Developing Performance Based Goals and Outcomes

The real question for EH&S professionals is how to prove something did not occur because of an action we have taken or not taken.

CORPORATE America is often accused of focusing only on the bottom line, making profits. As anyone who has ever operated his own business will tell you, without profits, your business organization will soon cease to exist and a major void of earned income that supports families, businesses, and charities will result, causing them to suffer major impacts that threaten their very survival, as well.

I recently heard a major business executive make the statement that really brought this issue home to me: "that all businesses are temporary," that the skill and vision of the CEO are keys to the life of the organization. We in Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) must embrace these realities of business survival and accept that we are also key players in this game.

We have seen many businesses face organizational death and bankruptcy because of inadequate attention given to employee and consumer safety and health issues in relation to their products or manufacturing processes. This alone should warrant reserved seats for the organizational heads of EH&S in the boardrooms of industry, so why has it not? This is part of the question this article will address, attempting to provide a formula for changing the status quos that often exist in less progressive organizations. It is also true that the regulators in government suffer the same fate and are often viewed by their employers (taxpayers) as only necessary "evils" rather than people who make a real difference in society.

We who work in the EH&S field are often frustrated because we believe we are the "Rodney Dangerfield" of both government and corporate America. That is, we work very hard, accomplish a great deal, but "just don't get any respect." This can be changed, but it will take a great deal of effort and courage to make the change. Yes, courage is required, because to make the change requires giving your employer the "rope to hang you." That rope is the use of Performance Based Goals!

What are Performance Based Goals, or PBGs? They are what you are going to accomplish as a result of the responsibilities given to you in the position you hold in the organization. Many in the EH&S field have hidden--both unintentionally and sometimes intentionally--behind giving carefully worded activities that sound like achievements that save money or preserve health but do not fit the definition of a outcome-based goal. These activities imitate achievements but, in reality, are list of tasks done, not tasks that truly report value to the organization leaders. The development of PBGs is both simple and at the same time complex. They may seem simple to the executive who does not understand EH&S but are among the most complex issues that face the organizational EH&S professional.

We all know education is the key to most environmental health issues, true? Well, not according to many of the country's most respected injury control experts, who say education really does not work very well. They tell us engineered barriers make the real difference and, far more than being merely effective, they are efficient. Is listing how many safety seminars one attends a performance goal, or are seminars only activities? The same is true when listing audits or inspections: They are merely a list, as are the number and types of violations found. An inspection is a snapshot in time and does not reflect the attainment of a goal.

What is it that makes up the Performance Based Goal, if it is not the listing of tasks we have performed? How do we discuss what we have achieved when we have no way of proving what has been avoided, or what diseases have not occurred? Are we now dealing with writing fiction? The real question facing the EH&S professional is how do I prove that something did not occur because of an action I took or have not taken? This sounds on the surface like an impossible task, but when taken up with a process, it becomes a new opportunity for doing business for the EH&S professional. Even more important, it reflects our true worth to the organizations that pay our salaries.

What is the process? Past articles published in Occupational Health & Safety have discussed the importance of being a part of the strategic planning efforts of your organization; this move to Performance Based Goals makes that essential. In strategic planning, we first identify the values of the organization, then the vision and the key achievements necessary to make that vision occur. These are normally referred to as goals and objectives. It is in the values and vision that we have the greatest opportunity, by getting a value inserted into the plan related to injury or disease prevention and the opportunity of getting a phrase or sentence related to the mission of EH&S into the vision.

A real win would be to have a goal or objective related to EH&S goals inserted into the plan. However, this raises the visibility of your unit to a whole new level--one that is supervised by your organization's board of directors, the body to which your CEO answers. This is where courage comes into this process of PBGs; it is framed by what is referred to as accountability.

Writing the PBGs
So you have the courage and are willing to be held accountable. How, then, do you write Performance Based Goals?

Step 1: You start with assessment. What are your prime health and safety risks as identified by injuries, disease, and loss of productivity or potential of occurrence?

Step 2: Can you document the number of current injuries or diseases for which you will be developing Performance Based Goals? If so, proceed to step 5.

Step 3: If no numbers are available, can you develop a process to measure those injuries or diseases in the future? If so, go to step 4.

Step 4: Can you find past numbers in similar organizations or with efforts that are reasonably similar to your efforts? If so, extrapolate those numbers with documentation into your plan and proceed to step 6.

Step 5: In the absence of numbers or the potential for parallel extrapolations, you should discuss the issue with other EH&S professionals. Based on multiple inputs, develop an approximate (intelligent guess or extrapolation) number to reflect the current state of the problem. Proceed to step 6. (Note: Because you can do the action in step 3, subsequent years will provide you with needed information.)

Step 6: Based on your resources and capabilities, determine the degree of reduction in those numbers that your actions and efforts can realistically be expected to achieve. Proceed to step 7.

Step 7: Establish your Performance Based Goal using numbers of projected reductions in injury, disease, or incident probability.

The ideal Performance Based Goal will be worded in a way similar to the following: A reduction in (disease or injury) of 20 % (whatever reduction you feel is achievable) will be achieved by (date) through (describe process in as few words as possible), saving an estimated (money, work days, or lives).

You will also be asked to develop Key Performance Indicators to go with the goals. This is not something to panic about; they are simply quantifiable measurements, agreed to beforehand, that reflect the critical success factors (of the company, department, project). Key Performance Indicators--sometimes known as Key Success Indicators--help an organization define and measure progress toward organizational goals. Key Performance Indicators must be identified. They are true keys to organizational success because they hold people accountable.

The Performance Based Outcome is an expression of what has been saved by the goal in terms of money, work days lost, or lives saved by the action of the organization.

Through the process of expressing your outcomes in terms of "bottom lines," your input will be readily accepted by your organization. You will make your unit and activities more than just an expense to the board of directors and to the CEO of the organization. A place at the "table" will both be merited and likely achieved when future funding requests for preventive activities are submitted.

Do not underestimate the time and effort this mindset conversion requires, nor the care required to make such promises that you will be expected to keep.

This article appeared in the July 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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