A focus on tools that help…
Let’s start by defining the term tool. Merriam-Webster defines a tool as a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task.
Now, we call a lot of things in our work worlds “tools” (and yes, sometimes even the boss), but are they really?
- Is that pre-job brief really a "tool?"
- Is that booklet full of rules your employees must carry around forever and always really a "tool?"
- Is that observation card really a "tool?"
- Is that Stop Work Authority lanyard card really a "tool?"
As organizations, we really like this idea of providing leaders and employees with “safety tools” in particular, but are they actually tools? Let’s zoom in on a part of that definition, the part about “aids in accomplishing a task.” For something to truly be a tool, it must be helpful – not hurt, slow down, or make things harder. A tool must actually help you accomplish something that is need of accomplishing. It must be useful, it must be needed, and it must help one accomplish a task, if it does not, it is simply not a tool, and it is likely just another piece of clutter. A valuable piece of the “tool” puzzle is to examine for the general helpfulness in accomplishing work.
In various talks and presentations that I have delivered over the years, I typically provide what I have titled as “The Home Depot Example” to highlight this concept.
Imagine that you are neck deep in some home renovations or a remodel, or that you are stuck fixing something that has broken at home.
You make your way down to Home Depot to pick up some needed supplies, and while venturing through the store and playing with all the neat things one might find in Home Depot, you come across a tool that looks like it might just solve whatever problem you are facing back at home. You are so excited about this tool that you don’t even pay attention to the price – racing to get out of the store and back home to give it a shot. This new tool cuts your project time in half, it made the whole process a little easier, and made all that hard work suck just a bit less. That sounds like a pretty good tool me.
Now, flip that example on its head. How likely would you have been to purchase this tool if it did not help you accomplish work in need of accomplishing, or if it didn’t solve a problem you were faced with? Highly unlikely. What if that tool was advertised as being helpful, but upon using it you discovered that it just didn’t work well? You would be searching for the receipt to return it to the store. What if it did the complete opposite, making the work slower, harder, and suck more? There is a high probability that you are going to throw it out the window, and then drive to Home Depot to curse whoever sold it to you.
Now compare that to the “tools” – especially the safety tools – we implement in our workplaces. How do they hold up – do they pass the “must be helpful” test? Many do not. With so many of our safety “tools” having stated goals like “to slow people down,” “to make people stop,” or “to ensure that people do (inset whatever here),” our safety “tools” are often not tools at all, they are mechanisms of employee control or “feel goods” that management can peer down upon as indicators of the presence of safety – safety “tools” are often just more safety work.
If a safety “tool” does not solve a particular pain point or problem, if it’s hard to use and provides little (if any) benefit to the end user, if it makes work harder to accomplish (rather than easier to accomplish), or if it serves no purpose other than curing a bit of managerial anxiety around safety, then the intended users of the tool will bypass it, work around it, or simply not use it. If there is a rule or policy requiring the use of this particular tool, all of the above will still occur, but the end users will make it appear as if the tool is being used as to avoid being viewed as non-compliant by the organization.
If the use of a “tool” must be forced via the application of a rule, it is not a helpful tool. The best and most effective tools never require the use of force – people use them voluntarily because they are helpful, useful, and because they help solve some problem or challenge they face. If you have safety tool troubles – people not using them, avoiding them, working around them, or bypassing them – take a long hard look at the tool, not the person you want to be using it.
As we seek to provide employees and leaders with safety tools and resources, we must keep these concepts in mind. Whether you are examining preexisting safety tools within your organization, or seeking to create new one, there are a few basic principles that always apply.
Some basic principles relating to effective tools
· It is needed – it solves a problem that is need of solving, or aids in accomplishing of a task
· It is useful to the person that must use it
· It is created with the people that need it
It is needed
Far too many safety “tools” are solutions in search of problems – they are broad non-specific “fixes” that don’t actually fix anything in particular. There must be an actual need from the people doing the work – not from above – to warrant the creation or continued use of a tool.
It is useful
If a “tool” is not useful, if it does not aid in the accomplishing of work, or if it hinders efficiency, it simply will not be used. Thinking of this as a question always seems to help, “Does this aid (insert person) in completing (insert task)?” Remember, to “aid” means to help, assist, or support someone in the achievement of something (Oxford Dictionary) – it does not mean to slow down, stop, force, or render inefficient.
It is created with the people that need it
Often, safety “tools” are created by safety people, rather than being created by those who actually need them. If your hope is to get the first two principles right, and your goal is to end up with an effective tool, lean into embracing the knowledge and know-how of the people that need it.
For a deeper exploration into this subject check out 10 Ideas to Make Safety Suck Less - available on Amazon & Audible. We take a deep dive into the subject of "More Tools - Less Rules."