You might notice something different about this episode.  It’s kind of a surprise.  Different is good, different is learning, and learning is performance.   I’ll reveal all a little later.

 

Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap.
 
Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way.  Welcome to you, you’re in the right place.  If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course, welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.
 
Technology is great, and I would know:
 – it’s helping me right now turn my thoughts into digital words, which are easily edited to create the final podcast output

 

 – it’s what enables a conversation between me and my guest across the city or across the globe and to send files and have a dialogue with my production team members in other countries

 

 – it enables the digital pen I use on my touch screen tablet to hand draw my reflection notes on each interview which I share with you using PDF encoding and cloud hosting

 

 – it’s helping you listen to this right now, giving you audio content, easily accessible, on-demand, right into your ears using beautiful quality tiny stereo speakers in your smartphone, or maybe using Bluetooth to your car stereo, or headphones tucked comfortably into your ears.

 

So here is the surprise – are you ready?

 

Wait for it!
The voice you hear is not Andrew Barrett.  This is a robot, an accessibility device which reads text for people with vision impairment.

 

Some of you may have been fooled, and if you feel that way I’m sorry, it’s all for a good reason.  Most of you might have realised it wasn’t me.
 
But it was me, kind of.  This is my words.  I created this podcast, the idea, the flow, the linkage of ideas, the words, and audio features all while I was sitting in seat 8F flying to Auckland.
 
How much of this podcast is me, and how much isn’t? When you heard, near the beginning of the podcast “Technology is great, and I would know”, said in the first person, was that Andrew Barrett saying that, or was that the voice robot? Or was it both?
 
Producing a podcast, especially a curated podcast with a huge variety of guest interviews, is an enormous task.  It requires human vision, human skills to curate and then edit it.  It doesn’t require a human to book the interview, to get a quality audio connection between the guest and me.  It doesn’t require me to contact all of you individually to let you know a new episode is out, we have RSS and iTunes and emails for that.
 
So what makes this podcast so great? I’ll tell you some of what listeners like you have told me.
Listeners like you have told me I am their company, on the train, in the gym, walking the dog.
Listeners like you meet me for the first time, practical strangers, and ask about my family, a specific situation I’ve shared if I’m feeling better because my voice sounded a little sick in a recent episode.
Listeners like you have said I’ve changed you, I’ve made you a better professional.
Listeners like you have asked me to do shorter episodes, to speak slower, to open my mouth more, to listen more and stop interrupting my guests.
Listeners like you have offered introductions to other humans, who they want to hear on the podcast and think other listeners like you would too.
 
Listeners like you have described me as a virtual member of their team when the leader plays a podcast in a team meeting to stimulate discussion and reflection amongst the team.
One listener has described me as a professional hero, which was both hugely surprising and infinitely humbling.
 
Only animals like humans learn, machines don’t actually learn (despite the terms like machine learning, and artificial intelligence, which is ironic given that machines are neither artificial nor intelligent).
This might all sound like this is all about me.  It’s not.  Every one of those examples, only came about because of me AND you, because of a kind, generous, personal feedback from listeners like you.
It seems like this podcast is effective because it is a LOT of humans.
 
I want you to have your eyes open when it comes to the use of technology in your work.  It seems more and more that safety involves technology – whether that is new materials, engineering controls, data collection, and reporting, database systems, digitisation of records, the list goes on.  I have both designed and implemented my fair share of IT projects in health and safety roles.
If you’ve heard episode 94, I talked about the difference between Safety Work, and the Safety of Work.  These are superb academically rigorous concepts developed by previous guests and Safety on Tap friends Drew Rae and Dave Provan.  Lots of the technology out there contributes to the safety of work, which is great.  But a lot is what they would call ‘safety work’, which isn’t clearly connected with actual safety.
 
How much human do you need to be effective?
 
Stephen Covey talks about being effective as different from efficient. You can be efficient all day long, which may be simply doing the wrong things right.  Effectiveness is doing the right things, doing the things that will help you and the people you serve get to where they want to go, to create the future you and they seek.
Would this podcast be efficient if I used a robot to voice reflective episodes like this? Yes.  Could I get a robot to have an interview with my guests? Absolutely that is technically feasible.  But what we gain in efficiency, we often lose ineffectiveness.  I don’t think as many of you would listen, or as much, if this was Safety on Tap brought to you by Andrew the Bot (in fact, the bots name is Lee).  Maybe that would be a deal-breaker for you.  I’d like to think so.
 
So thinking about your work, your organisation.  It might make sense to digitise the collection of incident and hazard and audit findings data.  It might seem super logical to program software to trigger certain actions like sending an email notification of an action with a due date for a manager and have those actions rolled up into reports for senior managers.  Scientific management at it’s best, the production line of safety management.
 
But will this help you and your organisation be more effective? It has become apparent to me over time, rather unsurprisingly as it turns out, that much of my work and in turn, my effectiveness comes from helping others crank up the dial on human, which in some cases goes hand in hand with turning down the dial on technology, to improve performance.
 
I remember setting up a particular workflow for an audit management module of a software system quite a while ago.  The first release included assignment of audit actions to responsible managers.  An auditor would enter their findings into the system.  Another person would define corrective actions against these findings, in the system.  Actions would be assigned to responsible managers, who the system knew because they had certain roles assigned in our enterprise HR system.  Notifications go out to these managers that the have an action.
Time came for the second release.  We reviewed the data – there were actions piling up like a multi-car crash on the highway.  We were creating a digital trail of inaction.  We looked at the system.  Amongst lots of other changes, we tweaked the email notifications, increased the frequency of reminders, and shortened the time when those actions were escalated to the one-up manager.
 
Do you think we got better as a result? No way.  The technology narrowed our field of view, like blinkers on a racehorse.  We ploughed good time and money after bad into the growing sunk costs of this system, and audit was only one module of it.
 
We didn’t just turn the dial down on human, we forgot the human.  We traded efficiency for effectiveness.  The system rewarded people spending more time behind screens driving this technology master, which disincentivized human connections.  Gone were the conversations between auditor and action creators.  Gone was the context, the sensemaking.  Gone were the interactions required to understand the nuances of who was responsible for those actions, and the importance of their input to creation of the actions.  Human was gone.
So I’ll ask you again, how much human do you need to be effective? I actually have a very clear, and universal answer for you no matter your situation or the context, which is rare for me to be so convinced of something, so confident in my assertion.
 
How much human do you need to be effective? More.
 
The answer is always, more human.
 
Don’t forget to send me an email too, not just if you enjoy an episode, but if you’ve changed because of an episode.  andrew@safetyontap.com
 
Thanks so much for listening.  Until next time, what’s the one thing you’ll do to take positive, effective or rewarding action, to grow yourself, and drastically improve health and safety along the way? Seeya!
 
 

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