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Diving Deep: Navigating Organizational Learning through Storytelling with Gareth Lock

Deep Dive: Navigating Organizational Learning through Storytelling

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Dive into another captivating conversation with us as Gareth Lock returns to The Safety Guru! Tune in as Gareth dives deep into navigating organizational learning through storytelling and discusses creating an environment of shared trust to encourage vulnerable and productive structured debriefs. Gareth’s profound insights and compelling examples will unveil the hidden layers of organizational growth. Ensure you don’t miss this insightful episode!

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost, for the C suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski. A globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy’s success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have back on our show Gareth Lock from the human diver. He’s an author. He’s brought a lot of experience from his 25 years in the Royal Air Force, to oil and gas, to many different industries, including diving. But my favorite is his branding around Counter-errorism. So, Gareth, welcome back to the show. Tell me a little bit first about Counter-errorism and your journey into safety and diving.

Eric, thanks very much for inviting me back in. As we know from the last time, there’s just so much to talk about this stuff, and I’m really quite passionate about sharing my knowledge and that journey that’s there. So, the whole piece about Counter-errorism in diving is just recognizing that we’re all fallible. My first idea about the diving business was the fallible diver. And people are like, That’s really negative. We know that humans are fallible, so why not make it a human diver? It’s like, Yeah, okay. And so, it’s both sides of what I would say that the bow tie that some of your listeners might know about is the prevention piece and then the mitigation afterward and recognizing that human error is normal, the first principle of human and organizational performance. I’ve got a really broad experience and operational background in aviation, research and development, flight trials, and procurement systems engineering. Left the Air Force in February ’15, set up my own business, and worked in oil and gas and health care and software teams. But my passion is really about trying to bring this stuff into the, predominantly the sports diving space, but now starting to work with military and scientific and commercial dive teams as well because people are people.

We’re all wired the same way, and we all behave broadly the same way. So, the knowledge is easily transportable. As long as you can have an open mind and say, you know what, that’s the context and the behaviors that lead to error outcomes, let’s see how we can bridge that into whatever space that I’m working in.

Excellent. And then today, a topic we’re going to touch on is organizational learning, something that is a very, very powerful and important concept that is really at the crux of safety, but more specifically around the power of storytelling when it pertains to learning. So, tell me a little bit about some of the work you’ve done around learning and listening to stories.

Yeah. So, one of the challenges in any environment is getting lessons to be transferred from one person to another. And the difference as well between lessons identified and lessons learned. People will experience something, they’ve gone wrong. They then need to take a little bit time to reflect and unpack what’s just happened. And there’s almost an altruistic need to share that story beyond yourself. Organizations or domains mandate or regulate reporting. So, aviation, there is an obligation that said, you had an event, you are to report. Now, actually, would it be nice if we could actually get people to share those stories voluntarily? They get that out there. And for that to happen, we’ve got to have both a psychologically safe environment, so we know that we can make those mistakes, but also, we’ve got to have a just culture that recognizes that we’re all fallible. And there is this gray line that sits between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. So, in the diving space, where my real interest in human factors and diving came from in 2005, where I had a near miss. Diving had a close call. I recovered from the situation. I got back to the UK, and I said, well, how do I report this?

Because that was my military aviation background, I had a near miss. Let’s share it. I found it really difficult to do that. So, since 2005 and now, really, it’s been about trying to create an environment where people can share stories and tell stories. I’m doing a Masters’s degree at Lund University, and one of the things that I’m looking at there is where people share stories. What are the barriers? What are the enablers? Who will they share with? Why won’t they share? And so, as I’ve gone through the literature, there is a couple of reasons. Organizations would like stories to be shared, and incident stories to be shared, because they believe that they, as an organization, can learn and improve. But for that to happen, the person who’s been involved in the story has to have some value to do that. Now, that value could be internal, so we unpack it. We got a cathartic approach to sit there and go, Wow, okay, that was close. What happened? What was the context? What led to that? Because actually, I don’t want that to happen again. But that’s potentially counter to what an organization wants, where they’re looking at much bigger things, or often they’re counting stories, and they’re not actually listening or reading the narratives that are there.

And so, there are two conflicts between storytelling following incidents. And that work from Santa in 2008 just looked at actually frontline railway engineers, operators, and trackside engineers. They tell stories to keep themselves and their buddies safe. My research in the diving space has shown that people share stories in a close, trusted group because they don’t want it to go further. Even though organizations talk about having psychological safety or a just culture in place, there’s often a fear that people will be ridiculous for being stupid. And if we can’t recognize and can’t accept fallibility, then the stories that get shared are not complete. So, it’s a huge opportunity, but we’ve got to create almost a theater to be able to tell those stories.

