March 30, 2011 | Ken Reed

Root Cause Tip: Rewarding Your Root Cause Investigators

We often hear discussions about how to change the culture of a company, or influence the behavior of employees, by changing the rewards systems.  We all recognize how people are rewarded for their actions (both good and bad!) strongly influence the quality of work of those employees.

But one thing we don’t talk much about concerns our investigating teams:

How do companies work to influence the quality of the results from our root cause investigation teams?

This seems like a funny question.  “Of course my investigation teams want to do the best job they can.  Why are we talking about this?”  And yet, why would our teams be motivated to do this?  See if this situation sounds familiar.  An incident has occurred at your facility, and you assign one of your TapRooT®-trained engineers to lead the investigation.

  • Now that your engineer is assigned to this investigation, he has more work to do on top of his normal job.  This engineer is evaluated on the status and quality of his engineering projects, not his extra projects.  No extra time is assigned to the engineer; he is just expected to perform a good investigation in addition to his normal job.  Why would he be motivated to put any real effort into the conduct of the investigation?
  • The engineer needs resources to conduct the investigation.  He is not assigned any particular space or assistants.  He is expected to find work space, helpers, etc. on his own.  Again, why should he be happy about this new assignment?
  • He must now present the results of his investigation to his management team.  Those results are likely to include some results that are critical of some management policies or strategies.  Why would this engineer be happy that he has to stand up in front of his managers and explain why they made mistakes?  Especially if some of those managers are the same people who will be evaluating him on the quality of his engineering work?

These problems often come up because we have failed to address the proper motivation of our investigation teams.  We just assume that they will be happy to fix problems, and although that may sometimes happen, that should not be taken for granted.  Just like management should give serious thought to how to properly motivate their workforce to do quality work, management should also closely assess how they are motivating their investigators to perform quality investigations.  Your reward program is a good place to start.

There are 4 actions that management should take:

1.  Get an investigation peer review process in place
By having a good peer review process, you can ensure that any problems or questions about the investigation are covered during the peer review.  Once the investigation is then submitted to management, it has the backing of the review group.  The possibilities of a bad management review are reduced, and the chances of a “job well done” are increased.

2.  Get an investigation reward program in place
Try some of these:
– Truly heartfelt “thanks” from management are extremely important
– Annual lunch (on company time!), where senior management (CEO, VP, etc.) thanks the investigation teams for their work
– Rewards, such as advanced training and conference attendance
– Career advancement that takes investigation performance into account

3.  Provide your people with the time they need to perform investigations
Time must be allocated for the investigation.  Some options:
– Have a dedicated investigation team, whose only job is incident investigations
– Have investigators from the front line, but dedicate a fraction of their weekly time to investigation team attendance
– Relieve people of their normal duties when they are assigned to an investigation team

4.  Avoid needlessly grilling investigators during management presentations
It is important that management understand the process and the results of an investigation, but the presentation should not be an “us versus them” affair.  Managers should question the results, but mainly to ensure that the investigation was complete.  If management understands the process, they should know how the results were obtained.  Any results that point toward management improvement opportunities should not be viewed as a condemnation of individual managers, but rather as an opportunity to improve those areas that mangers have control over.  Don’t grill the team in public.  This isn’t the time to try to look smart or embarrass other managers in front of their bosses.

By designing your rewards program in such a way as to encourage your investigators to be motivated to perform solid investigations, you find yourself getting the most out of your teams.  The process will lead you where you need to go.  Allow your teams the latitude and resources to use the system correctly.

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