HOP, Operational Learning, and Learning Teams

HOP and Learning Image

Here’s another episode from our series of thought leaders on various issues related to training, safety, safety training, organizational theory, and more.

In this one, we’re going to talk with “The HOP Coach,” Bob Edwards. Bob will tell us what Human & Organizational Performance, or HOP is, he’ll tell us about increasing operational learning and using learning teams, and he’ll share his own experiences with all this.

Before we begin, we’d like to thank Bob for taking the time and sharing his knowledge so freely. We think you’ll enjoy this one.

If you’re the type who’d rather watch and listen instead of read, we’ve included the video of this discussion at the bottom–just scroll down.

Human Organizational Performance (HOP), Operational Learning, and Learning Teams

Let’s get right into the interview with Bob Edwards below.

Convergence Training: Good morning, everybody. This is Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Development Specialist with Convergence Training, and this is another episode of our semi-regular podcast/webcast series.

We’re really excited today, we’ve got Bob Edwards with us. Bob is a Human and Organization Performance, or HOP, coach with his own business called The HOP Coach. I’m going to introduce Bob now and ask Bob to tell us more about himself and his experiences with Human and Organizational Performance and what he does.

Bob Edwards: Alright, thanks, Jeff. I appreciate your having me on this series.

So I’m an engineer and I’ve worked for several different companies, and when I was working for a major company about seven years ago, I met Todd Conklin as he was introducing HOP to our company,  and at that time, I was actually working in a safety role.

I got really intrigued by this, because I saw HOP (or Human and Organizational Performance) as sort of a holistic look at all this stuff we’re doing–because I’m not a safety professional, I’m an engineer, I just happened to be working a few years in safety. But I found it interesting–I find a lot of things interesting.

And during this HOP conversation, I realized, wow, there’s a lot more about operations, they gave us a chance to look at when we have safety issues and quality issues, and most of the times when we’re having safety issues or quality issues, they’re not really safety or quality issues, they’re operational issues. And I’m an operations guy, I like to make stuff, I’m a manufacturer, and so I realized, wow, this is a good, healthy way to look at stuff.

It moves us away from blaming employees and helps us look more at the system. We want workers to do the best they can, but workers are workers, right? We all make mistakes.

So I really liked the conversation (about HOP). And then, as you may or may not know, I’m known for doing these learning teams, which is when people gather in collaboration to really try to solve things and make things better (something we do a lot after events), and that’s what Todd Conklin started me off with almost seven years ago. And I really, really like it, so I just started doing it a bunch. And I did it so much that I decided, when the company I worked for sold the division I worked for, I stepped out on my own over three years ago.

Side note: Although this article focuses on HOP and Learning Teams, it’s interesting to note that Bob’s career change and interest in HOP is representative of the traits of a lifelong learner (congrats to Bob). Read more about lifelong learning and learning to learn here. 

Introduction to HOP

Convergence Training: Alright, great. So you touched on a lot of things I’m about to ask you about in more detail shortly.

I wonder if you can explain for those who are not familiar what Human & Organizational Performance or HOP is, how people refer to it by different but similar terms, such as Safety Differently, New Safety, and Safety II, and in particular if you could discuss each of the following:

  • The view of the employee
  • The relationship of the employee and manager
  • The role of learning

Bob Edwards: So HOP…like you said, some people call it Human Performance or Safety II or Safety Differently, but HOP is just really what we’re all doing. It’s human AND organizational performance. It’s not HP, it’s both, it’s the human and organization.

So I like that term…I mean, I like all the terms, HP is fine, Safety Differently, but for me, being more Operations focused, very quickly this conversation moves beyond just safety to quality…a lot of Deming’s work is built into what we’re trying to do here. He was trying to teach this stuff back in the 1960s, I guess. So to me, it’s a little more about overall operations, it definitely has a lot to do with safety, a lot to do with quality, it has a lot to do with worker struggles and worker challenges.

And then seeing the worker, you may have heard this, you might say this all the time, the worker is not the problem we need to solve [inaudible]…they’re working in a challenging environment and doing a pretty good job of it, and so when bad things happen or nearly happen, don’t go after them so quickly, right? Let’s look more at the system.

