Evidence-Based Practices: How to Create Conversations that Lead to Beneficial Culture Change
Fifteen years of experience helping businesses transform their work cultures have shown me that Evidence-Based Practices around key business needs are essential. Evidence-Based Practices are simply those that allow for objective measurement of performance that should lead to a desired outcome.
For example, in the Behavior-Based Safety process that we teach, safety behaviors are measured through direct observation. Then, performance feedback is provided immediately to the individual(s) observed as a means of reinforcing desired behavior and stopping undesired behavior. We stress giving positive feedback for safe performance. And, if correction is needed, we teach a constructive feedback process that allows the performer to share with the observer all factors that may have contributed to the risk-taking behavior.
For example, the at-risk behavior could be the result of a resource issue such as when the desired tool is not available or convenient. Alternatively, it could be a knowledge problem stemming from inadequate training. Most often, however, we find that at-risk behaviors are a result of a low motivation to perform the safer alternative. Each would require a different solution.
Regarding motivation, although personal motivation for safety may be suspected, when we adopt a systems approach to performance improvement, we often find that low motivation is consistent with a work culture that has not placed sufficient value on performing the safer alternative. In other words, it is likely that in the past the same or similar at-risk behavior has not been questioned because it did not result in a poor outcome—an injury or property damage. Moreover, it is likely in the past that the same or similar at-risk behavior has saved time or was perceived to be more comfortable and convenient to the performer.
Thus, the decision to “take a short cut” makes sense to the person who does so because the culture has inadvertently reinforced such short-cut taking in the past. That is, when employees have experienced a perceived benefit of the at-risk behavior and no real cost (i.e., they haven’t been hurt or corrected in the past for similar at-risk performance), the at-risk behavior becomes the dominant behavior in the same or similar circumstances in the future. The only solution here is to change aspects of the culture such that a greater value is placed on the safe alternative relative to the at-risk behavior you want to replace.
Let’s consider one more brief example. I was asked by one client to improve communication among leaders. And, one of the issues they continually struggled with was having personnel arrive on time to meetings. Sound familiar?
Using our Evidence-Based Leadership process, it became easy to see that motivation to arrive at meetings on time was low because: 1) those leading the meetings were not on time and often not as prepared as they could be, 2) important topics were discussed toward the end of the meeting, 3) because people were late, topics discussed to that point were re-visited to catch them up to speed. In essence, the meeting didn’t start until all had arrived and didn’t have significant value until the “hot topics” were discussed more than half way through the meeting. Thus, there was no real motivation to show up on time when that extra 15-mins could be used to complete a bit more of the paperwork that was piling up.
With Evidence-Based Leadership we were able to engage even the big boss in a dialogue regarding the importance of arriving to and starting the meetings on time. To ensure this happened, the group as a whole agreed to start the meetings at the scheduled time with whoever was there, move important topics to the beginning of the meeting, to not go back over information or decisions that were already made for those that were late, and to more evenly distribute the topics discussed such that there was more relevance to all those participating. The results of these changes were meetings that started on time and often ended early because participants were engaged from the outset. At last count, we shaved about 4-hours per week off of time spent in meetings by Senior Leaders at this facility.
The key to performance improvement is to understand safety (or any performance issue) from the eyes of the employees who you are responsible for leading. And, this can only come from a dialogue with those employees. Those doing the work have a lot of knowledge to share regarding their role in creating and sustaining a successful business. When leaders have access to and use this information they will arrive at better solutions and promote more enduring and systematic change because they are not dealing with performance issues in a piecemeal fashion. Evidence-based practices not only make these conversations possible, they make them likely.
In a future article I will discuss how Evidence-Based Leadership was used to understand and solve and inter-departmental communication problem at a large facility.