Back in the late 1960s, two psychologists, Getzels and Csikszentmihaly, did some research among some art students to uncover how they approached an arts project. They started by dividing the students into two groups. One group undertook the project with the mindset of trying to solve a problem by asking, "How can I produce a good drawing?" While the second group, tried to find a problem. They asked "What good drawing can I produce?" based on the tools they had to use.
A highly prestigious arts panel judged the art work that was created. Those who had worked from the perspective of trying to find a problem were judged to have created the most innovative work. At the time, these research findings caused uproar among psychologists. However, time has shown them to be remarkably accurate.
In fact, as Daniel Pink says in the book, To Sell is Human, what the study found was that the discovery and creation of problems, rather than being technical skillful, is what sets people apart from a creative perspective.
In today's world information is everywhere. We can quite easily jump online to search the web, or post a question on a Linkedin group and get an answer to our problems. Solving problems is much easier than it used to be. Just because you can solve them easily, it doesn't mean you're more advanced than others. It's actually the ability to find problems that sets the creative person apart from others.
It also means being able to draw insights from safety information and providing people with the insight, while avoiding any potential safety issues that can arise. If you're able to see where problems can occur, when others can't, then you are making use of your creative power (unless you always find problems and get stuck on things not working, then you're just a negative person and not much fun to be around).
For example, in the work that I do, I've had a large medical organisation ask me to speak to 250 of their employees about improving their culture and communication. There are two ways I can approach the task. I can ask myself "How can I do the best presentation?" or "What problems do they have and how can I help them with that in the presentation?" This pivots the solution from initial self-interest (how can I do the best presentation?) to one of service (how can I help them?).
Interestingly, US-based recruitment company 1-Page (which is about to list on the Australian Stock Exchange) tackles the common issue that business faces with recruitment in an innovative manner. It goes beyond people assessing resumes (that all look the same) and instead requests that applicants find solutions to real business problems. Potential recruits are issued with "challenges" with the responses being assessed using big data semantic analytics.
In the future, being able to find creative solutions to safety problems will set talented safety professionals apart from the mediocre. This makes sense given the amount of safety awards that safety associations dole out each year for innovations to safety problems. After all, innovating on safety is important for companies.
So how do you add more creativity to your safety problems? When it comes to solving safety challenges with more creative and innovative solutions, there are a few steps you can take.
1. Ask Different Questions - Often, when we can't find the solution to problem, it's because we aren't asking the right questions. Sometimes we can be so focused on finding a solution to what we believe is our problem that we are blind to other pathways to solve it. And sometimes the problem we are looking at isn't the right problem. To breakthrough this common challenge, ask yourself these questions: What is the outcome we are trying to achieve? Being future focused on the results you want can turn the issue on its head. Often, we can be wasting time on a side-problem that really is just an outcome of the real problem. Another question to ask is "How do we break the big problem down into five manageable issues?" This makes it easier to explain to others what you are trying to solve, but at the same time makes the problem seem less intimidating. It also means you break down labour required to solve the problem into discrete modules which is one of the requirements of crowd-sourcing (see point 4).
2. Compare it - When it comes to solving problems, we often need to look at others in different industries as to their solutions. Often, comparisons give us new solutions to old, unsolvable problems. When Unilever was trying to work out how to make teeth whiter, they first asked "What other companies have needed to make things white?" Once they realized that laundry detergent manufacturers boast about "Making your whites, whiter" they were able to discover how a blue pigment creates the illusion of whiteness. The outcome? A toothpaste containing blue pigment.
3. Get Out of Safety - Whenever I catch up with safety professionals, I always get amazed how they all work with the same consultants, all follow the same books and safety leaders, attend the same conferences year after year and even dictate to me the same old, safety case studies. If you look at al the safety books that are printed each year, the majority are written by those who have done nothing else but work in safety. That's why books like Transform Your Safety Communication which is written by a marketer, are valuable to safety professionals who want to think differently. Lee Fleming, a business administration professor at Harvard Business School analysed 17,000 patents and discovered that when teams are comprised of similiar people with the same educational backgrounds they uncover fewer breakthroughs. On the other hand, cross-disciplinary teams produced the most. While a MIT study also bears this out finding that problem-solvers were more successful when they had less experience in a relevant discipline. This means that biologists are more likely to solve a chemistry problem and vice versa. If you want to solve a problem that has you stumped, ask those from other disciplines to help you solve it. Consider studying with those from different disciplines and backgrounds so you get a different approach to working on safety issues.