We need management on board from the very beginning of this conversation. Because if management is still looking for that head on a platter, so to speak, then it’s hard to have that open conversation. If I want the workers to talk to me and tell me the real deal, what they really were doing and how it really goes out there, the challenges they face and the things they have to do to get things done, then I also have to tell them it’s safe to talk. And in order for it to be safe to talk, management has to be OK with whatever we learn.

It doesn’t mean we have to leave it like that, but we have to be able to hear the message in order to receive the message.

Convergence Training: Great, you touched on the view of the employee, the relationship of the employee and management, and learning.

Bob Edwards: And I think this helps us break Taylorism (scientific management). Taylorism has been around since, what, 1911 or so, or before that. That whole idea that the manager knows and the worker just needs to go do, and even though now we may say “Oh, we don’t do that,” those overtones, that sort of feeling, is very prevalent. Taylorism is alive and well, right? The idea that the manager is the smart one, and the worker to be trained, follow procedures, and do what they are told to do. If they would JUST follow procedures, we wouldn’t have these bad things happen. They are not seeing the worker as a problem solver; they see the worker more as a problem.


Operational Learning and Learning Teams

Convergence Training: Great. So you told me you’d like to come in today and talk about two things in particular, which I think is a perfect segue from what you just said. The first was operational learning, and the second was learning teams, which is something  you help people learn how to conduct, and I wonder if before we dive deep into each of those individually, if you could tell us what those two things mean: operational learning and learning teams….you know, what are they and why would I do them, and we can get into how a little bit later.

Bob Edwards: OK, whenever I saw operational learning, I mean any method, any way to open the conversation up and learn how does work actually get done.

We talk about the black line & blue line. It’s a modification of what the [INAUDIBLE] guys did. They had a model with a straight line that represents the plan and then there’s a drift line from the plan….

[the image below may help readers visualize this]

black and blue line worker performance

…we’ve drawn that because, for us, in general industry, it seems to be more black line is the plan, and then there’s the blue line, which goes above and below and above and below, right? So it’s way more about variability for us than it is about drifting from the plan.

The more we look at this, we don’t believe our plan is perfect. We used to. We used to think, “Well, I’ve got standard work, and if people just follow standard work, we’re fine,” and now we’re realizing that standard work doesn’t capture variability worth a crap.

What does a worker deal with? They deal with variability all day long. Right? The best of Six Sigma doesn’t get rid of all variability. The work that these guys have to do!

So operational learning is anything I can do to unlock that blue line (work as performed). It can be through just going out there and hanging out and talking to people, it can be going out and working side-by-side with him (“you show me how hard your work is”), it can be a learning team, or it can be just a method.

People like it because it takes the place of an incident investigation, if you will. I don’t do investigations. I help companies that are doing investigations, but I don’t like to do investigations because in most cases, they feel a lot like an interrogation. And so I have kind of moved away from that personally. I know people may still call them investigations, and I get that, but I really like this notion of “let’s not separate people out, let’s not get witness statements.” Those are all criminal-type things, for me anyway. Somebody may be ale to do that really well. I know from the worker’s point of view, they don’t really like to be investigated. But they LOVE to be involved in helping to unlock the story and make things better.

So a learning team is a way to do that. It’s a method. There are a few basic guidelines that we have around  learning teams that seem to work really well. We’re always open to improvements. Even my training deck demo is on revision 75! I’ve been doing this for six years, and as I learn new things, I keep changing it and molding it, but there are a few key things around learning teams that we can talk about in a few minutes.

Side note: Check out the book “Better” by Atul Gawande for an interesting look at getting better at work.

In general, a learning team is pulling a few people together, with a little bit of structure, and unlocking that blue line, really being comfortable, and then they also help us make it better. I have to say “solve,” I don’t know if we ever solve anything, but we can certainly improve it, kaizen it, right, make it better. And something else happens. really cool, Jeff, I think it’s restorative.

