PPI approach

The Sad Truth

Most organizational efforts to reduce human error tend to involve a “coordinator” who is given responsibility (and perhaps does some promotion and training), and a few “tools” that have been dispensed to workers (such as “self-checking”).

If your organization is more evolved, you may have completed a “rollout” of a set of human performance “tools”, established a set of metrics, may have ventured into promotion of “self-reporting”, and may even investigate more significant conditions/occurrences.  Organizations even further along the typical path have implemented some sort of observation/coaching database, and may even have “simulators” that give workers practice at using the human performance “tools”.

All such efforts are well intended, and when done properly, can have some beneficial impact.  Unfortunately, most of these efforts tend to be disjointed, are inadequately supported by organization leadership, and end up being primarily reactionary (putting out “fires” after something bad has happened).  Inadequately trained/resourced coordinators tend to be put in very tough positions, and any performance improvement achieved is typically not sustainable.

There is another way…  

The Practicing Perfection® approach offers a new paradigm for reducing human error and enhancing human performance.

To begin, let’s define what we mean by “human performance”.  First, a formula…

In this formula, “HU” stands for “Human Performance”, “W” stands for “WHY”, “R” stands for “Results”, and “B” stands for “Behaviors”.  Now take a look below to see how this formula can be transformed into a word definition… 

As you can see, the next-level definition of Human Performance is, “WHY we do WHAT we do the WAY we do it”.  An understanding (and application) of this formula offers the “secret” to achieving and sustaining Next-Level Performance.  An obvious question is- to what (and to whom) does this definition of human performance apply?  EVERYTHING! (and EVERYONE!)

This holistic interpretation of “human performance” is foundational to the Practicing Perfection® approach.

Third-Dimension Thinking™

Practicing Perfection® is counter-intuitive to the “old school” top-down approach to dealing with human error.  Rather than the heavy-handed, “Do this because I said so because I’m the boss,” (using the “stick”), and well beyond, “If you do this, then I’ll reward you with this,” (the carrot), the Practicing Perfection® approach has been described as, “opening a door and inviting people to step through it.”

Practicing Perfection® departs from the old paradigm of “compliance” and taps into discretionary effort.  Why is this important?  We’ll answer that question with another: How do you get a worker to consistently do the “right thing” at 3:00 in the morning when no one else is watching?  The only way he (or she) will do so is if they WANT to.

The old paradigm of compliance only works to a certain level, and then typically only when the ‘management police’ are present to monitor.  Heavily compliance-oriented work cultures tend to stifle worker make-things-better contributions, and inhibit integrated thought.

Two Key Elements

The Practicing Perfection® approach instills (and capitalizes upon) two key cultural elements:

Focusing on the Fundamentals allows us to keep things simple and to capitalize upon vital behaviors.  A key set of these behaviors is an uncompromising use of the Error Elimination Tools™.

Unleashing a culture of Constant And Never-ending Improvement (CANI) continually promotes creative make-things-better input by the workforce.  It capitalizes upon the Key Insight, “No one of us is as smart as all of us,” and ultimately opens the floodgates of worker contributions toward safety, reducing errors, reducing waste, and improving efficiencies.

The Foundation

This approach rests upon a solid foundation known as, “The Precepts of Practicing Perfection®.”

Precept 1: Things are the way they are because they got that way

This precept reminds us that there are reasons why everything is the way that it is.  This is about learning and understanding the causes of issues, rather than simply chasing after the symptoms.

As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  For elements of the organization and its processes that are less than optimum, this Precept reminds us that we can choose to do something different.

Precept 2: 84 to 94 percent of human error can be directly attributed to process, programmatic, or organizational issues

The reality is- most of the time human error occurs, some (or multiple) aspect(s) of the process, program, or organizational structure set the individual up to make the mistake.  These ‘setups’ (which we refer to as landmines) are sometimes known (as in the case of an overt safety hazard or poorly written work instruction); however, many are not readily visible.  What’s important is to recognize that they exist, figure out what they are, and take action to ensure that the same setups will not present themselves in the future.

Precept 3: People come to work wanting to do a good job

We have yet to meet a worker who came to work wanting to make a mistake.  While some organizations do indeed suffer from significant cultural issues, we do NOT have a motivation problem within our workforces.  In fact, we are continually impressed with the level of effort most workers are typically willing to put forth.

