There’s always at least one. In any given safety-culture change situation there’s always someone who just won’t come aboard. Now, let me be clear here that I’m not talking about someone who ignores personal safety on the job. I’m referring instead to someone who refuses to lead safety on the job.
After all, he not putting himself at personal risk, he might argue, and he’s being safe on the job, so what does it matter?
This might not be a problem if this is a front-line hourly employee with no direct reports. But it is a problem when it’s someone who has been put in charge of other people – and an even bigger problem if that person is high up on the ladder of the organization, or even the facility or plant. Such a person has far too much influence over people not to be on board with the safety-culture vision.
The main reason this a problem is because employees tend to embrace only those things they perceive are important to their immediate supervisor or department head. If leading a safety culture is not in that mix, they’re all too happy to put it on a shelf.
“But I told them what the expectation is!”
Doesn’t matter. Employees are watching their leaders, and they pick up cues about what’s really important from what their leaders say and do – and don’t say and don’t do! If their leader’s communication about safety culture doesn’t match those cues, they’ll abandon it.
Take the following statement:
“Guys, I don’t like this any more than you do, but this is what they want us to do, so let’s just git’er done.”
The impact of that kind of communication on the hearer is devastating to the goal. The leader has communicated disapproval instead of approval, acquiescence instead of acceptance, passive resistance instead of active support. Those cues are all that’s needed to sabotage the message. The work crew hears something like, “Here we go again, another flavor of the month – if we just hold out long enough this will eventually go away.”
So what can/should we do to remedy this situation?
Assess: We need to start by assessing what kind of job we’ve done on-boarding leadership. How much of the safety-culture vision was their idea as opposed to ours? Remember, no one disagrees with his/her own ideas. The more it’s their idea, the more skin they’ll have in the game and the more they will own the culture.
Coach: Assuming we’ve done our due diligence with the foundational work of transferring ownership, we’ll need to make this leader the target of our coaching efforts. Speak frankly about your observations and what the leader needs to do to support the program. Include that leader’s immediate supervisor in the discussion as well and let that message come from his boss while you mostly observe. This requires frequent follow up until you begin seeing the desired behaviors and communication.
Restructure: A safety-culture vision requires a supporting infrastructure. If leading a safety culture is perceived as an “add-on” to their “real” job, it’s not likely to happen. So make it part of their job. That means rewriting job descriptions, including it as a measured competency in performance reviews, making it a criteria for rewards, bonuses, pay raises, promotions, and even succession planning. Those who are not on board simply get passed over. They either sink or swim on their own volition.
Reassign: This is a more drastic step but one that will communicate the importance of the safety-culture vision loud and clear to everyone else. If a highly visible leader is not on board with leading a safety culture, reassign him to a position that removes him from leading people. Obviously this will entail that you have either the authority or the influence to make this happen!
Terminate: The most drastic step is to terminate employment. Obviously this would happen only as a last resort and after you’ve tried everything else, but sometimes you just have to get the wrong people off the train to get the train back on the right track. Termination sends a strong message to the rest of the organization that leading a safety culture is just that important – that you would rather risk losing a valued leader than risk non-adoption of the safety-culture vision.
That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.
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