4. Talk to the Crowd - This segues nicely into the next point that just by talking to other people and getting others involved from diverse backgrounds can lead to the biggest breakthroughs. If you have a safety problem, don't just ask another safety professional. Ask the receptionist. Ask the finance manager. Ask the crowd. In fact, the more people you ask, the better the solution. For really tricky safety problems, look at putting them up on crowd-sourcing websites to implore the crowd to find a solution. For example, post your specific challenge on www.innocentive.com or www.topcoder.com.
Having a broader outlook on life can give you enormous abilities to solve safety problems that stump others. Mixing with those in different industries, reading books that aren't by staid old safety types and attending conferences not related to safety, can open you mind to new thoughts and proceses. Considering that our brains thrive on newness, it will also work towards introducing more enjoyment in your life.
In time, those who can solve the most safely problems will be richly rewarded in the job market.
Photo image credit: Franky242 from freedigitalphotos
This week guest author, Simon Hart from Enhance Solutions take us through a new research study that publishes some surprising studies on workplace safety. Are men more committed to safety than women? Which industries are more likely to have the most injuries? Read on to find out.
In a recent publication, Dangerous Personalities Making Work Unsafe: Predicting and Preventing Transgressions against Workplace OHS, SACS Consulting undertook a survey with a range of different organisations and employment sectors. In an anonymous questionnaire, respondents were asked about their attitude and behaviour when it comes to OHS and safety in the workplace.
The study, of more than 1400 professionals across all industries, found a strong correlation between an individual’s measurable personality and values and the likelihood that they will be safe or unsafe at work (see Why are Some People Accident Prone? for extra information).
According to the study, the types of personality traits that are associated with better safety behaviours include: prudence, patience, fairness, diligence, social boldness and valuing security.
The SACS study found that some people still ignore OHS rules and act unsafely in the workplace, whereas others value their own safety and that of their colleagues so actively, that they try to improve the safety of their workplace. Using personality and values testing, the study was able to predict whether an individual is more or less likely to be safe at work.
WHICH INDUSTRIES HAVE SAFER PEOPLE?
The study showed that workers in the utilities, local government and FMCG sectors tend to have higher overall safety behaviours. Workers in these industries are more motivated to ensure safety at work, more likely to comply with OHS rules and to participate in improving safety at work. They also report a higher safety climate in their workplaces.
OVERALL SAFETY BY INDUSTRY
State government employees tend to be less safety conscious and compliant than local government. This may be explained by a higher prevalence of office jobs in state government, which like professional services, arts and media communications are less concerned with safety compared with other industries. Many local government roles, like utilities and manufacturing, involve physical labour and onsite jobs that tend to attract more safety consciousness.
The study shows that the industry outlier is health and community services, including aged and disability care, which has only a median safety consciousness, yet the highest number of injuries.
Of the 120,155 serious workers compensation claims in 2011-12, the highest numbers of claims were made by workers in health and community services at 19,060 claims. This was an average of 50 claims for compensation for work-related injury or illness made by workers each day. 16,670 claims were made by manufacturing workers and 4330 claims were made by government workers.
COSTS OF SAFETY INCIDENTS ARE INCREASING
While numbers of injuries have modestly declined over the past decade, the costs of workers compensation claims have increased dramatically. Employers in Australia spend upwards of $7 billion on workers compensation per year and the overall cost of workplace injuries and illnesses was estimated by Safe Work Australia at more than $60 billion in 2008-09, which equates to almost 5% of GDP.
In particular, workplace stress and bullying claims and costs have sky-rocketed. Employers often struggle to prevent and manage these types of subjective OHS risks at work. SACS research has uncovered a new insight into this problem by identifying which types of workers are more likely to have interpersonal conflicts at work.
MYTH or FACT?
The workplace stereotype that women are ‘catty’ while men are easier to get along with has been busted by SACS research. Men are more likely to bully or harass people at work, and women are likely to help others in personal difficulty and be nicer to colleagues.
