Safety professionals seem to be on a desperate search for “leading indicators.” This is a reaction to a reaction. We have managed safety reactively through injury, incident and near-miss data and are seeking to become more proactive by measuring upstream. This is generally a good trend in thinking that I believe will ultimately look more like a balanced scorecard than simply a dashboard.
However, one topic that is critical but not being discussed is the timing and frequency of measurement. Good metrics help to understand and focus as well as measure performance. If the measurement (or communication of the measurement) is too infrequent or if there is too much time between, the metrics fail to maintain focus. Focus can become habit if reinforced at the right intervals. Some aspects of safety ought to become habitual. The right metrics can aid in the formation of such habits as well as measure the progress toward them.
Certainly there are some aspects of safety that should not become simple habit since they require meticulous planning and execution. But, even these can become common practice with aid of the right metrics and with the right timing and frequency. Metrics that are communicated in a timely and regular basis establish a level of expectation and provide meaningful feedback to maintain and improve performance. Visible progress is also a powerful motivator and can come from well-timed and spaced metrics more naturally, than from artificial incentive and reward systems. When you explore upstream and ask what leading indicators you should measure, also ask how often and regularly you should measure them.
-Terry L. Mathis
Terry L. Mathis is the founder and CEO of ProAct Safety, an international safety and performance excellence firm. He is known for his dynamic presentations in the fields of behavioral and cultural safety, leadership, and operational performance, and is a regular speaker at ASSE, NSC, and numerous company and industry conferences. EHS Today listed Terry as a Safety Guru in ‘The 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS in 2010, 2011 and 2012-2013. He has been a frequent contributor to industry magazines for over 15 years and is the coauthor of STEPS to Safety Culture Excellence, 2013, WILEY.