Hello my HOP friends! let’s get down to business. I wanted to touch on some my personal experiences with (and opinions on) the implementation of Human and Organizational Performance. This isn't meant to be a "how to guide;" simply some high-level thoughts and perspective. This seems to be a sticking point out there; how do I, as a leader, as a safety practitioner, take this from textbook to pointy-end?
Here’s the tough bits first:
Number 1 – HOP isn’t a program – OK, do me a favor and repeat after me – HOP IS NOT A PROGRAM – It’s not something that you can “roll out,” at least not in the same way that we normally think about rolling stuff out. It’s not our normal change management type of stuff. There’s some handy-dandy helpful tools that we can use from that roll out and change management tool bag – but we have to understand that HOP is not the same, it is a fundamental shift in shared organizational beliefs, values, and ultimately a shift in our organizational assumptions. Let’s press pause on that conversation for now, were coming back to it
Number 2 – The process, over all, will be painfully slow. You’ll have moments where things move and shift very rapidly, some things will click and click fast, and it will be super fun and exciting. But for the most part getting there takes a good chunk of time. It will be slow, methodical, and dare I even say boring. Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint.
Number 3 – This will be a never ending marathon, a never ending journey – a constant evolution of betterment. Aligning with the whole “this isn’t a program thing,” there isn’t really an end-state. Sure you’ll have some milestones, some indicators, some goals along the way – none of which are stopping points. You have to accept this evolution for what it is, evolution. You can never view it as having an end-state.
So circling back to fundamentally shifting shared organizational beliefs and assumptions, let’s talk a little about the model of organizational structure from Dr. Edgar Schein. If you haven’t read his works, you should. Schein teaches us that our corporate language, the tools we use, all of the programs that have come to be, and the behaviors we manifest comes from something much deeper, something much more complex, and something that is much harder to see - our shared beliefs, values and assumptions.
Those shared beliefs, values and assumptions must be the first target. So many times I have seen organizations try to copy and paste tools, programs, and other stuff into their own organizations without influencing the underlying organizational assumptions. That approach never gets very far. You can have the most amazing, good, and well intended program or tool, but when it is immersed in old values or used through the lens of old assumptions, it doesn’t work. It’s often misused, abused, or not used at all. Something, that with the right underlying stuff, was intended to be, should have been, and could have been good, quickly becomes a negative.
So you need to influence these assumptions and beliefs first and foremost. In my implementation experience this has happened somewhat backwards compared to normal change stuff. Normal being where we seek top level buy-in first and before anything else, work at a high level to pull together a “corporatety” strategic plan, and then begin implementation of various tactical elements of said plan until we reach the bottom of the organization. In contrast to that, I have often seen conversations start at the pointy-end rather than the executive suite. It makes sense that a shift towards a more “bottoms up with responsibility down” model would begin from the bottom up.
Most shifts towards becoming a HOP organization, that I have seen, started as grassroots ventures. So here’s the good news, as you go out to have these conversations at the coal-face, these folks closet to the pointy-end (for the most part) already know and believe just about everything that you’re going to tell them. As we facilitate these pointy-end conversations, what were really doing is beginning to build a small army of dissenting voices and HOP allies. I’ve typically made these conversations happen by seeking out the cultural bright-spots first; having very informal learning sessions or group thought explorations around Human & Organizational Performance stuff.
After doing a few of these, the word starts to spread pretty quickly. “Have you heard the stuff that crazy HOP person is saying yet?” We then begin working our way from the frontline employees and frontline leaders to managers, directors, and above. This revolution quickly stirs interest at the very top. When that interest happens, we have the opportunity to have some amazing and deep conversations with the very tip-top of our organizations. Rather than just pushing from the bottom (which doesn’t work very well) or just pushing down from the top (which also doesn’t work very well) now we’re now pushing from both ends (which works really, really well).
So I think it’s important to also talk about what we should be talking about – at least in the beginning. I believe it’s the 5 HOP principles. We have to make these principles our organizations apparent truths; the new norm.
So for those that need the refresher:
1. Error is normal
2. Blame fixes nothing
3. Context drives behavior
4. Learning is vital
5. How we respond matters
To keep this somewhat short, I won’t get into the “how – to” on how to anchor these truths in your organizations. It’s definitely going to be very unique for your own company. But, just imagine yourself in a world where your company believes these 5 things through to its core. What would change? See that, you’ve got it! That’s the importance in shifting organizational assumptions. What changes? Everything changes.