That is a very interesting point. And I know when you talk about stories, there was some research I was reading recently from Harvard around retention, and we retain stories considerably better than statistics. Difference at the end of the day in terms of what you do remember to the tune of 33 % versus 73 % of what you’re doing your members. So substantial differences. So how do you create that environment? How do you create this setting? So, what you describe in diving, to me, sounds like a group of buddies together, sharing maybe after work. And so, it’s more social learning, but it’s not necessarily embedded in the organization.

Absolutely. So how do you do it? You create an environment where people can share, where you have a structure of a debrief. So, in some of the original work from Gary Klein with Firefighters, how do they make decisions in uncertain environments? Time pressure, incomplete information. And what he noticed was that they would finish their shift, and they’d clean up their gear, and then they’d go and grab a brew, and they would talk about what they heard, what they smelled, what they felt, what was going through their mind. And that was as a team. And so, what was happening is they were sharing and creating shared mental models within their teams. And that then helped them make decisions in uncertainty. And it helps pass on tacit knowledge. So, the environment is critical. There has to be a level of trust. And you’ve got to have a norm of doing a debrief. And that’s what I’ve been trying to bring into the diving space, having a structure for a debrief because often people don’t know how to tell a story. And that’s, again, what’s come out of my research is that novice divers, especially, they’re lacking in two things.

One is they don’t know how to tell a learning story to get a point to cross. And the other thing is actually they often don’t know what they don’t know. So, it’s that bit that they don’t know they’ve had a near miss because they have got more concept of what right, wrong, good, bad looks like. And as a consequence, they’re not even looking at where things are. When we get to, I’m going to say, the more mature area of the diving space, we talk about instructors. Now we’ve got credibility, we’ve got the reputation, we’ve got litigation involved. And in that sense, instructors won’t tell their near-miss stories because there’s this fear of, oh, look, there’s an important instructor. Hang on a minute. I’m supposed to be doing some training with him, and he’s talking about mistakes that have happened. It’s like, Yeah, they’re human, too. That’s no different than surgeons. The society holds surgeons on a pedestal of excellence. Police officers operating in dynamic, uncertain environments. It’s really difficult to tell a multi-actor truthful story because people will be able to play the news clips back or the body cam stuff back and go, hey, look, you missed that, and you missed that because they don’t understand human fallibility.

So, this bit, how do you create an environment? It’s leaders, peers, role models that and you can start in small groups and build shared trust or psychological safety. But for a start, you’ve got to know where something has gone wrong. And I recently wrote about near misses, were you lucky, or were you good? But often, near misses are treated as successes rather than failures because we got a good outcome, even though we were really close. And so, we just move on, pat in the back, off you go. It takes a very different mindset to sit there and go and ask that question, were we lucky, or were we good? Oh, yeah, we were good. All right. What do we do that we can replicate the next time and the time after that? Oh, yeah. Actually, we were pretty lucky then. All right. So, let’s look at what we missed and build those stories and then share them as it goes. And the problem with stories is that they get modified and changed because of the way that our memory works. We embellish certain factors, and we hide other ones because we don’t have that side of psychological safety, that security to show our vulnerabilities.

Very interesting. When you mentioned you talk about storytelling debriefing, a scenario that comes to mind is the approach that the US Army has used around after-action reviews, which are originally intended to be essentially storytelling from multiple different perspectives to walk through. What do we go through, whether or not there was something good or bad as an outcome, but really trying to look at what we plan and where was it different than what we expected it to look like? Is that something similar what you’re describing?

Yeah, totally. This needs to get into the habit of running a debrief. So often, debriefs or after-action reviews are run when something has gone wrong. Now, if you don’t perceive that something has gone wrong, why are we running this debrief? And it just then loses its value, and people then lose get out of the habit of doing it. Whereas actually, if we frame the debrief and we can put something in the show notes, a link to a debriefing guide that I use, and it follows the word debrief. And so, the key learnings that are in there are internal learning. What did I do well and why? What do I need to improve on, and how am I going to do it? And the E is the external learning, the team. What did the team do well and why? And what did the team need to improve, and how are they going to do it? And the why and the how questions are the most important because we can make an observation about something that went well or we need to improve, but it takes a lot of thinking to say, why did that go well?

