News & Events

Why the Emphasis on Human Performance?


Author: Bob Crowley, Director of Business Development at Qualus Power Services

Human Performance is a belief that we are human, therefore we are all fallible. Think about how many minute errors you might make in a day; you misplaced your glasses, spilled coffee, spelling errors, miscommunication, etc. I think we can all agree that we could make a mistake at any time.

The electrical version of Human Performance started in the world of nuclear submarines, where an error in a submarine system in the depths of the ocean could have severe consequences. I am reminded of this today as a large naval military ship, the Bonhomme Richard, burns in the San Diego Harbor. This fire is expected to burn for days. Could you imagine if this ship were at sea?

The problem in the utility world is that human errors can become equally as drastic. For this reason, all companies who touch the electrical grid should have an ever-developing, ever-improving human performance program.

An effective human performance program, combined with an effective safety and quality program, delivers excellence in performance to our customers.

The goal of human performance is to become “event free”. This means unanticipated trips, miss-operations, alarms, etc. are mitigated or eliminated. I do believe it’s very important to understand that human performance success must be done intentionally, meaning we should train and plan to be successful. If we hope to eliminate human error, we must deliberately focus on human performance.

Excellence in human performance must employ a tightly structured tiered approach. This means all levels of any organization must embrace and execute HP at their assigned level.

Consider these levels of ownership:

Individual Employee – This is the employee in the field; Relay Engineer, Wireman, Electrician, etc. This individual must clearly understand and endorse a human performance plan. If the individual employee does not embrace human performance techniques, your program will not be successful. However, an employee that truly believes in making human performance part of their everyday work activities will propel your organization towards great success.

Leader – A Foreman, Supervisor, Manager, or someone in a leadership role who believes in human performance is crucial to a growing and ever-improving HP program. A leader who communicates and celebrates great human performance practices can lead their team to great success. When leaders observe and commend great behaviors, such as functional guidelines, well written test plans, proper barricading, equipment alteration logs, etc., you build a sense of pride in the employees you manage.  We all want to be recognized for doing good work. Make HP inspections intentional by asking an employee on a job site visit what their HP Plan is today.

Organization – Presidents, owners, Directors, and Managers are also important to human performance.  HP is not free as it requires an investment of time, energy, and resources that must be understood and embraced by leaders. If you want your crews to write effective trip check procedures and use peer checking, it takes time to prepare. If you want to effectively apply HP tools to a relay or control panel, it takes time. Effective top-down leadership will not only understand the importance of human performance, but will allow extra time and financial investments into the procedures that keep everyone safe.

As a transmission manager with almost 40 years in the utility industry, I can tell you through experience that companies who embrace and invest in human performance stand a greater chance of long term success. A company that does not value human performance can leave itself and valued employees vulnerable to mistakes and accidents.

I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback, as I am always open to discuss human performance particularly as it relates to the power industry.

Bob