Goal Setting in Safety is Easy

You would think that setting goals in safety would be difficult after hearing academics twist themselves in linguistic knots over zero (https://safetyrisk.net/since-when-did-zero-become-a-science/ ). But, setting goals for safety doesn’t have to be a linguistic gymnastic conundrum. I have written about the psychology of goals before:

The foundation of goals setting is helped by a simple semiotic we use in SPoR (see Figure 1. Higher, Middle and Lower-Order Goals)

Figure 1. Higher, Middle and Lower-Order Goals

All of the tools and methods we use in SPoR are well documented here: https://www.humandymensions.com/product/spor-and-semiotics/

You can study these methods and earn the right to access their IP by studying SPoR. You can register for a learning module in SPoR scheduled in 2024 with Matt Thorne here: matthew@riskdiversity.com.au

Matt Thorne will also be touring the USA in 2024 if any groups would like to book Matt for a SPoR presentation.

The best way to trip yourself up about goal setting is to anchor goal thinking to numerics and measurement. Such goals are lower-order goals. They are called ‘lower-order’ because they have little importance to persons. Unfortunately, these are the goals that Safety privileges over all other goals and this comes from the assumption that injury and harm define safety. This is the kind of nonsense you get conned by the Heidrich mythology (https://safetyrisk.net/deconstructing-the-myth-of-heinrich/).


What this view doesn’t understand is that ‘the matters that count the most, can’t be counted’. These are middle-order and higher-order goals.

When you hear in safety this nonsense comment that, ‘there is only one moral goal than zero’ or ‘zero is the only moral goal’, you know the commentator has no expertise in goal setting. When you hear that a numeric goal should be made paramount in an organisation you know that the commentator has no idea of the psychology and order of goals. Similarly, no expertise in the psychology of motivation.

There is a very good reason why goal setting needs to be SMART (https://www.mindtools.com/a4wo118/smart-goals). Setting unachievable goals is NOT SMART.

The most powerful goals and strategies for ethical conduct in safety are NOT numeric goals.

The place to start with ethical goal setting is with human persons NOT data! (Hasselbach, G., (2021) Data Ethics of Power, A Human Approach in the Big Data and AI Era)

The best goals in safety are those goals that engender: trust, respect, relationship, self-regulation, humility, benevolence, justice, autonomy, community, non-maleficence, beneficence and moral mutuality. If you set goals in this higher-order space then the numerics of zero and the ideology of the zero-cult get put in proper perspective.

The most important thing in safety is to keep away from measurement goals. Be silent on lower-order goals. For example, in Mondi Group (a large global forestry, packaging company), their goal is to ‘work safe, home safe’ every day. This is complemented by a range of higher-order goals that foster: respect, mutuality, positive community and self- regulation. Since Mondi jettisoned zero, safety improved (https://safetyrisk.net/moving-away-from-zero-so-that-safety-improves/).

Keeping away from numeric goals helps foster maturity in leadership and organisational strategy. In this way, safety is defined by how much it humanises persons in tackling risk.

It should not be difficult to set moral goals that enable the upbuilding of persons so that they can self-regulate the risk they face together on a daily basis.

It should not be difficult to create a self-regulating community of workers that share with each other about the risks they face each day.

Throwing a number at workers as if that is inspiring or motivational is nonsense. This is confirmed by our zero survey that shows that the majority of people in safety do NOT believe in zero and believe it is fundamentally unethical (https://safetyrisk.net/update-on-zero-survey-just-believe/).

It is also demonstrated by any credible research into the Psychology of Goals:

  • Brown, (2020) The Psychology of Motivation.
  • Deci, (1995) Why We Do What We Do, Understanding Self-Motivation.
  • Deci, (1976) Intrinsic Motivation.
  • Gagne, (2014) The Oxford Handbook on Work Engagement, Motivation and Self-Determination Theory.
  • Gelperin, (2017) Addiction, Procrastination, and Laziness: A Proactive Guide to the Psychology of Motivation.
  • Hall & Goetz, (2013) Emotion, Motivation and Self-Regulation: A Handbook for Teachers.
  • Moskowitz & Grant, (2009) Psychology of Goals.
  • Ross, (2009) The Psychology of Learning and Motivation.
  • Ryan, (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation.
  • Waitley, (1997) The Psychology of Motivation.

And, there is so much more. One thing you can be sure of, none of these texts will be on any curriculum in safety. And, certainly not in the curriculum at the so called ‘Safety Science Innovation Lab’.

The psychology of: motivation, self-regulation, learning, emotion and goal setting ought to be 101 for any safety person.

Surely if you wanted to motivate people to be safe and motivate people to learn, you would be well studied in all matters of the psychology of learning and motivation. Apparently not. Just believe in zero and thou shalt be saved (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/zero-the-great-safety-delusion/).

If you want to study the psychology of goals, motivation and learning you can study here: https://cllr.com.au/register-to-study/

In SPoR, learning and motivation are paramount. All modules are positive, constructive, practical and supported by tools and methods that work (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/it-works-a-new-approach-to-risk-and-safety-book-for-free-download/). All modules focus on humanising persons in the practicing of safety and, in moral methods that empower persons to tackle risk.


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