Precept 4: The people who do the work are the ones who have the answers

If you want to know where the setups are within your organization (those landmines we talked about earlier), ask the people who do the work.  Ask the people closest to them.  Not only do they know where the challenges and setups lie, but they also typically have darn good ideas on how to fix them!

This is a key piece of understanding when looking to take performance to the next level.  Ask workers what the problems are, and encourage them to fix them.

Capitalizing Upon the “Whole Person”…

The old paradigm has been to manage people like things.  When things don’t go as planned, old-school thinking has been to fix the people involved.  Within this mode, organizational leadership has tended to zero in on results without paying adequate attention to the behaviors that generate those results (remember the formula/definition for human performance?).

Within the Practicing Perfection® approach…

  • It is recognized that you cannot fix people, and furthermore, (this is the good news), people do not need fixing
  • You manage things; you lead people
  • The Whole Person Approach is capitalized upon to achieve maximum results (both for the individual and the organization)

The System

There are four components to achieving and sustaining Next-Level Human Performance™.  When implemented properly, these four elements combine to create a dynamic force within the organization.  We refer to this force as The HU Factor®.

HU Factor_New

Proactive Accountability®

Proactive Accountability® is all about attitude.  It is (1) an internalization of continually asking, “What else can I do to make things better?” and, (2) taking full responsibility for one’s actions and behaviors (before, during, and after taking them).


Every job/task has its associated tools.  The Practicing Perfection® approach utilizes a simple set of Error Elimination Tools™, which when used uncompromisingly, virtually eliminate the potential for human error.


Only through culture change can desired positive changes in behaviors can be sustained.  A key element of promoting and sustaining desired behaviors involves the regular engagement of members of the organization with one another.  Such engagement should occur in all directions, both vertically and horizontally.  Referred to as Peer Leadership (PL), this is developed and promoted throughout the Practicing Perfection® approach.

In addition to Peer Leadership, effective ongoing engagement of workers by members of organization leadership/supervision is fundamentally important, not only to accelerate the rate of performance improvement, but also to sustain upward momentum.  Such engagement should be done with specific proactive intention based upon sound principles.  The leadership engagement methodology used within the Practicing Perfection® approach is known as Principle Based Mentoring™.


When it comes to human error and human performance enhancement, the words of philosopher, George Santayana, ring true:  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

While most organizations recognize learning as important and necessary, very few have effective systems for capturing, tracking, and learning from conditions/occurrences involving human error.  This is especially true when it comes to self-reporting and learning from close calls (“near misses”).

The Practicing Perfection® approach provides tools for effectively learning from mistakes that do occur and identifying trends, as well as for predicting/anticipating error-likeliness within the organization and its processes.

Putting it together…

Putting these four “pieces” together creates the system for achieving and sustaining Next-Level Human Performance™.

For more insight into how this is achieved, see Implementation of Practicing Perfection®.

What Practicing Perfection® is NOT

Now that we have provided you with a basic understanding of the Practicing Perfection® approach to human error reduction and human performance enhancement, here are a few things that Practicing Perfection® is NOT…

Practicing Perfection® is NOT about attempting to create “perfect” people.  Human beings are fallible, and this simply is not going to happen.

Practicing Perfection® is NOT a “Band-Aid” fix.  It is an approach that transforms organizational culture.

Practicing Perfection® is NOT “touchy-feely”.  While it does tap into human emotion, which is the only means to achieve discretionary effort, it is heavily based upon [proactive] accountability at all levels (and in all directions).

Practicing Perfection® is NOT is not about surrendering control.  The behaviors necessary for culture transformation must be role modeled and sponsored from the top of the organization.  The proliferation of these behaviors then occurs in all directions (including from the bottom up).

If you are new to the concepts of Practicing Perfection®, and would like to know more about how to implement this approach within your organization, go to Implementation of Practicing Perfection®.
PPI is a proud member of:

HPA_member_seal_charter_member_smallnational safety councilamerican nuclear society

Search Website

membership has its benefits

ROI calculator sidebar 1

Tim's Insights sidebar

Abstract blur

 television stations sidebar