Chapter 28: Communicating with Decision Makers: Getting the Board on Board

by Nigel Heaton and Bernie Catterall

Practitioner summary

Human factors and ergonomics (HF/E) practitioners have the best opportunity ever to communicate with senior decision makers to get our message to the Boards of companies, but we need to adapt our approach to their needs. For instance, the emphasis on risk and risk management within corporations gives us an ideal tool to talk to the senior executive. We must become expert at talking to the Board in language that they use and are familiar with. As organisations are driven by measureable objectives we need to align our message to these objectives and demonstrate how the HF/E practitioner contributes to the solution. A simple framework that allows organisations to explore their vision, their core values and the effectiveness of their risk registers provides us with a start-point to work with the senior team to demonstrate how they can articulate what really matters and begin to deliver improvements.

Chapter quotes

“In our experience of Boards and senior management, we have used HF/E to argue the case for health and safety. Health and safety is just one goal of HF/E, but it is an important function and department for our customers, in a way that HF/E is not.”

“A typical communication method for health and safety practitioners tends to concern injuries and associated costs. This casts the practitioner in terms of an overhead cost. As HF/E practitioners, we can instead use HF/E interventions before people become harmed. In these cases we find that simple footage of jobs before and after intervention and tools that report on MSD symptoms before and after interventions alongside statements from end users can support a powerful message that HF/E interventions improve human work and increase output – safely.”

“We also need an understanding of how quality goals, and especially performance targets, impact human performance in a non-production environment. In one reported case… teachers were required to hit high pass rates for their students. This goal encouraged teachers to cheat to meet the highest quality goals… As HF/E practitioners, we can look at the wider systems implications of quality goals and targets. We need to help the senior leadership teams understand how simple quality targets can distort the system and generate unexpected side-effects in the way that people behave”

“Our abilities to understand systems, people and work give us a unique insight into how organisations can get better.”

Practitioner reflections

About stevenshorrock

This blog is written by Steven Shorrock. I am interdisciplinary humanistic, systems and design practitioner interested in human work from multiple perspectives. My main interest is human and system behaviour, mostly in the context of safety-related organisations. I am a Chartered Ergonomist and Human Factors Specialist with the CIEHF and a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society. I currently work as a human factors and safety specialist in air traffic control in Europe. I am also Adjunct Associate Professor at University of the Sunshine Coast, Centre for Human Factors & Sociotechnical Systems, and Honorary Clinical Tutor at the University of Edinburgh. I blog in a personal capacity. Views expressed here are mine and not those of any affiliated organisation, unless stated otherwise. You can find me on twitter at @stevenshorrock or email contact[at]humanisticsystems[dot]com.
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