culture and behaviours
Risk type, compliance and personal responsibility
Geoff Trickey, Chartered Psychologist, CEO of Psychological Consultancy Ltd., and Creator of the Risk Type Compass, discusses the benefits of a person centric approach to risk management.
As a working psychologist it is gratifying to see psychological techniques being applied effectively to support the objectives of other professions, including a psychometric approach to the management of risk. The benefits have usually been a matter of assisting practitioners in some way to deal with the complexities of individual differences and human nature. Observed behaviour is rarely a clear indication of underlying dispositions of temperament. Rather, behaviours are often designed to disguise deeper undercurrents to create an impression or to preserve a reputation. The best results are achieved when decisions are made based on the underlying reality and especially when this approach is embraced by both parties – in this case operatives and risk managers.
“Traditional methods of risk assessment are full of charts and scoring systems, but the person, their objectives, dreams, and life seem to get lost somewhere in the pages of tick boxes and statistics.” Max Neil et al 2008, from ‘A positive Approach to Risk Requires Person Centred Thinking’.
It seems that, particularly in heavy industry where safety issues are most compelling, there is sometimes a tension between those who regulate and those who operate, and even a whiff of hostility. Both sides may unintentionally be pulling in different directions. At the core of this cameo of strained working relationships, is a moral conviction about what ought to happen; what people should do. The view is that ‘We have a code of behaviour designed to prevent accidents and staff have a responsibility to comply with it’. Risk awareness training is then designed to support that message. Because the policy’s aim is to protect people, the virtuous position is that of the risk managers and regulators. Ipso facto, this makes anyone wilful enough to challenge the rules an opponent of virtue, ‘one of the bad guys’.
To those who share the compliance mindset, this is all just as it should be, to those on the receiving end, it may not feel so comfortable. No need for common sense, no place for ingenuity; a world in which blind obedience replaces personal responsibility and where there is no recognised personal development other than even more compliance and risk awareness training.
It simply is not the case that all risk managers are prudent, cautious, and attentive to detail, or that all operatives are inclined to impulsivity and carelessness. In fact, providence and human nature ensure that ‘team Homo Sapiens’ has a unique diversity of risk dispositions that are very evenly distributed throughout the population (the envy, I suspect, of all other species). Risk dispositions are instinctive; part of a person’s nature. They are a feature of personality; they define a person’s identity and persist throughout a working life. Characteristics such as a prudent attention to detail, impulsivity, excitement seeking, creativity, curiosity or composure are ‘wired’ in. These are consistencies that will impact on work performance – sometimes in good ways, sometimes not – depending on the work demands that need to be met.
Confusion between surface level behaviours and instinctive dispositions present a mine field for any ‘one-size-fits-all’ management policies. How do you differentiate the between a ‘disciplinary’ and a ‘coachable’ transgression?
Perhaps we have an overreliance on conflicting ‘command and control’ assumptions and ‘team allegiance’. Both are lazy ways of thinking that ignore human nature (as too complex, too obscure, too unmanageable, too flaky). Better solutions are likely to be found following the advice of Francis Bacon:
To be commanded, Nature must first be obeyed.”
Towards a solution
Alternative, more ‘person centric’ approaches have been advocated now for more than a decade. Sidney Decker (‘Safety Differently’) and Erik Hollnagel (‘Safety-1 and Safety-11’), are two prominent advocates. Others advocate ‘Positive Approaches’, ‘Inclusiveness’ and ‘Person Centred Thinking’. These messages of hope may still sound a bit kamikaze to many traditionalists struggling with very risk critical work environments and sold on ‘control’ and discipline. But the objectives of these new approaches are exactly the same as before – the ultimate in personal safety.
Differences in risk-disposition are measurable. Neuroscience informs us that decision making involves both Emotion and Cognition. We can therefore use individual scores on these two dimensions and map an individual’s results onto a continuous 360 degree spectrum of risk dispositions based on feelings (Emotion) and thinking (Cognition). These two axes create an incremented space within which every one of us can be placed. That 360 degree spectrum can be divided into eight ‘Risk Type’ segments for interpretation and communication purposes. This is the basis for the Risk Type Compass.
How would this look in practice
Induction of new appointments includes consideration of the salient physical risk features and risk policies of the organisation, but it also considers these challenges within the context of each recruit’s Risk Type characteristics. A special focus is on the safety requirements that are likely to be the most challenging for that person. That is to say, which requirements will require more conscious effort, to do more or to do less than they are normally disposed to do; to be more attentive to details, to be less distractingly imaginative, to be more calm and focused or less inflexible, for example.
The immediate task will be to review job expectations against this background, to highlight the boundaries of personal uncertainties and to recognise when a particular change of mindset or concentration will be important. This process will generate a ‘plan for personal responsibility’ that immediate supervisors and managers are aware of. This is a basis of monitoring and mentoring during an initial or probationary period. The approach is collaborative and supportive. Additional support can be made available through ‘pairing’ with another operative with a similar Risk Type profile (‘how do you deal with this situation’, ‘how difficult was it for you?’). Within a larger organisation, opportunities to attend a group meeting for each specific Risk Type encourages exchanges of view, challenges, experiences (e.g. My name is Mary, I am an Excitable Risk Type and for me…).
The whole point of a more ‘person centric’ approach is to exploit approaches that ‘work with the grain’ of human nature. This is made eminently feasible by a Risk Type approach. It provides a clear framework that will take any risk manager from being focused predominantly on the risk per se to focus on the people dealing with the risk; developing an insight into the basic instincts that influence work performance in those they supervise.
A person centric approach to risk management:
- Aims to radically re-energise communication, co-operation, and personal responsibility as the drivers of Risk Culture change.
- Addresses the question of personal responsibility in a way that respects and embraces these individual differences.
- Focuses on these measurable individual differences that have a direct impact on risk and compliance.
- Respects all Risk Types as having important advantages and disadvantages – none is all bad and none is all good.
- Identifies, for each individual, the particular agenda to be negotiated in order to achieve.
- Gives risk awareness training a personal relevance, a new person centric vocabulary and person centric data.
- Offers a personal development route to improved safety performance.
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