Behavior-based safety (BBS) has taught us that we can solve a performance problem by identifying, very specifically, the behaviors we want from employees and the behaviors we want them to stop. For instance, when we use behavioral problem solving in behavior-based safety, we identify a specific safety behavior that will decrease injuries—like putting on fall protection when working above four feet. Then we apply a tracking process to identify how frequently employees are doing so. Through observation (sometimes self-observation if the employee works alone), we get an approximate measure of how often the safe behavior is occurring.
Using this data, we provide feedback to employees about the frequency of critical safe behaviors. This upstream metric is part of a preventive approach to reducing injury rates. Feedback on critical behaviors is a robust factor in individual and group behavior change.
Recognition and celebrations for progress and for reaching improvement benchmarks create a positive management system. The combination of pinpointing critical performance behaviors, measuring their frequency, providing performers with feedback, and recognizing improvement and attainment constitute what is referred to as a behavioral approach. The behavioral approach referred to in the safety community as behavioral safety or behavior-based safety is being used around the world and the cumulative success data is staggeringly positive.
Interestingly, only a small portion of the safety community see the opportunity this approach provides them to deal with other organizational performance problems. Quality, productivity, waste reduction, timeliness, customer service, and profitability are easily improved using the behavioral approach. Many safety and operations people have seen the opportunity and are actively using pinpointing, measurement, feedback, and recognition with critical behaviors for all these performance categories.
Actually, the behavioral approach was used for organizational performance problems many years before it was applied to safety. The history of its successful application is indisputable. My consulting history began in 1971 when I started applying the behavioral approach to the textile industry where I reduced waste, improved weave and spinning efficiency, and reduced turnover so effectively that within two years the consulting company I was working with had the top 10 textile companies as clients.
Since then, the behavioral approach has been applied in every business and industry you can think of including oil and gas, utilities, manufacturing, distribution, banking, hospitals, retail sales, and many more.
Six Sigma, Operational Excellence, Lean Principles and other major initiatives deployed by today's organizations have been very successful at improving performance in many cases; in others, not so helpful. A problem with these widespread improvement initiatives is that they never drill down to the behavioral level. Their problem-identification processes stop short of discovering the specific behaviors that are required from employees to correct a quality issue or increase throughput in manufacturing.
This is an instance where the old homily, "the devil is in the details," is extremely appropriate. The details in this case are the behaviors needed to solve problems and reach new performance levels. We will never be able to engineer-out all the problems that are created by human behavior. Nor can we engineer-in the potential value-added that employees can provide when properly empowered.
You can use one simple approach to identify where increasing, decreasing, changing, or adding critical behaviors will solve quality problems, production problems, or service problems:
Ask the people who do the work to list five specific things they can do that will improve quality. You will be surprised how often complex, problem-solving models like Six Sigma and Lean Principles can't solve a performance problem that can be solved with a checklist of critical employee behaviors. Irrespective of the performance problem, using the people who do the work to help you identify what behaviors are linked to critical performance outcomes is an essential step toward organizational excellence.
Whether employees need to start performing a behavior more frequently, less frequently, stop doing the behavior, or start doing a completely new behavior—the solution can be reached in a 30-minute conversation with an employee or a work group.
Most safety professionals and operations folks now accept the often-quoted verity that "80 to 90 percent of all safety issues are behavioral." Would you be surprised to hear that the same holds true for all of the performance problems in business and industry? Most every performance problem your organization has can be solved in part or altogether by using the simple behavioral approach of
- Pinpointing the critical behaviors that need to be performed to solve the problem or increase performance
- Measuring their frequency individually or by work group using a checklist
- Providing all performers with timely feedback using that data
- Providing individual and group recognition (and sometimes a group celebration) for improvement and goal attainment
A few BBS consulting firms, such as Quality Safety Edge, have experience in helping their clients generalize the behavioral approach they are using successfully in safety to broader organizational performance issues. It is simple and builds on the skills your management and employees have already applied to safety. It can be used independently or as part of Lean/Six Sigma/Operational Excellence's problem-solving process. And the really good news is that it is the easiest to implement and the cheapest robust, performance-improvement process available.