Practitioner Spotlight: Have you ever heard of Safety and HU Professional, Todd Conklin?

In a search for new ways for improving Human Performance, I met a really interesting Safety/HU professional, Dr. Todd Conklin from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. So far, he has written two books that are available for purchase right now: 2012′s “Pre-Accident Investigations” and 2013′s “Simple Revolutionary Acts.” I first discovered him through an online ASSE podcast (link below), and then YouTube (links below), and then through these books I quickly ordered on Amazon. This guy gets it, and is willing to share his lessons any way he can to improve performance. He and I have been trading emails over the past year and I’m very impressed with his grasp of humans and how organizations work. I asked if he would be willing to donate some autographed copies of “Pre-Accident Investigations” for some lucky attendants of the 2013 September INPO HU Conference, and he sent some out that got lost in the mail. When I notified him I didn’t receive them, he immediately sent more out, but they arrived at my house the day of the event (which was 1500 miles way). So, I have been giving them to HU Professionals I know will read them and put them to the best use. I have one left. If you would like it, email this site a quick note about a frustration you are having at your site, and a compelling email will be chosen from the submissions. All submissions will have an opportunity to be addressed in future blogposts.


I knew I liked this guy when I saw to whom he dedicated his first book: “To everyone who has ever asked ‘how’ instead of ‘why.’” Todd is a genuine person with a lot to offer an organization trying to improve. His often-used humor is unique and you can tell by listening or watching him that he is authentic and cares about people and process improvement. What’s not unique (editor note: this is a compliment) are the situations and explanations he uses – they are relatable to everyone, crossing industries and departments. I’ve read blog comments from his posts, and I’m not the only one this guy is drawing in. Because of Dr. Conklin, I’m ready to go research successful jobs and learn something new.

About the Book:

Time-pressed, professionals looking for practical guidance to shape their current or future safety programs should use this book.

Pre-Accident Investigations: An Introduction to Organizational Safety helps to identify complex potential incidents before they take place. Based around the ‘New View’ of human error, it offers established human performance theory in a highly practical context. Written in an engaging, conversational style, around several case studies, the book is grounded in reality, with examples with which anyone can identify.

It is an ideal aid for senior safety executives who want to spread the safety message among their colleagues. It is also an excellent choice for course tutors looking for a narrative-led primer.

Thought-provoking quotes from Dr. Conklin:

“You have to look beyond procedures, you have to look beyond behaviors in order to find the reasons for success or failure…”

“Safety is the ability for workers to be able to do work in a varying and unpredictable world.”

“Safety is not the absence of failures. Safety is the presence of defenses.”

“Safety is the freedom from unacceptable risk.”

Supportive Links

Predictive Solutions Blogpost

Knowledge at Work Blogpost

Canadian Occupational Safety Blogpost

Katch Kan Ltd (Oil and Gas Industry) 2013 Safety Conference video

ASSE (American Society of Safety Engineers) virtual classroom Conklin podcast

PDF that semi-goes with the above Podcast can be found here (could not find actual notes)


At, we believe it is important to recognize and support the future thinkers and thought leaders in this growing field. Dr. Conklin has a busy 2014 planned out, but can be reached for keynote addresses, onsite-visits, investigations, webcasts, and for other considerations at

How do habits work and what is controlling our behavior?

HabitsIn my research habits play a large part in managing distraction. When we are distracted, we fall back on our habits, and if they aren’t well developed ones, we increase our exposure to a mishap. Let me reiterate this VERY important concept – our habits are important, because when we get distracted, we most likely will revert to our habits. We know we will be distracted by something during the course of a task, which further builds on the importance for having good habits. One way to build a good habit is by repetition – doing something the same way over and over until it becomes naturalized, which if you’ve been reading other posts of mine is the highest order of the Skill taxonomy in the Psycho-motor learning realm (Bloom’s Taxonomy.)

Check out a different blogger’s post on Duhigg’s book regarding creating habits through repetition here.

Let’s learn about Habits

From “The Power of Habit

Every habit has three parts:

  1. Cue – a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode
  2. Routine – physical, mental, or emotional
  3. Reward – determines if this loop is worth remembering for the future

The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges, and eventually, a habit is born.

Duhigg also speaks about a particluar framework to understand and control habits better:

  • Identify the routine
  • Experiment with rewards
  • Isolate the cue
  • Have a plan

Other thoughts on why humans act the way we do

I have an HU-minded friend who keeps reminding me how awesome Simon Senek’s bodies of work are and open and available on YouTube, including this video called, “Why Leaders Eat Last.”

