The Paperwork Trap & How to Avoid It
As an organisation’s safety culture matures, there is a very common trap that many fall into, one in which people feel that they are drowning in paperwork. This is a trap that we call “System Obsessed”.
Every organisation has to go through a stage where they put in place all the documentation required by law. We call this Broad Compliance and it signifies that the organisation is now broadly in compliance with all of the country’s legal requirements
The problem is, as human beings, we tend to repeat what has worked in the past and adding paperwork has helped us get to Broad Compliance, so we continue to do the same. So, with the best of intentions we add more rules, regulations and boxes to tick and we keep doing this, over and over.
Due to the sheer amount of paperwork (which is in effect inputs into a process), we now focus on what is easy to measure – the amount of paperwork completed, so we measure the number of inputs.
This is one of the most common reasons that organisations fall into the System Obsessed trap, and why they often find it so difficult to get out.
These inputs often include, what should be pro-active “Human Focused” systems, such as Observation Systems, Near-Miss Reporting etc, but when (as with any behaviour) people learn that they get little or nothing out of recording these issues, they stop recording them.
This reduction in recording is often responded to with the introduction of a target / KPI in how many must be completed (rather than trying to process map the current process to understand where the current system is failing to produce results). This target then becomes the focus, and hitting the target for the number of inputs (pieces of paper filled in) becomes the focus and the reason for completing the paperwork is lost.
In order to combat this we must go back to the original process and understand the flow of information. No system can have any “black holes” where information goes into and does not come out. As soon as a process has a “black hole” the process will die as people feel that they getting noting out of it. By first understanding the process you can start to see how the communication loop can be shortened, where the “black holes” are and how they can be removed.
Overall, the outcome must be to remove all of the “black holes” and to ensure that the person completing the paperwork has ownership of that issue and feels empowered to implement its solutions. It is only through this empowerment that we can truly start to move towards a Human Focused process and one that focuses us back on outcomes such as solutions to problems, fixes for hazards, ideas for improvements, investigation of near-misses and the value of the discussion and feedback from an observation.
It is this system of going back to the process and improving it, with the people that are using it, that will help the organisation to move on to the Human Focused level of the development map and escape from the paperwork trap that is System Obsessed.
If you think your organisation has fallen into the paperwork trap. You can contact us for information on how we can help firstname.lastname@example.org