Overall, men are more likely to do bad things to colleagues and women are more likely to do bad things to the organisation they work for. With stress and bullying incorporated into OHS legislation, employers should be just as concerned about preventing these types of psychological harms as physical ones.
ARE MEN OR WOMEN SAFER AT WORK?
On every safety behaviour and across all industries, men are more diligent and committed than women to being safe at work.
Women are less likely to participate in OHS practices and are more likely to disobey their company’s rules. This finding was also reflected in SACS Consulting’s previous study on counter-productive workplace behaviours which found that women are more likely to disobey company rules.
Australian workplaces have come a long way on safety at work in recent decades but the emphasis has been on minimising safety risks at the worksite and drilling employees on OHS procedures.
What the study has shown is that employers can now minimise the safety risks that employees bring to the workplace. This is why it's important that companies improve how they communicate and inspire employees to work safely together. It's no longer about whipping people into being compliant, but creating regular dialogue with employees about why safety is meaningful to their lives. The book Transform Your Safety Communication teaches workplaces how to do this.
For employers concerned about OHS and are keen to reduce workers compensation costs, time lost to injury and associated productivity costs, screening their staff may be a shortcut to achieving better safety outcomes. This can be done by screening and assessing potential employees, which many employers do to get insights into other aspects of their staff, but screening can now be done to determine how safety conscious or OHS committed individuals are from the outset. This will allow employers to select the right people for their workplace or to modify roles and responsibilities to better fit the characteristics of their staff.
Guest Author Simon Hart, Senior Consultant, Enhance Solutions
Image Credit: Suat Eman
Communication is an interesting thing. No matter how many years you have been talking, writing or even managing other people, your communication abilities fluctuate.
While it is mostly true that those with concise and clear communication skills are more likely to be promoted to leadership positions, the skills that got you there won't keep you there.
Communication skills are one of those things you have got to be consciously improving on a regular basis. After all, we can get so lazy in our communication. Have you ever tried to write a directive email while talking on the phone, before rushing to a meeting? The chances are your email was unclear and confusing.
Aside from communication suffering when we are juggling different priorities, it also suffers if we haven't spent the time correcting easy mistakes that can cause our communication to have people scratching their heads. Or worse, not even bothering to look at it because it was underwhelmingly boring.
When it comes to unclear safety communication there are five common mistakes that I've seen made by everyday safety professionals. These are:
1. Too many messages - This is a rookie mistake that many safety professionals keep repeating when they're no longer a rookie. It's when you start writing or talking about one safety process and then throw in another. Or you go off on another tangent. For example, talking about the need to wear safety glasses but then deciding that the information should really talk about all the terrible people who aren't wearing them. It's not the time or place to complain about poor safety performance when you're trying to explain a procedure. People will stop listening or subsconsciously think "Well, if all these people aren't doing it, then I don't have to either."
2. Safety essays - You know the ones, safety articles so dense with wall to wall text, that if you try to read it out loud, you'd struggle to catch your breath. No-one needs that much information. Nor is anyone going to read it. The more information you provide people, the more likely you will confuse them. Your role is to provide the safety insight and not content for the sake of content. Your insights need to make it easy for people to understand why they need to do a procedure, what they need to do and how. People don't need to know all of the related legislation and recent legal cases.
3. Using big words - Getting an "A" in English at school was all about using lots of big words and flexing your vocab knowledge. But in the business world, people tune out. After all, how are they supposed to know what to do when they don't even know the meaning of words? I had one safety professional work with me on a manual training manual. I requested several times that he wrote the content simply. So you can understand my surprise when he substituted the word "hammer" with "percussive tool." Percussive tool, really? Ever heard the blokes out on the floor saying "Pass me the percussive tool, Percival?" I don't think so. You can imagine what our insider term is for him now (hint: starts with 't').
4. Not asking for what you want- This is a big mistake and one that I often see with safety professionals. We often underestimate the power of just asking. Directly. Many of us don’t ask for what we want – preferring to make hints, expecting people to know what you want them to do or avoid asking for fear of looking stupid.
The surprising thing is that research studies have found that people get really high compliance rates when they ask.
