Case Studies on Utilizing Human Factors Technologies to Drive Performance Improvements

The Challenge:

There is an increasing need to raise the level of Inspector and CM performance as a result of:

• Large replacement projects due to aging pipelines

• Competition for talent in an environment with increasingly congested underground substructures

• Increasing regulatory oversight due to incidents resulting in broadening demands for documentable and verifiable field records and a need for degrees of separation of observation data

A 2019 survey of 25 gas operating companies reveals the following highlights:

Ranked order of challenges with inspector workforce• Capacity, capabilities and training are the biggest needs.

• On average, 20% of staff will be replaced and 25% will be added over the next two years resulting in a 45% need.

• The cost of a new hire is significant – internal training, reviews, etc.

• A retaining strategy is necessary as year-round work is very common.

• A higher level of leadership and communication is required.

Having inspectors and construction supervisors on the front line with a focus on the following human factors is the best way to achieve high performance and reliability:

Identification and Selection – Behavioral analytics and benchmarking exists that can consistently predict how someone will perform based upon how they think relative to a “high performer.”

Training Behaviors – Scenario-based training, utilizing the equation Event + Response = Outcomes, prepares frontline leaders to respond under pressure.

Motivation – Inspectors desire support. Treating them as valued team members by providing transparency results in attracting candidates who are accountable.

Communications Technology – Now we communicate with a platform of pre-qualified professionals who can be selected based on the best fit.

Typically, managers spend most of their time with “C” performers trying to correct poor performance. Figure 2 shows that by understanding how top–performing frontline leaders think, we can select those professionals who have the potential to perform at a high level and focus our time with “A” and “B” performers.

The best way to demonstrate how human factors are applied is through case studies and lessons learned. In these case studies, human factors were utilized to elevate inspection team performance and reliability, producing more predictable and measurable outcomes.

CASE STUDY #1:

This client has grown their inspection team over the past five years to provide oversight during their Leak Prone Pipeline replacement projects. Recently, they decided to focus on improving the overall performance of their 20 third-party inspectors, in response to increasing PUC requirements and a perceived lack of transparency and accountability.

Utilizing behavioral assessment tools, we identified the critical behaviors for this position within this company as “Theoretical” and “Regulatory”. The people who best perform in this role are those who are highly theoretical, love to learn, and hold themselves and others accountable.

Over 400 candidates were considered and 50% took the assessment. The selected inspectors had a Regulatory score range of 58-83 as compared to the average assessment of 34. Theoretical scores ranged between 66-83 as compared to the average assessment of 42.

Four factors were used to determine a candidate’s fit:

• Technical knowledge – what relevant experience and certificates do they have?

• Assessment of how they think – do they think like a top performer in this position?

• Feedback on performance – how do previous employers score performance relative to established key performance indicators?

• Team fit – do they fit the company culture?

Given this client’s desire to have inspectors who are committed to 5+ years of employment, we accepted a lower technical score and focused more on candidates who are a team fit. Their comfort level living and working in the region for this company was a primary driver in the selection process. It is also important to define how pay rates are determined and adjusted over time, and the plan is consistent and transparent.

We established standard Key Performance Indicators (KPI) based on a broad range of responsibilities for inspectors, to measure their performance and provide feedback. In general, we find that most clients, due to the increasing demands on inspectors, are supporting their inspectors with others, therefore the KPIs can be adjusted to fit a role.

Measuring the success of the inspection team is not always intuitive and needs to be quantified. Many factors should be considered when determining the measures of success. What are regulators looking for? What can the inspection team control and influence? What measurements help determine areas of improvement? Should all results be measured or just negative ones? Which measurements are predictive? Once a measurement is selected, it is important to automate data collection for when everyone is busy. Automation allows data to be evaluated for non-intuitive factors as well.

CASE STUDY #2

This client wanted to build a new inspection team in response to poor performing contractors, increasing workload, and regulatory oversight.

Utilizing behavioral assessment tools, we concluded that the critical attributes for this position within this company were “Empathy” and “Practical Thinking.” Over 400 candidates were considered and 50% took the assessment. The average scores of those selected were Empathy 8.7 and Practical Thinking 8.4. These compare to an average score of 6 for the baseline assessment population. The candidates selected possess superior leadership qualities and the ability to read people.

We needed to understand what the reputation of the owner was, how other employers in the market treat similar employees (work hours, pay, etc.), and how many qualified candidates existed in the market. In this case, the market factors worked for us, allowing us to hire very strong candidates. Ninety percent of the candidates offered positions with our client accepted.

The leader of this team involved managers in the process. Once candidates were vetted using the platform and known requirements, managers were engaged in the phone and face-to-face interviews to rapidly achieve clarity about the “fit” management desired.

During the onboarding process expectations must align with what has been promised and reality. There must be a common understanding between the new hire and the manager regarding the chain of command, the goals of the organization, how performance will be judged using KPIs, assessments including strengths and blinds spots, and how to respond to critical events. This understanding leads to a more rapid integration and likelihood of success.

Conclusion:

We contrasted the survey results to the results we experienced and found:

Identification and selection – Utilizing an assessment tool along with an established benchmark for high performance is the best predictor of success. This builds on the concept that “people first” is always a priority when building high performance teams.

Development – The use of IDPs along with daily report feedback is the best to ensure success.

Retention – The use of wage adjustment for performance, along with coaching, is the best way to build retention.

Measuring Success – Having KPIs established, understood and utilized is the best leading indicator of success. Retention is the best lagging indicator of success.

The lessons learned from our work with gas industry clients indicate that now is the time to take advantage of human factors technologies to elevate performance and reliability and produce more predictable results. Remember, the order is always People, Process, and then Tools.

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Dan Lorenz P.E., is Founder and president of Joe Knows Energy, a staffing, recruiting and consulting service for the utility industry. Dan has over 30 years leading construction, training and inspection services companies. To find out more, visit joeknowsenergy.com or contact dan@joeknowsenergy.com.

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