Set Successful, Sustainable Safety Goals
By Emily Wood
It is, once again, that time of year. The time where we set personal and collective workplace goals for the next 12 months. Whether it be to implement new safety initiatives, improve productivity or improve our own skills and knowledge, we sit for hours planning our yearly goals. Even though we all have the best of intentions, for many of us, only a few weeks later these goals go out the window, never to be thought of again until someone requests an update or the next year rolls around. In fact, studies show that 80% of annual goals set in January are forgotten about 6 weeks later.
Our tendency to procrastinate and failure to follow through on long-term goals, is no new idea. Akrasia–the state of acting against our better judgment was a term utilized by Ancient Greek philosophers including Socrates and Aristotle when they spoke about the human tendency to focus on instant gratification, preventing the follow through of long-term goals and commitments. When setting long-term goals, we recognize how our future will change for the better. However, when the time comes to work towards these goals, we are thinking about the present with very little concern for the future. The present is filled with competing priorities, all requiring our immediate attention and long-term goals are often pushed to the side for something deemed more important at the present time.
The term enkrateia, defined as our ability to have power over ourselves, was coined by Aristotle as the antonym of akrasia. While our brains are wired to prefer instant gratification over long-term rewards, we are accountable for and remain in control of our actions. Creating measurable goals on leading indicators, along with a well thought-out plan for success, help guide present actions so we don’t lose sight of future objectives.
Research has shown that when leaders create tangible and concrete action-oriented goals, safety improves faster and improved safety performance is noted. If you are looking to set safety specific goals this year, remember the lives and wellbeing of yourself and those you work with are at stake. If a goal to increase overall PPE compliance during random spot checks by 10 percent is not met, easily preventable injuries will continue to occur. If the implementation of an educational outreach campaign to highlight the importance of near-miss reporting is not completed, employees will remain disengaged; near-miss reporting will remain low and trends that could help prevent future injuries will continue to be missed. Safety goals cannot become part of the 80% of goals set in January only to be forgotten about in February.
Achieving your goals, whether they be safety related or not, will not sustain everlasting change and goal oriented thinking does not encourage a continuous improvement mindset. Improvements to systems, mindsets, and behaviours seen through the achievement of smaller milestones required to meet annual goals, creates sustained transformation. Here are some strategies you can use to create an environment where the achievement of long-term goals is possible, and the improvements made are felt for years to come.
Strategy 1: Communicate Company Goals and Plans for Success
Goals created just for the sake of creating goals have no meaning, nor will an employee feel empowered to take ownership for their role in the achievement of larger company goals. Make time to sit with your employees, no matter their level, so they understand the importance of their role. When writing company or team goals, involving employees will increase their participation in the achievement of these larger goals and help you as a leader discover potential barriers to success not yet considered.
Back in 1975, the aviation industry was working to understand how their accident record could be reduced and decided to create an industry wide Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) run by an independent unit at NASA. This unit was created with the goal of collecting all reports on potential safety hazards from pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers or anyone else involved in the industry so areas of deficiencies and discrepancies could be identified and shared across the industry. While now highly successful, initial confusion surrounding punishment after reporting a violation or mistake resulted in employees failing to report near-misses that could improve safety. As a result, many companies implemented voluntary disclosure programs. These programs directly communicated the importance of reporting all safety-related incidents and provided immunity to those who self-reported if no willful violation was committed.
Confusion and dysfunction can arise if a goal and its plan for success is not communicated to, and discussed with, those who have a role in goal achievement. Employees need to have a voice in setting goals and every employee must know they make important contributions to the achievement of company and industry goals. Once employees have a clear understanding of the direction their company and team are headed, individual goals that tie in with larger goals can be set. Creating a sense of purpose is one of the most effective methods of motivation.
Strategy 2: Focus on the Process rather than the Outcome
It is the employee who is accountable to set their annual goals and own their plan to success, but the success of a goal is very rarely attributed to the actions of one individual. It takes a team supporting the goal setter to achieve progress and re-evaluate the steps required when a plan falls apart or a milestone is not met. Understanding how employees plan to meet their goals through the achievement of smaller milestones is important. A detailed plan is the commitment one is making to themselves and their team to ensure the success of their long-term goals. Outlining where and when support is needed, along with who the support is coming from will greatly reduce barriers to success. Annual goals are not going to be achieved overnight and continuing to monitor the progress of employees will help identify setbacks and ensure the employee is supported as they work to achieve their goals. When well-planned out, the success of long-term goals through the achievement of smaller milestones will help increase moral and momentum throughout a company.
Strategy 3: Understand there will be Setbacks
If the outcome we desire from our goal could be easily accomplished, it would already have been. Setbacks and challenges are to be expected when working towards goals and sometimes milestones will not be met. A detailed plan will not be perfect, no matter how thoroughly thought out. When a setback arises, it is important for the owner of the goal to take accountability for what happened and continue to move forward. Work to re-adjust plans and continue to advance forward towards long-term goals. As a leader, it is important to remember and remind our employees that progress is more important than perfection.
The achievement of goals, both personal and collective doesn’t require for large budgets, the most advanced technologies or constant managerial micromanaging. Setting meaningful goals and providing an environment where everyone feels empowered to own their success for the betterment of themselves, their team and their company will increase the likelihood long-term goals are achieved.
At Propulo, we use current research to help organizations effectively implement safety culture change.