Companies have been managing occupational health and safety for years now and the majority still use lagging indicators for key performance metrics. The challenge is that lagging indicators tell us where we have been in the past, not where we are going. Leading indicators measure how we are moving forward and ultimately improve a safety programs maturity. Leading indicators still seem to be misunderstood by a lot of companies, even in organizations with designated safety people. The problem is real because there is an overall lack of training on how to identify meaningful leading indicators within organizations. With many companies struggling to define leading indicators, how successful do you think their attempts will be at identifying and learning from them?
What you Collect Matters
Regardless of what indicators a company decides to utilize, I often see issues with the quality of captured data, a failure to understand the data, or an absence of action to improve existing performance. This is just one of the areas I can provide value to organizations by analyzing their existing metric approaches and refocusing data collection activities to obtain targeted or desired results.
Companies can easily fall into the trap of collecting statistics of past events that mistakenly read as success in the present. As stated by W. Edwards Deming: "Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you're getting," As an example: an organization may claim that the absence of recorded safety incidents (“0”) reflects a great safety program. Sure, there might have been some hard work involved, but these companies still tend to overlook numerous negative factors and continue to collect data that supports their positive figures.
Action = Return
To use another quote, it was Albert Einstein who said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. If we wish our programs to grow and mature, fresh perspectives must be sought. Companies must invest the time in selecting and understanding what leading indicators to measure, how they interact with existing lagging indicators, and how they impact organizational goals. Management insight is key in sponsoring efforts to implement, track, leverage, and learn from leading indicators. It might be a tough learning process, but it comes with a great return on investment and adds significant value to the organization.
They say what gets measured gets done, but the act of measuring can barely nudge programs forward if only focused on yesterday. Become proactive with your safety program by uniting lagging indicators with leading indicators. The right balance of both will reveal what actions enhance and drive safety programs forward while transitioning you from reactive safety to a more transformative model.
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Vaughn Bonsteel is a Business Consultant and Safety Consultant helping companies and people like you understand current situations to move themforward towards their targeted goals.