A couple of months ago I hosted a safety webinar and received a couple of emails from people complaining that they missed it. I assumed they wanted access to the replay and had to ask. That was what they actually wanted, but they didn't make a request. Well, I tell you what my friend, if you don't ask you don't get. It makes me wonder how they communicate about safety. Chances are they tell people a new process, but they don't both to ask them specifically and clearly on how it needs to be done. This is a critical part of communication. Giving people information is not enough. You have to ask for action. If you want to learn more about this the book, Transform Your Safety Communication goes into detail about this. Otherwise, our Fast Track Your Safety Communication Results workshops offer more interactive learning.
5. No deadline- This leads me to my next point. It's very common that safety professionals will complain that safety reports aren't being handed in on time. Clear communication is all about being specific. Be specific about what you want and when. How high, how far, how much? Where, how and with whom? Don't be hazy with this as laziness is the hallmark of a poor communicator.
Providing people with information is not enough. The real role of safety professionals is to provide people with the insights they need to keep themselves safe at work. Not lots of content.
In safety communication, it’s all about getting people to feel that the procedure is important and then make the necessary changes to their behaviour.
Image credit: Stock images by freedigitalphotos
After many years of being told how amazing the National Safety Council Congress and Expo is in San Diego, I finally had the pleasure of attending this week.
I headed off to San Diego on the Pacific Surfliner train from Los Angeles. It was a relaxing and scenic 2.5 hour journey where the train is literally right beside the ocean. I was most surprised to see a plethora of surfers at 7.00am, as well as joggers and walkers. As someone who jogs by my local beach at the same time, when only a handful of people are about, it was refreshing to see so many people on such a long stretch of beach.
Arriving at the San Diego Conference Centre too early, I decided to have a coffee. Luckily, for me there were 3 Starbucks to choose from alongside the conference centre. Phew! Each one of them had queues that were 20 minutes long. Hmmmm.
A massive amount of people were eagerly waiting to get inside the expo. The incredible thing was as soon as the doors opened at 10am and everyone stormed through, it was like they all evaporated. The expo centre is so large that even what looked like, say 2,000 people arriving all at once, just looked liked a small handful once you walked around (but it increased over the day).
I have to say that my favourite stand was Disney Careers. Yes, that's right - Disney as in Walt Disney. When you think about all of the Disneylands worldwide and all of the safety risks in running a theme park, the need for switched on safety professionals is critical (and of course, those that can live out Disney core values which I'm guessing are pretty difficult to find).
So they were there recruiting. Yes, that's right, recruiting safety professionals. They weren't selling anything - not even Mickey Mouse themed safety helmets.
Of course, their freebies were highly prized. I particularly liked the Mickey Mouse ear pens. At least, I can give those to my kids to assuage my guilt of being away.
As luck would have it, I'd only been walking around a short 15 minutes when I literally walked into Phil La Duke another safety blogger. We've been connected on Linkedin for a few years, so we then walked around and met lots of people. Isn't it amazing that you can make a connection on Linkedin and meet up half way across the world?
Phil introduced me to a unique company called Slice that has stunningly designed cutting tools. I literally fell in love with a modern day Stanley knife that uses a ceramic blade, rather than steel. They are much safer and lighter. Of course, there was a fellow Melburnian on the stand who distributes the slice products in Australia.
Australian Safety Shows v. US Safety Shows
As someone who has exhibited at many safety shows in both Melbourne and Perth, I have to say I could have been at a Melbourne safety show. It's amazing how they can all look the same - same products and the same types of companies exhibiting.
The major differences were:
1. Scale - the sheer size was enormous, but still achievable to walk around a couple of times in one day.
2. No scantily clad promotional girls - That's right - none. For some reason in Australia, we always have at least 3 snarly looking blonde girls in little shorts, tight singlets and the obligatory safety helmet and boots walking around handing out brochures. Surprisingly, there were none. Only two beautiful male models (?) who tried to coax me into a safety boot training session (also on offer was a Starbucks voucher and a t-shirt, sadly no-one attended).
3. No pushy salespeople - Yep, I expected that. But no-one harassed me. No-one tried to sell me a fall arrest system. No-one tried to force safety gloves on me. All sales staff were friendly and polite.
4. Entry fee - This was a surprise to me but the fee was $100 per day. In Australia, it's free. Of course, when I would exhibit I would tire of the groups of people who were just cruising around looking for freebies (some would literally walk up to you and ask if you had anything to give them). At least, for exhibitors they know that attendees are all genuine.
