Are your safety efforts are stuck in the past? Unfortunately, some companies think of safety as an afterthought ensuring that it is never fully integrated into the organisation. Thereby, ensuring that safety is never properly embedded into the company.
While I generally use our blog to give safety professional's advice, helpful tips and how-to's, sometimes it's also beneficial to understand what a "bad safety culture" looks like, so you know exactly what to avoid - that way you can create a thriving environment for safety.
So if you're curious about what you should be doing to totally suck at managing safety, read on.
Here are 10 ways to ensure your safety culture performs poorly:
- Employ grumpy supervisors - Make sure when you hire supervisors that they don't like people - in particular senior management and frontline staff. Ensure they prefer to hide information because they've got some weird power issues and intensely dislike open communication. It's even better if they like to avoid or ignore people with any safety issues or concerns. Better still, make sure they are really bad at safety and do all of the processes wrongly in front of staff, yet pull other people up for their bad behaviour in a heavily critical way. Make sure they are allergic to giving positive feedback, prefering to criticise.
- Written training manuals - Supply staff with 150 page training manuals with no pictures, video content or photos. Use lots of long sentences and big words, that make you look smart. Make sure the sentences are not in the right order of how the task is done.
- Use managers who don't like to train - Have all new starters trained by managers who are overworked, unfriendly and who dislike spending time training. Ideally, they flick through the training manual and say things like "You don't need to do that, we never do" and "We've changed that process. Head office doesn't know what they're talking about" and "Just read this and I'll be back" (taking about 2 hours to return).
- Have senior managers who dislike safety - Make sure senior management intensely dislike safety and see it as boring and a waste of money. Ideally, they dislike talking to safety professionals and always say "no" to being involved with leading any safety initiatives.
- Every department operates individually - Encourage turf wars where every department competes with one another for budget or CEO approval. Ideally, departments do not collaborate and see safety as a separate cost and not part of any project.
- Let equipment break down - Ensure all of your equipment is barely working and staff have to learn innovative ways to get them to work. Ideally, maintenance is done when equipment is totally broken down. Supply PPE with holes in it and make people wait weeks to receive safety gloves that are on "back-order".
- Blame people for poor safety - When there is an accident or incident, blame the person and let them know it's because they're stupid. Let everyone know that safety is bad because well, essentially they are. Ensure people are aware that safety can't be improved because they can't be.
- Distrust experts - Avoid any internal or external help, in particular any that have any marketing or sales expertise because that has nothing to do with safety. After all, marketing is all about tricking people. Ensure all your safety communication is written by real safety professionals (preferably self-righteous and who don't like to learn new things) and who have never had any training in communication and like to talk to people (in a monotone voice) until they fall asleep in meetings.
- Have really boring tool box talks - Ensure your supervisors make the toolbox talks go on and on with no actions or decisions made. Have staff turn up who don't want to raise any issues. Make sure there is one or two people who just like to complain without offering a solution and who rally the rest of the employees to be on their side.
- Let staff play - Encourage staff to play around dangerous equipment and play jokes on each other. Of course, this can mean staff tease other people about little things like their hair colour, skin colour, religion, IQ level and gender. Ignore it when people come to work drunk or high and start covertly drinking. (My favourite is a boss I had who would hide his wine glass behind a picture of his family on his desk from around 11am in the morning. Let's just say he got very angry, if you said anything).
What else can you do to totally suck at safety? Write your comments below.
We've all experienced the critical, negative work colleague who puts a dampener on everything. They complain about the boss, other staff members, customers, new initiatives and always seem to see something sinister lurking behind a new initiative. They only seem to laugh when someone hurts themselves.
A lot of us have learnt to avoid being around these people, by desperately trying to evade them throughout the working day, so as to not get sucked into the negative, whirling vortex of dark energy swirling around them.
But sadly, the majority of people do get sucked into the vortex. They start believing all of the cynical comments and before long this negative worker has stream-rolled all your efforts for a positive culture. It's almost as if a light switch went off in the room and every-one else in your team sees darkness. Other staff start being cynical and pretty soon you have a toxic environment, low morale and a real challenge to get staff to embrace change (or even safe work practices).
Welcome to human nature! We see ourselves in terms of other people and groups. Evolution has taught us that it is beneficial to live in tribes, where we can share out the work of daily survival.
The Group Collective
Humans like to align themselves with the collective. However, groups can also be undone through a collective ego gone wrong (just like individuals!). Yes, that's right! Groups develop their own collective ego and sometimes group egos can make group identity become a negative experience.
In the book, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, he discusses how the ego collective manifests the same characteristics as the personal ego. Just like with individuals, groups thrive through separation and identification. The group ego searches for common enemies and the need to be right. Over time, the group will come into conflict with other groups (or each other). Blaming a common enemy is part of separation and what a group ego likes to do. This could be another company group, or more detrimentally a particular person in the organisation or even, the company itself.
Think of riots where people who normally behave well on their own, get caught up in the group and loot, fight and set fire to cars. Normally, these people wouldn't do this, but it's the ego of the group behaviour that motivates them to behave destructively.
Likewise, in the book, Bit of a Blur, the Blur bassist Alex James (Blur is a British band from the 1990's) remarked in his biography that doing a gig with a small crowd was always more challenging than performing to an audience of hundreds, or even thousands. Blur, like all bands, found it much harder to get a handful of people excited, whereas large crowds could easily be whipped up into a frenzy.
"Since 95% of people are imitators and only 5% initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer." Cavett Robert
Like all negatives, there's always a positive. Businesses can build on this strong need for group identity to build a thriving organisation.
Here are four techniques to use to stop negative people from eroding your positive safety culture:
- Using the fear of rejection - Just like the negative person that can influence all of those around them, so can a positive person. You know when you have built a positive culture, when staff members publicly shame staff for merely making a negative remark. Seek out the influencers in the group and ensure that they always buy-in to your suggestions. Teachers like to leverage this by threatening to make the whole class stay back after school, until the one child who has caused an issue steps forward and takes the blame. If you have a "negative Nancy", work on the group influencer to accept your ideas and to ensure they ignore any negative feedback thrown their way, thereby lessening Nancy's ability to negatively affect people.