Let’s say you and I are working together on a team. I screw something up–I break it, or maybe I do something that harms you, right? So, first of all, you’re hurt, and [Sidney] Dekker talks about the second person is the person who messed up. So I messed up. Now, if you just punish me and put me in time out or fire me, what did we fix? Unless I did it on purpose–if I hurt you on purpose, then you should fire me, right? But that’s not what I did–I made a mistake. And so if I can help my organization, leadership, and my fellow workers understand what’s going on, why it made sense to me, what I was doing, but if I can ALSO help to make it better and improve it, then there’s restoration for me. There’s restoration for the organization, and there’s restoration for the person.

Convergence Training: Right. And to borrow a word from someone else, you’re then creating a just safety culture.

Bob Edwards: Yeah, that’s interesting, I was just going to say that. A lot of times we hear “What’s forward accountability versus rearward accountability?” And that’s hard for people to grasp, sometimes. And here’s what hits me–once again, I’m not a consultant, I just do this a bunch, and so I kind of learn as I go, and of course I’m learning from everybody else, reading everything I can, but also I do this a whole bunch. But I’m sort of realizing is that accountability turns into this: if we mess up, if you and I mess something up, well then we’ve got to help make it better. There’s accountability.

If the manager has not given us what we need to do our job, then he or she is accountable too. They’ve got to make sure I actually have the tools. I say this all the time: “There’s only one reason a maintenance guy puts a pipe on a breaker bar.” It’s NOT to break the rule. It’s because he needs more leverage, right? He needs a better mechanical advantage.

So, if we can help make this safer and better, than I think THAT’S accountability. I’m not off the hook. If you fire me, that may be the easy solution, but it doesn’t really fix anything-unless I did it on purpose. And so I think that the whole notion of accountability that seems to really be ringing true for me is “Yeah, I’m accountable, I’m going to help you make this better. I’m not walking away from this. It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free pass. No. If I missed up, I’m going to be here to help figure this out so that it is a lot harder to mess up next time.


More on Operational Learning

Convergence Training: Good, that’s a good point.

Let’s talk a little more about operational learning. You mentioned some interesting things there–so we have a black line and a blue line, we’ve got work as planned and we’ve got work as really performed, as you talked about, in reality, and we have variability.

Could you talk more about operational learning in terms of all that, including views on variability and what we can learn from that?

Bob Edwards: One thing that has really struck me is that, a lot of times when something bad would happen, we’d use–I’ll use a real simple example, like 5 Whys?–or some tool like that, a Fishbone or whatever, what I’m finding is it’s WAY more messy than that, WAY more complex than that. It’s a mess, right?

So with operational learning, I want to unlock the mess–right? The temperature out there, the noise out there, the unclear instructions,  the buttons with all the stuff torn off them so you couldn’t even tell what you were pressing. the production pressure, that just overriding production pressure, right? The fact that there were four instead of five people here today, and one of them was a rookie, so really it was three people. Just unlocking what reality looks like.

I actually had a manager say one time “Well, that sounds like a bunch of excuses.” NO–its’ work. YOU go out there and work with one crew member less, and one worker is a new worker, and you’ve got part of the work that wasn’t done yesterday, because this thing over here is broke and it’s not working. You go out there and try this work and you’ll see–it’s not excuses, it’s people sort of managing their work.

ANYTHING I can do to sort of unlock that story–whatever it is, right?–whether it’s going out and actually spending time with workers (not watching them with a clipboard in hand, watching to see if they mess up–no, no,  go out there and really ask them “What does it take to get this done?”). Be curious, be genuinely curious. And when we are, even the folks that complain all the time, they’re still pretty proud of their work.

I find this to be true: most people come to work to do a good job. Even the old crotchety maintenance guy–I was a maintenance manager for years—I had one guy and man, all he ever did was complain. But do you know what he was really good at? He was REALLY good at fixing stuff. If you went out and spent time and actually listened to him and learned from him, he was brilliant. He could troubleshoot like nobody else. But whenever you’d see him coming, you’d be like “Oh my goodness, he’s going to complain.” Except his complaints were actually pretty legitimate if you listen to him.