So what's the latest Safety Product?
Now, for those dedicated safety professionals that are reading this you're probably asking - what was the latest safety product? What's new in safety? Hmmmm. I don't really know.
All I know is that I saw so many weird looking high visibility safety gloves that I thought they were some new product for Halloween.
I have been told online safety management systems were the next big thing - but I'm not convinced.
All I know is that I finally saw pink safety helmets and vests. Yay!
All in all, I enjoyed my long day walking around and meeting people. Highly recommend.
As someone who writes and communicates my thoughts freely, it was a shock to hear from one of my Fast Track your Safety Communication Results students that she has to follow a script for toolbox talks.
Six times a week.
And she can't change the content or the PowerPoint Slides.
Of course, all of the content comes up instantly on each slide. So she's effectively talking to a group of people while they speed read her content.
I could totally understand and empathise with Sandy (not her real name), as to why she felt so frustrated and unempowered. Day after day she was walking into different meeting rooms around the site, reading out a script to people she doesn't really know, with a script she has no control over. It was decided that because she didn't know some of the technical equipment or processes that someone else more senior needed to write it, while she delivers it.
There are several issues with this common (and stupid) corporate practice:
1. First of all, as a safety professional the most important thing you can do is have people like and trust you, so that they will come to you with questions and let you know when a safety issue arises. But it's very hard to build rapport if you have to act like a robot, mindlessly talking through pre-written slides.
2. Second of all, I know very few senior safety professionals who have any training in how to create interesting slides, let alone how to deliver content in an engaging manner (unless they refer to the book, Transform Your Safety Communication). It's very hard to present information convincingly, if you haven't written it. As someone who has directed countless senior leaders delivering speeches to camera, I always advise to write (and rehearse) your own speech. Any speeches that were written by someone else, people always stumbled over and just sounded false. In the end, many CEOs would madly rewrite their script, so they could say their own words in an authentic way.
A better use of resources is to get a junior person to write their own presentation to build up their skills, but to also make them more authentic and believable.
3. Communication is all about relationships. Ideally, it's a 2 way conversation where you get people involved with your information and they ask questions. The more you communicate a topic, the more feedback you get, so the more you can tweak the content, so that it's relevant to your audience.
4. Being a good leader is all about empowering your staff and stretching them. Good leaders don't tell employees to do a pre-made presentation and not improve it. That's short sighted. Every piece of work anyone does in a company has the potential for improvement. And for a workplace to thrive, everyone should have the power to give their input and action on it. That's how you build accountability and job satisfaction.
In the book, How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins he says exceptional companies need self-managed and self-motivated people. These are key ingredients for a successful culture. But where a culture is characterised by rules rigidity and bureacracy, you end up creating a culture of mediocrity.
So if you're in a command and control organisation that "makes" you do boring safety presentations, how do you get around it?
Yep, that's it. Ask a whole lotta questions.
When you do a toolbox talk, ask a question at the start. A simple "Tell me what do you already know about our emergency procedures?" Get some dialogue happening.
You'll find that once you do the first live rehearsal, you'll see where people get bored. That's where you ask them a question about the content. Get them involved. See how that question goes the second time around. Test and tweak. Be curious. See the boring 6 toolbox talks as an opportunity to test questions and learn.
After all, you're not really diverting from the script. You're adding to it by asking questions. You're not telling people any unauthorised information.
At the end, ask people questions about the presentation. Questions such as "What did you learn today?' or "How could I have done that better?"
If all you're doing is talking during a presentation, you're not relating. Asking questions builds rapport and helps work towards getting people to trust you - such an important element in safety.
Asking questions also gives you the information you need to go back to your boss and say, "I've been doing 5 toolbox talks like you told me, what I'm finding is that people are confused about y procedure. What they tell me they need to know is this....Are you okay if I update the slide with this information?"
Taking control and ownership of the presentation will not only give your boss a break from having to write the content all the time, but let them know that you have good ideas and are always looking for solutions. It also means you're accepting responsibility which is a sign of a great employee that any good corporation would encourage. And of course, if they say no - ask why.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, at freedigitalphotos
We all have different styles when it comes to making decisions. When it comes to making a choice at work, how do you like to operate?
