Indicators part 2: What does a comprehensive program contain?

We already know how to look at event rate by counting threshold events and dividing by worker hours, but that only tells us one third of the story. So, what’s missing? OUTCOMES! How many times have we performed tasks successfully? This will be difficult to quantify immediately, but this can be broken down into process parts – how many work orders completed, separated by new installations, surveillance testing, preventative maintenance, corrective maintenance and troubleshooting. This tells us a story – how many times we have good outcomes versus bad ones for a period of time. A good indicator will tell you that story.

Bring it all together, please!

Okay, what’s the third piece of the indicator puzzle? Not all outcomes were achieved in the desired fashion. Shortcuts taken, rushing the job, and a myriad of other things could result in a satisfactory job outcome, but certainly, not a job well done. What were the behaviors that got you to that outcome? This is where a slick Observation program comes in where peers can remark on each other and management can also weigh in on behaviors that were used during the work.

Now this is a more comprehensive program – failure rate, success count, and behaviors that helped get desired outcomes.

In the dark room (where development happens)

Now that you have this information, the puzzle comes together to develop a picture. This picture should give you a fairly accurate depiction of where to focus your error prevention program. The problem remains, if you don’t do anything with the data, why are you going through all of the trouble to track, trend, and observe it in the first place?

A quick anecdote to drive this home

I remember a time in my past years ago where a Maintenance Corrective Action Coordinator spelled out in detail the problems in the Maintenance department and 3 focus areas to turn performance around. His report was collected, reviewed and overall ignored by management (he became highly frustrated and quit a very good paying job shortly afterwards). No kidding- within 2 months, all three of his predictors became true. If you’re not going to use this information to improve, don’t bother capturing it all and analyzing it. You’re just wasting everyone’s time.

Some suggestions

Indicators must begin with the end in mind (Thank you Mr. Covey). What are you going to do with the information to improve performance?

Check out this TEDx Talk on starting with the end in mind! Great story on how sheep respond (carrots and sticks) and “energy through hope!”

Sometimes a simple indicator is all that is necessary. See this excerpt from “The Sid Story” with Dennis Franz for a nice training example of a simple efficiency (but specific) indicator positively affecting department performance. I love this story about an indicator improving performance because people knew the score… Everyone who knows me, knows I love “Gamification.” This is an excellent form of it.


For everyone that discusses these posts in LinkedIn, and for all the thoughtful emails I’ve received – I wanted to say thank you for being part of this community and keeping these conversations on performance improvement going. More posts and new podcasts coming soon!!!!

Are all disasters preventable? (Earthquakes and Positive Train Control)

The Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction at United Nations Environment Programme, Muralee Thummarukudy stated, “Earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do.” Click here for more on an environmental overview of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti – page 17. When the dust finally settled in Haiti, people will be able to identify the single most important agent of mass death and destruction: concrete. Thummarukudy continued in his TedX talk to say more to that point: poorly designed buildings kill people. Click the picture to the left to see the very impressive 16 minute TedX talk.

Thummarukudy also said, “We should always look backward before you plan forward.” – Rings true of the “Be Prepared” post. Think of how important using lessons learned can be when we properly incoprporate them into the next performance of a task. Knowledge is transfered.

Thummarukudy has a blog you can find by clicking here.

Click here for an interview (of Thummarkudy) by a student in Bangladore on what a career in disaster management is like.

A little about Engineered Barriers and PTC

So, why talk about disaster management and PTC in the same post? Engineered safeguards (barriers) are the best defense against human error and natural disaster. It reminds me of the reducing radiation exposure concept for nuclear workers – ALARA (As low as reasonably acheivable), and how time, distance, and shielding are the engineering controls designed to protect the worker.

According to a June 19, 2013 youtube clip, the American railroad infrastructure needs billions of dollars for track improvement and updating. Lawmakers are trying to figure out who is going to pay what and when it’s needed by in the wake of a large number of train disasters in 2013. One thought is to install new anti-crash signaling technology called Positive Train Control, but who will pay for it, and who needs it done and by when. These are interesting topics to follow as time progresses.

PTC stands for Positive Train Control and according to wikipedia it is a system of functional requirements for monitoring and controlling train movements to provide increased safety.

The American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) describes Positive Train Control as having these primary characteristics:

  • Train separation or collision avoidance
  • Line speed enforcement
  • Temporary speed restrictions
  • Rail worker wayside safety

Positive Train Control (PTC)

  • Designed to eliminate the verbal “read and repeat” process
  • Real-time monitoring
  • Manual Switch positions
  • Distribution of speed restriction

PTC with an Affective message here.

Click here for an older video showing how ETMS (Electronic Train Management System – BNSF’s version of Positive Train Control) works. Since the system is still a work in progress things in this video are likely to change for the better but it’s still a great demonstration of how the system works. In the end it will just make for a safer railway.

More info on PTC can be found at or at Wikipedia here.

Indicators Part 1: Where do I start with Human Error?

It has to be addressed: Indicators. Three things make up the bulk of what many Human Performance Professionals do: Coordinate, Teach, and Track… You need to know where you are so you can tell where you are going. For example, a GPS needs to know where you are before it can provide guidance to a destination. Indicators help us know how badly or well we are doing, and also, if we are improving or not.