Or how are we going to make that improvement? And then the final part, the F of the debriefing framework, is about fixed files or follow-up. So, you’ve done an activity, you’ve briefed it, you planned it, you briefed it, you’ve done it, you’ve debriefed it. Now that you’ve identified some lessons, what are you going to do with them? And that’s the difference between lessons learned and lessons identified. Many organizations have got loads of lessons identified, but far fewer lessons learned. And the lessons you’ve learned are where you’ve looked at something, you’ve put something in place, and you’ve measured its improvement. Or actually, you realized that that intervention didn’t work, and so you’ve learned that that didn’t work. So, the difference between lessons learned and lessons identified is, did a change happen afterward? And that’s a huge piece.

It is because a lot of times, like you said, organizations learn the same thing over and over and over because the change is not embedded. It’s just something on a policy document that says thou shalt do it this way, which may or may not solve the problem or may or may not be operationalized.

Absolutely. And that takes strong leadership. I was recently involved in a major review, and the accountable individual, the duty holder for this, wouldn’t sign off the actions or the recommendations as being complete until they’d actually been completed and put in place. Because one of the parts of the review that we picked up was that there were recommendations made in previous reviews that never actually got fulfilled. And it was like, hang on a minute, these were not directly contributor entries towards the event, but they did recognize that hang on a minute, we’re not very good at learning here because we capture this stuff, and we don’t fix those things that are faulty or failed.

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I love your storytelling approach to learning. How do you disseminate that across an organization so that the divers that get together, they can do that casually? How do you make sure that that same insight gets cascaded to groups that can’t be there physically?

So as a direct example, what I put together is a documentary called If Only. And that looks at a diving fatality through the lens of human factors and just culture. And I’ll send you the link for that as a human diver or slash, If only. And I was really fortunate to get involved with the widow of the diver and the dive team, three members of this, three surviving members of the dive team. So, we flew out to Hawaii, and we had a face-to-camera work, we re-enacted it, and we shot about five and a half hours of video. And then that was reduced to 24, 25 for 25 minutes, and then I added some other stuff. And the editor said, Look, you’re going to have to make it shorter than 20 minutes. I’m like, what do you take out? I don’t know. So, I created this 34-minute documentary which has been downloaded thousands of times. And that then goes out. And I know that people in the non-diving space have looked at this and gone because the failures are multiple within the system. And often, it’s about psychological safety, decisions, inability to speak up, drift, about equipment not being set up correctly, which carry across many other domains as well.

So, to me, the ability to share engaging, emotional, sometimes really quite powerful stories to get across there. So that’s one way. The blogs that I write, I often start a blog with a story because people… When you open it up, and you go, what’s going to happen next? You started off with, and the diver was on so and so, and this, and you go, Right, what’s happening next? And you’ve got to put a hook in there, and then you’ve got to stitch the theory into the story so that it becomes a learning lesson, and they can relate to the individual. There is a really powerful bias of distancing through differencing, and this sits not just at an individual level but an organizational level as well, where we will look at somebody or some organization and go, They’re different to us. We wouldn’t make that mistake. And you sit there and go, yes, you would. From the diving side, I put together under pressure the book that I published, and there’s another one called Close Calls, which is a similar story. Mine’s got theory woven in and out. Close Calls is just stories from names across the industry.

And people like to read them. The hard part is, does it actually change people’s behavior? Because ultimately, that’s what we want to do, get people to think differently and understand the context in which they were. Not to turn around and say, I wouldn’t do that as an outcome because the outcome is too late. What we’re trying to do is spot the context developing and sit there and go, oh, I recognize this, and I can see where the trajectory is. But that’s really hard to get across. And even when you’ve got known stories, so there’s a paper I read recently from Dylan and Tinsley, or might be just big Dylan on their own, talking about using lessons from Challenger to get the ideas across. And what they did was they created a scenario of an aircraft that needed to fly some spares to a remote location, but the temperature was low, and the oil seals might leak on the engines. And if the oil seals broke, they’d need to shut down the engine. They’d probably ditch, and then the crew might not survive the ditching. And what was really interesting was that even though the story was told as if it was Challenger, the people didn’t recognize it was Challenger.

And still, about 70 odd % of people went, Yeah, we’ll launch. Off you go. So even when you’re given a narrative, we often can’t make the connection because it’s just the way our brains are wired, unfortunately. So, it has to be really visceral. It has to be that’s me, and I would do that.