A. Prefer to receive lots of detailed information, so that you can make a comprehensive assessment, or
B. Make a quick decision using minimal information?
In our society, we've been made to believe that the best decisions are made from deliberate and systematic thinking. There is a subtle bias against making quick decisions, as we often feel that snap judgements are often wrong because it takes a risky short cut.
Yet, when research has been undertaken with nurses or firefighters who need to make snap decisions they found that the better quality the decision the less likely all of the options had been assessed.
So when it comes to making complicated decisions, B is the correct answer.
In fact, research undertaken with psychologists and even emergency room doctors found that the more information that was given about a patient, the less accurate the decision. Yet, interestingly, the confidence levels of both psychologists and doctors of their analysis was much higher, the more information they had received. Even though, the decision they made was often flawed.
The reality is that being provided lots of information to make a decision, actually increases the likelihood we will make the wrong decision.
We don’t need to sift through every fact or figure. Former Secretary of State in the US, Colin Powell said:
“I can make a decision with 30% of the information, anything more than 80% is too much.”
Ironically, the desire for improved confidence undermines the accuracy of the decision. It makes us more muddled.
In fact, brain research shows that we intuitively figure out what to do with information we have received before we can express it verbally. Our ability to unconsciously make a decision is very fast and highly accurate.
This is because our brain has developed a very fast-thinking section that keeps us alive by relegating all of the high level thinking to the unconscious. And it's this section that makes high quality and quick decisions.
Rather counter intuitively, the more we think about our decision the more likely we are to make a poor choice. That’s why when you force people to make a rational decision with the rational part of their brain, they over think. Their decisions take longer and tend to be of lower quality.
Research has found that the more complicated a problem, the more we need to trust our instincts rather than undergo complicated analysis. The more variables we need to look at, the more we need to trust our gut. Our unconscious brain is at its best when it has to make a decision from a variety of variables.
Helping Employees Make the Right Decision
Essentially, this means that as a safety communicator you want to avoid people over-thinking any safety information you provide. Your communication needs to inspire people right there and then, that they need to follow through with the instruction. That they need to change their behaviour. You don’t want them having to think about it! They need to feel it. Instantly.
Ask yourself, how often have you provided decision makers or employees with lots of information believing that would influence them to be more aware of safety? The reality is that not only does it increase their chances of making the wrong decision about what to do in say a industrial accident, but you're also more likely to make them tune out due to information overload.
If you are finding that when you provide safety information and some employees question why or doubt the need, then you know that your safety communication isn't helping people make the right decision.
For eons, people have said that they made a gut decision. We look up at colleagues with comments like "She's got her finger on the pulse" and "He is a sharp decision maker." Yet, how often do workplaces churn out big complicated safety information expecting people to read it, let alone make a decision as to how to work safely?
Think about how you measure safety in your workplace, are you checking lots of measurements? We often think we need all of the information to keep a workplace safe, but when you think about it, all you need is one main figure. Like the weather. Do we need to know the speed of the wind, humidity or barometric pressure. No. All we need is the temperature forecast.
The key to good decision making is not lots of knowledge. It's understanding. We're drowning in information, yet starving for wisdom. We've confused information with understanding.
What organisations and their staff need is for someone just like you, to clearly tell them what to look out for. Yet, so many safety professionals write and talk about safety in such a way that's confusing and obscures how that information relates to people's lives.
The new role of the safety professional is to critically think about what the safety information is highlighting and then write and talk about it in such a way, that people can understand what it means and how it is relevant to them.
In the book, Transform Your Safety Communication, it refers to 3 steps that you need to follow in your safety communication whether written or verbal, to help people make better decisions:
1. Write simple messages - Cut down the fluff and tell people exactly what the problem is and how they can protect themselves and others.
2. Reduce the content - Less is more. If you provide people with too much information, they will over think and get overwhelmed. Remember, over-thinking leads to poor quality decisions. You want people to feel what they need to do.
3. Tell people what to do - Prioritise the information so that people know how to take action. Without this people will determine what to do themselves. This can often be the wrong choice.
By taking the guesswork out of your safety messages and ensuring that people feel instantly what they need to do to improve, you will dramatically increase the amount of high quality decisions that your workforce makes on safety.
Photo Credit, Stuart Miles
One mistake I often see safety professionals do, is that once they have created a new company safety procedure, they get all excited about it and go and tell the next colleague they see. Usually their workmate has their mind on something else such as they're busy filling out a form or using a machine.
