): 

Does <insert anything> place downward pressure on honesty, openness or learning?

If the answer is yes, then (you guessed it) scrap it. Anything, and I mean ANYTHING that puts downward pressure in your organization on honesty, openness or learning is bad for you, your people, and ultimately your business. I don’t mean to oversimplify – but it really is that simple. You are now on a "seek & destroy" mission to burn down anything and everything that harms trust or learning.          

Now, on to the already mentioned “hangover.” These are some common hold-outs that I find in most organizations as they are evolving towards the “New View.” Many (if not all) of the following are interconnected or driven by each other in some form or another and ultimately come from our deeper organizational assumptions.     

Metrics Driven Views of Success - We continue to maintain heavy handed metrics that usually have various measurements and instruments of measurement in attempts to drive betterment by measuring harder. Clocks, counts, and spreadsheet after spreadsheet summarizing safety into neat little red, yellow and green boxes. 

Chasing ZERO – Historically, safety has been defined as the lack of negative events. With that definition, the best possible goal would be zero, right?  The only problem is that zero doesn’t actually work very well. “ZERO culture” organizations report less and less, they respond poorly to the events that are reported, they control stories to limit the organizations reactions, events get managed to limit or eliminate their impact on the metrics, their opportunities to learn decrease, and they squander the limited learning opportunities they do receive. At peak maturity of implementation, a ZERO culture leaves an organization operating blindly. (check out my article “My BEEF with ZERO)    

Counts, Clocks, and Anything Similar – How about we just place a big sign over every worker within our organizations that say something like “Hello, I’m John Doe – It’s Been 2 hours Since I Last Made a Mistake.” Well, we're almost there. There’s just not much (if any) value here – to our organizations, our employees, or really anyone for that matter. Clocks, counts, and the like are much more of a metric than a learning tool and almost always received poorly by the pointy-end of our organizations.     

War on Error – We have long assumed that the human is to blame for bad things happening. Due to this, war has been declared on error. But a war on “human error” is actually a war on all that is human. We have weaponized Human Performance and have geared our approaches to fixing people rather than focusing on fixing our systems, processes, and the setting. We try to punish and reward our way to “Zero-Errors” but we’ll never get there; at least not really. Similar to an overarching “Zero Culture,” people will just stop telling you about errors – but sure, the banner that says “1000 Days Since Someone Last Messed Up” looks great above a steak cook-off – it’s just not real. We know it and our employees know it.  


Punishing People for Making Mistakes – People will only tell you what you allow them to tell you. If we continue to punish people for simply being people; they will stop reporting and learning will grind to a halt. 

Rule Driven Zero Tolerance Culture – We end up with lists of the super-duper most important rules; you know the ones I’m talking about. These are the ones that are so important that you’ll get fired near instantly for almost any form of infraction. “But Sam, these are the things that kill people! I’d much rather see someone in the unemployment line than the morgue!” We’ll I’m here to tell you that the implementation of zero tolerance rules is a good way blind yourself to learning around the most critical and high risk operations within your organization. Blind + High Risk does not sound like a wining combination to me.  Errors, close calls, and other learning opportunities will be driven underground due to threat and fear of repercussions. The only events that will be reported around zero tolerance rules are the ones that are too big to hide.          

Favoring Big Data over Big Learning – We really, really want to believe that low level events are predicative of catastrophic events. But, if you haven’t heard, they’re not. We spend so much time mired down in data that we miss real, deep, and unique learning opportunities. Our obsession with trending of this and that leads us to value lump-sum data over singular, unique, and contextualized learning opportunities – there is much greater value in the latter.  Outgrow trying to “forecast” and trend events and focus on learning and betterment.    

Incorrect Reactions to Bad Things Happening – We like to cling to the “sky is falling!” approach when it comes to responding to events. But, it’s never helpful. Freaking out, making a scene, or having your entire leadership team descend upon a location post-event, doesn’t show you care – it just shows you’re freaking out. This type of reaction is painful for those reporting and it leads to loss of trust, loss of respect, and drives reporting underground which leads to missed learning.      

All of the above doesn't pass our “scrap-it” test mentioned earlier. Does <insert anything> place downward pressure on honesty, openness or learning? The answer to all of the above is a glaring Y-E-S. So why do we keep hanging onto this crap (and yes I mean crap).  We get hung up on a lot of these for two reasons: 1 -We persist in the flawed belief that all accidents are preventable and 2 - We cling to Heinrich and his pyramid – due to this we maintain that if we “manage the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.” We must stamp these beliefs out of our organizations; they will not allow us to continue to evolve toward Safety-II. I can almost guarantee you that any process, program, or system that is built on the above will harm your culture, reduce reporting, and ultimately cause your organization to miss learning and betterment opportunities.    

Letting go is hard, it’s painful, and it downright scary sometimes. But, letting go is necessary in this journey to the next level of safety. I get it, we’ve invested a lot of time into some of this stuff; we have a lot of sunk cost. But, it’s time to “burn off the dead wood” – a little cleansing fire to burn off that which does not or will not work where we are going. We must focus on the things that truly grow safety and capacity and add value within our organizations. Anything that harms trust, openness, honesty, or learning only hurts us and must be shed from our companies as soon as possible.  


So, what do you think? What are your thoughts? Let me know at   or send me an email at – I’d love to hear from you! Follow along with the podcast at

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