Monthly Archives: October 2014

The right people in the right place

Britain has one of the safest rail transport systems in Europe but there is still room for improvement. Mary Clarke takes a look at the human element.

The Annual Safety Performance report 2013/14 released in July by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) revealed that a record number of the public were killed on Britain’s railways last year, and 293 trains went through red lights and signals.


The report said that 300 people were killed, either by taking their own lives or from accessing areas out of bounds. There were also 293 signals passed at danger last year, 43 more than the year before. While suicides are impossible for rail companies to safeguard against, errors made by front line staff shouldn’t be happening.

The risks involved in trains going through a red light are all too clear. Such incidents could cause crashes and derailments and lead to serious injuries and even deaths. The boss of Network Rail, Mark Carne, has said he wants to make the network safer and his predecessor Sir David Higgins also regularly said that safety came first in everything he did on the network.

Reducing risks on the rail network

But what exactly can be done to improve rail safety, especially as more trains are running and passengers numbers are growing?

One of the key things is ensuring rail employees are competent in their roles and comply with regulations at all times. Organisations operating in high risk industries with a mobile, disparate or fluid workforce are often frustrated by the inability to identify individual employees who are currently qualified, licenced or capable of carrying out a given task or operation.


Holding a record of employee certificates and licences is not enough when you need to be confident that the people you select today are currently qualified, licenced and trained and will work or deliver in the way you need them to.

For those operating in regulated industries like rail, the ability to prove compliance and competence of each individual at a specific time and date, is critical in meeting industry standards and also in reducing the significant cost, time and resource involved in any incident related litigation or enquiry.


Tackling human error
Over the past ten years investigations into major rail accidents have highlighted human performance as a contributory factor. Misunderstanding or employee error can result in safety breaches that cause injury and death. Driving through a red light is likely to be a result of human error, and before rail companies can prevent such incidents they need to identify why they are happening.

It could be an error of judgement, a lack of knowledge, a lapse in concentration, even possibly intentionally – as can happen on the roads where someone feels they have just enough time to get through a red light. Rail bosses need a better understanding of their employees and their likely behaviour on the job.


All rail companies must have formal competency management systems in place to maintain and assess the competence of operators responsible for safety critical work and ensure front line workforces are monitored and assessed.

Maintaining a consistently competent workforce is crucial to reduce exposure to risk of serious incidents and help to identify gaps and issues in current workforce competence or qualification. Such systems identify currently qualified staff regardless of their location and can rapidly build and deploy new teams with the right skills and experience.


These systems also offers visibility of upcoming assessments or licensing requirements, essential for ensuring that the organisation is compliant with industry regulations.

Network Rail and Eurostar

We have been working with both Network Rail and Eurostar for several years to implement penetrative situational judgement assessments, and our competency management system, my*KNOW, not only provides them with a unique insight into their employees’ competencies but also their skills, knowledge and confidence. The system allows for different elements such as observation, training intervention and assessment, maybe even allocation of self-evidence of a competency to be recorded, audited and reported on.

An assessment provides insight not only into how knowledgeable a person is but how they might act when performing their jobs and the decisions they might make at work by asking employees a series of multiple response questions based on common on the job scenarios. The results reveal a heat map of the strengths and weaknesses the individual has in relation to their role. It highlights knowledge gaps, but more importantly the confidence factor shows which areas might be an issue or pose a risk. The more confident they are the more likely they are to carry out that decision. If the subsequent knowledge is poor this is potentially a high risk.


The key objective for Network Rail was to minimise risk, to ensure that only competent people carry out safety critical and safety-related work, and to comply with the requirements placed upon them most notably in line with the ORR (Office of Rail Regulation). They needed a formal competency management solution to maintain and assess the competence of operators responsible for safety critical work, and for managers to have an up to date competence record and schedule, training needs, progress and performance of every individual – all in one place.

The system, referred to internally as the Academy is the central hub which measures the competence of over 11,000 front line operators including signallers, controllers, graduate engineers, station staff and capacity planning employees, and provides insight into other HR, training, simulation and verification systems.


For Eurostar and Highspeed, their key goal was complete visibility of the competence of their front line, engineering, rolling stock and maintenance staff, as well as a simple way of reporting on the status and scheduling of competencies, tying this into existing assessment and training frameworks. The system tracks their assessment processes, and in Eurostar’s case it logs driver observations, training courses, as well as medical facts, documents and the processes and schedules for assessments too.

In all cases the system has given uniformity in managing competence across each company, regardless of nationality, function, role or location. And for the first time, managers have complete visibility of the global workforce and accessible data about the team, route, depot and individual competence status. The robust reporting facility makes it easy for managers to produce regular reports which can be used internally or externally for auditing and compliance purposes.


Human behaviour is always going to play a part in health and safety on the rail network, and having a better understanding of how front line staff behave while performing their job is essential for minimising risk, improving health and safety and ensuing regulatory compliance. This competency management system has gone one step further, by joining all these elements in to one centralised function, producing live transparent, accessible data. It provides a cradle to grave approach and links not only their competencies but all the requirements that the individual needs to optimise their performance and improve the performance of the organisation.