And the safety guy or gal expects them to be so fascinated and just stop what they’re doing and listen. But this never works. You’ve got to get people’s attention first. You need to make it relevant to them. You can’t just kind of throw up on people with your information. And if you’re on the receiving end, sometimes it does feel like that.
When it comes to providing people with any sort of information that you want them to take notice and act upon, you have to get their 100% full attention.
You can think of getting attention as like a spark plug igniting fuel to start an engine. Attention starts the motor of your brain. The first thing is to ignite that spark plug and then once the engine is running you can get into more detail.
Once the brain is aware that a poor safety behaviour is being undertaken incorrectly, it can then start to work on it to improve.
Attention has enormous catalytic properties in changing safety behaviours. It provides a powerful energy for change.
It’s the first step that I teach in the Fast Track your Safety Communication Results program because without it, people can’t take action on your messages.
If you don’t know this, the costs are huge because you will forever make boring safety communication that people just aren’t interested in. It will keep you stuck in writing safety messages that actually repel safety from being meaningful to people. It’s the key to drawing the employee into finding out more. And wanting to learn and know how to keep safe.
Creating boring safety information actually works against how the brain processes information.
This is because our brain relies on past patterns to know what to do. Our brains actually use pre-recorded patterns to make sense of our experience to decide whether something is boring or interesting. Our thinking machines are actually activated when something novel or unusual occurs, so that we can learn for the future.
The good news is once you get attention, you stand a chance of breaking up old patterns and creating new ones. But the key is to get full 100% attention, in order to encourage the brain to learn so that patterns can be updated with new information.
In fact, this is such an important part of our biological design that our brains are actually hard-wired to seek out novelty and challenges. When our mind stops to attention, it actually releases the feel good hormone dopamine, which gives your brain a boost of energy to rise to the challenge of "let's figure this out mode”.
Bottom line is you need to include some of the attention grabbing strategies that are mentioned in the book, Transform Your Safety Communication. Otherwise, you're missing out on an important opportunity to change behaviour.
But there are also two other common ways that safety communicators create their communication, not realising that what they've created works against how the brain processes information.
That is, by creating information that's not relevant to the individual and by providing far more information than is necessary, particularly at the start of a piece of safety communication.
Remember, the brain is constantly looking at ways to save effort so that it doesn't get overloaded. If you provide it with too much information, it desperately tries to seek an easy way to make sense of the information.
If you start talking about a process that people have been told about year after year, it will stop paying attention because it will believe it already knows the information.
In addition, if you provide too much information, it will also switch off because you've overloaded it.
Without knowing what makes people tick or how to make information easy to understand, it’s kind of like starting your engine with diesel when you really needed premium unleaded. You might be able to start the car, with some of the attention grabbing strategies, but it’s not going to go very far. It’s going to stall.
Winston Churchill quite rightly summed it up by saying “This report by it’s very length, defends itself against being read.”
It’s the same with your audience. No-one is going to read anything you write if it looks really long and unappealing.
A common mistake a lot of safety communicators makes is that they won’t start writing about a new safety procedure until they have every single little detail available, so they can write a massive piece of communication that's so comprehensive that people need to spend an hour reading it.
Colin Powell, the former secretary of state for the US when he said, "I can make a decision with 30% of information. Anything more than 80% is too much.
If you give people too much information, it stops them from making a decision. That's because you're working against how their brain operates.
Essentially, what this means is that to get people to change their behaviour through safety communication you have to get their attention, but also provide them information that is easy for the brain to understand. For example, wall to wall text and long complicated sentences is a big no-no. But minimal text and lots of pictures is much more digestible to the brain.
For this week only, you can learn more about this topic, by tuning into my complimentary 90 minute training webinar, 3 Secrets to Creating Attention Grabbing Safety Messages. In this webinar, you'll learn about the 4 Step AURA communication blueprint which goes through the important steps you need to embed into your communication, so that it works with how the brain processes information.
In the book, Transform your Safety Communication, it's mentioned that the secret to safety professionals changing attitudes or improving the way people undertake procedures is using marketing-based techniques.