Interesting. And I’ve seen this many times in organizations. When you talk about small group sharing their mistakes, part of it is there is camaraderie, people know each other. Is there a way that you seem to extend this so that people don’t say that won’t happen to me? I wouldn’t make that silly mistake. To really overcome that element, to recognize that, yes, as humans, we’re all bound to make those mistakes.

So, I’d say probably US Forest Service with their lessons learned center that they’ve got. And I think the important bit is to get away from the individual’s this erroneous performance and look at the context and the error-producing conditions which are there. And that’s why I was referring to earlier understanding what goes into a good learning story is understanding what sets somebody up for failure in this scenario they’re in. Because, by definition, if we knew what the outcome of the event would be, we would have stopped it.

Sure.

So, this bit about, Right, think about all those bad things that are going to happen. Yeah, well, how am I going to spot them? I don’t know the significance of those. So, what we have to do then is actually, what can we tell in terms of the situation developing that I will encounter? And then sit there and go, this is the system or the situation changing. Okay, that’s a flag. Not, I won’t make that mistake. It’s, I’m now in a situation where I’m more likely to make a mistake. Can I raise my game? Is this something that’s a flag that says, look-out.

Interesting. So, move it away from the area itself to the context of the situation that people are in because then you’re more likely to relate, saying, that set of circumstances could happen to me as well.

Yeah, totally. And so, aviation moved from cockpit resource management to crew resource management, now threat and error management. So, there’s this expectation that the aircrew is competent to do what they need to do. We don’t need to train them more and more to do that. The threat and error management situation are. I’m potentially going into a busy airfield. The wind is marginal. Do I set up the opposite runway, ILS or approach systems, or the other frequencies? The weather forecast has got thunderstorms in the area or whatever it is. It’s a potentially confusing runway. Let’s think about how we set ourselves up for success, not failure because generally, that’s about sharing stories where you know what, the situation got away from people. So, can we get ahead of things and provide that flag that says, Whoa, that’s enough? And in the majority of high-risk industries, we have something called stop work authority. My simplistic view is that often, that’s a stop by an organization to say, I’m going to give you a card. If you think it’s unsafe, then hold this card up and stop the job. But most people don’t know that it’s all going horribly wrong until it’s gone wrong.

And then the organization says, why didn’t you stop the job? Because you could see it was there. And there are a whole bunch of social, technical reasons why people find it hard to say stop because there are goals that are around there. So, if we can start to say, Let’s look at the conditions that are around us, then that’s actually easier to raise a flag.

Yeah. And also helps people understand where I am entering dangerous territory. Your example about maybe this confusing runway. There have been some runways where there’s been more than one flight that almost landed not on the runway but landed on another airplane that was taxing. But you know which airports those are. So, you could be on high alert if you know, okay, I’m approaching San Francisco is one of them, I believe, has come up a few times and say, okay, on this approach, here’s what I need to pay extra attention to.

Yes. And so, we’ve got a limited capacity to pay attention. So, in that bit that says, actually, here’s the high-threat situation. I’m now going to not quite ignore the other things, but I’m going to point my attention. And one of the things I try to get across in my training is we’ve got a limited capacity to pay attention. So, it’s not that people weren’t paying attention because often the response is, Pay more. We can’t pay more attention. What we can do is focus it somewhere else. So, what we’re trying to do is, what’s the threat that we’re encountering? And that comes from understanding the near misses that are out there and the context that’s encountered.

So, Rich, topic. To me, organizational learning is probably one of the most challenging parts of safety that we keep talking about. Hardest one to do. But I love your angle in terms of sharing stories, trying to learn on a regular, continuous basis, just so that people reflect and think through the stories. And then how do you disseminate those stories through scenarios on the context as opposed to the individual and the error that they made? I think these are very powerful concepts that hopefully help organizations move from learning the same thing over and over to learning and actually embedding that change. 

Totally. And what I would say from my experience as well as people are more likely to share a context-rich story than a closed narrative story which is focused on the individual. So, if you can get more context, more system if you can get multi actors in there, there’s a paper out there looking at when an incident report has got multiple narratives, then people are more likely to look at systems causes than a single narrative which is a synthesis by the investigator who will have their own perspective. And often, it’s about compliance, noncompliance. And so, people will look at that and say, here are the recommendations which are focused on fixing the person. Whereas actually, if you have multiple actors and you can hear the conflict and the different ideas, and when you’ve got six actors involved in an incident, expect six stories. It’s not because they’re lying; it’s because they’ve got different perceptions about what happened. So, if you’ve got the opportunity to share a multi-actor story, that’s the way to go about it.

So soon, we’ll be writing Hollywood scripts through those stories.

Well, we often have multiple actors in a story in a film.

But there’s some truth to the way you share stories because even in Hollywood, they say there are seven-story themes to every movie that’s sold across the board. Rags to Rich is an example. But it’s a narrative that we tend to listen to. The personas and everything else get us to associate with it and then remember that story.

Totally. And there’s a paper from Drew Ray which talks about the different safety stories and how you share them. Do you tell the outcome and then build it up on a different narrative? Do you tell one narrative where people jump to conclusions, and then then you tell the context-rich story, which then brings the learning point out? So, this goes back to what’s the purpose of the story and who’s the audience you’re trying to tell the story to, and the learning point you’re trying to get across.

Excellent. Well, Gareth, thank you very much for coming back to our show. Appreciate you sharing some of your thoughts about learning, organizational learning, and storytelling. I think it’s very powerful. Sayers of ideas to take forward. Thank you.

Brilliant. Thank you very much, Eric. I love being on it again. Thank you.

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack and grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Gareth Lock is the founder of The Human Diver, an organization set up to deliver education and research into the role and benefit of applying human factors, non-technical skills, psychological safety, and ‘just culture’ in sports, military, and scientific diving. He has published the book ‘Under Pressure’ and produced the documentary ‘If Only…,’ both focused on improving diving safety and performance by looking at incidents through the lens of human factors. While primarily focused on diving, he also works in other high-risk, high-uncertainty domains such as healthcare, oil & gas, maritime, and software. He is currently undertaking an MSc in HF and System Safety at Lund University where he is looking at the power (and limitations) of storytelling to improve learning.

For more information: https://www.thehumandiver.com/

The Debrief Guide: www.thehumandiver.com/debrief

If Only: www.thehumandiver.com/ifonly

Sanne (Santa in the transcript) – Incident reporting or storytelling? Competing schemes in a safety-critical and hazardous work setting – http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2007.06.024

Klein and firefighters – Naturalistic Decision Making http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1518/001872008X288385

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Deep Dive into Organizational Learning and Safety Culture with Gareth Lock

Deep Dive into Organizational Learning and Safety Culture

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE: 

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“The beauty of human factors is that it’s applicable in every space. It’s just the stories that change.” In this episode, we’re excited to have Gareth Lock take us on a deep dive into organizational learning, decision-making, and safety culture through the lens of human factors. Tune in as Gareth shares practical advice for creating a shared mental model within an organization through prioritizing psychological safety and how to effectively foster a culture of embedded learning and growth.

READ THIS EPISODE

Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing of their people first. Great companies, ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost. For the C-suite, it’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Gareth Lock, who is the founder of The Human Diver with ex-military aviator who’s taken his operational experience into diving and safety. Gareth, you have a very exciting and interesting story and background, so why don’t you start us there?

Excellent. Thanks Eric, for the invite on to here. So yes, it’s quite a diverse background. So, I spent just over 25 years in the Royal Air Force as a Hercules navigator, transport, aircraft, teaching and operating both low level, high level operational environments. I then went into flight trials, then did some research and development work, like working for an organisation like DARPA, then into systems engineering and procurement. So, I’ve got a very broad view of how systems work and then come 2015 decided I was going to leave the Air Force and set up my own consultancy, which was about bringing crew Resource Management nontechnical skills into high-risk environments. Crew Resource Management is just part and parcel of how military aviation operates. And so, I’ve been a diver since 20 19 99 Is certified and then got back into it in about 2005. And I’ve been trying to bring this view of safety and operational concepts into the diving world. So, in 2016, I set up the human diver. And the goal of that was really to bring crew source management, nontechnical skills, just culture, psychological safety, all the stuff that creates safety or influences safety into the diving space.

So since then, I’ve written a book, put a documentary together, trained probably about 500 people face to face around the globe and about two and a half thousand people online through face to face and online self-paced learning programs. And the interesting thing is people take the materials that I’ve written, the book that I’ve written, under pressure, they’ve gone. This is not a diving book. It’s like no, I know. And that’s the beauty of human factors, is that it’s applicable in every space. It’s just the stories that change. Individuals behave broadly the same way; organizations behave broadly the same way. So why can’t you take stuff from as a general thing from aviation or oil and gas and healthcare and move them into other spaces? And the biggest barrier is that doesn’t apply to me because I’m not in that space and it’s a known bias that’s there.

So, you touched on briefly CRM, which is very common, as you mentioned, in the Air Force, in civil aviation as well. Tell me a little bit more about CRM and how you think it applies to a lot of organizations.

Yeah. So, CRM is now known as Crew Resource Management. It used to be known as Cockpit Resource Management, and it came about from a number of seminal events in aviation, like Tenerife Kegworth, Manchester, where the analysis of flight deck recorders recognized that actually the crew knew that there were things not quite going right, but they were unable to speak up and challenge what’s going on. And it wasn’t until later events that they realized that actually, the back-end crew, the cabin crew, they also had a part to play in building this shared mental model. So, it then became Crew Resource Management. And what that? It started off as communication and assertion skills. Where I’m taking it personally and where it should be is about creating this shared mental model within an operational team. So that could be a flight deck crew plus the cabin crew. It could be on an oil rig where I’ve done CRM work before. Well, you’ve got the drill crew. In a normal business, even if it’s a high-risk business, you will have different perspectives about what’s going on. You’ve got the senior leadership, the middle management, the front-line supervisors, and the operators.

Each one of them will have a different perspective about what’s going on. And the purpose of CRM is to try and align those views as best they can. They will always be different because they’re all have different perspectives. But that’s also part of CRM is the fact that the front-line workers recognize that the senior management have got a different set of problems to solve. They don’t understand what we do. Well, that’s not their job to. But the purpose of this CRM is to share these interlinking circles, like a Venn diagram, that there will be a thread that overlaps. And so, the purpose there of CRM is to increase the overlap. So, we’ve got shared knowledge, but not make it so overlap that we end up with group think and nobody’s thinking outside the box or the circle.

Right. So, you touched on when you were talking about this, you talked to shared mental model. Tell me a little bit more about how that applies to an organization and how do you build it?

Yeah, so shared mental models, the world goes around as our decision making is based on these mental models, approximations of how things will operate. And as we build experience, we gain knowledge, we start to populate that model. And the research shows that the more models we have, the more accurate our decisions can be because we’ve got better, more realistic patterns to match that are there. Now, how that happens in an organization is that it’s done at multiple levels. So, you could have something like a small team debrief an after-action Review, which is about sharing a very local story about how that last event worked and not just about where things went wrong, which is often where the focus is on debriefs. What went wrong? Nothing. Well, what’s the point of running a debrief? But actually, the After-Action Review is about understanding how things went and how do we improve. Then you can start to grow those, and you can get I mean, the US forest Service has got some great resources in this, looking at facilitated learning analysis, where you start stepping up to a bigger group, a bigger team, and then you’ve got something as large as a learning review, where you’re bringing in multiple subject matter experts.

And the purpose of those learning reviews and to facilitate learning analyses is to bring multiple perspectives, conflicting perspectives. And you’re never going to get a unique line that says, and this is what happened, because and that’s uncomfortable for businesses because they want to have one truth. Well, there is no one truth. Each level within the organization will have some interactions and relationships which shape how they view the world. So, organizations need to create an environment where the bad news can be shared, where we can have constructive dissent, where we can undertake these intelligent failures. As Amy Edmondson talks about that we go out there and innovate and expect that okay, failure is okay as long as it’s not catastrophic, because the catastrophic basically means that we didn’t pick a whole bunch of other minor failures up and we’re hiding those.

So, when you mention shared mental model, you bring a lot of examples about organizational learning, which predefined that we’ve had some events that we’re learning from, which any organization does. But is there something that can be done at the front end as you’re coming to start implementing something to define a shared mental model within the organization?

Well, I’ll start off with saying, look, we, we are a learning organization. That means that we’re going to make mistakes.

Sure.

And you know, Timothy Clark talks about the four stages of psychological safety of inclusion learner safety, contributor safety, and, and Challenger safety. And organizations want to have this Challenger safety that the people speak up when things aren’t going right. So, you don’t have to have an accident, but you want to have people challenge what’s going on. But unless you feel included and you feel that actually you can make a mistake, then actually you’re never going to get to the Challenger space. So how do leaders create that environment? That’s about talking about the issues they face. It’s about opening themselves up and saying, you know what, I don’t have the answers and here’s some mistakes that I’ve made. And actually, they are going to model that vulnerability so that people are able to speak up and there are a whole bunch of things that people can do. So, if you talk about mental model as being a culture frame of understanding how this works? Absolutely. You can have a learning culture created within an organization and when people bring ideas to you, awesome. Explore them. That might be they don’t work, that’s fine, but go back to them and say it doesn’t work because of X, Y and Z or yes, let’s give it a go and if we fail, we fail.