- Set Goals to Ensure Group Cohesion - Get your team working together by specifying a safety goal. Motivate people by working on that goal together and discussing how progress is going each week. Ideally, have it as a number that can be displayed everywhere. This is a great way to stop "Negative Norm" from having too much influence, as the main focus will be achieving the safety goal.
- Safety KPI's - Following the last point, have KPI's in employee's job descriptions that tie their safety performance to a key performance indicator. Get individual safety performance tied to group safety performance. If "Negative Norm or Nancy" start playing up, speak to them individually about how they are going with achieving their safety KPIs. Uncover their fears and try to nip them in the bud.
- Core Values - Make sure you reinforce your company core values as frequently as possible, to bring everyone into alignment. As Jim Collins says in Good to Great, in great companies there is a fervent elitism where staff feel they belong to something special. Staff that don't embrace the company vision and culture are ejected like a virus. This is why getting staff aligned with your core values and vision is so important to establishing a successful company culture. Organisations that have staff aligned with their core values often have a much easier time getting new initiatives through that might need staff to change behaviour (provided that the new initiative is framed in terms of their core values and vision).
When it comes to developing group behaviour, it's important to encourage people to consider the group rather than themselves (safety is really relevant here).
In the book , Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, they stated that staff will frame questions to themselves based on a whole range of identities such as gender, race, age and their job title. For example, a scientist will make decisions on how they believe a scientist would make a decision. The trick in using group identity when wanting staff to change behaviour or embrace a new goal is to word it so they make a decision based on what's best for the group. Otherwise, you start getting issues with the individual ego taking over.
Successful businesses can leverage this human trait to copy other human behaviour to build a great company where staff are aligned with the values and vision of the company and who fit the culture. It's also an important component of any workplace safety campaign.
Safety professionals often complain about how hard it is to get people to listen to them about safety. This is often a subtle sign that it might be time to change how they approach communicating the need for safe behaviours, rather than getting frustrated that it's not working. After all, as Einstein said:
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"
So assuming you want to be more sane (or at least, keep your sanity) in how you approach safety communication, let's take a look at other industries and how they persuade.
The best example is the marketing industry. After all, if you can't persuade people to buy your products and services, you're not going to be in business long. When it comes to persuasion and influence, marketers know how to write and talk about their offerings in a way that makes people want to buy. Essentially, as a safety professional you also need to learn how to get people to "buy into safety".
Now, while I could provide you with a crash course from Marketing 101, the easiest thing for you to learn is a four step process for persuasion.
In the book, Persuasive Business Proposals by Tom Sant, he uses a four step process to combine elements of information and evaluation. While this is written for companies who need to write clear proposals on their offerings and how it can help improve business, it is also a worthy model for safety professionals.
Use this helpful process to communicate more persuasively about safety in your writing and during safety induction training. Also, use this method when discussing or reporting on any complicated safety problems to your company board or senior management.
Step 1: State the Needs or Problems (Why)
If I put my marketer hat on for just a moment, this is one area even experienced marketers can get wrong. We've had a lot of success promoting new products or existing products that aren't getting much traction, just by starting with explaining the problem. People need to know "why" something they haven't considered before is important for them. After all, if you don't know you even have a problem, you won't think you need a solution.
In the book, Start with a Why, Simon Sinek mentions the need to give context to "why" you need a product or service. This is how effective leaders communicate, while ineffective leaders start with the "how' or "what".
So explain the current issue with safety, why people need to keep safe, what your injury record is, so people begin to understand the problem.
Step 2: Outcomes (What)
In a typical marketing or sales presentation, you'd now introduce the results the customer could expect.
From a safety perspective, it's now time to explain the results that can be achieved and how this can be done. Show how you are going to measure success. Get everyone excited about what the future can look like.
Often, it is tempting to jump to the solution. However, start by explaining the results that will be achieved and then go to the how.
Step 3: Recommend a Safety Solution (How)
Now, you can talk about your safety recommendation. Explain how the solution is linked to the initial safety problem.
Discuss what you need everyone to do, to get to the right outcome.
Step 4: Prove it can be done (Proof)
To ensure you influence seasoned, cynical employees who think they have seen everything, you need to offer some proof. This is also where you need to be creative and give examples from other companies, or if possible, examples from your own company, that what you require can be achievable.
For example, you can talk about how Alcoa improved safety by focusing on how safety was reported (if you are improving overall safety). For more information, read How Great Safety Habits foster a Healthy Safety Culture.
Providing evidence that great safety can be achieved is an important motivator and needed for believability.
So there you have it, a four step process to help you improve you safety persuasion skills.
Researchers have found that institutional habits exist in almost every organisation. Interestingly, one of the main differences between a company that outperforms on safety versus a poor performing company with safety are their safety habits.
Just like with an individual, good habits makes a person more efficient, energetic and happy with their life. While poor habits can result in being overweight, unfit, unhealthy and overwhelmed.
Companies are no different. Organisations that instill great safety habits ensure a great safety culture. While companies that don't even bother to work on safety habits, have a poor safety culture.
As the academic Geoffrey Hodgson states "Routines are the organisational analogue of habits".
Back in 1987, Paul O'Neill was knighted the new CEO of Alcoa. At the time, Alcoa was in a mess. The unions were unhappy and so were thousands of workers who regularly went on strike. The company had been steadily losing money year after year with failed product lines, poor safety and productivity.
Interestingly, as Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit, O'Neill believed that changing organisational habits were key to transforming a company.
In his previous roles in Government, O'Neill learnt to become a master habit changer. O'Neill said: "Every time I looked at a different part of the government, I found these habits that seemed to explain why things were either succeeding or failing. The best agencies understood the importance of routines. The worse agencies were headed by people who never thought about it and then wondered why no-one followed their orders".
Known as keystone habits, some habits are more important than others because they have the power to start a chain reaction, shifting other patterns as they move through our lives. Keystone habits influence how we work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything, so that when people start changing their habits, they start changing other unrelated patterns in their lives, often unwittingly. Research has found that families who eat dinner every night together have children with better homework skills, greater emotional control more confidence and better grades. While those who start exercising regularly. start to eat better and become more productive at work.
