Tips for Using Data to Improve Safety

how to use data to imrove your safety ireport blog

“There can be so much power in the numbers for a business,” says Ruth Henderson, co-founder of Whiteboard Consulting Group Inc., a change management company that helps organizations improve business results.

Henderson has more than 25 years of experience in business process improvement in both the private the public sectors. We sat down with her to talk about ways to ensure data is beneficial to an organization.

“But we do see people today who may have a large spreadsheet, with lines and lines of numbers, but with no information. It’s that old cliché: data rich, information poor,” she says.

“But business intelligence shouldn’t just be about throwing numbers out on a page.”

Today, leaders need data to be practical, meaningful, and actionable for their business to continually improve safety and compliance.

First, let’s understand how measurement can support your organization’s safety and performance goals.

Why You Should Care About Measurement In Your Company

The simple act of measurement increases workers’ motivation to perform. You can also spark a sense of healthy competition when you’re using the right data.

Just as important: it increases accountability. “Because certain things are being measured, you can see it in black and white.”

The result: accountability and greater focus on factors that really matter when it comes to improving safety and improving the bottom line.

“If I’m holding you accountable to do something, and you’ve agreed on what it is that I’m holding you accountable for, then I can review it with you on a regular basis. And you’re either doing it or you’re not. And the way I deal with performance can be based on that,” explains Henderson.

In this way, measurement supports and coaches people towards greater success. If what’s being measured has been chosen the right way, this is going to help the company, departments, teams and individuals all become safer.

Now that we know the importance of measurement, let’s look at how to make sure that data is lowering risk and improving performance.

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How to Make Sure Your Data is Practical & Meaningful 

1. Figure out what you want to know before you start measuring

“Often times reports can end up being a dumping ground for all the data that’s available, whether it’s useful or not,” says Henderson. These types of reports can be problematic since they don’t have motivational metrics or measures that will actually help to change behaviors.

The takeaway: Since measuring is going to focus teams and individuals, be sure you are able to measure what really matters and only that. Too much data is as bad as no data.

2. Make context around your data visible

Be sure leaders and individuals know what the numbers you are measuring mean, and why those numbers matter. “You can measure thousands of things in a business, and if you don’t understand what those numbers mean, if you don’t compare it to a target, or a baseline, or how it’s been done in the past, it means nothing.”

The takeaway: Make sure you can answer, “Now what?” when you see the numbers. Take time to analyze numbers and to know the context that goes with them. Last, ensure leaders know how numbers can and should impact future decisions and behaviors. 

3. Understand when to use different metrics

Just because the business as a whole has a certain set of metrics, that doesn’t mean that those same metrics should automatically be adopted on a team level.

Yes, some of your metrics, no matter the level of the organization, will be tied to the performance of the overall organization. But, business units, departments, and/or teams should also be able to have their own data that can help them focus on their distinct objectives.

The takeaway: You can measure anything, but be sure your teams and your department also have measurements that they can take pride in and can directly impact.

4. Design your report to tell a story

Your data should be displayed in a way that helps to share the “why” behind it.

Ideally, the dashboard or report that’s generated should contain eye-catching information to lead the reader to the most important points. “Make it visual, interesting, and helpful.”

The takeaway: Display the numbers, but also display the results in a way that lends itself visually to workers, too. Either way, tell the story succinctly, and summarize “what’s next,” too.

What Gets Measured…Will Get Your Focus

This is an entire process that really has to be executed properly, from beginning to end, says Henderson. “First, you are defining what you’re going to measure and why you’re going to measure it. Then, you are measuring it and reporting on it, and then you are doing something with the data.

Many organizations are stuck at the beginning, or at another point in the process, but the key is to be sure you are using leading indicators when you can, to avoid measuring too much, and to measure the right things!

If data is being used right, it can help teams collaborate, it can break down silos, help people reach goals, and help the organization move forward. If that’s unclear in your business, it may be time to take another look at your business analytics.

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