Good work is more plus, less minus

Everyone agrees: the shift from bad, unsafe work to good safe work is important,  it's how we get there that's the challenge.  Last week I went to Erik Holnagel's workshop in Melbourne on shifting from Safety I to Safety II. The basic idea here is that safety is a limited concept in that it's only a little of the time that things go wrong - most of the time, things go things go right.  If we don't pay attention to how that is happening, how can repeat our successes? Avoiding the bad can only take you so far.

Thankyou 2 LR.jpg

I'm talking about the PROCESS we use to get to good work. The way I think about work design using what Holnagel calls 'reslience engineering'. To do this, we have to connect what we want with what we are getting.

The difficulty is that when we are designing work, we can often name the big things that we want but not necessarily what they are made up of. Let's talk about the idea of a positive workplace culture. One element of that might be respect for other people.  I've seen that word in posters and displays in the entrance of two businesses recently, one is my daughter's old high school Melrose in Canberra, the other was Mars Petfood in Wodonga, NSW. The Australian Public Service (APS) has a whole publication on the word respect.

Remembering that this all about measuring outcomes in the workplace, then bullying and harassment (which are being disrespectful) might be measured by the number of complaints or claims.  This doesn't mean that when there are no complaints or claims, there is no bullying and harassment.

Have you ever worked hard on a project and felt no-one was appreciating your efforts? Was it only a simple word 'thankyou' that was needed to make you feel respected? Simple signs of respect might be an employee opening a door or being quiet so that someone next to you can work when there is no spare meeting room.  The big, bad version of all of these things might be registered as a complaint, the simple, good version might never be noticed.

From big ideas to small actions

Here are some of the ways the Australian Public Service suggests will increase respect:

  •  Ensure open communication (5 items)
    •  eg build trust in the team or workgroup
  •  Use strategies to promote respect and courtesy (9 items)
    •  eg agree on behaviours that reflect the code of conduct
  •  Manage workloads and priorities (7 items)
    • eg design jobs to ensure workloads are fairly distributed

I think you'll see the challenge here.  I agree with the APS that measuring all these things (and the other very worthy suggestions) would give us a very rich idea of how respect is happening in the workplace. The reality check comes when we admit that these things are hard to measure in a valid way real time.  What do people expect - what does 'respect' and 'disrespect' mean for every person in a big organisation? Traditional workplace culture surveys don't reveal what happened today, tell management the same day and explain much about what we were thinking and feeling about the issue.

To manage we have to measure

The good news is that if it's the simple things that count most on a day-to-day basis, we can work on how to encourage these and measure them in a simple way. We need simple, not simplistic ways to measure work outcomes, to connect the positive things happening at work in a solid way into the work design. If we can do this, it might cost a lot less and take less time than fixing the big issues.

I'm talking about metrics for work at a seminar in Canberra on 5th May called 'The mind body connection' -  email here for details. If you're interested on how work metrics fits with work design, I'm running workshops on 7 April in Canberra, 6th August in Melbourne and 7th August in Sydney - you can find out more here.