O'Neill said in the book The Power of Habit : "I knew I had to transform Alcoa. But you can't order people to change. That's not how the brain works. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on thing. If I could disrupt the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company".
To improve safety at Alcoa, O'Neill had to change the habits that matter most to people. So his first choice was to focus on safety and to design an audacious goal to motivate people: Zero injuries.
Working on improving keystone habits does not mean that you have to focus on getting every single thing right. Instead, by identifying a few key priorities and leveraging them as much as possible, they can be levers of change to create a powerful domino effect.
Intuitively, O'Neill changed safety behaviours by focusing on a safety plan that centred around the habit loop:
- Cue (employee injury)
- Routine (report to supervisor, who reported to unit president, who reported it to O'Neill in 24 hours with a plan to make sure injury wouldn't happen again)
- Reward (potential promotion).
Staff quickly learnt that if they wanted to get promoted, they had to start reporting and solving injuries. Meanwhile, O'Neill made sure that everyone believed that Alcoa could be a safe place to work.
This was all that O'Neill focused on to transform Alcoa. He introduced a new process to report an injury. While it might seem quite rudimentary, it's effects were widespread.
This is because it made it important for staff at all levels to communicate and work together to find solutions. This had a massive effect with one of the interesting results being an online safety reporting system which made Alcoa the first company to develop a worldwide email system.
It also meant that the hierarchy fell part and all workers were able to call O'Neill at any time about safety.
As Alcoa's safety patterns shifted, other aspects of the company starting changing with incredible speed. In the past, unions had fought against measuring productivity of workers, but it was now fully embraced because it helped everyone to figure out where in the manufacturing process things were not working. For years, managers had resisted giving workers the authority to shut down a production line when the pace was to fast. Now, finally this was accepted because it stopped injuries from occurring.
Just like how changing a personal habit, overhauls a wide range of habits (for example: starting an exercise program means automatically improving your diet and smoking less). Alcoa staff also found that improved safety habits improved other parts of individual's lives. Employees became safety evangelists and began to stop other workers on the street who were not following correct safety procedures and provided advice on the best way to proceed.
Safety Measures = Profitability
O'Neill never promised improved profits, yet, the company became more profitable. As safety improved, costs decreased. Raw materials were no longer spilled so frequently, broken down equipment was replaced which resulted in higher quality products being manufactured, as equipment malfunctions affected product quality detrimentally.
By focusing on safety, O'Neill inadvertently discovered a keystone habit that just by putting in the spotlight and improving, it enabled other habits to flourish by creating new structures and establishing a culture shift, whereby change became contagious.
What keystone habits are lurking in your company that you can improve to create a wave of change throughout your organisation?
Over the years, I've got to work with some great safety professionals and senior executives. What I have noticed about companies that are excellent at safety, is that they often have a senior executive (such as a board member, CEO, COO, Executive General Manager etc) who has been heavily involved in safety at some time in their career. They've had experience, at a grassroots level, to improve company safety. They know that it always pays to put safety first, before profits.
Senior leaders who are very strong advocates for safety ensure that the CEO or their board address safety issues promptly and correctly.
Too often, I get safety professionals asking me how to sell safety benefits to their senior management. My knee-jerk response is to say that they need to resign, as it's a pretty tough call to improve safety without senior management support. However, the reality is that if there were more company leaders with a safety background, there wouldn't even be this ridiculous issue whereby senior management need to be convinced that safety is important (it seems so 1960s, no wait 1990s!).
So my challenge to all the budding (and even those, who have, shall we say blossomed) safety professionals out there, is that if you are really passionate about safety, then you need to seriously consider working towards being senior management material so that you can improve the scope of safety at a higher level. While you can do a lot to improve safety on the front line, it's being able to drive decisions at a senior level with an unequivocal bias towards safety, that will make the real difference. This means you need to start developing a whole lot of skills that aren't to do with compliance. Rather you need to start developing your influence, communication and engagement skills. By doing this you can be the secret safety superhero, that works quietly behind the scenes for safety.
I don't recommend that every safety professional should aspire to be the next company executive general manager or Chief Operating Officer. Those jobs aren't for everyone. However, even if you don't consider yourself senior management material, it's still important to develop your safety superhero skills.
Here are 10 important skills for safety professionals (that exclude compliance and safety knowledge which is a given):
- Commercial knowledge - Too often, safety professionals consider safety as one piece of the jigsaw, but don't understand how it fits in across a range of areas of key business areas such as profits, production and so on. Ideally, safety professionals get the opportunity to work in a range of departments, so that they understand how the business works as a whole.
- People skills - This one is a given, but I would add that a true safety professional must be a real people person who likes people. After all, to really care about safety is to care about humanity and keeping people alive at work (remember this is superhero work). Being a great safety professional is like being an artist. This means being able to listen, take action upon safety concerns and feel real empathy (as opposed to sympathy) towards fellow workers. And when I meant listen, I mean real active listening where you could repeat back what the person said, rather than just listening so that you can work out when to say next. It's about being curious as to what drives people, but not just so that you can compare yourself to them and feel better about yourself. Instead, it's about accepting that everyone is an individual with different motivators and working out the best way to improve for them. It also means getting out on the floor, experiencing working the night shift and being highly visible and approachable, among workers.
- Written Communication skills - Being able to write a convincing safety campaign, is in the realm of copywriters. Yet, a safety professional needs to know how to make the month's safety theme an interesting topic of discussion. It's really important that safety professionals learn some basic marketing skills, to better influence staff with email newsletters and posters.
- Safety conversation skills - Most professions need people with great verbal skills. When it comes to safety, it's integral that safety professionals have the skills to encourage people to openly discuss issues in safety meetings, but also the ability to be able to initiate a difficult safety conversation. You need to know a variety of approaches to talk to people about improving their safety habits.
- Ask, don't tell - If you want to build rapport and get the real answer from people, ask questions and hold back from answering. A real leader shows interest in people and asks questions. This means if someone omitted a key safety step you'd ask them about why they did, how they could have done it better, rather than just telling them what to do.
