“But That’s Not Part of My Job!” Dealing with Late Adopters of a Safety Culture

"But That's Not Part of My Job!" Dealing with Late Adopters of a Safety CultureA few weeks ago I posted an article on how to handle late adopters of your safety culture change initiative. That article focused on those in positions of leadership who may be throwing a wrench in the works in an attempt to derail the effort.  But what about individual contributors or hourly employees who may be doing something similar? The good news is, the lack of adoption by this demographic is not nearly as consequential as leaders failing to adopt. In fact, it’s assumed that the majority of resistance for the change will likely reside in the general population, at least at the start. [content_protector password=”npomj” identifier=”npomj”]

The other piece of good news is that dealing with this category of employee does not differ much from dealing with a non-adopter who is in a leadership role. Some of the same suggestions still apply, such as coaching them in safety culture, building safety-leadership activities into their job descriptions, tying safety-leadership to measured competencies in performance evaluations, rewarding, and promoting them based on their involvement with a safety-leadership culture. Here are some steps you can take to reduce “time of adoption” for this group.

Start at the Beginning

The beginning of the employee life-cycle is always a good place to start. Even if this step excludes those who are already working for the company, we can at least create a foundation for those we may hire in the future.

10 Things You Absolutely MUST KNOW About Reinforcing Your Safety Culture By Building EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENTStart by revising basic HR processes around recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding and new-employee orientation. Screen candidates based on their experience with safety. Build behavioral interview questions that reveal how a candidate might respond to a safety-related scenario. Include an emphasis on safety culture in employee orientation. And ensure there is a hands-on safety-culture component in any new-employee training you provide.

At a baseline level, we would want an employee to know how to connect the dots between their personal safety and their core values. We’d also want them to be able to communicate a safety message in anticipation of leading safety talks later on. And of course we want them to be able to take another employee aside and coach them on an unsafe behavior.

Let me be very clear here:  a new employee will not likely do any of these things unless your training is “hands-on” and provides skills-building practice sessions. It’s a mistake to tell them we want them to do these things but fail to help them build the skills required to do them well. Making the extra effort here will pay off in spades later.

But That’s Not Part of My Job!

FCTC OnlineThere’s another step we’ll need to take for those employees who are already with the company. One of the first objections you’re likely to hear when setting new expectations around leading a safety culture is, “I didn’t sign up for that,” “That gets in the way of my real work,” or “That’s not part of my job description.”

In one sense, they are right. If we didn’t set expectations up front, then leading and participating in a safety culture does indeed seem like an add-on to their “real” job. The solution is that we have to make it part of the job. That means rewriting job description to include line items around safety culture activities—leading safety communication, serving on safety committees, performing safety observations, reporting near misses and good catches, and coaching safety behaviors, among other activities. Once it’s embedded in the job description, it becomes part of the job and not something added on to it.

What Gets Measured Gets Done

There’s one final thing we’ll need to do to reinforce the notion that participation in the safety culture is part of the job, and that is to revise what is measured and rewarded. What’s the criteria for promoting and rewarding an employee? Is it based on how well they are meeting production numbers, or how well they step up and lead a safety culture?  Employees tend to do what gets rewarded.

What about your annual performance reviews? Is there a safety competency they are measured against? And if so, is it more focused on compliance (wearing required PPE) than about leading the culture (safety communication, etc.)? If so, that may need to change. Employees tend to do what gets measured. If they know that at least part of their performance review will measure their participation in the safety culture, it’s more likely they will be looking for ways to lead it throughout the entire year.

Well, there you have it. These are among the most effective ways to encourage non-adopters to fully embrace the safety culture. If after all this there are some who remain non-compliant, it may be time to manage them out of the organization. It’s not a solid culture unless everyone is one board, so it’s imperative that no one views their participation in the culture as merely a good idea or a strong suggestion. Rather, it needs to become part of their job.

That’s it for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.

~ES [/content_protector]

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.