The Role of a Volunteer Force When Leading Safety-Culture Change

The Role of a Volunteer Force When Leading Safety-Culture Change

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: No matter how good a leader you are you cannot undertake and lead a safety-culture change by yourself. That’s one of the reasons we started with the “guiding coalition.” But ownership of the culture change can’t be left there either. It must go beyond the framers of the vision to the rank and file of the organization. [content_protector password=”force” identifier=”force”]

Over the past few issues we’ve looked at just how to apply Kotter’s eight-step change-management model to leading a safety-culture initiative. So far we’ve covered step-1, step-2, step-3, and step-4 of Kotter’s model. But before moving on to step-5, it’s important to mention here that Kotter has recently revised his step-4, and rearranged, blended and/or relabeled the remaining steps. Since we covered Kotter’s original step-4 just last issue, we should spend some time comparing that original step with the revised version.

Enlist a Volunteer Army 10 Things You Absolutely MUST KNOW About Reinforcing Your Safety Culture By Building EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

Recall in our last issue that step-4 is to communicate the safety-culture vision — early and often — and to speak about it in such a way that every other organizational issue is viewed through the lens of that vision. This ensures a common language around the vision and lessens the likelihood that it will be viewed as the next flavor of the month.

Kotter’s revised step-4 is “Enlist a Volunteer Army.” In Kotter’s view, organization-wide culture change can happen only when a highly significant number of employees rally (and take action) under a common opportunity. The goal of the leader here is to recruit this “army” by building enthusiasm around the vision and imparting a sense of “permission” in employees to step up and take action. They must truly “want” to do this and not feel they “have” to do it.

I’ll add one caveat here. While Kotter’s larger point is that the culture change should become a grassroots effort, his “enlistment” analogy creates an unnecessary false disjunction because it implies there is no “drafting” into service, or even active “recruitment” by organizational leadership. I believe a combination of enlistment (passive communication that there is an opportunity to be seized), recruitment (approaching individuals and asking them to embrace this opportunity), and drafting into service (strong pressure applied to front-line supervisors and other perceived leaders to embrace this and set the example for their team), will yield the best results and accelerate the process.

Culture change must be simultaneously actively driven by leaders and actively led by the front-lines. Hence, while this may be a “volunteer army,” it may not be an all-volunteer army.

fctc-online-bannerIt makes sense that those who are most engaged and who are natural champions and “owners” of their own domains will be the first to step up to the plate. These should be the primary targets of our active recruitment. But this is also a prime opportunity to build levels of engagement in those who would normally be less committed to a change scenario. By giving them a voice in the process and an opportunity to make a difference in the organization, they’ll develop a stronger sense of ownership and internal motivation that will drive them to action.

Once identified, you must enable this army of volunteers to take action. We’ll look at how to do this in our next issue. But 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.