- Encourage safety accountability - It's important that safety professionals let people know that they are each responsible for safety, but also subtly demonstrate this. This means asking questions in safety meetings that get the team to come up with safety solutions, but not offering any ideas. In fact, the more you give ideas or offer the suggestions, the more the weight of safety accountability will fall back on you. Ask tough questions that challenge any outdated assumptions in your organisation. Find out what safety challenge they are most concerned about and what needs to be done. This is important, as by allowing your team to come up with ideas you are growing their collective brainpower. You're also encouraging them to think more in their jobs (and improve autonomy and even, job satisfaction), which will result in you having to help them less, while they become more responsible (quick note: this is also good with children of all ages).
- Run a high performance safety meeting - Running a safety meeting at a high performance level means getting everyone to come up with safety solutions, having open safety discussions and ensuring action is taken. Learn how to be an expert in running a safety meeting where everyone collaborates and action is taken (which is also about the two previous skills - encouraging safety accountability and leading by asking questions).
- Share information - companies that are great at safety have supervisors and safety staff that freely share safety information. For example, this means if they saw an article in the paper about a safety accident that involved the same equipment at their premises they would use that as an opportunity to discuss risks. It means passing on information from production. And it means giving everyone the best chance to do well in their jobs from a safety perspective. One of the ways Alcoa improved their safety record back in the late 1980's was to share safety information in real time to all of their sites worldwide (in fact, they were the first company to use email for corporate purposes).
- Removing gender bias - Human beings can be remarkably biased. Men can often unwittingly have a bias towards women at work even when they think they agree with feminist principles. It's important for male leaders to also include women in the team (without subconsciously blocking them). And it's also important that female leaders, include males. However, if you're a male safety leader, it's important that you ensure women feel comfortable talking to you about safety issues and that you will take matters seriously. Here are some suggestions from, the Harvard Business Review article, Is Gender Bias Undermining your Company?:
Notice how you interact. When you’re in a small group, do you tend to exchange more eye contact with the men in it? Do you speak more often to men than to women? If you do notice a bias toward men, try shifting your attention slightly. Shake the woman’s hand, and exchange eye contact with her even if she's not talking. If she's being quiet, ask for her thoughts. (Don’t overdo all this, though, as you could raise the discomfort level.)
Actively listen. It’s easy to ‘hear past’ someone who is talking. (Our minds work about five times the speed of our mouths. In our rush to finish the speaker’s thought and put our own two cents in, we shut the other person down.) If you have a bias, it’s even easier to want to interrupt. Slow down and listen. If your response demonstrates that you've heard what she's said, she'll feel more enabled to contribute more fully to your organization.
- Be able to work with senior management - It's important that safety staff know how to work with senior management and also how to influence them. Being able to get senior staff to support a new safety initiative is integral. At the same time, if senior management want to push a new initiative it's important that you let them know they best way for it to work. It's a two-way relationship.
It takes a fairly remarkable safety professional to be able to talk candidly with a range of people and foster an open and positive safety culture. Having the courage, to lead by asking questions will grow your organisation's intelligence, but also improve safety accountability. This means being able to see the big picture of how safety fits into the whole organisation and all its moving parts, while at the same time acknowledging that every individual is different and being able to change your communication and influence style per person (and gender). Oh yes, also having compliance knowledge is important, too!
So do you have what it takes to be a safety hero? What do you want to be - dedicated to compliance, or someone who can foster others to have a deep awareness (and appreciation) for keeping safe in their job or someone who can secretly be safety's supporter working quietly in the background?
Image credit: Arielle Ross, 8.75 years
Regular communication and consultation about safety is a proven way to reduce injuries and workplace accidents.
In a US study, it was discovered that employers report a $3 return for every $1 they invest in safety programs – provided that they have regular safety committee meetings to stay on track.
Despite good intentions, not all safety meetings, nor toolbox talks are created equal.
In the mid 1990's, Marcial Losada undertook extensive research into the characteristics of high performance business teams.
Teams were classified into high-performing, mixed and low performing based on a number of internal and external evaluations. Interestingly, other striking differences emerged that highlighted differences between how the teams behaved during meetings:
High performance teams had high connectivity (which means they were responsive to one another) and they asked questions as much as they defended their own views. They also cast their attention outward, as much as inward. When a challenge occurred, they remained flexible and resilient.
Mixed performance teams - As could be expected, mixed teams sat in between. But they fell apart when there was a major challenge.
Low performance teams - were far less connected to one another, asked almost no questions and showed no outward focus. They also crumbled during tough challenges.
Losada might not have been specifically researching safety meetings, but we can easily assume that there are high performing safety teams that manage to make great progress on safety, while some just languish.
So how do you make your safety meetings run more like a Ferrari and less like a Ford?
Transforming your Safety Meetings
When it comes to high performance meetings, there are four core areas:
1. Open communication - This is one of the critical areas and really is a sticking point as to how healthy a company culture is operating. Having open communication is a bit like a keystone habit, as discussed in the book, The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. Some habits are more important than others because they have the power to start a chain reaction, shifting other patterns as they move through our lives (find out more about changing safety habits).
Companies that have open communication leads to a lot of the right behaviour that motivates people. It enables employees to see the big picture, understand the purpose of their job because everything is transparent.
Various studies have found that high performing teams enable everyone to talk freely and feel safe knowing that they will not receive personal criticism. Honest feedback is given and there is no talking behind people's backs. All safety issues are taken seriously and action is taken. Honest and transparent communication allows trust to flourish which is an integral part of a great safety culture.
2. Asking the Right Questions - We all know what it's like to be with a group where conversation flows freely. This is why it's important to have a leader who asks questions rather than telling people what to do. Team members are challenged, enabling great thinking to flourish. It's important that the leader has the skills to ask tough questions that challenge any outdated assumptions in the organisation. This includes finding out what safety challenges people are most concerned about and what they believe needs to be done. The leader must know to hold back from offering solutions. By guiding the team to come up with answers it grows their collective brainpower. It also encourages staff to think more in their jobs (which improves autonomy and even, job satisfaction), which will result in them less likely to have to ask for help on a regular basis. An important skill of the team leader is to encourage debates and for decisions to be made by the group, rather than the leader on their own.
3. Positivity - High performing teams have a high positivity to negativity ratio of 6:1. More positive comments are made, rather than negative. Poor performing teams have a ratio of 1:1.
