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  • Mike Donoghue

Things that make you go "Huh!"

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

Wow what a month, am I mistaken or are things starting to turn upwards?

With the new opportunities and increase in workload, the requirement to travel has started to pick up as well. This week my business partner Gilly and I are doing a whistle-stop tour of one of our clients' Northern Alberta operations. This required a 6am flight on Monday morning (not my best time of day) and as such, it drew the first "huh!" It was waiting for me in the departure lounge. Per the direction of our Prime Minister, Gilly and I wore our masks throughout the security checks and into the departure lounge. (Not sure why, but is there a rule why departure lounges have to make you feel uncomfortable?) Anyway, wearing the obligatory mask does not seem to be an enforceable requirement, I mean when airport staff are choosing to either wear or not wear the mask as they go about their business, does the same apply to passengers? This leaves the rest of the cattle in the lounge with a conundrum should I wear the mask or not what will happen if I don't? Is there some new rule that states as long as you are with someone who is wearing a mask then you are both protected?

A few weeks earlier waiting to go through airport security, a family in front of me were not wearing face masks, and having waited close to half an hour in the queue, no one challenged them until they approached the point at which they had to show their passes. The airport personnel at this point told them that they had to wear masks and they had to leave the queue. There was a full box of face masks and when they asked if they could have three of them they were told that those masks were only for Security. Obviously, the COVID virus is able to recognize that this family needed some more time to get the mask from wherever they could, and would leave them alone until they had the masks and a fair chance to put up a fight against the virus. (Insert eye roll here.) It would be today's version of pandemic hide and seek, no doubt. This may sound like I am making futile points however they aren't the only example of inconsistent application of logic. I have for quite a long time questioned why there is a requirement that Flight Attendants walk up and down the plane to ensure passengers are wearing their seat belts (standing over the passenger until this had been done in some cases) prior to leaving the gate only to then demonstrate how to use the seat belt. Is there a logic to this? Has anyone worked through the sequence at the airline and challenged the faulty logic?

Why do I mention these examples? Perhaps it is because as a Management Consultant engaged in operations integrity management, my experience and training have taught me that when a rule or directive does not make sense, the typical response is a skewed distribution in terms of compliance which does not deliver the desired outcome but sets the organization up for conflict. As a company, we are currently dealing with multiple client audits and a common theme that we find recurring is that the "Why" is skipped over to the "What" and the "How". This leads to teams and individuals making unilateral choices as to what aspect of the rules to follow or not should they not see the value or need in the rule.

Management systems, for me, need to follow the logic that removes bias and can be seen as a logical progression based on valid historical data (inputs) processed through agreed methods to deliver indisputable outcomes. An example that has appeared repeatedly is the development of tools put in place by companies because they claim to achieve a benefit. Now, this benefit has no foundation in valid historical data or a methodical approach using validated data to solve a business problem other than to solve the bias of an individual or group that do not like or approve of the current status; not because the current status does not deliver an acceptable reduction in risk, but only because it doesn't fit with their view of how things should be.

As the various audits have progressed, common themes have emerged with one being that there are multiple tools and processes and expectations placed on individuals and teams to work to achieve a common goal, however, when asked why they use the tools and processes they respond by saying, "That's just how we do things here!"

Have you ever seen the Monkey Experiment? If you haven't, click here. I mention this because without understanding the risk of not complying with a procedure or expectation, can result in many unwanted outcomes.

Understanding the "Why" doesn't seem to be a key driver until there is an incident; where the failure to use the tool or process or comply with the expectation was found to be the root cause of the incident, this then results in the question "Why?"

Why didn't they do what we wanted?

Why didn't they use the process we developed?

Why does this keep happening?

Why didn't we tie the reason (risk) to the control?

Another consideration is that risk perception is a key driver to creating a culture of compliance when it comes to ensuring expectations are met and processes and tools are used correctly. Aligning each of the systems, which are designed to protect: individuals, the environment and ultimately the company, back to the company's risk registers can avoid non-conformance due to an inadequate understanding of risk and how it destroys value.

The bottom line: if you can't articulate risk and explain how the processes tools and procedures will protect your company; you won't be able to achieve a consistent common understanding of risk and as such will not be able to prevent incidents from becoming the norm because you won't be able to collectively move your workforce to conform and comply with your expectations.. You will most likely have a workforce that when asked to comply or conform will respond with a huh!

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