Assess your culture before structuring your program

Last month in this column I discussed five factors that determine how much effort employees will put into safety (or any part of their jobs): 1) their opinion of the value of the rewards; 2) the connection they see between their effort and those rewards; 3) effort expended; 4) abilities and traits; and, 5) role perception.

Simply put, people will not turn in the kind of performance we want unless all five are taken into account. Let’s take these into account by asking a series of questions to learn how the five factors affect your own workplace’s safety and health program:

1 — What is the reward for safety performance? How does it compare to the rewards for production, quality, etc.?

2 — Does the supervisor believe the probability of reward is high? Will attempts bring success? Will success bring rewards?

3 — Reward and the effort-reward probability determine the amount of effort. How much effort will your supervisor give to safety?

4 — Abilities and traits are a function of your selection and training. What are their levels in your company in the safety area?

5 — Role perception is a function of safety policy and supervisors’ observations. Do they perceive safety as their function?

6 — Performance is a function of ability, role perception, and effort. What performance are you getting?

System flexibility

You can see that accountability starts with clear role definition, clear understanding of what tasks and activities are required to fulfill that role, crisp, valid measures of whether or not those activities are carried out, regularly coupled with rewards (positive or negative) sufficient to get the attention and action of the person. Accountability can occur regardless of the management style and philosophy in your organization. But you need to know the type of environment you’re operating in.

In 1967, Dr. Rensis Likert wrote The Human Organization, in which he described his research on trying to understand the difference in styles of different companies and how these styles affected the bottom line. Dr. Likert coined the term organizational climate. We now call that culture.

Likert not only researched climate; he also evaluated it in ten areas:
  • Confidence and trust
  • Interest in the subordinate’s future
  • Understanding of and the desire to help overcome problems
  • Training and helping the subordinate to perform better
  • Teaching subordinates how to solve problems rather than giving the answer
  • Giving support by making available the required physical resources
  • Communicating information that the subordinate must know to do the job, as well as information needed to identify more with the operation
  • Seeking out and attempting to use ideas and opinions of the workers
  • Approachability of management
  • Crediting and recognizing employee accomplishments
How does your organization’s culture rate in these areas?

Determining your success

Basically, the culture of your organization is what determines whether the elements of your safety system will be effective. In essence, culture will determine your safety results. In the last 10 to 15 years, the concept of culture has become perhaps the most important topic discussed in management theory.

Also, an employee’s perception of the organizational culture — and the safety culture — largely determines that employee’s behavior on the job.

Rensis Likert also discusses climate in detail when he describes his system 4 company. He has isolated three variables representative of his total concept of participative management. These include: 1) the use of supportive relationships by the manager; 2) the use of group decision-making and group methods of supervision; and 3) the manager’s performance goals. A supportive relationship is shown by the degree to which the manager embodies the 10 areas listed earlier in this discussion.

Likert measures the relationship of the above against productivity. He stated there is strong evidence to suggest that the organization exhibiting a high degree of supportive relationships, utilizing the principles of group decision-making and supervision, and engendering high performance aspirations, has significantly higher levels of achievement.

Participation is one of the main ingredients in gaining employee commitment on an overall basis. It can lead to less need for the use of formal authority, power, discipline, threat, and pressure as a means of getting job performance. Participation and its resultant commitment become a positive substitute for pure authority. Commitment may be much harder to achieve initially, but in the long run it may prove much more effective.

As we structure a safety program, climate must be considered. Better yet, before we structure our safety program, the corporate climate should be assessed, and our program should be structured to create a safety climate.