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What Makes BBS and HOP Work?

Nicole Radziwill

Cultivating cultures of safety and quality will depend on how well an organization can help its people care about -- and follow through on -- behaviors and habits they want to model.

Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) and Human & Organizational Performance (HOP) are two approaches often adopted in organizations to improve safety performance, and this in turn can impact quality goals. BBS emphasizes leadership behavior and personal agency, along with data-driven behavioral analysis. HOP recognizes that safety issues reflect problems to be solved in the system, and deemphasizes blame and fault-finding. (Williams & Roberts, 2018)

Although there has been debate about which approach is better (Gaddis 2018), they can be considered complementary (rather than competing) philosophies, especially since BBS has evolved to a more systems-oriented view:

“...if you simply wanted to coach desired behavior, then you’re probably not applying the disciplines of HOP. The initial thinking of BBS when it was introduced in the early 1990s was an idea that you could simply “fix” the worker. No doubt, many safety practitioners proceeded with fervor, thinking it was easier to fix people rather than systems managing processes. As time evolved, so too did BBS and many processes today also focus on the work system, looking to reveal the functions that promote undesired human behaviors then decides what controls are needed to correct it.” -- Gaddis (2018)

The foundations for BBS and HOP originated in the quality profession. They are evident in quality guru W. Edwards Deming’s “System of Profound Knowledge,” which, though developed over several decades, is readily apparent in his 1950 lecture to Japanese management. (Deming, 1950) Deming’s system of profound knowledge has four guiding principles:

  • Appreciation for a system - The success and failure of individuals depends on the characteristics of the system they work within.
  • Knowledge about variation - Performance improvement requires an understanding of (and attention to) sources of variation, including those that relate to human error.
  • Theory of knowledge - New insights come about when data is gathered, analyzed and used to test and confirm.
  • Human psychology - A collaborative culture is made possible by understanding human motivations, and coordinating individuals and teams to achieve shared goals.

Note that the system itself encompasses the methods for training, raising awareness, and practice that lead to the desired outcomes.

“The HOP movement aims to affect a person’s belief system. Meaning, when successful, a person does not simply ‘portray new behaviors’ or ‘create new habits,’ but rather their beliefs (about human nature) are altered in a lasting way. Individuals that have taken the time to wrestle with the principles report that the concepts ‘change how they see the world’ and they ‘couldn’t go back to their old way of thinking if they tried.’ These individuals become change agents, working to create a positive movement of operational intelligence…” - Baker (2018)

Learning to see the world in new ways is the definition of transformational change. Regardless of the specific practices you adopt to create a culture that values safety and quality, you must address these four elements: systems thinking, variation, data, and human nature.

Additional Reading

Baker, A. (2018, May 2). A Short Introduction to Human and Organizational Performance (HOP) and Learning Teams. Safety Differently. Available from

Deming, W. E. (1950). 1950 Lecture to Japanese Management (Untitled). Available from

Gaddis, S. (2018, Jun 3). Choosing Sides? The HOP and BBS Debate. Available from

Williams, J. H., & Roberts, S. (2018). Integrating the Best of BBS & HOP: A Holistic Approach to Improving Safety Performance. Professional Safety, 63(10), 40-48.

About the Author: Nicole Radziwill, Vice President, Global Practice Leader, Quality & Supply Chain

Nicole Radziwill is the Vice President, Global Practice Leader, Quality & Supply Chain at Intelex Technologies. Before Intelex, she was an Associate Professor of Data Science and Production Systems, Assistant Director (VP) End-to-End Operations at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and manager and consultant for several other organizations since the late 1990's bringing quality management to technologically-oriented operations. She is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) with a Ph.D. in Quality Systems from Indiana State University. Nicole serves as Editor of Software Quality Professional (SQP) journal and is a former Chair of the ASQ Software Division. She is an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE) and Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB).



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February 05, 2019 @ 09:25 AM EST Manufacturing, Construction, Chemical, Energy - Oil and Gas, Automotive Health & Safety, Operations, Quality

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