This is a recent conversation I had with a Safety Director of a large manufacturing company.


Tell me a little about your safety operation. Do you guys do weekly audits or incident tracking. Maybe a spreadsheet of near-misses?

Safety Director:

Um… we don’t do any of that. We only keep records of accidents. And frankly that’s why I’m talking to you. I’m hoping you can help me make us more proactive rather than reactive.

This is a conversation I’ve had with so many people who are perpetually stuck in reaction mode, or as we call it “putting out fires”. This is not exclusive to safety teams of course, the operations side of business is just as susceptible to this type of mindset. So how do you get ahead of the wave and start being more proactive within your company today? Keep reading for a clear plan.

Step 1 - Collect the RIGHT Data

Collecting data on your business is important, but it is also costly. Many businesses sturggle to find the balance betweeen cost effectiveness and value when it comes to data. Maybe it's time to ask yourself if you are collecting the right data. Serious problems will be created if you waste time collecting too little or too much data. In both situations the data becomes overwhelming, irrelevant, or impossible to relate strategically to your business. The adage "It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question" is relevant because collecting the right data means you are asking important questions. Making sure that the data you are collecting is aimed at answering a specific and important question will guarantee it is worth the cost of collecting it.

Step 2 - Isolate KPIs

Once you have identified the question you are asking of your business, it's time to identify a few of Key Perfromance Indicators that are relevant to the answer. KPIs have a way of getting out of hand, so keep them simple and directly related to the goal. It is also important to limit yourself to just a few, because it becomes increasingly difficult to see how the KPIs relate to each other the more you have. Isolating your KPIs is also a great way to figure out what data you want to collect. Once the KPIs are defined you can work your way backwards to the data. A few examples:

Unsafe Areas of a Job Site

You don’t really know which area of a job site is more susceptible to workplace accidents. So you assign a predefined set of “areas” to each job site and ask your safety team to start entering an area when an issue is recorded. This will lead to better resources and education for your team on which areas of the job site are more dangerous than others.

Time per Part

If you want to know more exact times for how long it takes to manufacture a part, start collecting the start time and end time for each step in that part’s manufacturing process. Compile those times and you’ll be able to track efficiency.

The goal is to only collect the data that you absolutely must collect to calculate your KPI’s and remove everything else. Take a hard look at what you are asking your staff to collect and make sure you aren’t requiring too much busy work.

Step 3 - Leading Indicators

Now that you are collecting a defined set of data you can start looking for indicators of problem areas.

Within the past month there have been 6 reports of team members slipping and falling on a oily spot on the loading dock:

  • Is one of your forklifts leaking oil?
  • Is a delivery drivers spilling oil during a pre-trip inspection?
  • Has someone failed to reorder Oil-Dry for the loading dock?

If you notice that Mill #3 in the machine shop is often down you can take a closer look:

  • Is it an old mill that needs to be replaced?
  • Is the mill not being operated properly?
  • Are you manufacturing a particularly difficult part on that mill?

With a small set of data correlated to specific KPIs you will quickly identify problem areas.

Step 4 - Solve the Problems and Win

With your intimate knowledge about your business you will quickly address problems that arise once they are identified. After following these steps a few times you will realize the most difficult step is #1, asking the right question to get the right data. Once that step is accomplished it is simply a matter of defining the KPIs and seeing the results. Then you have a chance to be proactive and fix problem areas before they become crisis areas. Welcome the data-driven world of being proactive.


Being in reactive mode feels terrible, so what can you do today to be more proactive? Let me know, I would love to hear about it.