The Role of “Culture Integration” When Leading Safety-Culture Change

The Role of “Culture Integration” When Leading Safety-Culture ChangeImagine moving into a new house, condo or apartment but never unpacking your boxes. You walk around the place trying to operate normally, but every time you have to do something that should be routine you find yourself digging through boxes trying to locate what it is you need to carry out that task.  How long will it be before you decide either to unpack those boxes or to re-purchase the needed items that you cannot quickly find? [content_protector password=”integrate” identifier=”integrate”]

Over the past few months we’ve looked at how to apply Kotter’s eight-step change process to a safety culture change, and so far we’ve covered the first seven of those steps. The final step in leading a successful safety-culture change is to ensure that the change is integrated (or “anchored”) into the larger organizational culture. If we don’t take this final step, employees will begin viewing the new safety-culture vision the same way they would the unpacked boxes in their new home. It’ll be awkward and unnatural, it’ll be slow, and they’ll feel frustration over it each time they have to reach into those boxes in search of something they need to accomplish the simplest tasks.

What Does Integration Look Like? 10-things-sl-styles

Culture is here defined as a combination of “shared values” and “norms of behavior” (Kotter’s definition). In a nutshell, it’s what employees believe about their daily activities and how those beliefs impact their behaviors while doing those activities. Here are some ways to reinforce those beliefs and behaviors around the new safety-culture vision to anchor that vision in the existing organizational culture.

Integration Tips

Speak the Language of the Culture: Speak as one who views everything through the lens of the safety culture. When you engage people in conversations throughout the day, make it a conscientious point to include reference to the safety culture. When speaking before large groups, address every topic through the lens of the safety culture. When responding to questions and concerns, respond with the safety culture front and center: “That’s an interesting question, John. Here’s how I would respond to that in light of our safety-culture vision….”

Reward / Promote Based on Safety-Culture Engagement: Begin rewarding those who show they are on board with the new safety culture, and make this a key consideration in promotions. No one should be promoted to a leadership position (whether team lead, supervisor, manager, director, or VP) without having shown active and visible support for the safety-culture vision. At the same time, you’ll need to sanction those who don’t go along with the vision. Keep in mind that you’re setting a precedence here. New hires will quickly pick up on what the company values by observing who gets promoted and why.

Get the Right People on the Bus: Speaking of new hires, be sure going forward that you are hiring new people based on their safety “aptitude.” Modify your interview questions to include safety-related scenarios, For instance, “You’re working on the line and you find you are behind in your output. There is a strict deadline for this particular production run. What will you do?” If the candidate says something along the lines of, “I will do anything it takes to get caught up and meet those numbers,” eliminate that person from further consideration. Hire only those who indicate they would take the loss rather than put themselves at risk by hurrying through the production process. This accomplishes what Jim Collins in his book Good to Great calls “getting the right people on the bus.”

Ground “Safety Aptitude” in the On-boarding Process: Once you bring someone new aboard, you’ll need to cement their safety aptitude in the orientation process. Safety-culture training should be part and parcel of that process — and if it’s not, change it! Modify your orientation materials to ensure safety culture permeates that orientation.

Get the Wrong People Off the Bus: This is the flip side of the hiring coin (and another point emphasized in Collins’ book Good to Great). Give existing employees a reasonable amount of time to come on board. Then, if they don’t, consider managing them out of the organization. You may need to offer resistant leaders severance packages and send them packing. As Kotter states, “changing the culture may require changing people.” To solidify the change and make it sustainable, you may need to identify and terminate those who stand in the way — including upper-level leadership if needed!

fctc-online-bannerTie Safety Leadership to Performance Reviews: There’s an old management saying: “What gets measured, gets done.” If you have set a new safety-culture vision but have not tied that vision to specific safety-culture performance expectations, then no one is going to bother with it. But if it becomes part of what they are measured on annually, and that measurement determines promotions and pay increases, they’ll take notice.

Well, there you have it: Kotter’s eight-step change process applied to a safety-culture vision. 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.