Category Archives: Professional Development

9 Questions and Answers for New Human Performance Practitioners

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woman_interview_hand_shake_12435Full-time equivalent (commonly called FTEs) positions in this field sometimes rotate through without spending more than 2 or 3 years in a given Human Performance Practitioner position. Some of us figure out that this has the opportunity of becoming a life-long passion and will stick with it for the long-haul, but that is definitely a small community. This role can be like opening your eyes to a new perspective on how people work individually, and as a group. You will hear that it is all about behaviors, but that is not entirely true – it is also about the pressures and the processes in place when work is being performed or prepared, and the systems that people work within and put up with day to day.

1 – What is my position title at other companies?

I’ve been doing this since 2007 and these are the titles I’ve come across, all with the same major goals and functions in mind:

Human Performance and/or Work Observation:

  • Program Owner
  • Coordinator
  • Manager

Sometimes the word “Station” or “Department” is in front of that title, as well. This role could be known as “Resilience Engineering,” as well! My last director and I preferred to call it Event Prevention over Human Performance.

2 – What is my mission?

Well, this may sound weird, but this role is specifically designed to help organizations prevent events, and everything that doesn’t support that function is useless noise. Some facilities, even commercial nuclear power, use this role as a dumping ground for investigation backlog or implementing corrective actions that really will have no value to your overall goal, but so be it – “other duties as assigned” applies here. Unfortunately, if you are under leadership who doesn’t really understand your true purpose to the organization, and you don’t put your foot down, you will end up in an almost entirely administrative role, and not really accomplishing your position’s true mission – preventing events.

3 – What should my elevator speech be?

This is one of the hardest things to consider the enormity of when just starting out, and a lot of us in these niche roles have a hard time quickly explaining to others our primary function. It is difficult to sum up what we do, but I think this covers most of it:

“My job is to help organizations detect, prevent, and correct events related to human error. I do this by measuring and analyzing data, assessing vulnerabilities, making and implementing corrective recommendations, and teaching management and the workforce about event prevention.”

4 – How should I assist in a Root Cause Evaluation?

You are there to cover the human side of an event. Understanding the system the workers were working within, and why their actions made sense to them at the time they made them may require some great interviewing skills, and certainly the ability to build and earn trust and rapport with the workers and leadership team members.

You also can teach the RCE team about human systems, types of errors, and aligning proper corrective actions that will actually work – for example, Knowledge-based errors require a Knowledge-based fix, etc. Also, that the human error corrective actions are in fact, SMART. You should also get the team to pay attention to controlling “antecedents” in order to affect behavior change. If you don’t know about Aubrey Daniels, read his book, “Bringing Out the Best in People.”

You should not be part of the RCE team, EVER. You should be an aide to them, this way your time is not dominated by the RCE mission, which basically requires you to drop everything else and focus on their primary goal, which takes you away from the rest of the organization.

5 – What do I need to know about metrics?

This is the most difficult area to discuss, since your organization most likely follows a  weak, but extremely popular model:

(number of events for last 18 months x 10,000)/ total worker-hours for that 18 month timeframe

Note: 18 months is regarding a fuel cycle for nuclear plants, so that number wasn’t arbitrary.

This number is unfortunately used by INPO to compare nuclear plants against each other for overall event performance, and has a full list of qualifiers for what constitutes an event, ideally, so no one nuclear plant can have a similar event and have it not coded as an event. Some stations even have a “management decision clock reset” that is designed to bring awareness to a station event, even though it didn’t meet the normal criteria. These events are not included in comparative data.

We know that there are two types of indicators:

Lagging – Measures of results or outcomes which represent where you are and what you have accomplished, but do not necessarily predict future accomplishments, and

Leading – Measures of system conditions, which provide a forecast of future performance; measures of organizational “health,” which can predict results and achievements.

We also know that excellent performance is about the PRESENCE of defenses, NOT the ABSENCE of events, which really reminds us that lagging indicators like the primary one used in our profession above are extremely disappointing and rarely a true representation of actual performance. New leading human performance indicators are necessary in our field for it to thrive.

6 – Who are my primary customers?

This may seem like a surprise to you, but the management team, starting with the 2nd level managers. Get them on board, and they will help you get the 1st line supervisors on board, and then they will help you get the workers believing that this program is not going away, and that performance improvement is a culture shift and new way of doing business in your company. It’s much easier to promote change with a smaller crowd of great influence. You will absolutely fail if you start with the workforce and try to promote the shift upwards. You will also fail by just working with 1st line supervision, because you most likely will be adding to their workload, instead of relieving some of it, and it’s hard to build rapport in that environment.

7 – What about Human Performance Tools?

These are ONLY used as a line of defense. The system should be resilient enough to withstand someone forgetting to use a tool. Note that NOT using a tool or lack of situational awareness should NEVER be a cause of any event, EVER. Know these tools inside and out (which are designed with two things in mind: obtaining and maintaining situational awareness), and remember that they are only to be used when they matter the most. I really disagree when I hear anyone (especially a practitioner) state that they are to be used every day, hour, minute, and second. You should disagree, too.

8 – How is this different than safety?

A lot of people struggle with having different roles in these lead areas, safety and human performance. Safety deals with knowing OSHA rules for many given situations, and qualifying people to use protective equipment and special tools like fall protection and oxygen sniffers. Safety falls under the umbrella of Human Performance and as a practitioner you should form an alliance with your safety team, and as a side note if you have an employee concern program, become acquainted with the manager of it.

I used to preach the notion that safety is about protecting people from the plant/grid and human performance is about protecting the plant/grid from the people. I don’t fully see it like this anymore. Industrial safety is about you going home the same way you came into work, and human performance is exactly the same thing. If you broke human performance up into two negative outcomes, personnel accident prevention (safety) and unanticipated system failure (operational upset where nobody gets hurt) I think you’ll understand my comment on the umbrella of human performance a little better.

9 – Do I need to be a good at training?

No, you need to be GREAT at it, and you need to be a great public speaker, too. It’s difficult to get there, but aim for a reputation where people can’t wait to come to your training or hear you speak on a topic. Get to be amazing at story-telling, and expose your passion for the subject material using many references to either case-studies, or your own personal experiences. I have seen people passionate about Human Performance Improvement, but not effective trainers or practitioners. So, if you love this work as I do, read and collaborate with as many past and present practitioners as possible. Find other people at other places that do what you do, and be one of the best of us.