Twitter recently traded for the first time (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange.  Imagine if you’d had the information ahead of time, and had the ability to buy some Twitter stock at the opening buzzer.  On opening day the stock gained 70% per share. While the price settled down 7% the next day, it still would have been a great deal. Get in on the ground floor and gain 63% on your money after only two days!

What does Twitter stock have to do with safety?

 A missed opportunity

Monthly, weekly or daily safety meetings can be the same thing — a missed opportunity.  Or, meetings can be designed and led to produce much higher value.  Your organization may lose the opportunity to achieve real value from your safety meetings — or meetings could become a real winner.

 What’s the difference between a great safety meeting and a mediocre or “low value” safety meeting? 

It has to do with who’s included and the actions that take place AFTER the meeting.  Ask yourself, what is the purpose of your safety meetings?  Is it simply to check off a requirement (that we had this month’s safety meeting because it’s a “monthly” safety meeting)?  Hope not. Is it only to inform those in attendance using charts and slides of safety information?  For many companies the answer would be yes. 

The bottom line

The real purpose of your safety meetings should be to enable employees to better manage risk.  Think about it: if employees don’t better manage risks after the meeting and injuries are not reduced, then why are you having the meeting?

Most safety meetings do not include the affected employees. The meeting is more focused on completing the agenda rather than enabling the workforce.  To enable employees, you need to engage them. You want employees to actually manage risk better after the meeting.  They will be motivated to do so if they are included and make decisions about which risks to focus on.

I like to describe employee inclusion as ensuring employees have both “voice and choice.”  In addition to presenting safety information, everyone gets a chance to talk about it (chew on it), and help prioritize the most urgent risks. Then, before the meeting is over, the employee commits to a specific behavior or action to improve risk management and lower injuries. 

Many times, facilitators of safety meetings see their purpose as ensuring the meeting is scheduled, people are invited, and an agenda is created and followed. Voila, better safety! 

Not necessarily!

Information alone doesn’t create value

When this is the case, the meeting outcome is only to inform employees. Yet, what those facilitating don’t realize is that information by itself does not create value.  Information does not make value, people make value.  When information is acted upon, value is truly created. More clearly, employees who 1) receive information in safety meetings, 2) decide which risks to focus on based on that information and 3) act on managing the risk more effectively each day after the meeting, get the highest value from safety meetings. But achieving value requires employee engagement!

Just like the Twitter IPO, if you had information but did not have the ability to act, you would be like most of America – hearing the news the next day that you could have made 70% on your money in one day! But, suppose you’d had the information, were included on an option to participate, and you acted and purchased the stock as it opened?  What would be the result of this action? What would be the value to you? The only people who realized value that day were those who knew of the offering, had the means to take action, and then acted – they bought some shares. For the rest of us, it was just interesting as we were informed but not engaged (and if you are like me, you are wondering “Why didn’t I get in on that?”).

Don’t just walk through talking points

Safety meetings are exactly the same. They have value to the attendees when they provide good information, provide a means for the attendees to be included (engagement means employees have a voice and a choice), and then attendees act on the information. This requires a shift from many meetings being one-way communications with managers or safety professionals walking through the talking points of the agenda from the front of the room. That is informative, but information without action has little to no value.

A great question to ask employees after safety meetings:  “What one area of risk did you decide together to focus on and what did you do about managing that risk on the job after the meeting?”

Facilitating is not leading

In running safety meetings, I like to distinguish between the words “facilitating” and “leading.”  Facilitators run a meeting, ensuring the agenda is fully covered in a timely and effective fashion.   To go beyond mere facilitating, a leader ensures the agenda has time for and includes engaging employees in dialogue, reflection, and making personal commitment to actions that will better manage risk and reduce injuries. Action is caused by leaders; agendas are covered by facilitators.

Consider reviewing the effectiveness of your safety meetings. Do you engage attendees (not just asking them to speak up, but getting them to talk about specific risks)? Do you ask them to choose an area of focus for improvement? Do you lead the team to then use the Deming Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act) to review progress and continue focus on daily improvement of the chosen area of risk until the next safety meeting restarts the process of risk focus.  

These ideas will help you engage your employees more effectively and get everyone more committed to reducing risks and related injuries across your workforce. 

Be safe out there.