Pruning your safety system

This was a LinkedIn article from a little while ago I’m just pulling into the blog.

Commenting on a recent LinkedIn post, I used pruning as a metaphor for reduction of unnecessary documentation and procedures. You cut back to remove the deadwood and encourage new growth to give an overall better crop.

You may have seen the quote from Alexander Den Heijer on one of the (rapidly increasing on LinkedIn) simplistic inspiration posts that says, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

There is some truth to this but, as always, there’s a bit more to it.

You can play with this metaphor a little. What things in safety constitute the environment? What provides soil nutrients, what is the sun, what is the water? I like to think of the environmental factors as things like leadership, training, organisational culture, communication (although it’s stretching the metaphor a bit to say one of these is sun and one is rain). The tree is the work/system and the fruit (or the flower) is the outcome – in this case, safety.

For best results, as well as fixing the environment, we need to prune the tree. Safety systems grow over time, usually in an unstructured, haphazard manner. It’s easy to add something and difficult to take it away, so it becomes a tangled thicket that’s difficult to follow, where one part prevents the growth of another and eventually it stops fruiting and the system begins to stop the things that it was originally designed to deliver.

But you can’t just cut away regardless. You need to do it in a way that will promote growth. Perhaps angling the cut so rain will drain away from the freshly exposed section of stem, or maybe cutting at the right distance above a bud. Last year I planted a blueberry bush. Turns out, blueberries fruit on second year wood so you can’t remove this year’s new growth, or there won’t be any berries next year. The type of plant, its age, its position and other factors all contribute to how it should be cared for. These are the contextual factors that matter in safe work. You need to understand how growth happens, what encourages it, and which conditions bear most fruit – leave those in place and trim the rest.

So, when you prune your system ask questions like:

  • Who is this process intended for?
  • How was it originally intended to help?
  • Does it still achieve that?
  • What feedback have we had about it?
  • Does it conflict with something else?
  • Who would complain if it was removed?
  • Does it clearly contribute to a safer outcome?

If your answers suggest it’s doing nothing to generate more fruit, nicer flowers or safer outcomes – chop away.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,290 other subscribers.

For more reading, head on over to our Books page

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: