One-size-fits-all safety doesn’t work. Here’s why.

by May 12, 2020Articles

“A customer can have his car painted any color he wants as long as it’s black.”  Henry Ford

Leaders introduce new learning initiatives with high hopes, expecting continuous improvement, and sustainable results.  This strategy is aligned with Focus Area 3 of the WANO Long-Term Plan where training, coaching, and mentoring are presented as essential parts of leadership development.  But six months later they realize they aren’t getting any traction within the organization, employees are confused, and results are about the same as they were before.  At the one year point, they pull the plug on the initiative and search for another one to take its place, and the cycle continues.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Whether through classroom instruction or remote learning techniques, which are becoming a necessity in these uncertain times, we need to understand the reasons why our best intentions are often met with underwhelming results.  The primary reason you aren’t seeing the results you know are possible is that you may be using a one-size-fits-all approach.

Consider a football team.  If the support staff, the players, and the coaches all got the same training and all did the same preparation, the team may never win a single game.  In fact, each player needs a unique training regimen for their specific position because some emphasize speed and agility, while others are focused on strength and stamina.  The role of the coach is much different from that of the athletic trainer.  We wouldn’t expect the team to be successful if each person completed a course that simply introduced them to football; we need to teach them how to apply what they’ve learned to the job they do to be successful in their specific role on the team.

The same is true in your organization.  We’ve often implemented human performance programs in this manner, where each employee is introduced to the language and processes, but not to their individual role in performance improvement.  They’ve completed the training but don’t know how to apply what they’ve learned when they get back to the jobsite.  Just as Henry Ford thought one color was good for everyone, we tend to think one version of training is right for everyone.

REMEDY is a new approach to organizational improvement that gives each level of the company what they need based on the unique role they play, and everyone can more easily do their part.  When human performance was introduced after the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, most of the focus was on the workers—it was assumed they were the ones making the mistakes.  REMEDY recognizes the error in this approach and addresses the fundamental weakness that impacts the effectiveness of so many program rollouts—a lack of clarity on what you want ME to do.  Just as you wouldn’t give the same training to everyone in a football organization, you shouldn’t use a similar strategy in your company.  The frontline worker has a different role than the plant manager, but is your online training the same for everyone?  Let’s take a look at how we can personalize our training for the three, broad organizational levels:

Informed Executives:

The extent to which executives are aware of organizational performance and the things that may be hindering it, the more likely the organization will have a healthy, vibrant culture.  Employees want to see that the actions of the senior leaders are aligned with their words because that establishes what it’s like to work at your company and builds a level of trust.  Workers will never trust you if they don’t believe you, and if they don’t trust you, they will only tell you the things they think you want to hear.  The WANO Chairman recently noted Leadership Effectiveness is mentioned in peer review executive summaries nearly twice as often as any other functional area. Accordingly, the first level in a healthy, effective organization is that of Informed Executives who encourage a culture of trust which allows information to flow between all levels.

Empowered Leaders:

Leaders in middle-management or front-line leadership roles are in a difficult spot because they get little credit when things go right, and almost all the blame when they don’t.  Many leaders received a “battlefield promotion” without any development time or training, so they are forced to learn the new role without the benefit of a mentor to guide them through the rough spots. We can make leaders more effective by realizing they are often caught in the middle and help them be better coaches.  Empowered leaders then should strengthen relationships to encourage worker feedback and be entrusted with the authority to act upon it.

Engaged Employees:

A 2017 Gallup survey found that over half of employees are not engaged in what the company is trying to do, and 16% are actively disengaged.  These are shocking numbers that tell us the management style that worked in the past is outdated and will only lead us to failure if we perpetuate it.  The team dynamics are different and a directive style that doesn’t make workers feel included just will not work.  It takes management focus and the courage to try new strategies to develop Engaged Employees who contribute their experiences, skills, and abilities to help the organization succeed.

The description of these three levels of the organization forms the deliverable, the Yield, as we determine what we are trying to achieve.  We know we have a healthy and effective organizational culture when we have Informed Executives, Empowered Leaders, and Engaged Employees.  The REMEDY formula describes the steps we need to take to get there, and contains the following components:

RE+M+ED=Y Reduce Errors + Manage Change + Error Defenses = Yield

The REMEDY formula describes WHAT we need to do.  Let’s start by reviewing the three components of the REMEDY formula and discussing how they lead us to the Yield we just discussed:

Reduce Errors:

This is an easy place to start, and as mentioned, in the early days of human performance it was the only thing you focused on.  REMEDY addresses overall performance with specific emphasis on each level of the organization, but reducing errors is still the starting point.  We need to balance the realization that humans are prone to error with a strategy that reduces the frequency and severity of the mistakes we make.

Manage Change:

Many books have been written on change management, but rarely do we see these principles applied.  We draw an imaginary line in our mind to define the point at which we will need a formal plan and anything below that line is in the space of “I’ll figure it out as I go” based on our perception of risk.  Each level of the organization must understand their role with respect to managing change; the role of the employee is much different than that of the executive, but each are important if we want to see success in the end.

Error Defenses:

One of the five principles of human performance states that 90% of all errors are the result of a failure of the system, not the individual.  When an error occurs and the first question we ask is “Who did it?” we are demonstrating a lack of awareness of this principle.  A better question to ask is “How did this happen?”  Error defenses are the processes and systems we put in place to diminish the impact of human errors, which can be minimized but can’t be eliminated (another of the five human performance principles.)  Examples include policies and procedures, training, signs and postings, corrective action programs, and close call reporting.  Latent organizational weaknesses (LOWs) are system breakdowns, or workarounds, that set us up for failure.

The REMEDY Matrix—explains WHO needs to do each part

We reviewed the REMEDY formula and the three levels of the organization because these form the axes of the Matrix.  There are decades of experience included in the development of the Matrix and detailed descriptions of each of the nine boxes are available.  Here is a simplified version:

Knowledgevine Matrix sans footer

Knowledgevine Matrix sans footer

Through online learning modules or classroom training, employees can discover how the three unique actions in their row of the Matrix will accomplish the scope of the REMEDY formula.  If Engaged Employees will follow expectations, support change, and communicate their concerns, they are doing their part to achieve the Yield.  Similarly, Empowered Leaders and Informed Executives are simply required to take the assigned actions in the Matrix, to do their part, to move the organization forward to achieve sustainable results.  Remember the example of the football team?  Everyone in the organization doesn’t need to be in the weight room, but everyone has a job to do. REMEDY provides a simple method of ensuring everyone understands their role in the team’s success, making performance improvement sustainable.  This approach is well-aligned with Continuous Learning (CL), one of the Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture.  We must stimulate learning (by making it personal) if we want to improve performance.

So, when you consider your progress on performance improvement initiatives and realize you aren’t making the gains you had hoped for, consider whether you’ve adequately targeted the training to the expectations of each employee for the job they do; or did you just give them a one-size-fits-all option.   To make it work, you must make it stick and the best way to make it stick is to make it personal. That’s the approach of the new REMEDY on-line training program—show me how I fit into the big picture and then show me how to do my part.

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Drs. Mike Legatt and James Merlo host high profile guest speakers and lead virtual dicussions in the Human Performance Community of Practice every other Thursday at 4PM EST.

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Drs. Mike Legatt and James Merlo host high profile guest speakers and lead virtual dicussions in the Human Performance Community of Practice every other Thursday at 4PM EST.

Contact Us


4225 Rollins Road

Zachary, LA 70791