Background: 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. A valid, reliable instrument to assess his concerns did not exist, and since he had only anecdotal evidence, he could neither prove his concerns nor did he understand the issue in enough depth to suggest solutions to his executive team.

The Innovation Process: The manager decided to use an existing, well-validated safety culture assessment instrument as a starting point, and to develop and test additional scales measuring efficiency and effectiveness.

The first step was to define what he – and other subject matter experts in his organization – meant by “efficiency” and “effectiveness.” A group of six subject matter experts and two research analysts was assembled. The analysts interviewed each subject matter expert separately, and the examples efficiency and effectiveness given by the experts were then turned into potential survey questions.

Next, the experts participated in a card-sort exercise to see which questions reliably fell into categories and they gave each category a name. This gave rise to a preliminary instrument with “face validity,” which means there was strong agreement from subject matter experts that the resulting sets of questions were assessing exactly the things that concerned them about their organization.

The third step was to gather and analyze data using the existing safety culture assessment instrument, the new efficiency and effectiveness scales, and some criterion scales. Because the organization did not have independent measures of efficiency and effectiveness, they simply asked people questions to estimate the percentage of their time engaged in various efficient and inefficient activities. Interviews and focus groups added depth to the survey and the analysis of all the data revealed which questions worked well and which questions didn’t. Roughly 3/4 of the questions produced high quality data that could inform an improvement strategy.

Finally, the group of experts convened to hear the results of their survey and interviews, and to collaborate on an improvement strategy. They created a presentation for their executive team which defined the problem, fostered a deeper understanding of efficiency and effectiveness and their relationships to safety, culture and organizational performance, and outlined solutions, all supported by data.

Immediate Results for the Organization: The executive team supported the recommendations put forth by the team of experts. Major organizational changes were accomplished, including the assignment of experienced leaders to less experienced project managers and changes to the organization’s formal decision-making processes allowing decisions to be made at lower levels. Perhaps most importantly, however, there was a new recognition of the need to create an environment in which people are willing to voice concerns when defined processes and procedures don’t make sense.

Impact of the Innovation Process itself: The innovation process used in this example created value for the senior manager and his organization. By asking the experts to provide defining examples, and then engaging them in an exercise that created consensus around the definitions, they became much better equipped to communicate their ideas to others.

The innovation process also led to better integration of the assessment findings compared to traditional consultant-led assessments. The collaborative process in which a diverse group of experts, with the right kind of technical support, combined their experience with data to generate compelling solutions for their business was powerful and unique.