Leaders, effective dialogue starts with you
As a key account manager of Safety Delta in Green-Jakobsen I obviously visit clients regularly. A chance visit to the office of one of our existing Safety Delta clients proved to be a pleasant ‘eye-opener’ for me about the challenges on board in improving the dialogue. In this article I will elaborate my experience and bring forward a couple of effective change suggestions.
Awareness has improved, but –
My close acquaintance, an HSEQ manager of our SD client, was more than happy to accommodate my request for a casual visit, the purpose of which was to primarily hear from him as to how SD was progressing within his fleet.
I was pleased to hear that their SD cycles were going on as per schedule and the general awareness about SD within the organisation was better than ever before. Then he added the word ‘but’!
|Although the overall feedback was positive, of course there were challenges in the day-to-day execution of the activities|
Although the overall feedback was positive, of course there were challenges in the day-to-day execution of the activities. It was now my prerogative to learn what the issue was.
I didn’t need to prod too deep for him to reveal the issue because it seemed that he was eager to discuss it with me right away.
The HSEQ manager had timed his visit on board one of the fleet vessels to coincide with the ‘Dialogue’ phase of the SD cycle. His intention was to sit-in during the Officer and Crew dialogue on board and see how the process was being lived in reality.
The ideal dialogue
After the Diagnosis phase where crew has done the survey the report is provided as the basis for the next phase: The Dialogue phase. It is the ‘backbone’ of the entire SD process and the reason is that the only persons who truly experience the safety performance on board are the crew members involved in the daily tasks. They are also the persons to make corrections or changes, if needed.
|The more open and acknowledging the atmosphere is, the more ideas and suggestions will be put forward|
A strong dialogue process requires an open atmosphere. The more open and acknowledging the atmosphere is, the more ideas and suggestions will be put forward. Maybe this was where my client encountered challenges?
The dialogue phase is there to help the officers develop an open safety culture on board, giving the crew an opportunity and to speak up and share their reflections, experiences and improvement ideas. If the captain and the officers understand to utilize Safety Delta in this process, they can achieve a lot. However, not all find it easy – I will get back to that.
The Crew Diagnosis report is the basis for the dialogue across ranks and departments and it contains tools that can nurture a focused and competent dialogue. Crew input and development ideas will serve as the basis for the Safety Delta Development Plan.
What the Safety Delta Dialogue does
First, it is important to understand what the Safety Delta dialogue can do for the entire crew on board.
- It helps crew to discuss what to:
o Stop doing
o Start doing or
o What to do more of
- It structures a competent and focused dialogue on the present safety performance
- The process stimulates an intelligent dialogue about the true on-board safety performance
- It helps the officers develop an open and assertive safety culture – also among submissive crew members
- In extension of the crew dialogue the crew will be able to prepare a Safety Action Plan addressing the areas to be adjusted, improved or developed
This, of course, is the desired effect of the Dialogue phase and this is unfortunately where the HSEQ manager was disappointed after witnessing the process on board.
The experienced dialogue on board
The Dialogue meeting was scheduled to be held at 1700 hours after the day’s work had been completed. All officers and crew had been asked to meet in the Crew Mess room.
|The meeting looked more like a formal gathering rather than a discussion meeting aimed at collaborating ideas through brainstorming and open discussion|
The crew members, dressed in their dirty coveralls, sweaty and tired from the day’s work just sat in their designated places, with some of them leaning backwards and almost looking like they were about to doze off….
The chief officer then started to ‘read-out’ the CSD report to all the gathered staff and intermingled the oration with some biased viewpoints to which the ratings seemed to agree without any hesitation. Sometimes the Chief Engineer had a few things to say, but yet again it was more of a directive reprimand for the practices being carried out on board rather than a genuine attempt to appreciate crew members and take their suggestions for improvement.
This unfocused meeting lasted for exactly one hour and as soon as the clock struck 1800 hrs, the meeting was closed by the Captain without a word of encouragement and without a plan of action for the near future.
The gathered crew seemed to be more than happy to leave the room as soon as possible so that they could take a quick shower and take their dinner.
The HSEQ manager was thoroughly disappointed by this display of poor leadership on board the vessel and emphatically mentioned to me that it is essential that the leadership on board steps up to the cause, if SD shall generate the desired effect.
After offering a few words of encouragement to my friend, on my way back I pondered measures as to how such an incident could be avoided in the future and how we can support him in dealing with this issue. After all, this could be happening on board other vessels as well and many of our other clients could secretly be harbouring such frustration not realizing what they can do to support the leaders on board in improving the dialogue.
So, what should the leader do, and how can he use SD to help him become a better leader?
Using the materials in Safety Delta to become a better leader
Let us look at very small changes that can make a big difference. For example, let us look at the way the meeting was held.
A well-known meeting tool is the brainstorming. Companies around the world are using this feature when they are getting together to kick around some new ideas and generate some new thoughts. This is only a good idea if it is done in a collaborative way.
If you look at the research on brainstorming in general, it decreases the number of ideas and the originality of those ideas by about 20%. Why? Because when we all get together, the most dominant people take charge of the meeting and they might not be the most creative people around the table.
|A very simple change can be made|
So, a very simple change can be made.
Let’s assume that the personnel involved with SD in the office are getting ready to meet and discuss the CSD reports generated after a few of their vessels have completed the Diagnosis survey.
While planning the meeting each person could be asked to brainstorm on his/her own and come up with three innovative solutions before they get together.
The ‘Office Staff Dialogue sheet’ can meaningfully be used for this purpose so that ideas are put down on paper instead of remaining in the head of the person, only for him/her to forget when they actually meet.
Likewise, before the meeting on board the Crew Dialogue sheet can be used to make people reflect on beforehand on the outcome of the Diagnosis report.
|This increases motivation and creativity and discussions become more open and focused|
Then, when they get together, they all go around in the group and everyone talks about their solutions no matter how crazy it sounds. This actually increases motivation and creativity and discussions become more open and focused as people are well prepared.
A well prepared and well-accomplished safety meeting on board also qualifies the dialogue between the vessel and the shore-based staff.
So, a very easy change, but a very powerful one.
Make the meetings active
|The Safety Delta learning library is a vast resource of material that can help the leaders on board activate everyone in meetings|
The Safety Delta learning library is a vast resource of material that can help the leaders on board activate everyone in meetings and in the general safety improvement efforts.
When it comes to the various SD stages, all involved office personnel will be required to meet multiple times to discuss possible ideas. Why not relocate some of these meeting to sites where the problems or good solutions are pivot of the debate. At the same time a meeting where people are standing can be much more productive and perhaps even provide results in less time.
So, my advice to my friend, the HSEQ Manager, will also be to support the management on board his vessels in practicing more effective meetings and help him understand how the leaders have a very important role in the Dialogue phase of Safety Delta. A guidebook for shore-based staff is now available to help them structure this support, and make sure that Safety Delta is providing the desired effect.