Forget culture; focus first on climate
Follow five essentials for organizational change
Take a look at almost any organization that manages multiple facilities and you’ll see different levels of safety performance at each site.
5 Components fpr Oraganizational Change:
In some cases a proactive safety culture leads to low injury rates and in others the serious injuries and fatalities (SIF) rate is frustratingly high year after year.
Many factors go into producing a culture—age, gender, education, geography, local influences, and the interplay of a thousand tiny factors. It’s nearly impossible to tell what blend of causes are responsible for elements of a culture. Culture can form at a glacier-like place and feel just as difficult to move as a mountain of ice.
To complicate things further, in the safety world you’re not just dealing with one cultural change. Every individual employee has their own unique safety culture, each facility in an organization has their own unique safety culture and the corporate office has its own culture. These cultures are often in conflict.
An effective option
Safety leaders have one effective option to change a culture: forget about trying to enact a cultural change and focus instead on developing a workplace climate that takes safety seriously.
Significant differences exist between an organization’s culture and its climate. The climate of an organization can change almost overnight. New safety systems, procedures, leadership changes can alter the work climate rapidly. If you want to change an organization’s culture, first change the climate. Over time the culture will develop.
Successful safety initiatives all follow same the template. Too often safety managers believe their field operates under different rules than HR, operations and other corporate departments. Not so. The safety profession has its unique challenges but it still follows the same guidelines that govern the corporate organization. By approaching safety change strategically it’s possible to create a climate conducive to improving a safety culture.
Essentials for change
There are five essential components to any type of successful organizational change:
Vision : Everyone in an organization needs to be aware of what is being changed and why. They need to know exactly where the organization is, where it needs to go and why. Vision often comes from upper management, although I’ve seen cases of a vision originating from other levels of an organization, too.
When it comes to safety, the vision proposition should clearly articulate the ultimate goal of the organization’s safety efforts and how safety fits within the larger organizational structure. Are you striving for zero injuries? Do you want to make employees safer at home as well as on the job? Your vision should clearly set out the main priorities you plan to work towards.
Action Plan: Once a vision is established, a plan of implementation is required. This plan has to be specific to the vision and must outline the practical steps that will be taken to achieve the vision. As such, it should answer the question, “What do we need to do to meet the vision statement?”
The plan must include input from all affected parts of the organization. Because safety is a concern for every department within an organizational, any safety-focused action plan should cover every employee in the company. This action plan will be a road map to success, and sticking to it will help to avoid false starts and ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Skills: The people who execute the action plan must have the skills required to carry out the necessary tasks. For safety, this means safety managers should have full working knowledge of compliance requirements and how human factors affect an organization’s overall safety performance.
Workers should also be trained in both compliance and human factors. If the required skills aren’t present in the current workforce, then employees will need to be trained or new employees hired to fill the gap. In many cases I’ve seen strong safety improvement plans fail due to a lack of skills.
Resources: Safety improvement requires management to dedicate sufficient resources—from financial support to necessary equipment and training time. Asking someone to perform a task without providing the required resources will likely set them up for frustration and anger, and could have lasting negative repercussions on an organization’s morale.
Value: Perhaps the most important element in changing a safety culture is creating a positive value system. Employees often view safety managers as naggers who constantly look over their shoulder and tell them what to do. This can lead to a negative view of a company’s safety program. But if you can help workers understand your safety efforts are empowering them by giving them the skills and resources they need to stay safe, rather than controlling what they’re allowed to do, they’ll begin to see greater value in safety and be more receptive to change.
Changing a corporate climate requires executives to concentrate their efforts on the factors they’re able to effectively influence. Fortunately, even a single determined executive can positively affect each of these fives items noted above.
A vision and action plan are best crafted at the executive level, in consultation with key stakeholders throughout the organization. Budgeting is also part of management’s responsibilities, and organizational leadership always has the option to commit the time and financial resources for skills and safety awareness training.
Appeal to personal agendas
Value is the most difficult to influence because every employee has a different value system. However, most people have similar personal safety agendas. They want to stay safe so they can coach their child’s softball game after work, do work around the house on the weekend, and stay healthy so they can provide for their family. This is why off-the-job or 24/7 safety programs are so important, and appealing to these common threads will foster a collective belief in the value of your safety program. For many organizations, personal safety skills training is a critical component of demonstrating value and encouraging positive long-term change in organizational culture.
The five essential change components vary in scope but they are all equally important. Without including all five in any change initiative you will have a hard time creating the climate you want, and long-term cultural change will be nearly impossible. It doesn’t matter how noble your vision is if you don’t have an action plan to carry it out. Trying to develop skills without resources is a fruitless exercise. And employees will remain skeptical of your efforts if you can’t demonstrate real value. But get all five components in place and you’ll be setting your organization on a path to safety success.