So that’s part of it, I think, is building better operational listening. And instead of going out with the operational expectation “We have procedures, Jeff, why aren’t you following them,” maybe a better question is, “Jeff, what does your work look like today–and  by the way, those procedures that got updated, do they even make sense, can they followed as written?” That’s a different question.

So when I’m doing operational learning, I’m less focused on operator compliance, and I’m more interested in operator struggle and adaptation.

Side note: You may enjoy this article Bob wrote on Operational Learning for EHS Today


More on Learning Teams

Convergence Training: That’s interesting, your views on the worker there.

A lot of people consider 21st-century job skills, or a job skill that will be increasingly important in an automated, mechanized workplace is going to be empathy and listening–listening to that worker, why is he complaining, what’s the point? So that was a good take.

So obviously one of the big things that comes up a lot when we’re talking about HOP is this idea of a learning team. I wonder if you can talk to us about that, explain what a learning team is and how you do them.

Bob Edwards: A learning team is very, very simple. There are a few key things that we find work really well.

When something happens, or nearly happens, or….we use them for employee concerns, we use them for operational upsets, you know, it’s not a safety or a quality thing at all, it’s just an operational upset, we’ve even started using them like Dekker says, “If you want to understand failure, quite looking at failure and start looking at success,” so I’m like Forrest Gump, and I just started doing them, right? And so we began doing them around success, and it’s the same conditions that are present there.

But a learning team is about bringing people together that know the work. Masters of the blue line, if you will. I don’t usually do them with a lot of people, usually 5-7 people, that seems to be pretty good. We’ve had some big events that had 15 or 16 people, but that’s a lot to manage.

Our goal is to bring people together that know the work. If there was an event, people who are close to the event, and then take about an hour of time to start with, although we always do a few sessions, at least two sessions, but you can do three, four, eight, whatever you need. And there’s a reason.

The first session is just in learning mode. When Todd Conklin taught me this, he said “Try this out and see…it’s harder than you think,” because we want to solve, right, we want to jupm in there and fix. But we use the learning team to say “OK, let’s slow down and learn.”

Now, Jeff, if something has happened…like, we have already done the emergency thing here, stop the leak, stop the feed, that’s not what we’re talking about here. That’s the response, we do that. Now we want to take time to learn, which is when an investigation might normally kick in. So we want to take about an hour, an hour and fifteen minutes, usually not much more than that, with a handful of people that are super-knowledgeable–masters of the blue line–and I want to be curious. I want to ask them “What are the work conditions out there? What are the pressures you’re under? What are the complexities? What are the adaptations?” You know, really be curious and not even talk about the event. In the first session, I don’t even talk about the event. Because once you start talking about the event, we can get laser-focused on it. I’m more interested, Jeff, in the conditions that lead to that type of event than I am in the event itself.

And so we do the first session completely in learning mode. Don’t let them get into fix mode. If they start coming up with solutions, just say “Hold on to that, bring it back to the next session and we’ll talk about it, but right now, I just want to stay in learning mode.

And then we give them soak time.

There are three key things before we start improving: (1) we learn; (2) give them some soak time, overnight is perfect, or a night or two…we find the soak time is very valuable, your brain gets a chance to sleep on it, and (3) you wake up with new things to talk about, which is awesome.

In the second session, I take a few minutes to review: what did they teach me? And there’s real value in that. That shows that I listened to them, Jeff, and if I missed something they can correct me. Because I’m not there to tell them what to do. I’m there to ask questions and to learn from them. They’re the masters, I’m just a facilitator.

So in the second session, I pull them back together. We may have found in the first session that something was missing, and we need it. Like maybe there are a lot of questions about maintenance, and there’s nobody from maintenance there, then we need to get some help from maintenance. So our goal is to learn, then soak time, then review and learn some more, and then start talking about improving.