Sinek explains the chemicals that control our brain in positive and noticeable ways, and the power they have over us and our behavior. He’s right – Sinek is phenomenal in his instruction and application – it will open your eyes to chemical processes happening within you:

Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, and Oxytocin (as well as Cortisol) all play important parts in controlling our behavior. This video explains how they affect us, and how they control our behavior and habits.

Looking for lessons on Human Behavior?

Watch all of these amazing Simon Sinek Videos (if you’re in a position with people working for you, consider taking notes):

Why Leaders Eat Last

Love your Work

First Why and Then Trust

Start with Why

Can you explain “Knowledge Transfer” to me?

One of the major challenges industries are facing (especially in nuclear power) is Knowledge Transfer. Six and seven years ago, I was the Knowledge Transfer Chairman for the North American Young Generation in Nuclear and I headed a research committee that tried to answer the question: What is knowledge transfer (KT) and what can be done about it? I think what we came up with then still applies today, and it’s especially interesting to look back on 7 years later. However, if you feel the info is dated (which I do not), I promise to include some up to date links in this post at the bottom. As a side note, if you are younger than 36 and in the nuclear industry there are many reasons why you should become an active member of NA-YGN. If your facility does not have a chapter, they will give you the support and tools to start one like I did 8 years ago at my old nuclear station.

Follow this link to the Power Point from that conference.

Is this Generational?

It is important to note that knowledge transfer is more about transference of knowledge from a more experienced person to a less experience person, not from an older person to a younger person. The image we tend to conjure up is from a retiree to a fresh out of college worker, and sometimes that is the case, but all situations need to be considered. Some places choose to call this knowledge retention or management, instead of knowledge transfer.

Knowledge shows up in many forms, from how to communicate with each other, to worksite behaviors that will ensure repeated success of a task or a goal. Specific gaps do exist across the age matrix and sharing knowledge with a “peer” may be much different then with someone from a different generation. It’s not always to share someone else’s experience paradigm, but Covey’s Habit# 5, “Seek first to undertand, then to be understood” really fits here.

So what exactly is meant by knowledge transfer?

“Knowledge transfer” is a phrase repeated quite often through the nuclear industry and now it is pretty obvious that everyone views its meaning in very similar ways. The first challenge our committee had to tackle was figuring out what it meant to us and sharing it with each other before we could even start any research. Although a similar message resonates throughout the responses below, note the varying differences in age, education level, the locations and the facility types where our committee members work (these differences are specifically noted in the presentation linked above in the introduction).

Actual responses

When asked this question, members from the 2007 KT committee responded in this way:

  • KT means capturing the lessons that have made our industry safe and efficient over the past thirty plus years and developing programs to indoctrinate the young generation.   I came from a place where the entire crew is cycled out every 3-4 years, and I’ve seen it happen from start to finish.  We had the benefit of controlled reference material, standardized training and qualifications, and a bevy of knowledgeable personnel external to our organization that could be tapped at practically any time.  There is still a lot of tribal lore here (some good and some bad) but it will all be gone in a few years if we don’t strive to break some new ground with respect to KT.
  • I see a big problem on the loss of experience.  I want to set up procedures and processes to retain the information.
  • I believe KT is all about improving Communications within an organization.  Without over-simplifying, I think this is a two-step process with the first step as learning how to share information across an organization, and the second step is teaching less experienced personnel the wisdom and lessons learned from the experienced personnel.  It is always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes, instead of your own.
  • Knowledge transfer means the ability in an organization to effectively store/catalogue knowledge for easy access and application to future jobs. In the nuclear industry, and in each company, there is so much “tacit” or “tribal” knowledge. My experience has been that much of this tacit knowledge is from past years of experience, and general “feel” as to what works and what doesn’t. I see effective knowledge transfer as the ability to share and document these decision making abilities.
  • Preparing the industry for the looming loss of experience (note the industry is all made up of individuals).  New people coming in need to know why they should stay, what’s to be gained and how to get it – but also why this is such a great industry worthy of their talent, and something to be proud to be involved in!
  • This is such a special time for Nuclear Energy and everybody around the globe and certainly in the power industry is excited about Nuclear as a promising alternative to Oil and Gas.  There is much recruiting happening, many young engineers are joining the field and, it is essential to make sure the experiences and lessons learned by senior engineers are properly transferred to the next generation.  It would also help if people from different companies communicate professionally and help this nuclear renaissance to be a fruitful and successful one.
  • Capturing the lessons learned in the operation, maintenance and decommissioning process for the success of the project and the ensured future success of the industry.   This means not only the best practices but also the failures or learning opportunities along the way.   In my own organization which has a nuclear component and also ship operation components, I have noticed that the newer generation is getting short changed in the experience department.  Not being able to rely on experience of the past may lead the newer generation into making the similar mistakes that the older generation did.   Capturing the stories, “Tribal Knowledge” for the benefit of the younger generation.   I am currently in the process of getting ready for a decommissioning of a reactor that was placed in SAFESTOR before there was such a thing as SAFESTOR.  Additionally everyone that had anything to do with the operation and maintenance of the plant when it was laid up (when it was defueled and dewatered) has long since retired and or passed away.   Relying on written records that were made in the early 70s is good, but the lessons learned weren’t necessarily written down anywhere along with how people arrived at decisions.
  • Transfer of experience/lessons learned to the “New Generation” of Nuclear while exploring opportunities to lean out processes within the organizations.


