Safety Culture Change: The Cost of Getting it Wrong

Safety-Culture Change: The Cost of Getting it WrongSafety-culture change is a tricky thing.  Do it well and your organization will reap the benefits of a stronger safety culture and all that accompanies it–including higher levels of employee engagement and employee ownership.  Get it wrong and you could find your organization in a worse place than it was before you started the change.  Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the negative consequences of getting it wrong. [content_protector password=”wrong1″ identifier=”wrong1″]

Forfeited ROI

While perhaps not the most important consideration from a strictly humanitarian perspective, there is nevertheless a monetary cost to having an unsafe work environment.  When an incident occurs (depending on the severity) it can cost the organization significantly in terms of lost time, workers comp, raised insurance premiums, lawsuits, OSHA fines (for U.S.-based companies), and even shareholder and investor confidence.  No one wants to invest in a company with safety issues if there are better investment options. 10 Things You Absolutely MUST KNOW About Reinforcing Your Safety Culture By Building EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

But more than that, there is usually a monetary investment when initiating a change in the culture.  For instance, you have to train employees on the vision and strategy, as well as on their new roles and responsibilities under the new conditions.  That usually requires pulling them off the floor for extended periods of time, which in turn leads to an initial loss in productivity.

The learning curve of culture change can contribute to those costs as well.  Getting used to the new way of doing things takes additional time and effort, at least at the beginning stages.  The point is, that investment is lost if the change doesn’t stick.

Compromised Employee Trust

Nothing derails a safety-culture change like over-promising and under-delivering. We often do this unwittingly in the way we handle our employee-satisfaction surveys or safety-culture surveys that are often conducted as a precursor to safety-culture change.  We ask employees their opinion about the current-state reality and the desired future state, and then fail to communicate to them how we have acted on their input.

But even if we have communicated it, employee trust is still compromised if we don’t have the tenacity to follow through with the vision we’ve communicated, or fail to execute it as communicated.  That invariably leads to the next consequence.

Employee Cynicism and Disengagement

fctc-online-bannerLoss of employee trust will always result in heightened levels of employee cynicism about our leadership, and lowered levels of employee engagement.  Those who were on board (the early adopters) will feel betrayed by our lack of leadership commitment to the new vision. They will perceive that their commitment to the cause has been squandered, and will be reticent to commit to future initiatives.

Those who were initially on the fence with the announced change will sink to lower levels of engagement and commitment to the company’s goals.  They may have been cautiously optimistic at the beginning; but now they are just skeptical. And those who were against the change from the beginning will feel vindicated by your failure, and they will be emboldened to oppose any future change you may have in mind.

That leads us to three more consequences of getting it wrong.  But we’ll save those for next time.  That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.



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.