Closed Circuit

By Philip Reed

As WAPA’s Human Performance Improvement/Just Culture Program gains traction, Human Performance Program Manager Krystall Valencia is interested in better educating employees on how the program benefits them.

HPI/JC is poised to offer significant benefit to WAPA; the first step is helping people to understand what it is.

“HPI allows employees at all levels to catch errors while performing their jobs, before they can cause harm to people, property and reliability,” Valencia explained. “Right now, the HPI/JC Program’s stakeholders are employees in Operations, Maintenance and Safety. The goal is to, as the program grows, include each organization throughout WAPA.”

Understanding the program requires understanding the distinct but related concepts of Human Performance Improvement and Just Culture.

“HPI is a system that focuses on processes and procedures,” Valencia said. “It focuses on organizational processes and values, job-site conditions, employee behaviors and leadership factors.”

It is a methodology that looks at “the people side of processes and procedures impacting an organization’s work,” in other words. Explaining further, she revealed that she has a personal attachment to the concept.

“When something goes wrong, the program wants to look at what happened and figure out how to improve so that the error is not repeated,” she said. “We must design our system in a way that makes it harder to make a mistake in the first place, while making it easier to perform work successfully. Several employees have shared with me in my current role that they left their previous organizations because they could be let go for making an honest human error.”

A fear of retribution for simple mistakes – and, worse, the worry that employees will be fired for reporting them – does not result in a safe or efficient workplace. In fact, it’s the precise opposite of Just Culture, which is the other half of Valencia’s program.

Just Culture refers to an organization’s system of commonly held values and beliefs – modeled by its leaders and internalized by its members – that influence the attitudes, choices and behaviors of the individuals of the organization. Within a Just Culture, when an error or other undesirable event occurs, employees and leadership are held accountable by focusing on systems and behavioral choices rather than the fact that a mistake was made.

“In order for an organization to have Human Performance Improvement, Just Culture has to exist,” said Valencia. “It’s about having balanced accountability. HPI promotes employee excellence by reducing the frequency and severity of human errors. JC drives continuous improvement by examining and fixing system weaknesses that led to the error.”

The program is aimed at making WAPA more resilient as an organization, with more effective and efficient employees, though Valencia knows that it will take some time and education in order to achieve this.

“Human Performance Improvement and Just Culture are not new concepts,” she said. “What is new is our program and strategy to enhance these concepts at WAPA.”

Valencia’s vision is to support WAPA by providing employees with error reduction tools that will help them decrease the odds of making mistakes in the first place.

“Examples of these tools include the Six Basic Steps of Switching, three-part communication, Job Hazard Analysis and Stop Work Authority, among others,” she said. “The three pillars that support HPI are prevention, detection and correction of errors. We are taking WAPA to the next level and strengthening error prevention, detection and correction through increased information sharing of honest human errors and employee outreach.”

She has already begun that outreach through an HPI survey. While Valencia is not yet ready to share her findings, she is happy to report that the results are promising.

“We had 279 employees who completed the survey, which is great for the first time,” she said. “The survey revealed five areas of opportunity that I will focus on in these coming months.”

She is also putting together training that will help employees understand the value of the program and how it works.

“The training will discuss the fundamentals of Human Performance Improvement and will be administered throughout the organization, from senior leadership to frontline employees and office personnel,” said Valencia. “I encourage everybody who is available to attend. I think it will be eye opening.”

In addition, she is working on turning the HPI/JC page on myWAPA into a valuable resource for the organization.

“My plan is for the program webpage to be a resource for employees to find information and tools that can be used,” she said. “I also want to increase transparency and give employees a way to provide feedback.”

Valencia emphasized that she does not want employees to think of the program as “a flavor of the month.” She is dedicated to providing genuine improvement and change.

“WAPA has a new program and strategy aimed at enhancing Human Performance Improvement and Just Culture,” she said. “That’s an exciting thing. I hope employees recognize the value as well, and will attend training and help us achieve personal and organizational excellence.” 

​Note: Reed is a public affairs specialist. Paul Robbins contributed to this story.

Last modified on March 5th, 2024