Many organizations rely on culture surveys to gather feedback on what’s working well, what’s not, and how to strengthen the functioning of the organization. Relatively few surveys have been validated, which means that they may give false feedback on how to improve business results. Unless scores on the instrument correlate with performance, it is not reasonable to assume that efforts to improve scores will translate into business results. Dr. Krause and Kristen Bell have a long-standing commitment to validating culture assessment tools. We are particularly proud of the work we did in the 1990’s with psychologist Dr. David Hofmann, to identify characteristics of organizational culture that predicted safety performance. The innovation process was high-quality and highly efficient: It began with a review of published academic research. New research needed only to select, model and validate a set of scales that would become an effective organizational culture assessment tool for safety. Similar tools have since been developed and validated by US government agencies and are in the public domain. We are extremely proud of the quality of this work, and the broad use it enjoys today.
A senior manager at a major oil & gas company strongly believed that retirement of the baby boom generation, combined with his organization’s strong dependency on process and systems, was creating problems for efficiency, effectiveness, and safety throughout the business. He hired Kristen Bell to work with his team to develop and test his hypothesis so that they were assured of having valid and reliable data to inform an improvement strategy. Bell began by defining “efficiency” and “effectiveness,” terms which had special meaning to them. A series of interviews and productive exercises provided the basis of a solid assessment tool. We validated the tool using existing safety and performance data and then hosted a strategic planning meeting to make use of the findings. This innovation process led to a number of discoveries for the manager and his team, including: relationships between experience, culture, safety and performance; what it would take to improve decision-making in the organization; and the importance of creating an environment in which people are willing to voice concerns when defined processes and procedures don’t make sense.
Organizations have been using employee-driven observation and feedback to improve safety performance since the 1980s with surprising variation in the results. When a group of consultants and their client organizations wanted to better understand the reasons for the variation, they contributed hundreds of interviews, focus groups, work samples, and observation data to an analysis. The analysis led to many useful insights, the most important of which was the critical role of managers and supervisors, even in employee-driven processes. We take this finding for granted today, but in the 1990s when we did the project, it was a revelation. As a result of this work, the roles and responsibilities of supervisors and managers changed and were better defined, and organizations began to focus on leadership in a different way. Organizations that integrated these findings into their observation processes from the beginning achieved significantly better outcomes compared to those who didn’t.
About 10 years ago, Tom Krause, Kristen Bell, and their colleagues began to receive phone calls from clients who had been experiencing very low recordable injury rates over long periods of time, who had been blindsided by a serious injury or fatality, or both. Dr. Krause observed that these were not isolated cases, they were part of a national trend in which recordable and lost time injuries were declining steadily year-to-year, while serious injuries and fatalities appeared to be level or in some cases increasing. Dr. Krause and others at BST and ORCHSE (then Mercer ORC) met with a group of seven global companies to see if they could understand the problem and develop strategies to address it. Pooling their existing safety data, the initial study group discovered that their recordable and lost time injuries could easily be divided into two categories: those with high potential to be serious and those with low potential. This collaborative effort generated new insights for the prevention of serious injuries and fatalities with huge implications for industry. Krause and Bell have since replicated and extended the findings with several other organizations. The idea that protecting workers from serious injuries and fatalities requires a prevention strategy that focuses on the potential of injuries to become serious or fatal remains a central idea in leading edge safety management today.