Getting staff managers out of the back-office and into the plant is not as difficult as it might at first appear. Sure, you’re going to get some resistance: “I’ve got work to do … My schedule doesn’t allow it … I don’t have the right PPE … Next month would be better.”
Resistance is an integral part of change, so expect to get it. But it doesn’t have to be a show stopper. You can counter this resistance by following a few simple guidelines. [content_protector password=”gsmi” identifier=”gsmi”]
Make it Mandatory
It’s not likely staff managers will do this on their own initiative. Why would they? After all, they do have a job to do, and usually they are very busy. If you are in a position to decree it a mandatory activity (Plant Manager, Director of Manufacturing, VP of Operations, etc.), then do so. If you are not in that position (say, EHS), then you’ll need to partner with the person in charge of the facility to make it happen. Persuade them of the benefits for the safety culture and employee morale.
Once you have the big boss on board (unless that person is you), let him/her announce the plan in a staff meeting while you fill in the details. The plan has to be owned and communicated by their boss, else it will fail. Your role is merely to provide the details of the plan. Be sure everyone understands that the goal is to get out on the floor often to have a presence there and to engage employees about the safety culture. The desired outcomes include a stronger relationship between the plant side and the office side, a better understanding about the risks of the job and safety concerns, and a stronger overall safety culture.
In addition to making this a mandatory activity you’ll also likely need to set some target goals for how often each staff manager should be out on the floor. Start with once per week (for each manager) and adjust up or down from there. And be sure that “presence” is evenly distributed throughout the week (managers should not be on the floor all at the same time, or even the same day — unless there are too many to accommodate). The mission while on the floor should be to approach an employee or (better) an entire work crew with whom the manager is not very familiar. Employees tend to be more open about their concerns with the safety culture when speaking to a manager they don’t know well rather than to one they do know (perhaps due to failed past attempts to have their concerns taken seriously). Whatever the reason, take full advantage of it.
Ask Meaningful, Intelligence-Gathering Questions
It’s never a good idea just to go out on the floor unprepared and ask questions “off the hip.” That usually results in questions that don’t reveal very much about the perception of the employee. Questions like, “How’s everything going?” (Fine), “Is everything going okay here?” (Yup), “Is everyone working safely today?” (Yup), “Not having any problems, are we?” (Nope).
Questions like this tend to invite the response they think we want to hear. Instead, we need to ask open-ended questions that gather real intelligence about the safety concerns on the floor. Intelligence-gathering questions are those that invite elaboration. I alluded to the value of these types of questions in a previous article in this series. Questions like, “Where do you think we are in terms of our safety culture?” “In your view where should we be with the culture?” “How are we as managers doing in promoting safety at our plant?” “What could we be doing better?” “What are your greatest concerns about our safety culture?” “What are we doing well as leaders?” “Where do we need to improve as leaders?”
Questions like these will invite elaboration and may reveal some real concerns about the culture that would otherwise remain hidden. We’ll look at a few more suggestions for getting staff managers out on the floor in productive ways in our next article. But that’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.