Knowledge Transfer is about wanting a voice of experience having input on future work, when that level of experience may not be at the level of the next job performer.

This is primarily managed through:

1. Setting up procedures and processes to retain information

2. Capturing the lessons learned to ensure future success of the work

3. Mentoring programs


North American Young Generation in Nuclear

Great video clip on the context of where you fit and where you belong

Innovative Knowledge Management Soultions

The future of knowledge management?

Knowledge Management – Managing Tacit and Explicit Knowledge (The SECI Model)

The nuclear power industry’s ageing workforce: Transfer of knowledge to the next generation

Knowledge Management for Nuclear Industry Operating Organizations

2010 NA-YGN Knowledge Transfer Survey Report

BOOK LINKS (heads up – I do not have these books, but they look perfect for this topic if you’d like to pursue it. When I was the KT Committee Chair, they were on my “to-get” list. The good news is, they are much cheaper now a few years later)

If Only We Knew What We Know

Teach What You Know

Winning the Knowledge Transfer Race

Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge

What should an Advanced Human Performance Training Course include?

In my ever-growing passion for Human Performance Improvement I find myself constantly thinking about this topic. Last summer I started as a member on an INPO Team to design Advanced HU Training for the Industry, and many of the things we’ve been speaking about in those meetings really strike a cord with me now. I keep asking myself – What’s missing from the overall picture? I love to develop and teach HU-based training and I could really use some visitor input. Think to yourself – what keeps you up at night? What does your organization need to get (or keep) on the right path? What do needs to be done differently? Can and should training be part of that solution?

Old-school HU Fundamentals Training

Typical Human Performance Fundamentals includes an understanding of human performance tools (from pre-job brief to post job critique, including fundamental and conditional types of tools), types of errors (latent/active), working in performance modes theory (knowledge based, rule-based, and skill-based), error precursors (hurrying, environmental distractions, etc.), TWIN Analysis (Task demands, Work environment, Individual capabilities, and human Nature), and then some case studies to understand how these are applied in real work situations. Using dynamic learning activities and classroom practice, students can grasp the various angles of human behavior and the thinking (or lack of thinking) that can lead up to an error or how a series of errors leads up to an event. The major take-away from HU Fundamental Training is to be intentional about your work and use tools (i.e. self-checking) when it absolutely matters the most. There are variations on this training (i.e. 1-hr to 1-wk), but the goal is always to raise awareness of your limitations and also teach you how to predict your own errors and prevent them with that knowledge.

Potential Courses to be Created

The following is a list of proposed training topics I’ve started for you to consider. Please advise me – what else can be added? I will continue to revise this, and bin the primary subjects. Would you go to this training? Would you pay to go? Or only go if someone paid you? Could some of the topics be combined?

(Note: If you’re wondering, YES – I already have ideas for how to build effective training on each of these topics.)

Here are some of my initial thoughts for training topics:

  1. What Motivates People?
  2. Behavior Theories
  3. Important Case Studies of Human Error
  4. Establishing an HU Program in a High Reliability Organization
  5. How to Communicate Effectively
  6. How to Reinforce Desired Behaviors Through Engagement
  7. You Cannot Dictate What Others Value
  8. Identifying Error Precursors
  9. Managing Known Distractions
  10. Developing SMART HU Corrective Actions
  11. How to Properly Review a Document
  12. Giving Feedback – check out this quick video
  13. How to Develop a Checklist
  14. The importance of Your Signature
  15. Leadership Coaching – Horizontal and Vertical
  16. Aligning Management and Thought-Leaders
  17. Building Trust in Your Group and in Your Organization
  18. Preventing Future Cumulative Impact
  19. How to Analyze Data and Potential Trends
  20. Human Factoring the Control Room – Human-Machine Interfaces
  21. Human Factoring Procedures – checkout this short video

Call to action:

I am really looking forward to your feedback… As always, comment here, email me, or reply in LinkedIn Groups.