So that’s sort of the framework of the learning team, right? And then when you start talking about improvements, there are several ways to do that, lean has a really cool thing called try storming for forming ideas, so you can experiment and get the team engaged in and excited about trying out their ideas. And what we find is, that a lot of the solutions that come from the team members are not the multi-million dollar solutions, they’re very practical, very useful, they’re things we can do right now within our sphere of control as Andrea Baker talks about all of the time–sphere of control, sphere of influence, sphere of concern. Let’s do what we can in our sphere of control, and then I’ll talk to you you’re my manager about things I can’t do to see if you can help me with those things.

That’s kind of it. That’s the magic that happens. You pull people together, and I love to have a leader come in in the beginning, Jeff, and say “Hey guys, this is a learning team, not an investigation. We are not looking for a ‘Who did it?’ We are not looking for blame–that’s not going to make us better here. And you’re not going to be punished–you can talk about anything you want to in here, and there’s no punishment involved.”

Todd Conklin says this all of the time: “You can learn and improve, or you can blame and punish, but you can’t do both.”

If we want people to open up and tell us, even if they’re going to tell us that they deviate from the process, that they don’t always do a full lockout or whatever, we need to be able to hear the truth because it’s happening anyway.

So let’s make it safe to talk about it. Let’s make it better, we’re not going to leave it broken, but I’ve seen it happen too many times where, when we say “Hey, this is a safe place to talk,” and people get comfortable, and they will lay it on the table.

They HAVE to know it’s safe. That’s why it’s good to have a leader come in and kick it off by saying “Hey, this is a learning team, you can talk freely here, you’re not going to be punished, even if you’re not following the procedure exactly right, that’s fine, we need to know what is going on at work, and how did this happen. Not WHY did this happen so much as how–all of the conditions that were out there.

That make sense?

Convergence Training: It does, thank you. There’s a lot of good learning theory behind all that as well.

One thing we don’t do well at work is build in a period for reflection, which is when you learn. You don’t learn from doing things, you learn from reflecting on what you did. So that’s what I like about the first phase.

Then there’s a ton of evidence showing it’s great to come back  the next day, and even that second day, when you’re beginning and reviewing things, you’re awakening prior knowledge, so that’s good.

One thing I notice is that a lot of people, and I think understandably, when they’re talking about learning teams, they’re thinking about after an incident. But on the other hand, HOP people always talk about applying learning in other parts of work, and also studying success, and that makes me wonder: do you use learning teams for things that are not incidents, possibly for studying success, and how do you learn from those other things that aren’t incidents?

Bob Edwards: So a quick example is with a mining company I work with. And they wanted to do a learning team with a pretty dangerous process. It takes place underground–sounds dangerous to me–but they do it really well. They don’t have near misses, they just wanted to study it. They’ve done a bunch of learning teams and they realized, “Wow, all these things out there when bad things happen are the same things that happen when good things happen.” The workers are adapting through that mess all the time, right, and we do it quite well until we don’t.

And so, without going into details or the name of the company or anything, I’ll tell you that within two one-hour learning sessions, they uncovered two different conditions that had become normalized, with different parts of a team, that they’d become comfortable with even though it was a problem (you know, it’s frustrating at first, then you become more comfortable as you deal with it), along with a failure that had become normalized, that the maintenance guys were always repairing, and had those two things coupled in about an hour’s difference of time, it could have been a really bad accident. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t even a near miss. It wasn’t an employee concern, nobody was complaining about it. It was so exciting to actually study successful work and find brittleness in the system that could have caused a severe issue and correct it and make it better.

So we’re doing that more and more now, where we’re actually studying successful work . That one, I was just so excited when these guys unlocked this. And it was them–all I did was just bring the flip charts and have the conversation with them.

And their manager said, “It’s safe to talk,” and then the manager stepped out. A lot of times, high-level managers can’t sit in on these things. We’re going to talk to them, and I love to check in with them at the end of the session and again the next day. It’s very encouraging, we need them, they’re a part of this. Daniel Hummerdal reminded me of this–we’re not kicking leadership out of this conversation, we need them, big time. They just probably can’t sit in in most cases while we’re getting real, because, you know, if the plant manager is sitting there, and he says “Tell me what you do,” I’m probably going to say “Oh, well, I follow the rules, sir!” And so we need to be real, and I need him to not be there.

