How to Use Leading Indicators
Now that you know how useful leading indicators are, it’s time to learn how to use them.
While you can pick a handful of leading indicators and run with them, you’ll find more success in your safety program if you take a systematic approach. The Campbell Institute provides a beneficial, research-based implementation guide that any business can use as a handbook.
In this section, we’ll walk you through the process of adding leading indicators to your safety program.
Select Your Leading Indicators
The first step is the simplest, and it allows you to be creative. All it requires is for you to choose the leading indicators you think will make the most difference in your safety program.
The Campbell Institute calls this stage the “Define” stage. All it means is finding metrics that meet the OSHA definition above. If you’re still having trouble narrowing them down, consider using the eight characteristics developed by the Campbell Institute for robust leading indicators. You can ask:
- Is the leading indicator actionable?
Define Your Leading Indicators
Once you have your list of metrics, it’s time to define them as they apply to your organization. You want to have a standard approach to each piece of data, or you’ll face issues when it comes time to analyze it.
Add a definition, including parameters, of each leading indicator used to the relevant section of your safety program. You’ll return to these definitions when you face issues in determining data quality.
How to Collect Quality Data for Leading Indicators
With a system set up for your leading indicators, it’s time to talk about data — the information that powers your safety program.
By determining, defining, and setting out a pattern for analysis, you’re halfway ready to start running your program. However, you also need to acknowledge quality data. If your information isn’t any good, then your data won’t be either. And collecting information for leading indicators can be a real challenge for organizations that previously relied solely on lagging indicators.
Quality information is accurate and up-to-date: it’s not an estimate, guesstimate, or information collected after the fact. Your data needs to be valid and timely to be useful!
Because you’ll rely on all team members to collect data, you’ll need to reiterate the need for quality data and potentially take steps to ensure the data’s integrity.
Collecting data – and quality data – is a challenge for companies used to lagging indicators.
Identify Data Collection Barriers Before You Start
Your employees will need to work together to generate information for leading indicators. It’s vital not to overlook this part of the process because even one roadblock can damage your safety program’s integrity.
Some of the common challenges faced in data collection include:
- Practical difficulties in capturing data
- Intensive resource requirements
- Unclear definitions of metrics
- Inconsistent or untimely reporting
- Inconsistent formatting
These can all be dealt with through administrative and functional controls. For example, using safety management software can make formatting consistent regardless of who collects it. It also relieves some of the practical difficulties of data capture.
At the same time, there are cultural barriers that can equally damage your data collection system. In companies new to data collection or with safety programs designed to punish rather than protect, you might encounter difficulties like:
- Reluctance to compare data between teams
- Frustration with data collection workloads
- Fear of repercussions for reporting something less than ideal
You need to account for all potential barriers to data collection and create and test remedies before launching your data collection program.
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