Good news! This post will explore a little about what seems to be useful, and what seems to be a waste of time. I’ve recently been asked, “What constitutes a useful indicator?” In my opinion performance must have a way to be measured, otherwise you never know where you are, or if you are getting worse or better, and the only tool at your disposal is something you could call “Cognitive Assumption,” which in reality would sound something like this: “I believe we are getting better, however, I have no objective evidence to support my assumption. It just feels better.” Cognitive analysis is okay, but not entirely scientific. Don’t let anyone mislead you; performance analysis IS science.

Remember the five steps of science?

  1. Observing
  2. Scoring
  3. Measuring
  4. Analyzing
  5. Applying

Does it sound like performance indicators are a science, yet?

The first place to start is by determining what you already have for data. How are errors or events currently tracked or processed at your facility? This could be tricky and involve communicating with others even outside your department.

Each indicator should have the following parts:

  • Definition – the concept being measured
  • Parameters – What are the attributes of the measure and how do they actually impact performance?
  • Criticality – How important the measure is and why we should care about it. Does it relate to the corporate mission?
  • Data Collection – Where is the source of data coming from and when will the information be provided by?
  • Metrics – What does the visual representation of the data look like?
  • Dependencies – Does this measure correlate with another indicator in some way?
  • Analysis – (The most important part!!!) As performance changes, can you relate it to changes and efforts to improve the measure? What is causing the measure to be this way and what does that imply?

Todd Conklin weighs in (allow me to paraphrase):

At the recent HPRCT Conference in June 2014 Todd Conklin gave an amazing keynote speech, and even though I wasn’t able to be there this year, I was able to watch it (three times!!! – mainly because Todd rocks). You can click here and join the Human Performance Association (307-637-0958 **). I believe it cost me $279 to become a member for a year. Todd reminded us that you can’t get better until you measure, and how important it is to figure out how to measure the things you’re doing correctly. I have not seen this before. It is so much easier to track failure by incident, than positive progress by task. We are stuck backwards looking and not even in a present mindset for current performance. Metrics might predict future performance and areas for interest and improvement, but still have not given a clear measure of what performance actually is, but more of a clear picture of what failure is, and if it is diminishing or getting worse.

So where are we?

Knowing what your worker hours (typically from payroll) happen to be, you should be able to calculate a monthly event-rate for your company, and perhaps even by department. What constitutes an event should not be subjective and as standardized as possible, following a strict library of codes. If you code a lot of issues, you may be able to calculate a lower-threshold error-rate as well, but that’s getting to the more subjective side, because not all lower-threshold info is being reported or consistently coded. With that in mind an event-rate seems to be the best common denominator between facilities if you want to compare apples to apples.

But what about measuring good performance and not just failure?

Ah yes. This is the golden nugget we are hoping to find some solution to in the very near future. Do you have a suggestion on how to measure positive performance? How many times you’ve completed a work order or job satisfactorily? How many component manipulations you’ve performed successfully? How would you effectively measure and track that data set? Who would do it? Can it be automated? Keep in mind that HOW we get results is sometimes more important than the results, also. So a positive outcome that was performed rushed and poorly, may show on this new measure as a good thing… This is why measuring good performance is not simple. Human Performance is about the behaviors of workers and leadership team members, and how hard is it to quantify a behavior?

On this suggestion I have more questions than answers. I havent seen this yet, and I’m trying to figure out how to do this. Please send suggestions to

Click these supporting Links:

What makes a good Metric?

Developing Performance Measurements

 PDF – Creating and Using Effective Performance Metrics


Situational Metrics

How to develop KPIs

Tips for making Infographics

Example of a Human Error Infographic

What do we do with the data gathered from indicators?

Look for some answers in an upcoming post! Suggestions for topics? Any performance improvement questions or challenges you want some help solving? Send an email to the site or comment on this post. After a very busy and distracting summer, we are looking to bring new content to this site and take it new places. In case you were wondering, more posts are coming including brand new podcasts very soon, as well. Thanks for stopping by and have an event-free day.

Are you going to post more HU-related content? Absolutely!!

coach_time_outHello HU colleagues worldwide. This site is still being updated and will continue to be a source of new HU information and links very soon. Over the past couple of months, the main author has been working, spending extra time with his kids, designing training, and getting a new amazing HU job opportunity. A lot of exciting things are going on and the second half of 2014 is going to be phenomenal.

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Podcast Episode 6: Error prevention at a Connecticut Hair Salon (Interview)

Podcast Cover ArtNestled in Norwich, Connecticut, you can find a hair salon/studio called, “Details.” A few months ago the owner sat down with me to talk about how our two industries relate when it comes to error-prevention.

Heidi Duff is someone who completely understands her “calling.” Even after 26 plus years in the business, she approaches her daily work with high energy, enthusiasm, and a constant desire to be one of the best in her field. I totally respect that type of attitude, and feel even more energized with every conversation I have with her. On this podcast, we share a candid conversation about what it’s like being the salon owner, and what are some common human error that needs to be avoided in this billion-dollar and VERY personal industry. We talk how important it is to the reputation of each salon and how through timely feedback, employee meetings and training, her staff not only become top-notch, but stay that way, too. I love their slogan: “Inspire. Design. Evolve.”

This was such a fun interview, and not just because home-made shepherd’s pie was involved! Anyone that has ever met Heidi knows that she has something to say AND it’s worth listening to – I was able to learn the most important step in the salon service process – the consultation with the client.

Common error avoidance, having a good community reputation, worker feedback, training, pre-job briefs…. Get ready to learn how this all relates to Human Performance Tool usage…