I think my goal is that eventually he can be in there, and come and go as he wants to, because they’ll get that comfortable. And there are a couple of sites that are like that. There’s one site that, no kidding, the plant manager, she can absolutely lead a learning team because she’s that open to the crew, and they know how she respects them and listens to them, and they know that she believes they have to work do their work.

So that is the promised land almost, right? If we can be that thoughtful to each other, and that kind to each other, where our high-level manager and a guy that turns wrenches, they talk and that guy that turns wrenches says “Hey, I just messed this up. Didn’t mean to, but we need help to solve this,” and it doesn’t turn to this (conflict), it turns into this (harmony and cooperation).

But it also means that that leader can say to that maintenance guy,  “I told you I was going to get that new compressor for you guys, and they’ve cut my budget,” because sometimes we think they have all the power but they don’t have all the power, “they’ve cut my budget until next year.” So that’s about the manager being accountable to the worker as well, saying “You know I told you we’d get that, but we have a delay” or whatever.

That builds more trust, right?

Convergence Training:. Right. Good points and good stories. I guess this is a different point for a different conversation, but that totally safe CEO who can lead her own learning teams, I wonder if some of that has to do with her gender. I think sometimes women get more emotional training (than men do).

Bob Edwards: Yeah. I can tell you this, some of the best managers…she’s an AMAZING facilitator for orientations, she’s like the head of maintenance for a huge power company.

But sometimes, and this is just me talking about us men, sometimes we’re not the best listeners. It’s kind of generic to say that, but I can tell you this: during this journey, my wife has told me that I am getting better at listening. So I guess we can get better–there’s hope.


Distributing Operational Learning Throughout the Organization

Convergence Training: Yeah, that’s my point as well. But as a young boy, I don’t remember getting a lot of instruction on listening.

OK, great, so we’ve talked quite a bit about learning, and I can see how this learning happens, including in these learning team sessions. I wonder if you have any tips about how to take that learning and distribute it and share it throughout the entire organization? Instead of just changing a process, but if you have any ideas about how that learning can be shared, if you have any good stories to tell about that?

Bob Edwards: Yeah, so I actually got in trouble with Todd Conklin, because he was training the company I worked for, and I started training with him a bunch, that’s how I got started, and we were about a year into this, and we had these great stories. And he shows up at my site, and we’re telling him what we’re doing, and he asks “So how are you telling the stories?” And I was like, “Uhm…what do you mean?” And he said “You have got to tell the stories.” And I said “Well, they don’t even make the same product we make.” And he said “It’s not about the product they make, it’s not about the process that you changed, more than anything else, it’s about how you did it.”

And so we began to share stories. Not so that you would go out and do what I did with my crane learning team, but so that you could see how I pulled my crane learning team together, and see how they made better operations around their crane operation.

And so we began to tell these stories in several different ways.

One of the things we did was we would have a monthly injury call–I hate to admit this–where everyone had to call in and talk about their injury. It was painful. And so they all ended with us rewriting the procedure, counseled and wrote up the employee…you know, that kind of stuff. So we changed that session to a learn & leverage. So now, instead of going through every injury, we’d say “Hey, who’s done good operational learning,” and instead of doing 15 cases, let’s do four. So everybody came in–all the EHS managers and all the plant managers at this plant I worked in, they would all call in, and a different site would host it each month, and we would pick from across the business four or maybe five really good learning teams and let those people from the learning teams share the stories. Gwynn Kincaide, she’s one of my friends, an awesome friend, she would have her union steward come in, they had asked to present, and so she brought them right in, and they would be on the call, talking about injuries because these were safety-based, and they would talk about what they had done and what they were working on. It was quite incredible. So that’s another way.