Essentially, high performing safety meetings have leaders who "leave their ego" at the door. They coach, they question and they ensure everyone speaks up in a collegial, positive atmosphere. Blaming, keeping quiet and personal attacks are not tolerated.
4. Engaging communication - Showing statistics and data is an important part of any safety meeting. But sadly, numbers can be hard for the human brain to fathom. While it's difficult for me, as an ex-market researcher to believe that not everyone is a fan of statistics, I now realise that there are better ways to show your data. Just as there are better ways to influence staff during a new safety initiative. Avoid overwhelming people with data at the start of the meeting. Instead, start with a story and then show data that supports the information. Use colour to differentiate the information. And be aware that large amounts are fairly meaningless on their own. Instead, compare them to other more familiar items.
Take a look at this example, when explaining how much water people need to drink each day:
Telling people to drink 2 litres of water a day is pretty abstract, but by breaking down the information and using visuals makes it much easier to explain what people need to do.
It's important for safety leaders to know how to create workplace safety communication materials to engage people during safety meetings, but also as commmunication pieces to remind people about safety during their work (eg: email newsletters, posters).
Benefits of High Performance
By encouraging staff to openly discuss safety issues and how to address them, you naturally start to create a culture where people trust that they can speak up and offer ideas. It also encourages team members to accept personal responsibility for safety and to become more accountable. This enables you to tap into the collective wisdom of the group, rather than try and create solutions on your own.
As well as encouraging people to think and have more autonomy over their job, you also leverage the collective intelligence so that your organisation, overall, starts making better decisions. Of course, the better your company gets at thinking, the better it gets at business.
Does your company need to transform your safety meetings?
We've all experienced being at a company speech and feeling our anger grow as the company leader waffled on about a whole lot of stuff we knew wasn't entirely accurate and wasn't based in any achievable reality.
Usually these speeches were written with a deluded sense of self and what was really happening.
Fairly recently, I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat when attending a safety seminar and had to listen to absolute nonsense about a so-called safety study which was based on a flawed research methodology with a small sample size of 12 companies. The principal consultant waxed lyrical about the findings, which were all dodgy as the sample size was too small to make any assumptions. Yet, it was enough for a whole range of safety guidelines to be doled out to companies, while my ex-market research brain was writhing around in agony.
But I digress...it's not just companies trying to sell safety information that are at fault. It's also companies talking about their own safety stuff.
Here's a list of top 5 things that the workers instantly feel uncomfortable about when listening to a safety speech:
- No personal connection - We all know this one. The company CEO waltzes into town from his or her interstate or international office and tells us what to do about safety. Yet, their speech shows little understanding about your particular site and no real desire to find out either. The solution is that all company leaders need to make an effort to individually talk to workers and have a personal connection with staff. And if that's not possible, then they need to meet with supervisors before the meeting to find out particular information about that site and get supervisor's input as to what needs to be said.
- No real safety plan - While well meaning, a lot of leaders like to say that safety needs to improve and provide such a vague outline of what that entails that no-one really knows where to start or what to do. There's also no follow-up, but instead general metrics that are either to easy to improve or too hard without proper action steps. For staff to believe any safety speech, it needs to be followed with clear achievable actions and then the leader needs to give regular updates on progress.
- No real concern for employees - This is pretty obvious and it is really glaring when the safety speech omits specific information about that site. It's also pretty obvious when the leader says that safety important, but everyone knows that the safety budget has been cut and you can't get access to safety gloves or proper equipment maintenance. This one is a real doozy for contributing to poor morale and a declining safety record.
- Focus on safety statistics that omit the big picture- Statistics are a funny thing. Just because you've done well with safety last quarter, it doesn't mean that you can assume that you're doing well with safety right at that moment. Most safety stats are out of date, or measure the wrong items or give people a false sense of security. A lot of safety statistics suck (and I'm not just talking about almost made up ones, like my friends the safety consultants like to do).
When we do well, we're likely to believe that our staff, our safety equipment and our safety procedures are the reason why our staff have a good safety record. Psychologists call this fundamental attribution errors.
But another quality that can lead to our downfall is the overconfidence bias. This is when we believe that everything is so good that we don't need to change anything.
In article "Why Leaders Don't Learn From Success" for Harvard Business Review April 2011 by Gino and Pisano, they wrote that what attributes to the downfall of many companies is the failure to ask why syndrome. This is the tendency by humans to not investigate the causes of good performance. Senior teams no longer ask the tough questions which enable understanding of why safety is going well (and therefore, what they should keep doing).
Companies too often believe that their safety record is due to their excellent managerial skills, yet, it could through be through sheer good luck. Success makes us believe that we are better decision makers than we actually are.
Safety stats should be used as a guide that things are okay, but it is not a magical panacea that no more improvements can be made.
- Just talking - It's a given that leaders need to have good presentation skills to engage the audience. But even those with great speech giving skills, can believe that just there presence is enough. Unless, they're one of the chosen few doing a TED talk, it's not. Great speeches need engaging visuals or video content to help people remember and understand information. Steve Jobs , the former Apple CEO was a great speaker, but he also used visuals phenomenally well, to tell his story and help people understand information.
When it comes to safety speeches, workers want to know that they are safe at work and they can trust the senior leaders to ensure that safety is a priority. It has to be more than just lip service. People can always see through insincere and inauthentic speeches.
A great safety speech lets people know why safety is important and why they, the employees are important. It's not about the leader taking centre stage and showing off the latest statistics or providing a safety plan so flawed, that it will never work.
When you boil it all down, an awe-inspiring safety speech really signals to workers the level of compassionate leadership and commitment that their leader has for them. And if they can trust their leader, believe the information presented and feel that the plan is achievable , then mountains can be moved.
What do you dislike about safety speeches?
Back in 1987, every Alcoa plant, worldwide, had at least one accident per week. It was dangerous work. Molten metals bubbled at 1,500 degrees and machines that could literally rip off a man's arm were used every day. It was commonly accepted that some staff wouldn't make it home.
