Resolving to Build a Safety Culture that Lasts

We’ve entered into a new year, and, as is customary, you may have made a resolution or two about trading in some personal undesirable behaviors for desirable ones. Hopefully you’re unlike the majority of people who make New year’s resolutions, because in the majority of cases these resolutions tend to fail after a few weeks of trying them out.

Why do they fail so often? Well, there are several reasons; but before I get to those reasons let me quickly add that this is not about New Year’s resolutions—it’s about culture change, it’s about behavioral change, it’s about a change in the way we think. And if you struggle to stick to something as simple as a New Year resolution, you may have difficulty sticking with and carrying out a safety culture change, because the factors that cause New Years resolutions to succeed or fail are nearly identical to the factors that cause a culture change to succeed or fail. The same general principles apply to both.

So what is it that makes a New Years resolution (or a safety-culture initiative, for that matter) fail?

First, they tend to fail when they lack a specific plan with defined steps. We may have a good idea of the vision and the goal we want to reach, but we fail to take the time to plot out the specific steps that will get us there. So, whether is a culture change or a New Year’s resolution:

  • Develop a “phased” plan with a step-by-step process
  • Identify the “timed” milestones to help measure progress along the way
  • Provide a reward for achievement of each milestone

Second, they fail because we don’t communicate them adequately or enlist the help we need. In the case of a New Year’s resolution it helps to announce your intention to your friends and family because they can help hold you accountable. In the case of a safety culture initiative it helps to announce the changes both early and often, and to enlist as many outside resources as you can to help you succeed. Get as much buy-in and collaboration as you can from the leadership of other departments and business units because they can help you drive acceptance of the changes you are making. And be sure to publicize the milestone successes you’ve achieved along the way, and reward the participants who helped you get there.

Finally, they fail because we don’t maintain and feed the desire, the motivation, the drive and the commitment to chase the vision to completion. A passion for and a belief in the outcomes makes up the steam that drives the engine of culture change. Without it, any plans we make will be reduced to the flavor of the month in pretty short order. To counter this effect

  • Identify early champions of your vision and bring them onboard as team members
  • Meet with them often to keep the vision front and center, and to encourage them and to be encouraged by them to push on to the next milestone

That does it for this edition of Recordable Insights. Be sure to catch us next time when we’ll continue our series on coaching performance and behaviors. Until then, be sure all your safety initiatives are built-in, not bolted on.

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About the Author

Eric Svendsen
Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is Principal and lead change agent for safetyBUILT-IN, a safety-leadership learning and development organization. He has over 20 years experience in creating and executing outcomes-based leadership development and culture change initiatives aligned to organizational goals, and he personally led the safety-culture initiatives of a number of client organizations that resulted in “best ever safety performance” years for those companies.