And then another way we tell the stories is we do a little video log. At some companies, we’d take a little iPhone, and just record with a learning team members, and say “Hey, you guys did great work, can I talk to you about it?” And so at my business, we made little 3-minute videos, and we’d share it across the business. And then I LOVE this, the general manager, every quarter on his quarterly update, where there are like 600 people in the auditorium, and several thousand people all calling in, he would start that thirty-minute state of the union address with a three-minute video from a learning team. There were a lot of pie charts and paretos and all that kind of stuff afterwards, and just being honest with you, I couldn’t tell you much about those, but I can tell you about that three-minute story. I can tell you about that guy who’s arm is killing him on his job, and how he helped solve it, made it better, and how he stayed on that job and is now getting ready to quit. Now I can tell you those stories but I can’t tell you about the paretos or the pie charts. Because what’s meaningful? Stories are meaningful.

Side note: Check out this interview with Anna Sabramowicz about storytelling and this article about the use of stories to inspire, motivate, and increase retention.

Convergence Training: Those are great tips. I love the emphasis on storytelling. I like the use of technology to spread that story. That’s a good use of video. And I like that previous story about the union steward, I think it was, who wanted to share his story. It makes a lot of sense in a learning team for managers to learn from workers, and then sometimes, in any context, I get a little disappointed when then managers meet and talk about it and workers are excluded from that part of it.

Bob Edwards: Exactly. We even do that in an investigation. If you mess something up, we’ll get your witness statement, or your statement, and then we’d go talk about it. But you’re the most important person ever! Why am I leaving you out of this conversation?

So, yeah, is it dramatically different? It feels dramatically different from anything I’ve done. Or maybe most companies look at this and go “Ah, yeah, we pretty much do that,” but what I find is, if you really look at it, it’s quite different compared to what we have been doing.


Bob’s Recommendations for Learning More about HOP, Operational Learning & Learning Teams

Convergence Training: Oh, I believe you. OK, great, so we’ve learned a lot about HOP, views of workers, relationships, the importance of learning, operational learning and learning teams.

You mentioned quite a few names, and I will provide links to people like Andrea Baker and Todd Conklin and people like that, but for people who are new to this, are there any places you’d recommend people go to learn more? Books you like, websites you like, people you like, any tips for people who are just getting into this?

Bob Edwards: So you know Todd Conklin puts out the Pre-Accident Investigation podcast series every week. He does one mid-week that’s about 3 minutes long, and then one on the weekend that’s 30 minutes long. And so he’s always building that community and conversation around that.

Of course you guys have several pieces here, it’s awesome, there’s a lot of other people talking about this stuff. There are some pretty good conferences that are happening, you know there’s the HOP conference that happens every year-and-a-half that ORC puts on, ORCHSE, that’s really good. We are always trying to build connections to people. Books? You know, Dekker’s books, Conklin’s books, Erik Hollnagel’s books, you know these guys, they’re all great writers.

And here’s what I’d say too: you don’t even have to agree with everything they write. Just reading it helps open up our thinking a little bit and question some things. This is an emerging field, or that’s how it feels to me. So we should ALL be thinking very freely, we shouldn’t like feeling like we should say “Well, Dekker didn’t say we should do that” or “Conklin said we should do this.” No. When we make safe work stuff up, we should read it. We should all think, right?

When Todd taught me the learning team, I started doing them, and I realized “Wow, this is the best group ever to help me make this better.” So when I told Todd that, he was like “I hadn’t quite thought that, that’s a great idea,” so even though he is one of the thought leaders in this industry, he’s also teachable. When he sees something new, he’s open to look at it as well. So that’s good.

Even like the Five Principles, we took the Five Principles that came from the Duke world, and they were hard to remember, let’s just say it that way. They were very smart, the people who wrote them were very smart, but we had been talking about this for a while, and so we redrafted them into something simpler that’s maybe more industry friendly, so the five principles are now very easy to remember: (1) error is normal; (2) blame fixes nothing; (3) systems drive behavior; (4) learning & improving is vital; and (5) response matters.

So now people can remember and use these. As a matter of fact, my son just said to me yesterday, “Dad, blame fixes nothing.” And I replied “OK, fair enough, you’re right, you’re right, blame fixes nothing.”