Yet, within a relatively short time, Alcoa became one of the safest companies to work at. Rather astonishingly, the worker injury rate dropped to one-twentieth of the US average. To this day, Alcoa is still exemplary when it comes to safety. In fact, the injury rate continues to decrease. It is now safer to work at Alcoa than a working at a movie studio, software company or accountancy firm.
So what happened? What changed Alcoa?
Safety and Paul O'Neill
According to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Paul O'Neill the then newly knighted CEO of Alcoa, managed to improve not only safety, but company profitability all at the same time. By focusing on improving workplace habits, O'Neill turned Alcoa around, in a way no-one thought possible.
It all started in October 1987, when he made the rather surprising move for a CEO when at his maiden company speech, he chose a shareholder meeting to announce his focus on worker safety (and not the commonly expected CEO focus on making money). His speech is arguably the best safety speech of all time (which you can read at Is this the best CEO safety speech ever?).
At the time, Alcoa was in a mess. The unions were unhappy and so were thousands of workers who regularly went on strike. The company had been steadily losing money year after year with failed product lines, poor safety and productivity.
O'Neill, a former high ranking Government official believed that he needed to focus on what would bring Alcoa together - including unions and executives. And who could argue with him? Unions had been complaining about safety for ages, while managers knew poor safety contributed to low morale and lost productivity. He also knew that he had to change their routines. In his inaugural speech he said: "If we bring our injury rates down, it won't be because of cheer-leading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from CEOs. It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to be part of something important. They've devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we're making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution That's how we should be judged".
Changing Safety Habits
While unions, Wall Street and senior executives who were passed over for promotion panicked about what O'Neill was planning to do, he set to work. He improved Alcoa by focusing on four core areas:
1. Work out Why
In the book, Start with a Why, by Simon Sinek he mentions that mediocre companies when they start any initiative, be that marketing or a business process, first focus on the what and how and then why last. Yet, when companies first question why, the company does what it does, they often uncover hidden truths that enables everyone to truly understand what to do.
To reach zero injuries, O'Neill started to investigate why injuries were happening in the first place. To do this, Alcoa had to study how things were going wrong in the manufacturing process. Once that was worked out, people were brought in to retrain staff on more efficient and safer work processes.
The result was the Alcoa became more streamlined and productive. After all, correct work is safer work.
2. Change Routines
In the book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, he explains the importance of the habit loop to change individual or even group behaviour.
Essentially, all habits include three steps. Let's take a look at how the regular habit of cleaning your teeth works:
- Cue (eg: finish eating breakfast)
- Routine (eg: brush teeth)
- Reward (eg: fresh breath, clean feeling teeth and no tooth decay).
All three steps need a firm belief that you are able to clean your teeth. This ensures you stick with your habit when life gets challenging.
Intuitively, O'Neill changed safety behaviours by using the same habit loop:
- Cue (employee injury)
- Routine (report to supervisor, who reported to unit president, who reported it to O'Neill in 24 hours with a plan to make sure injury wouldn't happen again)
- Reward (potential promotion).
Staff quickly learnt that if they wanted to get promoted, they had to start reporting and solving injuries. Meanwhile, O'Neill made sure that everyone believed that Alcoa could be a safe place to work.
3. Improve Communication
To improve workplace safety behaviours, it also meant that communication had to be overhauled in many different ways.
Vice Presidents had to start regularly communicating with floor managers, who in turn had to be in regular communication with the frontline workers. While frontline workers had to constantly think about safety improvements because they knew if an injury was reported, they would need to give the floor manager a plan, so that the Vice President had a plan to present to O'Neill.
Rather surprisingly, O'Neill gave out his personal phone number to everyone and stressed that if management was not following up on safety, that people could call him at home. He also gave frequent speeches and wrote regular communication pieces to staff about progress.
Previously, Alcoa had a rigid silo mentality which had thrived on departments working separately and not communicating with each other. Under the new system, silos broke down. Even the hierarchy crumbled, as now it was necessary for clear communication, and solutions between all levels.
In fact, so important was the need for Alcoa workers to communicate about safety at their own site, but also Alcoa sites across the world, that O'Neill took the unprecedented step of ordering Alcoa's worldwide offices to link up to an electronic network.
Alcoa had one of the first genuinely worldwide corporate email systems developed in the late 1980's, allowing staff to see safety data, in real time, around the world.
Amazingly, the opening of communication across Alcoa improved the company in more ways than just safety.
Frontline workers began to feel confident that they could suggest ideas to improve production. even if that meant phoning O'Neill at home with improvements. One such worker had an innovative idea to improve how Alcoa grouped painting machines together, which meant they could switch out pigments faster and become quicker at responding to changing demands in customer colours. This suggestion alone doubled profits on aluminium sidings in one year. Frustratingly, the same worker had been suggesting the improvement for 10 years to deaf ears.
4. Small Wins
The academic Geoffrey Hodgson wrote that "Individuals have habits; groups have routines. Routines are the organisational analogue of habits".
To change habits effectively, and to get momentum going, Alcoa had to experience some "small wins". Unfortunately, to get to this point, pain was experienced.
Six months after implementing the new safety habits, a tragedy struck Alcoa. A new worker that was young and keen was killed instantly when he unjammed an extrusion press.
O'Neill received the gruesome news at night and within 14 hours he was at an emergency meeting in Pittsburgh with all of the plant's executives and officers to painstakingly run through the accident and work out what went wrong. They discovered dozens of mistakes that had been responsible for the death. From those mistakes they implemented new procedures such as ensuring that during training, workers knew they wouldn't be blamed for equipment breakdowns and that managers did not allow anyone to jump over barriers.
A week later, all safety railings at Alcoa's plants were painted yellow, new policies were written and managers asked employees to suggest proactive maintenance ideas and rules were updated to specify that no one would attempt unsafe repairs.
And then finally, Alcoa experienced a small win. A considerable decline in the injury worker rate.
The unfortunate death acted as a tipping point that increased staff motivation to change safety habits. It brought about such a profound shift with safety habits that the change inevitably spilled over into other parts of worker lives. New ideas were regularly suggested, productivity surged and staff leveraged the new email system, to not just communicate safety, but to give Alcoa the edge in sending pricing intelligence to their other international sites. It was like a secret weapon that took years for the competition to figure out.
