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Focusing on people side of process

By Lisa Meiman

A new program at Western will look at how human error can be prevented, detected and corrected. Commonly called HP, Human Performance is a process-improvement methodology and best business practice that investigates how the people side of processes and procedures affect an organization’s work. 

HP will complement the process improvement programs already in place and help Western progress along the Roadmap’s first Critical Pathway of Business, Technology and Organizational Excellence. “While Change Management helps us adapt to and accept change and Lean Six Sigma evaluates our processes and procedures, Human Performance focuses on our individuals, our groups and our culture to examine how our personal and organizational identity can help improve the way we do business,” said Administrator and CEO Mark Gabriel. 

HP goes beyond assuming human nature is at fault for all mistakes, and instead looks at how other factors may lead to human error. “HP asks ‘are we setting people up to make mistakes through unrealistic expectations, weak processes and unclear manager direction?’” said Sierra Nevada Safety Specialist Matt Monroe. “It looks for root causes of issues that may affect an individual’s performance.”

Monroe and four other employees led by Rocky Mountain Senior Power Operations Specialist Steve Johnson are developing a proposal for senior managers on how to implement an HP program at Western. Their first step is to develop a trio of employee surveys this spring and summer that will identify what practices are already in place, Western’s current culture and areas of improvement. All employees are encouraged to take the surveys when they receive them later this month.

“Your input and assistance is valuable and will be used to help design and develop our formal Human Performance Program,” said Gabriel. “Please help make Western a safer and more rewarding place to work.”

Creating program, Just Culture from existing practices

Offices around Western already use human performance activities in their day-to-day work without realizing it. Three-way checks, near miss reporting and job hazard briefings are all examples of regular practices that help prevent mistakes. Peer reviews are another common example of human performance; for instance, this article was reviewed by two employees before being published. 

“We have been doing Human Performance forever; we just haven’t been calling it Human Performance,” said SN Engineering Systems Manager Will Slinkard. “In SCADA, if there is an outage, we do an investigation to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We didn’t have an established systematic approach in which we did it. The systematic approach offered by Human Performance makes it easier to complete the investigation.” 

HP was identified as an area of improvement during Sierra Nevada’s North American Transmission Forum Peer Review in July 2014, even though SN received high marks in several HP areas.  

Following NATF’s recommendations, the HP program proposes to formalize these practices, create new ones and develop what is referred to as a Just Culture. “We want a Western where knowledge is shared, performance expectations are established and objectively enforced, and where people can bring up issues without fear of reprisal,” said Gabriel.  

Monroe added, “Western cannot expect to stand up a program that relies on its employees’ participation and have an inconsistent disciplinary culture. Just culture recognizes human error is inevitable. In a Just Culture, the outcome shouldn’t matter. If someone shows an at-risk behavior, we coach them regardless of the outcome of their behavior—not only when it leads to an accident or error.”

Monroe continued, “We can’t do Human Performance without Just Culture. When people make a mistake, they need to feel free to share the information without fear of repercussion. If people don’t report, we can’t get better.” 

​Understanding Just Culture

Just Culture refers to a workplace culture that handles Human Performance issues in a fair and objective way and examines three types of behavior that lead to errors:

  • Human 
  • At-risk
  • Reckless

Sierra Nevada Safety Specialist Matt Monroe explained, “Just Culture asserts that the first two types of error should not be treated with punishment. Instead, we should respond to human errors with counsel, such as reminders about how rushing and fatigue can lead to errors, and respond to at-risk behavior with coaching, such as pointing out that although an accident didn’t occur this time, the behavior assumes a risk that involves other people’s safety. For example, when we discover a switching error, instead of assuming the switchman did something wrong and disciplining him or her, we should talk about the event with the switchman and look at our processes that might have led to the error.”

Page Last Updated: 8/17/2015 2:25 PM