Most organizations want to improve safety performance. Traditionally, they have measured their efforts using incident-based metrics, meaning success or failure often hinges on the absence of adverse events. Too often, when setting goals to improve these types of metrics, organizations fail to consider what these goals will actually achieve.
“Narrowly focusing on improving incident-based metrics may produce marginal improvement,” explains Michael Fackler, CSP, ARM, senior risk management consultant for Eastern Alliance Insurance Group. “More likely, however, this approach will cause people to hide or underreport hazards and employee injuries.”
Many safety professionals have recognized that incident-based metrics don’t offer organizational leadership much insight for making informed decisions about safety and risk. So how do safety professionals help employers set better goals for improving safety management?
“Using formal goal-setting mechanisms, management can move beyond a focus on reducing incident-based metrics and shift toward implementing and integrating management processes and systems that provide greater clarity about the results of improvement efforts,” Fackler says.
Here are six steps to help you reimagine your organization’s safety goals.
Stretch your outlook.
Fackler subscribes to the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time bound) approach to goal-setting, but believes leaders should focus more on the “attainable” element.
“People tend to set goals that can easily be achieved,” he says. “But the goal-setting process is most effective when we establish goals just beyond our current capacity or level of performance.” In other words, goals should be difficult, yet achievable, and it’s up to managers to find that balance.
“When challenged, we have a knack for finding innovative ways to accomplish more than we thought was possible,” Fackler observes. “Sometimes just stating the goal aloud is enough to get people thinking about creative ways to best complete a task.”
Know the key steps of the goal-setting process.
For safety professionals, the first step is to align safety and health goals with the organization’s overall strategy.
“First understand what your company does, then find ways can the safety function can help the organization do it better,” Fackler advises.
Because supporting the organization’s overall mission is essential, safety professionals should always be thinking about how safety improvements can increase overall operational performance.
According to Fackler, the next step is to list each goal, capping that list at four. To simplify the goal-writing process, he advises you start by answering these questions:
- What do we want to accomplish?
- Why do we want to do it?
- How are we going to do it?
- How will we measure progress and success?
“If you can answer these four questions, your goals will be written in alignment with the SMART concept,” Fackler says. “If you cannot answer these four questions, then any goal you set will be incomplete and less likely to deliver results.”
Create a nimble goal development team.
Identifying opportunities for improvement works best when a broad range of perspectives from across the organization are considered. Collaboration itself generates buy-in to the overall process, Fackler says. The makeup of the team you choose should be as unique as your organization.
“Every organization is different, and a goal development team can take many shapes and sizes,” Fackler says. While there is no standard number of participants, he cautions against going too big. “Anytime you get more than 10 people in a room, it’s hard to gain consensus on what needs to be done, or how to go about getting it done,” he says.
Developing clear goals is the key to gaining buy-in because it eliminates ambiguity.
“When employees know their performance will be evaluated in terms of how well they attained their goals, the impact of goals increases,” Fackler explains. For example, an organization should have individual performance metrics that measure the level of participation and engagement among senior management and front-line supervision.
In addition, Fackler says safety managers should develop metrics based on individual and organizational performance and provide feedback to management of the efficacy of the interventions taken.
“Activity-based metrics allow senior managers to gauge overall support and participation, as well as year-to-date results.”
Communicate, communicate, then communicate some more.
Once you have established goals, you need to keep them front of mind throughout the organization. That means continuously tracking and measuring progress.
“When an organization provides feedback on how well it is performing in relation to achieving its stated goals, leadership and employees can decide if more effort or different strategy is needed to attain their goal,” Fackler says.
You can communicate about goals in many different ways, but Fackler recommends adding safety information to feedback you already share on other goals, like production, sales, quality and customer service.
“Communicating safety performance data in conjunction with existing organizational performance metrics signals to employees the value the organization places on workplace safety,” he says.
Remember to celebrate achievements.
Celebrating achievements is a great way to tell people how much you appreciate their contributions. And, recognizing employees who go above and beyond encourages them to repeat those actions in the future. Fackler says it’s also important to realize that while not every goal will be met, there is something to be learned and acknowledged about failure.
“By their nature, goals are intended to stretch our current capacities and improve safety performance beyond current levels,” he explains. “Positive change can result even when organizations fail to achieve their stated goals. If you ask, ‘Did we make meaningful progress toward the goal?’ you can recognize that improvement because it may not have occurred had you not established a goal in the first place.”
Fackler will share his goal-setting tips and techniques during Safety 2018 Session S576, “Goal Setting: Practical Applications to Improve Organizational Performance,” on Monday, June 4, 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Michael Fackler, CSP, ARM, is senior risk management consultant with Eastern Alliance Insurance Group. He has also held safety positions in the construction industry and in the public sector. Fackler holds an M.B.A. from West Virginia University, an M.S. in Safety, Security and Emergency Management from Eastern Kentucky University and a B.A. in Political Science from University of Louisville. He is a member of ASSE's Louisville Chapter and a member of ASSE’s Management Practice Specialty.