With any new safety plan or initiative, changing key safety habits and routines is critical for success.
Interestingly, as Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit, when people start changing their habits, they start changing other unrelated patterns in their lives, often unwittingly. Research has found that families who eat dinner every night together have children with better homework skills, greater emotional control more confidence and better grades. While those who start exercising regularly. start to eat better and become more productive at work.
Known as keystone habits, some habits are more important than others because they have the power to start a chain reaction, shifting other patterns as they move through our lives. Keystone habits influence how we work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.
To improve safety at Alcoa, O'Neill had to totally transform corporate habits. While he never promised improved profits, the company became more profitable. As safety improved, costs decreased. Raw materials were no longer spilled so frequently, broken down equipment was replaced which resulted in higher quality products being manufactured, as equipment malfunctions affected product quality detrimentally.
Being fixated on improving company safety enabled Alcoa to improve company productivity and profitability in ways unfathomable to the average business leader.
Is this a safety plan your company could implement?
If there is one thing that safety managers despair about, the world over, is how to get their staff to be more engaged and responsible for safety.
The good news is that staff want to be more involved in their job. In fact, by opening up the communication between leaders and staff you can create a vibrant and happy workforce, that all take safety seriously.
BUT, this means changing how you lead people. As the leader (and this can be the safety manager, supervisor, product manager, or even CEO etc) you most probably feel the burden of having to solve all the safety problems in your company.
This is where you need to change your mindset and begin to tap into the deep, collective wisdom of your workforce to help tackle your big organisational safety challenges.
Instead, begin to believe that your staff have unlimited intelligence and can work out solutions. Start to encourage your team to offer solutions. It's about asking questions, rather than always talking. The beauty is that you relinquish the issue of being required to always have all the answers. While at the same time, it will grow the intelligence of your workforce and stretch them to think beyond their duties. All you need to do is be their teacher and coach, providing support for them.
"Organisations that most creatively incorporate diversity of thinking will reap the rewards of innovation, growth, wealth and progress." Joel Barker
But best of all, this is how you get people to be responsible for safety and taking more ownership. By giving them the opportunity to think of solutions. You might not think that you're staff are even able to think of solutions now, but given the opportunity and a bit of practice, you'll be surprised with what they come up with.
To get them momentum started, I've put together six steps. Remember, this is a long term process and one that you will need to commit to. However, the results will be worth it:
- Discuss the Safety Problem - According to Liz Wiseman in the book, Multipliers, the best managers create a collaborative workplace where they debate issues and make decisions based on input from the group (rather than making a decision by themselves). To get your group started, get them to help you work out why they are not engaged in safety. Give them the context, as the more context they understand the better they will perform. Ask them to come up with ideas on how to fix it. Ask tough questions that challenge any outdated assumptions in your organisation. Find out what safety challenge they are most concerned about and what needs to be done. And don't offer solutions. Instead, get your team to come up with answers and guide them on whether their answers are suitable. This is important, as by allowing your team to come up with ideas you are growing their collective brainpower. You're also encouraging them to think more in their jobs (and improve autonomy and even, job satisfaction), which will result in you having to help them less. This exercise might need a couple of sessions to nut out the problem that everyone wants to work on, but keep going with it. Remember, the best way to align people to an opportunity is to allow them to discover it for themselves.
- Set a Challenge - Now, that you've worked out a problem that your staff want to fix, it's time to really get them on-board by setting a goal. Make sure that you stress the common purpose and create an inspiring goal for the group. If you pick up any personal development book, one of the main things you will learn is to dream big goals with steps on how to go about reaching them. While having goals is important for individual success, it's also important for group success. Goals force us to challenge ourselves and they are a perfect vehicle to grow and stretch the collective wisdom and energy of your team. They also bring everyone together, which is a basic human need as humans like to be part of a successful group that's going places. As Liz Wiseman mentions, great leaders create a vacuum between what staff currently do and what they need to be able to do. They create a compelling challenge that creates tension and draws people in. Just make sure the challenge is hard enough that it encourages people to pursue it, rather than an easy challenge where people will quickly lose interest. According to Heidi Grant Halvorson in a Harvard Business Review Report, when framing goals use language that suggests a development opportunity with words like “training,” “learning,” and “progress.” Let people know that they will face challenges and possibly failures. This will remove any anxiety about failing that often causes people to fail. Research undertaken by Liz Wiseman found that great leaders make challenges easy to understand and concrete. They make the challenge seem real, by encouraging people to visualise the end result and provide a cheering squad to keep people going (read How to Make New Workplace Behaviours Contagious for more suggestions). Make sure you create a SMART goal (Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Time-Bound. For example: Our production department aims to reduce hand injuries to 1 a year by December 2013.
- Keep the Momentum Going - When you focus on any goal, roadblocks appear that seem to dampen enthusiasm and progress. Have regular meetings to find out how people are going with the goal. Quickly go around the room and ask everyone whether they are facing any challenges with making the goal. If a challenge is mentioned, discuss ideas on how to solve it. This is a great way to keep safety conversations open and to generate great ideas and energy.
- Celebrate small wins - Ever used a loyalty card where, for example, if you buy 10 coffees you get one free? Research has found that people are more likely to use a loyalty card if one coffee has already been stamped, so you only have nine to go. However, if people are given a loyalty card with no stamps, they are less likely to use it. One way to motivate people is to make them feel that they are closer to the finish line than they thought. In what ways can you let the team know that they are already on their way? How can you pre-stamp their coffee card, so to speak? Make sure you celebrate small wins, as soon as you can. Keep reinforcing progress made and that change is within reach.
- Do a regular public review - Depending on how quickly you get results, do a weekly or monthly review meeting where you publish the results you are getting. Make it clear to everyone that most of the group is doing the right thing. This is a a great way to get everyone on board, particularly when you have a few stragglers that refuse to participate.
- Celebrate and start again - Once you have reached the goal, it's time to celebrate and start the process again. Ever noticed that when a team or elite sports star wins a major tournament or Grand Final that they find it difficult to win again? It's because they made their first goal and didn't think they needed to set a goal to build momentum the second time around. So make sure you start working towards a second, new goal.
