By Robert L. Myrick, Jr., U.S. Army Combat Readiness CenterApril 17, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 17, 2018) - Whether intentional or not, every organization has a safety culture. With that said, here's something to consider: Is your organization's safety culture what is should be and, if not, what can you do to change it?
The Army Readiness Assessment Program offers a glimpse into an organization's safety climate and culture, affording leadership honest feedback from personnel assigned to the command. ARAP compiles the perceptions of the organizational climate with an emphasis on safety concerns. During fiscal year 2017, more than 869 organizations took the assessment, with 177,135 surveys submitted.
ARAP is mandatory for commanders and directors at the battalion and directorate level to survey their organization within the first 90 days of taking command and it is highly recommended they administer another survey at their mid-tour. They also have the option to survey their Soldiers annually.
What ARAP is telling us?
Seventy-five percent of Army fatalities occurred in battalions that scored in the bottom 50 percent of ARAP surveys. When further scrutinizing ARAP data, of 3,000 Soldiers who took the survey from February 2017 through February 2018, 53 percent think that leaders allow shortcuts. Additionally, 54 percent are not comfortable reporting safety violations, only 56 percent of the Soldiers think that violations of standards are rare and 59 percent believe peer pressure is effective at discouraging violations.
A common theme among ARAP respondents is their belief that their organization's command safety climate and culture has too many inconsistencies and changes to mission planning.
There's an overwhelming belief (Army wide) that no matter how many times a concern is raised or corrections are made, there's nothing that can be done about it.
It seems that through of the evolution of technology and the perception of ease of access, leaders and directors have the luxury of altering plans right up to the last minute. Often times, that's not the case. Even in today's world of high-speed technology, careful planning and deliberate collaboration are necessary for mission success.
Many Soldiers believe that sometimes their only option to accomplish the mission is to cut corners. There seems to be an implication that standards are not properly followed or adhered to, not solely because of carelessness, but due to the fact that if they were, the mission would never start.
Likert Scale question response
For each ARAP survey question, personnel have seven responses from which to choose: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, Strongly Agree, N/A and Don't Know.
The crux of this article delves into the following survey questions:
• My unit closely monitors skill and currency standards to ensure everyone is qualified to perform their missions.
• Unit leaders have been successful in knowing what people are the big risks to safety.
• My unit closely watches performance and corrects any failure to maintain established standards.
• Unit leaders allow cutting corners to get a job done.
• I am provided necessary resources (time, people, budget and equipment) to accomplish my job.
• I have enough time to prepare for my missions.
• Based upon my unit's personnel and other resources, the unit is stretched too thin.
• Our unit leaders and supervisors can be trusted.
• Unit commanders set the example for compliance on standards.
• My unit provides enough supervision during missions to catch possible human errors.
Two of the questions from the survey allow personnel to elaborate upon their responses in writing, addressing the previous questions above are happening around them.
• The most hazardous thing I do is …
• The most significant action(s) my unit can take to improve safety is/are …
Why would someone cut corners?
Cutting corners is a means of circumventing a prescribed process. Some individuals mistakenly view procedural tasks as cumbersome with steps that can be bypassed without resulting in loss of efficiency or safety. The problem is those same individuals may not be fully aware of why a procedure was written the way it is because many times they are "written in stone" (e.g., written in response to an adverse incident to avert recurrence).
After reviewing various ARAP comments, it's easy to surmise that cutting corners can be initiated and condoned by individuals and/or organizations (leadership).
When initiated by an individual, corner-cutting rationale may include:
• Poor attitude ("I know a better way" or "I don't care …")
• Lack of skill or experience
• Short personnel for the mission or task
• Rushing to complete a job
When initiated at the organizational level, the justification could be:
• Mission is more important than worrying about doing it safely
• Perceived or actual pressure from leader or supervisors to complete a specific task ("Just get it done")
• Organizational climate ignores cutting corners (that's the way we do things here)
• Unit is overtasked
When cutting corners becomes routine, it's understandable a newcomer would perceive the process as, "That's the way it's always been done here." In other words, the practice becomes the rule rather than the exception. While conducting on-the-job training (OJT), routinely cutting corners is a recipe for disaster.
Here are some poignant questions to ask yourself when you suspect your organization's safety culture is sub-par: Is cutting corners condoned by unit leadership? Do leaders turn a blind eye to accomplish tasks? Then, if something goes wrong, who is responsible? Is it leadership, the supervisor or the individual?
In other words, could this be a setup for the individual who thought he or she was doing what the leadership really wanted them to do? Along the same lines, are units in a similar situation by higher headquarters? If an organization or directorate routinely cuts corners to accomplish the mission, is that an indicator of overtasking.
• Do you have an accurate perception of the amount of corner cutting occurring in your organization or directorate?
• How does your organization or directorate monitor and correct those who cut corners?
• Do individuals in your organization or directorate have the opportunity to raise a red flag without fear of criticism or retribution?
• Do leaders and supervisors train to standard, educate personnel to the book or policy standards and enforce not cutting corners?
• Does the organization or directorate boost morale via incentives to "safety goal achievers" for the culture to change?
Cutting corners can be an individual or organization and directorate issue. Either way, it's asking for trouble. Instead, individuals or units should seek clarification for the procedures from competent authorities, then submit recommended changes if the procedural steps are incorrect or can be simplified.