Productivity and Quality – The “Two-Sided Triangle”

A national survey of 30 of Australia’s top companies (including car makers, insurance offices, oil refineries and computer marketers) found that:

… the majority of middle level managers oppose work practices that would improve quality. While senior management is keen to improve quality, middle management often resents having to bear most of the burden of implementing it.

While senior management gets excited about new quality measures … the improvements usually mean an increased workload and responsibility for the people in the middle. Senior management impose this without giving any thought improved support backup for the people who have to implement the changes.

The study found that 78% of the group saw no personal advantage in changes to work practices which enhanced services to customers.

Less than 10 % of middle managers saw improved career opportunities because of quality service initiatives and 63% said they already had a significant workload. Significantly, 86% believed they did not have enough staff, resources, authority or time to effectively maintain the standard of quality service sought by their bosses.

Two conclusions follow:

  1. The technical requirements of OHS – to identify, assess and control hazards and risks in the workplace – often attract the same resistance. OHS is seen to be too hard, generating the typical response “I’m not the expert – what do I know about making the workplace safe?”
  2. If there is any fact or reality in the above findings of the study, no wonder quality improvement programs are so hard to sell.

Yet, in OHS improvements, an individual can see there is something which is to his or her personal benefit. Indeed, the most effective way to encourage and motivate managers and their employees to improve quality and productivity in their organisation, is to allow them to do something to benefit themselves. The issue of workplace safety is the vehicle to allow this to happen – it becomes the window to the organisation. The same concept applies to the broader issues of organisation development and restructure.

But we have to be prepared to take the broader view. As former Trade Union boss John Halfpenny once said:

“It is a mistake to treat workplace health and safety as a separate issue from broader questions of management practices and productivity. It is our (ie the trade union’s) belief that a lack of imagination, excessive secrecy and a one-dimensional approach by management lies behind the decades of inaction on occupational health and safety.”

So at OSHA we talk about the 2-sided triangle. Here’s why.

  1. 1  When senior management say ‘we’ need to improve productivity, often middle managers and workers perceive this as them ‘working harder and smarter for the benefit of …. the company’. Hmm? Why – presumably if the company is more productive it is more profitable, and that ought to mean our jobs are more secure. Hmm!
  2. 2  When senior management say ‘we’ need to improve quality, often middle managers and workers perceive this as them ‘working harder and smarter for the benefit of …. the customer’. Hmm? Why – presumably if the customers are happier with standards of quality, they will come back for more, so the company will be more profitable, and that ought to mean our jobs are more secure. Hmm!

But often the covert question being asked is “What’s in this for me?”
It’s almost like we have two sides of the triangle!
Yet when we talk to people at all levels in an organisation about their health

and safety, automatically we are talking about an issue of significance and importance to them! And we are yet to find an issue that improves standards of health and safety that does not automatically improve both productivity and quality outcomes. Benefits flow FROM health and safety to productivity and quality – but not (often) the other way. Hence health and safety not only completes the triangle, but is a necessary pre- condition.

Safety and health improvements present a significant opportunity to do things better and to add value to the organisation. If management is willing to take safety seriously, people are keen to listen. The improvements in safety allow everyone to win. Health and Safety is the ultimate “win-win” issue!

OHS is in everyone’s’ best interests.

In working towards improving standards of workplace safety and health – which directly benefited the employees – the organisation can automatically reap the benefits of improved quality and productivity.

Indeed, safety can become the ‘glue’ that binds the quality and productivity programs together.