Update from the 9th Global Congress on Process Safety

I recently attended the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Spring Meeting and the 9th Global Congress on Process Safety in San Antonio, TX. About 2000 people attended this Conference. A lot of papers discussed the need to improve the safety cultures of our organizations. Others talked about the big safety challenges as the global demand for energy rises, as gas import terminals are converted to export terminals, the challenges of the complex technologies that are being developed and the difficulties of getting everyone, in big and small companies, up to speed and staying abreast of the exploding knowledge.

There were a number of papers on the Management of Change Processes and the more recently recognized Management of Organizational Change. These change process require skill, discipline and persistence to do all that is necessary. These Management of Change processes are a big challenge for the larger companies because of their complexity.

These are even more difficult challenges to smaller companies:

  • Many are privately owned
  • People function in multiple roles
  • There are not enough people to do everything
  • Money is limited
  • Information is often informally shared
  • Rapid decision making is common
  • They are unique and flexible.

All the papers I attended treated safety, its culture and the Management of Change as complicated problems; this is a big barrier. Complicated problems like an assembly line use linear processes; as each, in-specification part, arrives and is put into the assembly, a new product is successfully produced. Our training programs are linear in nature where each step is presented in sequence and the final result is a new skill that is to be used.

One author showed the Management of Change Process he was presenting as a sequence of 8 steps to be done one after the other with no feedback being shown. The presumption being that if each step is done correctly then things will be just fine. But usually things are not quite right, people forget, information gets misunderstood or lost, people don’t follow through as they are expected to do, so we have to train them again. This is all very hard and inefficient.

The linear tools of complicatedness are not the right ones to be using because the systems are complex systems.

Safety culture and the Management of Change are complex processes. The tools of complexity must be used. When we shift the way that we engage with each other, everything changes. The Self-Organizing Leadership© process is a tool of complexity. Information needs to be shared freely, trust and interdependence built and people need to see how they and their work are a part of the larger whole. These tools are vital to make the transition from complexity theory to practical application. The most important tool is the Process Enneagram©. It is the only known tool that helps people to solve complex problems, make the social connections they need to do the work and releases the emotional energy and commitment to do the work quickly and well. Beverly G. McCarter and Brian E. White write on p. 152 of their 2013 book, Leadership in Chaordic Organizations, ISBN 978-1-4200-7417-8, that “Richard Knowles’ Process Enneagram seems to be the missing link between complexity theory and practical application.”

When the tools of complexity are used all the processes of change become easier and move more quickly. People co-create their future. Resistance to change almost disappears. The changes are more focused, relevant and comprehensive. While the system is full of ambiguity and feedback making things richer and more comprehensive, the on-going dialogue serves to bring things together. As information is fully shared and trust and interdependence are built, the people come together co-creating their shared future and accomplishing their goals. The whole system becomes more coherent and effective.

Richard N Knowles, Ph.D., The Safety Sage

About Richard N. Knowles

© Richard N. Knowles and Safety Sage Blog, 2014. You may use this article on your blog, website or in your newsletter or magazine, provided that full and clear credit is given to author, Richard N Knowles, Ph.D of Safety Excellence for Business with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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