By encouraging staff to openly discuss safety issues and how to address them, you naturally start to create a culture where people trust that they can speak up and offer ideas. It also encourages team members to accept personal responsibility for safety and to become more accountable. This enables you to tap into the collective wisdom of the group, rather than try and create solutions on your own. As well as encouraging people to think and have more autonomy over their job, you also leverage the collective intelligence so that your organisation, overall, starts making better decisions. Of course, the better your company gets at thinking, the better it gets at business.
As the leader, this means seeing yourself more as a teacher encouraging people to improve their performance. It means stepping back and asking questions, rather than telling people what to do. It means letting go of the need to be right and making all the decisions. No individual could ever come up with the number of ideas and solutions that can be found in collective brainpower.
Start seeing and appreciating the genius within your company and be open to the amazing opportunities that exist.
If you're reading this article, you know that any decent health and safety training manual has to include information such as personal protective equipment (PPE), emergency evacuation, incident reporting and so on.
After reading hundreds of safety induction manuals from companies, most companies get away with only including information from a compliance standpoint. This really is the bare minimum. While it might protect you legally, the truth is companies that are excellent at safety see their health and safety manuals differently. For a great safety performance culture, Health and Safety Manuals need to also include information that encourages your staff to work together on safety and understand why safety must be considered in all their decisions. The following is a list of information that will take your health and safety performance to the next level (but if you're happy with the bare minimum and just want to improve you Health and Safety manuals, then read 5 Mistakes Companies Make with their Standard Operating Procedures):
- Whistle-blower policies - One of the three key areas that we recommend companies need to get right, in order to have a high functioning culture, is to ensure that people feel safe. This safety needs to be two-fold - safety in speaking up and working in a safe environment. When staff feel safe to talk about issues, can offer suggestions and know that they are free from harm at work, they trust that the company cares for them (and so they'll work hard rather than just try to survive without issues, you can read more at 3 Factors that Influence Workplace Culture). However, there are some managers that work in such a way that their department might not feel free to speak up, thereby allowing dodgy workplace practices to exist (bribery, sexual harrassment, ignoring workplace hazards etc) in one department alone. Companies must assign a dedicated person who can be contacted when anyone has a problem that they do not feel that they can discuss with their manager (who could be part of the problem). For really large companies, a dedicated hotline is invaluable where anyone from any level can bring up a complaint and know that they will not lose their job or be bullied. Mandatory whistle blowing policies need to put in place that protect employees, and who can rely on their complaints being investigated. Employers must thoroughly investigate any complaint or allegation both with anonymity and complete confidence. Any complaint raised must be taken seriously. Otherwise, shocking workplace practises can flourish, read How a Culture of Fear Breeds Dodgy Workplace Practices for more).
- Align staff to conduct standards - Companies always put their conduct standards into safety manuals, but they often read like a complaint list from a school principal. Your conduct standards are an opportunity to align staff to your culture and what your company stands for. Rather than discussing the 'how" and "what" about company safety, start explaining "why". Why is safety important to how you do business? Why is safety integral across all departments? Stories or metaphors are the best in reaching out to staff to explain why safety is important to the company and them. For example, if integrity is your core value then talk about the importance of integrity and how leaving a ladder out for people to trip over is not how you operate. Humanise conduct standards so that they are friendly and clearly explain how you operate as a company and giving examples, where you can. Consider making your conduct standards a visual document that is more appealing than text alone. For example, we have been working with companies to create infographics that provide the information as pictures rather than words. Another alternative is to create safety training videos that visually explains your safety policy.
- Conduct for Supervisors- Supervisors are linchpins when it comes to safety in any organisation. Positive communication relations between supervisors and employees improves safety performance & staff productivity. They enable staff to freely raise safety concerns, resulting in fewer accidents, provided that management takes action on the safety issues. They also foster positive safety attitudes. All supervisors need great people skills to enable their staff to want to talk to them about issues. Consider creating codes of conduct for supervisors that request that will be positive about safety, communicate openly with frontline staff and senior management, as well as empathise with staff about any complaints (see our Supervisor Toolbox Training sessions for more information).
- The importance of teamwork - Safety manuals are often very good at letting people know what they can't do, from a process perspective. But they are often light on information that helps people understand how staff must work together to communicate about safety. When you boil it all down, having everyone working as one team and co-operating goes along way towards improving safety. If everyone cares for each other, then looking out for safety issues becomes second nature. Include references to other people, photos of team-mates, information on how people work together on safety, how you expect staff to contribute in toolbox meetings, or video content that show your staff discussing hazards. Explain the need for safety to be integrated into all decisions and that all departments are responsible for safety and must work together.
- Be friendly - A lot of companies tend to write safety manuals that are written from a legal protection stance rather than from an actually wanting to protect staff perspective. Write the manual like you're talking to your best friend or child. Write it from the perspective that you care. This is no time to sound like a lawyer. Avoid negative language. For example: "Don't panic" is best written as "Remain calm".
- Use photos and images liberally- According to Dr John Medina, the author of Brain Rules, reading is inefficient as we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. Your brain interprets every letter as a picture. This takes take time to read. It also means that lots of words shown on say, a PowerPoint slide, chokes your brain.
We are more likely to recall visual information and we are amazing at remembering pictures. This is possibly because in the olden days it was important to know whether we could eat something or whether we needed to look around to see if something wanted to eat us.
Recognition soars with pictures. In fact, recognition almost doubles for a picture compared to text.
Use photos, videos and images to really explain information. Manual handling is a great example. It's very difficult to explain how to correctly lift a box in words (which many companies try to do, rather unsuccessfully). While it is possible, you'll find it won't engage. Using video is the best way, with images of staff lifting the right way the next best (read How to improve Manual Handling Training and Awareness for more).
At a minimum, Health and Safety manuals need to explain basic safety policies in a range of areas. That might be suitable for legal reasons, but for best effect, organisations need to take it a step further. Health and Safety manuals should be seen an avenue to really explain how safety integrates into all departments, is important in all decisions and why safety is important to the company. This way staff will be aligned to the company values, importance of safety and working with others to improve safety and being accountable for their own personal safety.
What can you do to improve your health and safety manuals?
Image Credit: Green whistle, Flickr, stevendepolo