It’s not a problem other than there might be some resource, but at the same time you might find some amazing stuff in the heads of the people. And that links me just to something that sort of triggered a thought when you said about organizational learning. Organizations don’t learn. Organizations have memories that are created by individuals within the organization. So, it’s about how do you get the knowledge out of those individuals and share them. And there’s some great work by Dave Snowden talking about the challenges of doing that. Because if you have a common understanding, a common vocabulary set, a shared mental model of what stuff looks like, then actually you don’t have to spend quite so long explaining something to somebody else. But if you go to somebody who’s got no idea about what’s going on, you’ve got to spend time building a framework in which you can start hanging ideas off. Because if you give somebody a whole bunch of ideas and they’re not able to abstract it or convert it into their own mindset or experiences, it’ll just go whistling past and it won’t make sense. So, it often does depend on the audience that you’re talking to and what do they know about stuff.

And it might be you’ve got to tell a whole bunch of different stories, analogies, bring those metaphors in so people can make that bridge. So, it’s not an easy thing to do. I get that it requires investment and that’s often a bit that organizations don’t follow through because they don’t see the value in the learning.

Right. So, what are some of the ways that you’ve helped instill organizational learning? As you said, it’s really the collective memories. You talked about after action reviews, you talked about learning reviews, which are very much highly interactive, team-based reflections on what I was setting to do, what occurred, what can we take away from it which is positive and negative? If you won a battle, you want to know what did you do well? And if something didn’t go as well. So, it’s not just post-mortem, as some people call them, that says basically everything that went wrong. It’s very much constructive being part of many of them. So, tell me about some of the other tactics an organization that wants to embrace more deeper learning can take.

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So, one of the first things that I often do is run through concepts of nontechnical skills, about how you create this shared mental model and the fact that it’s made up of situation awareness, decision making, communications leadership, teamwork, performance shaping factors, that these are interdependent skills. And I’ll go through some workshops. I use computer-based simulations. I get people to fail in a non-professional, jeopardizing way. So, the simulations are used. They’re about flying prototype spacecraft. Nobody can bring any prior knowledge. We can mess around with team dynamics. And so, people who are normally following, they will now lead, and the leaders are now following. And often it’s a great way of showing leaders what it’s like not to have a voice because there might be some equipment failure, which means they can’t talk. And they’re now sat there, and you can see them being really frustrated because they can see a train wreck arriving in front of them, but they can’t say anything. And so, you say, what do you think it’s like to be a follower then, when you don’t have a voice? So that’s what it’s like. So, making it as experiential as possible, making it as unthreatening in a professional context as possible, digging into details and using a structured debris format, which is transportable across any sort of domain.

But it’s looking about creating psychological safety. It’s about learning from what went well and why and what do we need to improve and how. And out of those four questions, the why and the how and the most important observations are easy. Oh yeah, we saw that, we did this, blah, blah, blah. Okay, so why did he go well? I’ve got to think about this and how are we going to make the improvement? It’s not enough to say, yeah, yeah, we won’t do that. Okay, do you understand why you failed when that happened or the improvement that’s needed? And do you know how you’re going to address that? Because if you don’t, all you’ve done is you’ve created a lesson identified. You haven’t done a lesson learned. And that’s a bigger piece as well, is that lessons are not learned until you have identified the thing, put something in place, and measured its effect, because otherwise it’s just a lesson identified. And so, you go into organizations, and you say, we’ve got a lesson learned book. Oh, yeah, we got one of those. We’ll get one at the end of the project. We’ll do a sort of post-mortem.

Who looks at it before you run a project? Oh, nobody looks at it. Right. So, what you’re doing is you’re collecting a whole bunch of data that nobody’s using and you’re not actually feeding forward into the next program, project or whatever to see whether or not it changes that might not it doesn’t work. Well, that’s a lesson learnt too, that intervention didn’t work in that space. Okay, why? Let’s look at these things. So learning is a continual process that requires you to take stuff in the past, match with what you’ve got, project into the future, have a look. Not that in work, right? We learnt something and then move on its. It’s not just collecting stuff at the end of a project in a wash up and say, right, stick it in the register book.