Side note: Todd Conklin and Bob Edwards (and perhaps others) have developed a list of five principles of HOP. Listen to the following Pre-Accident Podcast series episodes to learn more about each:
HOP Principle 1: Mistakes Are Normal
HOP Principle 2: Blame Fixes Nothing
HOP Principle 3: Context Drives Behavior
HOP Principle 4: Learning Is Key
HOP Principle 5: How Management Responds to Failure Is Key 

So things like that. You know, people have ideas, and they share them with other people, like on LinkedIn, I see a lot of good activity on LinkedIn, I don’t know about Twitter, I’m not real sure what Twitter is, but finding the people out there doing this stuff, I think this: I think it’s still very fragile, if that’s the right word. I think this is a movement, a pretty significant shift in our thinking, and a movement is based on people. Not on programs and all that stuff–all that stuff will come, but a movement happens because of people. Which means it’s very reliant on you and on me and on Andrea and on Todd and people who are willing to help carry this forward, and it’s brittle, because it’s real easy…what happened is, Todd made a lot of improvement, my plant manager believed this stuff and my EHS manager was all about this stuff, the EHS manager got promoted to a corporate level, the plant manager got promoted, but then the new EHS manager didn’t get this, and the new plant manager was an old iron fist, and ultimately two years of incredible progress was destroyed. Just like that. So this is still very fragile, it takes a lot of attention, a lot of nurturing, a lot of encouragement. We can easily slip back to old safety.

Side note: here are some good LinkedIn profiles to follow: Todd Conklin; Andrea Baker; Bob Edwards; Ron Gantt; Jeffery Lyth; Erik Hollnagel; Daniel Hummerdal; Cartsen Busch; Tom Krause; Kristen Bell; Jeff Dalto (humor me)

Convergence Training: I agree with that cautionary tale. But I also agree with your earlier point that it’s an exciting time and there’s a lot to still be developed. You’re an operations guy and not a safety guy; I’m an L&D guy and not a safety guy. I think that’s one of the interesting things about it, is it’s kind of multidisciplinary.

Bob Edwards: Exactly.

Convergence Training: One of the guys who I apply most to this is an Australian L&D professional named Arun Pradhan, who has taught me more about learning agility than anybody, and the importance of learning organizations.

OK, we covered a lot of good stuff and I appreciate it. Anything we should have asked you about this that we did not? Or any parting words of wisdom?

Bob Edwards: Uhm…you didn’t ask me how many kids I’ve got?

Convergence Training: Well, I now know you’ve got at least one. I’ve got two. How many do you have?

Bob Edwards: I’ve got twelve, I’ve got twelve kids.

Convergence Training: Well, you put me to shame. Congratulations.

Bob Edwards: Thanks. No, I think we covered it. I’m hoping that will help people. And you know, we’re accessible, I’ll share anything I’ve got, so thanks for having me on your video cast.

Convergence Training: My pleasure. Thanks for being on. And for those who would like to learn more from you, follow you, catch up with you, what are some places where they can do that?

Bob Edwards: I have a website, it’s www.hopcoach.net. Or just google me, it’s pretty easy to find me. All my contact information is there. And on LinkedIn.

Convergence Training; OK, thanks a lot, Bob, we appreciate having you on. For everybody out there, I’m sure you learned a lot. Follow Bob and the people he’s talking about, and we’ll be back with another episode soon.

Conclusion: Operational Learning, Learning Teams, and HOP

We hope you enjoyed this interview with Bob Edwards on HOP & operational learning and we’d like to thank Bob once again.

Bob mentioned that we have a bit of a collection of articles and interviews related to HOP at Convergence Training’s blog and that’s true. If you’d like to do some more research, the following articles are a good starting point, and each of those articles includes links to additional related articles as well.

I’d also recommend you check out Ron Gantt’s Safety Differently website as well.

Finally, below is the video of my talk with Bob about HOP. Feel free to watch it.

Thanks again and let us know if you have any questions.

And before you go, please feel free to download the free Guide to Effective Safety Training, below.

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 20 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center, and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training.

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