Tuesday 4 June 2013

Knowledge, performance and safety

Safety First! I blogged recently about how Knowledge Management can "compress the incompressible volume", and reduce both cost and time without compromising quality and safety.

This is very counter-intuitive, and many times over the past 20 years people have found this hard to believe.  "You want us to work faster" they say - "Does that mean we are cutting corners? Does that mean we will be slap-dash? Does that mean we will be taking more risk?"

The answer of course, is No, it doesn't. It means you don't waste time dithering about, it means you do things well and right, from the very start. It means no waste, no clutter, no rework. It means you know what to do, and how to do it. This way you can do things well, fast, and safe. But you still have to have the discussion with the people involved, because they won't believe you at first.

Here are some words about how to have that discussion; from someone I interviewed ages ago - a leader on an engineering team who was very good at helping people realise this possibility.

"The first thing that people will say  is "you care more about how fast we work than how safe were going to be". You have to expect that, you have to be able to answer it, and you have to be able to answer it very well. How do you answer it? Here is how we can do it.  
"You ask "How many people have ever worked on a job that was a fantastic result in terms of performance, and nobody got hurt?" And almost everybody is going to raise their hand. "How did you do that? Did you take short cuts?" "No, (they answer) - everything was just planned well, everybody knew what was going to happen, we were communicating, we made great decisions". And they start describing the characteristics of great teamwork and great safety programmes; people watching out for each other, having a great safety process on the job. 
"If you go in say "we are going to do both (performance and safety)" and don't go through that conversation, and help people try to discover for themselves what you mean, then they never get over that (initial suspicion)". 
What he was describing there is variously known as positive deviance, or appreciative enquiry. You get people to discover for themselves, or to remind themselves, that something is possible, rather than telling them its possible. Then you get them to analyse for themselves what made it possible (in this case, good planning, good communication, and "everybody knowing").

This is just another example of the little conversations that need to go on all the time, at all levels, as part of the Knowledge Management culture change.

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