So that’s a really long journey by itself, but here’s the cool thing that I’ve seen – we’re killing multiple birds with one stone. We’ve started a snowball in shifting assumptions, we’ve started to build HOP fluency, and finally (back to normal-ish change management) we’ve gained leadership interest.
Now let me insert the bad news here as well; it is extremely difficult to single-handedly build leadership support and build HOP fluency from within your own organization. You can’t do this thing solo, as one HOP nerd, as one leader or safety practitioner. You’re going to need help, a lot of it. Internally you’ll need to build your army of educators, HOP evangelists, and dissenting voices. You might need a HOP prophet from the outside, especially for higher-level leaders (from my experience). It’s a funny thing, you can be saying the exact same things, but just them hearing it from someone else makes it sound a little less crazy and scary. Your HOP nerd and your HOP fluent folks should be the masterminds; It’s rare to be successful as the mastermind, prophet, teacher, politician, mentor, and implementer.
Human & Organizational Performance isn't a Program, but you should have a plan...
HOP isn’t a program, but you should have a plan. You need a blueprint; you need a recipe for the cake. You need to bring the right ingredients together at the right times. You don’t want to be going for cake and end up with a pie. You need to have the right people working on the right things at the right times. You need to figure out what your little HOP army looks like, how that works, where you’re going, and how you think you’re going to get there. Don’t be completely tied down by planning; this plan will never be solid. It will move, shift and shuffle. Things will get pushed out and other things will get pulled in – but you need a road map to get you in the general vicinity.
So we’ve spent a lot of time on assumptions (because its super important). But, let’s shift into some other critical pieces of implementation.
Critical Area 1 - You have to get Leadership Interest and have to garner leadership support. We know how vital this is; we can make some headway without it, we can get started without it, but we’ll never get significant, broad and lasting change without it. Everyone will fall somewhere on the adoption curve. Some leaders will be on board right out of the gate, some will be stuck on the “I’m not sure, tell me more?” phase, and some will be actively opposed - work with all of them, get to know them, find their “why.” I’ve found that getting time with each (especially executives), away from their peers, is super helpful. Keep it informal, grab a cup of coffee down the street. If they have fears, talk about them openly and be understanding. Change is scary, especially for them and especially in a situation in which they feel like you’re asking them to give up some level of control. Be patient, give them the ideas, plant the seeds, send them a link to a podcast, give them resources, drop a book on their desk – let them come to their own conclusions. 9 times out of 10 they see the light.
Critical Area 2 - You need to be building HOP fluency through education and continued exposure to HOP Principles. This happens through actions, conversations, education, and can occur through some of your already established safety rituals. A good example is the use of safety messages. During my time as a mastermind of my very own implementation, I think I wrote almost every safety message I was tasked with about HOP, resilience engineering, just culture, or something in the vain of said subjects. Continue to permeate, that's where you'll find the paradigm shift in thought.
Critical Area 3 - You need to get Operational Learning off of the ground – here’s a pro-tip, all of the stuff you want to work on is usually best accomplished with a learning teams or something similar. So you’ve got to feel your way through that; see what that looks like and how that functions for your organization. You need to be practicing how to learn and improve post-event, pre-event, and for process betterment. learning is the only real tool you have, you’ve got to use it to its full capacity.
Critical Area 4 - You, at some point in your road map and after organizational assumptions have shifted, need to work on process alignment – building HOP principles and operational learning into existing processes, programs, and practices.
All of this is really leading to one ultimate goal – Great SIF controls. Constant and deliberate learning that results in better and better serious injury and fatality controls.
Your journey will be unique because your organization is unique...
There’s a lot that can be said about the implementation of Human & Organizational Performance. I want to leave you with this; your journey will be unique because your organization is unique. Your version will not match my version. You can make this thing happen in a lot of different ways, but here’s the key – stick to the principles. Make the principles your organizations new normal and assumptions will begin to shift around human error, blame, how we learn, organizational justice, and much more. That’s the amazing and awesome stuff that leads to dramatic and sweeping positive changes.