So, an analogy I use often in the safety space, I talk about learning and then embedding of the learning. It’s essentially the same thing because at the end of the day, you haven’t learned anything if you haven’t actually embedded it is there’s a lot of great learnings that come in from events, they get communicated, shared, and then people forget about it and the same event continues to happen. And so, the embedding part is about change. Management is making sure that we check so one is validated, is this the right correction? But in some cases, it could be that the correction isn’t being adopted, followed as an embedding piece. Because if you want a thousand pilots to do the same thing tomorrow, a Bolton won’t necessarily change the behavior.

Absolutely. And the other thing to bear in mind is the number of stories that happen at the sharp end and why those stories are told. And there’s a piece that I’ve just finished reading as part of my studies, just looking at why those stories don’t get told up higher. And it’s often because the front-line operators don’t understand the organizational influence of accidents. So, when they report something, an incident, they look at very proximal social bits at the sharp end and they don’t understand that the genesis is often further up. So, they don’t see the value in sharing. And if they do share, they don’t necessarily draw the analysis and the investigation process often just focuses on fixing the worker when they’re inheriting failures that are within the system. And it’s about how do you best prepare those workers to finish the design? Because those workers always finish the design of the paperwork. The paperwork is never complete, and it can never be complete. So, it’s this bit of how do we close those gaps?

So, touch on another area that you touched. When you went and talked about CRM, you talked about decision making, you talked about communication. There’s a big part of CRM which is how do I make the decisions? And I know you do a lot of work around organizational decision making. Can you enlighten us with some thoughts and insights on that space?

Yeah, organizational decision making is really going to be influenced by whatever the drivers and the goals and the culture within the organization is. So, this bit about safety is our number one priority. Rubbish. It’s about making profit. So, if you want to create that change in terms of safety decisions? How does it align with the bigger picture that’s out there? And there’s some tools out there and I’ll make a big shout out to the guys at Red Team thinking for the way that they manage a structured constructive dissent program. So, looking at the assumptions, formally validating those processes, you’ve got a strategy document that says, this is how we’re going to do something, or this is what we’re going to do going forward. That document will have lots and lots of assumptions in it. Some of them are explicit and some of them are implied. So, going through those and saying, right, what are those assumptions? How do we know that we can validate those? And what happens if those validations are false? And there are a bunch of tools that you can do that, but the way that most of our decisions made, even at the organizational level, will be done through emotional processes rather than logical.

What we would talk about decision making tools like Toddler, which came from British Airways of Time. Diagnose options. Decide, assign, review. That’s a system two thinking process. Very rarely do people go through that and understand the biases that they’re in because they know what the goal is, right, we’re going to do that. And they’ll look for so much evidence to reinforce their thought process and their path, rather than looking for disconformity evidence and say, why is this a rubbish idea? What can go wrong? And one of those tools is a pre mortem. And that’s a great way of talking about failure that has happened. And you dig into the emotion that people are happy to share stories of failure as long as it’s in the past, but they’re not quite so happy to share stories that might fail on them. So, a facilitator creating an environment that tells a story that says the failure has happened, you’ve now got two minutes to write down all of the answers as to why that thing failed. And because you compress time, people just throw stuff on the paper and then you can go around in a structured way to explore those ideas and then say, have we got this on our risk register?

No. Okay. And it’s a great way of dealing with the emotions we have and exploiting them in a positive way.

Makes sense. So, a lot of very rich topics we touched on CRM, we talked about organizational learning, we talked about decision making. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, Gareth, and get more insights on all of these very rich topics, how can they go about doing it?

So, my website is thehumandiver.com now. It is primarily diving focused, but as I said right at the start, this is just anything that’s out there or [email protected] is the best email address for me. And you can find me on LinkedIn as well, posting pretty much every day and a whole bunch of useful stuff.

And as you said, this is not just about diving. This is about leadership. This is about being safe and organizational decision making.

Absolutely.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you, Eric. I really appreciate the invite.

Definitely. Thank you.

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo consulting.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Gareth Lock is the founder of The Human Diver, an organisation set up to deliver education and research into the role and benefit of applying human factors, non-technical skills, psychological safety, and ‘just culture’ in sports, military, and scientific diving. He has published the book ‘Under Pressure’ and produced the documentary ‘If only…,’ both focused on improving diving safety and performance by looking at incidents through the lens of human factors. While primarily focused on diving, he also works in other high-risk, high-uncertainty domains such as healthcare, oil & gas, maritime, and software. He is currently undertaking a MSc in HF and System Safety at Lund University where he is looking at the power (and limitations) of storytelling to improve learning.

For more information: https://www.thehumandiver.com/

Book: www.thehumandiver.com/underpressure

Documentary (including workshop guide): www.thehumandiver.com/ifonly

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