Can you explain “Human Performance” versus “Industrial Safety” to me?

Typical nuclear vernacular used for explaining the difference between safety and human performance (HU) sounds like this: Industrial Safety is about protecting you from the plant and Human Performance is about protecting the plant from you.  This issue comes up all the time and is worth exploring a little more in depth for greater understanding. “Safety” crosses many areas including cultural aspects of an organization – Environmental Safety, Equipment Safety, Nuclear Safety, Industrial Safety, & Radiological Safety. But commonly, when people refer to safety at home or work, it is meant to be in the realm of Industrial Safety; where the proper personal protective equipment used in the appropriate ways will keep you safer if something uncontrolled happens in your environment. Industrial Safety crosses many other areas, as well: lifting and rigging, electrical safety, working from heights, confined spaces, etc. and is mostly about controlling and managing yourself within a potentially hazardous environment. Human Performance leans more towards how you are potentially affecting or controlling that environment. Obviously, this statement could lead to some pretty awesome debates and I should remind you that this is my professional opinion.

So, let’s take the phrase, “Hazard Recognition,” and see which area it falls into… Safety… now let’s consider a live-dead-live check…Safety… let’s think about proper component verification… Human Performance… Procedure use and adherence… Human Performance…error precursors… Human Performance… With these chosen examples this model makes sense to me.

More perspectives

HU-minded people will tell you that Human Performance (Behaviors plus Results) really falls into the realms of observations and coaching, because what we are talking about here are observed behaviors, the antecedents that create those behaviors,  and the consequences of them, desired or not (shout out to Aubrey Daniels).

This puts us into an interesting mindset – Pre-Job Briefs are a human performance tools, but required by OSHA to prevent industrial safety accidents, which makes them seem like an industrial safety behavior and less like something related to HU…

Paraphrasing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Reactor Oversight Process, they explore different layers of safety by stating that the regulatory framework for reactor oversight consists of three key strategic performance areas:

  1. Reactor safety
  2. Radiation safety
  3. Safeguards

Within each strategic performance area are cornerstones that reflect the essential safety aspects of facility operation. These seven “cornerstones” include:

  1. Initiating events
  2. Mitigating systems
  3. Barrier integrity
  4. Emergency preparedness
  5. Public radiation safety
  6. Occupational radiation safety
  7. Physical protection

The NRC’s Reactor Oversight Matrix contains 3 major headings:

  1. Human Performance
  2. Problem Identification and Resolution
  3. Safety-Conscious Work Environment

Human Performance is made up of distinctive areas,

The Reactor Oversight Process is based on the presumption that licensees have mature, robust programs to self-identify and correct nonconformances and other program deficiencies throughout the conduct of their operations.

The Commission’s policy statement called, “Freedom of Employees in the Nuclear Industry to Raise Safety Concerns Without Fear of Retaliation,” (1996), describes SCWE (Safety Conscious Work Environment) as “a work environment where employees are encouraged to raise safety concerns and where concerns are promptly reviewed, given the proper priority based on their potential safety significance, and appropriately resolved with timely feedback to the originator of the concerns and to other employees.” This is related to safety, but do you see a direct correlation to HU?

Admission and Conclusion

Industrial Safety is so intertwined with Human Performance it’s no wonder people don’t understand or even choose to explore the overlaps and differences. Here is the way I see it – Human Performance is about the attitudes and values associated with top performer’s behaviors, and Industrial Safety is the culmination of behaviors used to keep you and others safe on the job. Human Performance has a wider scope and includes Industrial Safety within it.

At the end of the day, it probably doesn’t really matter as long as you associate the two together. Should we also associate root cause investigation into this mix as well? It’s a slippery slope when we start to consider all of the things that we do to prevent or investigate events. I used to think that Human Performance was everything we are doing to prevent errors or events, and the Corrective Action Program is everything you do after one happens. I now believe corrective actions that feed back into the things we do to prevent future events are part of HU, even though the NRC includes “Resolution” as part of the Oversight Matrix, separate from HU. This perspective could also start a long conversation with me on the negative consequential effects of cumulative actions designed to prevent errors and events. I feel like Change Management could be a big part of that discussion as well.

As always, I am interested in your opinions and feedback on mine. Please comment and let me know your thoughts.

Links and Misc.

Pertinent HU Joke: The Control Room of the future has 2 employees, a worker and a dog. The dog is there to bite the worker if they try to touch anything, and the worker is there to feed the dog.

Larry Wilson is one of my favorite Industrial Safety Instructors. Check him out here.

Some other related links:

NRC Cornerstones

Reactor Oversight Process

Safety and Human Performance: You Can’t Have One Without the Other