The importance of being broad-minded
On a podcast last year on ‘The Safety of Work’ David Provan and Drew Rae had a very interesting discussion about whether ‘blame’ following an incident lessened the ability of the organisation to learn from failure. There are two extreme positions. At one end there is never any blame for the individual involved at the sharp-end of an incident (just learning for the organisation) and at the other end there is accountability and blame for the individual. It is acknowledged that many organisations try to sit somewhere inbetween where there is a fair accountability based on some sort of ‘Just Culture’ process. A question that is often posed in relation to Just Culture is ‘who draws the line between what is acceptable or not acceptable?’
However, even if the line is drawn fairly then it still requires someone or some people to apply the process. Therefore, another important question is who applies/administers the just culture process? Investigations and associated Just Culture processes are unlikely to be clear-cut objective exercises where you can easily fit people into a box with everyone agreeing on the outcome. They involve people interpreting what happened and bringing their own meaning based on their own views, perspectives and biases. On reflecting on this discussion my mind turned to the impact of personality on this process.
What is Broad-mindedness?
Along with my two colleagues at Mosaic Assessments Ltd we have been developing an objective personality test called Mosaic Tasks. As well as measuring personality objectively through online tasks we are also measuring self-perception and comparing these two measures in order to identify blind spots. Last year we had been discussing and testing work-related questions to measure a scale called ‘broad-mindedness’.
Essentialy, broad-minded people are open in their outlook and are comfortable challenging traditional work views. They are less likely to see things as black and white. People who are high on this trait are often also sympathetic and with this combination of traits are much less likely to blame and more likely to be able to understand and feel the emotional pain of others.
In developing this ‘broad-minded’ scale we tested quite a few options for questions and the initial results were quite interesting. The following graphs (from rejected questions) show some of the responses we got. Please note that these initial enquiries were based on a small sample size of 96.
On the face of it people in our sample seem quite broad-minded. For instance, most people (over 60%) like to see themselves as not jumping to blame others when things go wrong.
In addition, most (65%) believe that there is usually an explanation for poor behaviour. All good so far.
However, when you start putting some more realistic scenarios (something that people can perhaps imagine readily) in front of people things start to change. For instance nearly 50% of people agree thet employers are too tolerant of those who do not contribute their fair share.
When we look at some very safety specific questions that relate to how people are treated following people breaking rules and causing injury people become less broad-minded and sympathetic. Although no information is given in these examples about how things happen and the context of the behaviours about half of people (or 68% for those that break important rules) are able to make up their mind that there should be punishment for those involved.
Are people generally broad-minded?
Faced with real scenarios people are probably less broad-minded and sympathetic than they think they are. They may have blind spots regarding their personality in this area. More and more, society (social media in particular) encourages us to put our best foot forward. Therefore, people start to believe they have a preference for behaving in certain ways when in reality they may not. We can all observe that when an incident occurs (such as the ship getting stuck in the suez canal) there is a clamour to point the finger and to blame an individual without knowing the context.
Knowing and understanding your personality and the personality of those who are responsible for making such decisions is key and should align with the approach that the company is setting regarding just culture. That is why we, at Mosaic Assessments Ltd, were keen to make a personality assessment that was objective, but also enabled a comparison with self-perception so people could reflect on any differences. In addition to personality, the other thing to consider is whether your Just Culture approach allows for such a wide variety of interpretations.
Research conducted by BP (Bitar et al, 2018) has shown that by asking the administrators of the Just Culture process to answer 8 carefully ordered questions about the context of the incidents they can more clearly highlight the causes of behaviours linked to the underlying system issues. They identified that in 90% of occasions it is indeed the case that there are underlying system issues. As David and Drew highlighted in their podcast, avoiding the unnecessary blaming and punishment of individuals for their behaviour will enhance a variety of learning behaviours such as speaking up and reporting near misses. So, its crucial to get this process right.
Johnny Mitchell is an Occupational Psychologist and a Director of Mosaic Assessments.
Fawaz K. Bitar, Diane Chadwick-Jones, Marcin Nazaruk, Chan Boodhai, From individual behaviour to system weaknesses: The re-design of the Just Culture process in an international energy company. A case study, Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries, Volume 55, 2018, Pages 267-282, ISSN 0950-4230, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jlp.2018.06.015.
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