Have you had even seen a safety guy go on a rant about “zero incident” policies? They generally have three basic gripes:
- Workers see it as an unreachable goal, so they don’t take it seriously.
- If someone slips on the first of January, you just lost your goal for the rest of the year.
- Saying you want zero incidents doesn’t tell you how to get there.
All three are valid points, but I think the third is the most important one. Stating a goal without creating a roadmap is like the wish you make before you blow out your birthday candles. You have made the wish, but you haven’t taken the concrete steps to make it come true.
There was a very good article recently on the difference between goals and systems. Author James Clear writes that goals may be what we want to happen, but we rarely achieve them unless we have a system (or process) for making our goals happen. For example, a coach’s goals may be to win the championship, but his system is built on what the team does in practice every day. Similarly, a company’s safety goal may to be incident free, but success for that goal depends on how we execute our safety program every time we go to work. He points out that goals focus success on something that may be off in the future (as in running a marathon in three months), rather than reinforcing the things we do right now (as in doing your daily workout to prepare for the marathon). He also stresses that goals may depend on things that are out of our control, but process allows us to adapt and change to meet outside circumstances.
Finally, he asks a question that should be at the heart of every safety program: If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?
If you never had a safety goal, but focused on making sure everyone works safely every day, would you still get the same results?