Total Respect Management Framework Cube

A Fundamental Mental Model

Total Respect Management (TR³M) is an integrated and holistic management philosophy, approach, framework and methodology, that consists of a series of aligned and very specific mental models, integrated processes, necessary skills and practical tools.

One of those basic mental models of TR³M is the notion that often, bad things happen because little things go wrong and, likewise, successes are reached by getting the little things right. You could say that this mental model can be summarised by the phrase: ‘The devil is in the detail’. In essence, it means that objectives fail because the performance regarding apparently unimportant things is below the required standard or that a lack of attention or capabilities results in unsafe conditions.

Swiss Cheese

In order to understand how the cube works, you have to understand the metaphor that goes together with this mental model, namely the ‘Swiss Cheese Model’ (Reason, 1990). In this model, reality is considered as being a Swiss Cheese, a cheese with holes in it.

The holes in the cheese represent all those little (and bigger) things that don’t go as planned or required. As a result, there is no cheese where there should have been.

The Swiss Cheese, as we know it, is just a picture of a specific moment in time. In the same way as reality, this cheese is very dynamic; some of these holes have a very random character and vary from moment to moment. The size of the cheese varies incessantly and the holes continually change in size and position. New holes pop up, while others disappear. In the same way that people reach momentary successes or sometimes experience failures, often called ‘active’ failures.

You also have holes with a more constant character which are more or less always present. These are the so called ‘latent’ failures. Together at a certain moment in time, these dynamic and more constant holes can align themselves when (all the right -or wrong) specific conditions occur, suddenly creating a large hole throughout the whole cheese. When this situation arises, a significant accident happens, with all of its unwanted consequences, such as injuries and/or losses.

(Do not) Focus On Bad Things Happening

The way people usually look at accidents is in a reactive way and as a result they talk of barriers to accommodate for the things that go wrong or that present danger. In order to be more proactive, they have to invent scenarios of possible events and consequences. This point of view is nicely illustrated by the extensive tools that have been developed to manage these latent and inadvertent failures, such as the bow-tie model and all of its software solutions. Although it certainly is a helpful tool, it focusses solely on things going wrong.


“Total Respect Management adds ways to make sure the holes in the cheese disappear”

Total Respect Management however regards the cheese in a different way. It does not exclude the barrier-way of thinking, but more importantly it also adds ways to make sure the holes in the cheese disappear, by making more and better cheese. In other words, instead of focussing solely on reacting to failure by putting safeguards in place to reach safety, it also puts effort into increasing performance and in proactively closing the gaps and creating more safety.

When there are less and smaller holes in the cheese, the likelihood of good things happening increases (more cheese), while the likelihood of bad things happening decreases (less and smaller holes).

“The Swiss Cheese model is a tool to investigate accidents”

The Swiss Cheese model is commonly used as a tool to investigate accidents. As such, it takes a picture of the circumstances at times preceding, during and immediately after the accident. It looks at what happened with a focus on what went wrong, causing the accident. Finding these causes (holes) is achieved by slicing the cheese as appropriate in order to find the holes that connected and therefore mattered in the accident.

A Proactive Approach

TR³M however, uses a framework based on the same metaphor in a more proactive way. Instead of slicing the cheese after an accident happened (reactive), the TR³M Framework consists of a set of fundamental organisational processes that are ‘sliced’ in specific ways to discover the holes before they even produce unwanted outcomes (proactive).

The tool helping to discover these holes is called the TR³M Framework Cube.

Understanding The TR³M Framework Cube

The fundamental processes that exist (or should exist) in every organisation are

  1. (aligned) leadership,
  2. (risk) management,
  3. continuous improvement (KARAF),
  4. value input,
  5. value creation,
  6. value distribution and
  7. communication.

The first six of these processes are depicted on the six sides of the TR³M Framework Cube. The cube does not visibly depict the process of communication, but this process is implied as being inside the cube, making the connection between all the processes. It is communication that binds them together in an integrated approach. Every process consists of seven steps that either need to be there or that need to be undertaken in order to create sustainable results.

“The cube is just like a Swiss Cheese”

A Cube Instead Of Cheese

The cube is just like a Swiss Cheese and the different steps of the processes are ways to ‘slice’ the cheese to find the holes. The order in which the processes should be treated is not important, however, it is always good to start with the aligned leadership process. Shortcomings in the leadership process are always of high importance, as these flaws have an impact on the entire organisation.

In addition to the seven processes, a second cube is added to the TR³M Framework. You can think of this cube as a representation of different types of tools and insights that can be used in implementing Total Respect Management. This cube is also a different way of ‘slicing’ the Swiss Cheese that represents your organisation or company. More explanations and a concise manual on the TR³M Framework Cube and how it can help your organisation can be found in the book:

SAFETY & PERFORMANCE – Total Respect Management (TR³M) A Novel Approach to Achieve Safety and Performance Proactively in Any Organisation (Blokland & Reniers, 2017)