How will Tesco repair its damaged brand?

Coverage in Top Consultant

Tesco was once the darling of the high street but in recent weeks the 95-year old supermarket chain faced its worse crisis ever as it admitted this week to inflating its accounts by £250 million. This wiped more than £2 billion off its market value, saw shares drop by 40% and put the company at the bottom of the FTSE 100.

Four senior executives were suspended, including finance director, Carl Rogberg, with UK managing director Chris Bush also thought to be one of the four, whilst an investigation takes place into what has been going on. Questions will also be asked of former chief executive, Philip Clarke, and Laurie McIlwee, the chief financial officer who left last week.

Tesco said it discovered the overstatement of its figures, made as part of an August 29 profit warning, during its final preparations for its forthcoming interim results. It then announced that full-year trading profits could be as low as £2.4billion – some £400million lower than expected – after ‘challenging trading conditions’.

What went wrong?

The supermarket has been losing ground since its first profit warning in 20 years, back in January 2012, a year after Chief Executive Sir Terry Leahy stepped down after 14 years in charge. During his time at the helm he saw a leap in pre-tax profits from £750 million on 1997 to £3.4 billion in April 2010. Philip Clarke took over from Sir Leahy, but stepped down from the board on 1st October 2014 after failing to turnaround the retail giant’s fortunes and was replaced by Unilever executive Dave Lewis.

Whilst an investigation will reveal what has been going on over the past few years, with questions answered and possibly charges brought against individuals if they have been found to have acted unlawfully, the reputational damage has already been done. The trusted brand image Tesco has built up over almost 100-years is now being ridiculed. The papers have reported on the enormous number of tweets that people have made who are almost gleeful to see such a large retail brand brought to its knees.

This type of crisis is far more than a crisis of share price, company value and profits. Tesco is large enough to overcome these in the short term. Unfortunately, to many of their customers they will now be perceived as a supermarket brand that can’t be trusted. People vote with their feet and supermarkets such as Asda, Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Lidl are winning more and more customers, who are choosing them because of brand reputation.

Whether its budget brands such as with the likes of Aldi and Lidl, who have seen huge growth since the recession or a family-friendly brand like Sainsbury’s who trades on its quality food for great value image.

Customers are fickle and with so much competition in the supermarket sector, it’s going to be a tough job for Tesco to regain its position as top of the supermarket chains.

Changing workplace culture

What could Tesco have done to have avoided this crisis, bar the obvious of not inflating their accounts? How indeed was it possible for this to have been sanctioned as a great idea in the first place? Much of this has to do with the working culture within the organisation. Culture is not the fluffy, ethereal, HR intangible “concept” many people think it is – but it’s the very real way that people in an organisation behave, act and work. It also has to do with the tolerance they have towards risk taking or in this case “creative accounting”.

Part of the problem has of course been that Tesco has been losing ground to its rivals in recent years. Not an easy position to be in when you have been the leader of the pack. The brand image has needed a facelift and they have needed to compete more aggressively. At the same time this has bred a culture whereby senior executives have perhaps become complacent or focused on the wrong things, leading to bad or risky decision making.Culture manifests itself in very visible and tangible ways. If you get it right, it will reward you, but if you become complacent or you take for granted that people will act, work and behave as you want them to, it will come back and bite you. And when it does the ramifications are considerable and very, very tangible indeed. This latest crisis is a major step backwards in Tesco trying to regain its market position and it will be a long hard slog to win back customers who have deserted them and get back the brand reputation they once had.

Winning back trust

Tesco now needs to work out what is most important – profits or winning back the trust of its customers – and at the moment the only way to do either of these successfully is to change the culture within and focus on building a brand and culture which resonates with its customers. To do this Tesco needs to have a better understanding of its employee’s behaviour and likely behaviour. They need to understand how competent people are in their roles and this will have to start at the top with the senior executives who have been steering the company.

Unlike anything else out there today, we help organisations to identify, manage and mitigate the risk posed by the way in which people act or behave. This is done by measuring a combination of employee competence, knowledge and confidence to reveal what people know, how they use their knowledge and how they act in certain situations. By assessing competency and confidence together, companies can spot ‘risky’ individuals – people with low knowledge and high confidence as well as those with high knowledge but low confidence, who might not make the right decisions under pressure. This can help avoid risky decision making as was the case with Tesco announcing inflated profits.

Organisational risks do not sit in one easy to define central function. Rather it exists in a myriad of behaviours and habits of individuals spread across all levels of the operation. For Tesco this must start at the top as it was the senior management team that made the decision to inflate profit projections. However they must also ensure that the drivers of employee behaviour in relation to risk management are effectively embedded into the operations of the entire business, to truly change working culture. Only by doing this can Tesco be confident of repairing their damaged reputation and have any hope of becoming king of the grocery retail sector again.