When faced with an organizational change, such as safety culture development, people will adopt a response to that change based on how they feel about it and how much energy they are willing to invest in those feelings. The Energy Investment Model helps us assess each individual’s attitude toward that change so that we can mobilize them to invest their discretionary effort in bringing about that change.
Leveraging Your “Well Poisoners” in Safety Culture Development
The folks in the southeast neighborhood of the diagram are what we call “Well Poisoners.” These have negative attitudes toward a planned change, and lots of energy around that attitude. They are unpleasant people to be around, but during times of change and safety culture development they usually have lots of people around them and supporting them. Left to their own devices, these people are handing the organizational switchboard and the rumor mill, and they are not pumping out anything positive.
For them it’s all about doom and gloom, why this will never work, how it was tried 15 years ago, why it failed then, and why it’ll fail now. The Well-Poisoners are corporate historians and are very comfortable in taking newcomers on a guided tour through the Graveyard of Failed Initiatives of Safety Culture Development.
Well-Poisoners are usually frustrated folks. They may have started out as “players,” but may have had a “Spectator” or a “Well-Prisoner” as a boss. Each time they came up with an idea for how something could be made better, or a different approach for safety culture development, they were either ignored or told stick to what they were hired to do and not try to change things. So, they became bitter and started influencing people in the only way they knew how–by being negative toward anything offered as a change.
During times of change and safety culture development, it’s tempting for leaders to want to silence the Well-Poisoners, perhaps even removing them.
But this is a mistake. They already have a lot of energy, and if that energy can be redirected in a positive way, they could become super “Players,” promoting the change and working to get others on board. Besides, they probably really do know what went wrong with previous change attempts, and that knowledge can be valuable for planning.
For Well-Poisoners to feel as if they can make a difference, they must be supported–and their negative attitudes must be challenged! Bring them in to planning meetings; give them a role in kick-offs, presentations and trainings. But be very clear on the type of behavior you want to see. When asking for their ideas, do not ask what can go wrong (unless you can spare hours on negative rehash). Instead as “how can we avoid some of the mistakes we made in previous safety culture development initiatives?” Keep the focus on solutions rather than analyses of past problems.
Remember; these folks are informal leaders in the organization, especially in the view of Spectators (who watch them to see which way to jump from the fence). So use their influence and help them to become “Players.”
In our next article we’ll look at the “Players”–what they are like, and how to keep them positive and engaged. But that’s all for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. See you next time!
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