That's because for many decades advertisers or marketers have been experts at influencing consumers to purchase products and services by writing convincing ads. After all, there have been highly effective television advertising campaigns that have improved safety among the general population such as wearing a safety belt and not driving when drunk.
Now, I know, I can hear you muttering underneath your breath that it's beneath you to be a marketer. After all, they are the masters of being manipulative and pulling the wool over people's eyes. While you're in safety, champion of the under-classes, seeking to convince people to work safely by just talking to them.
But here's the thing. You're using marketing techniques every day. You just don't know it. If you've ever written an article or given a talk to persuade others to work safety - you're effectively marketing safety. Your job is to promote safety. The question is are you using manipulative or aspirational marketing techniques? There's quite a difference.
If you're using fear to "scare" people into working safely, you're being highly manipulative to encourage compliance. In that case, you're comparable to a marketer that is just duping people. Honestly. It's no different. Scaring people into safety or making people buy stuff they don't need rate at the same level of dishonesty in my book. And they both provide short term results.
In case you're not convinced, here are three reasons to become a safety marketer:
1. Safety culture transformer - As a safety professional, you need to get the workplace to buy-in to the safety goals and get everyone on the same page on safety. If you want to be an expert at influencing others to work safely, well, learning a few easy marketing techniques will improve your results. This means knowing how to write information in a compelling manner that not only looks good but is easy to read (yes, I said easy to read, written in plain language and conversational). It also means knowing how to turning around negative attitudes about safety into positive attitudes.
2. Become an Attention Seeker - Marketers know how to get attention and keep it. That's what you need to be able to do, if you want people to notice your new safety communication. Everything you write requires attention grabbing principles so that people read what you say. Often, safety professionals write information and are disappointed to find that no-one is reading it. If that's you, then learning some attention grabbing techniques will make a big different to what you do. Getting attention is the key towards helping your workforce improve their safety behaviour.
3. Action Makers - The main goal of any safety marketer is to get people to take action. In marketing, getting people to take action is all about getting people to buy. Often this means encouraging people to change their behaviour from buying their favourite brand X and trying new brand Y. In safety, while you're not selling an actual product, you're still selling. In this case a concept. You need to encourage employees to start doing new action X or substitute old behaviour Y with Z.
As you know, many people don't like change. So you have to make a convincing case that they need to change. And of course, old habits are hard to break, so you need to know how to insert new habits.
The good news is that learning some simple safety marketing techniques will transform your results. For a short time only, we have complimentary training to teach easy marketing techniques. Register now at 3 Secrets for Attention Grabbing Safety Messages.
Photo Credit: Stuart Miles, Freedigitalphotos
Recently, I was telling someone not involved in the safety industry that the reason why I enjoyed safety communication is that it's about saving lives. She mentioned that this was a really wonderful way to connect with other safety professionals. However, I shocked her when I said "Few safety professionals care about saving lives, it's all about being right or about being compliant."
Now, many of you might be shocked to hear me say that. But really, how many of you leapt out of bed this morning thinking, "Today, I'm going to make a big difference to the world. Today, I'm going to save lives at work" I'm guessing none of you.
And the reason why savings lives isn't very meaningful to the average HSE professional is that their ego gets in the way. Instead, it makes safety about them - not the average worker. Now, don't get me wrong, I've worked with countless safety professionals that really, really cared about others. But I've worked with many who don't.
Here are five types of egocentric behaviours that undermine safety improvements:
1. Safety information hoarders - It is common knowledge that safe workplaces have safety professionals and supervisors that freely share safety information. Yet, there are lots of safety professionals who like to hoard information. It's a power thing. He who has the most knowledge wins. It ensures that they have more information than other safety colleagues. It means they feel more important and that they can stop rivals from getting promoted.
2. Safety knowledge king - The next type of safety professional is very similar to the safety information hoarders because they then like to use their supreme safety knowledge to let others know they are wrong. Yes, wrong. The big one. These people almost get off on proving other people wrong and being right. Preferably in public. Their communication style is all about highlighting failure, rather than on how to improve. When they write, they like to use big words and complicate even the simplest of tasks. My favourite example is a safety professional who liked to substitute the term percussive tool for a hammer. Well, you can guess what his nickname was. These types write the most boring safety communication on earth. It's not about helping people understand or stay safe, it's about being an important expert. It's about "I", not "we". These types would never understand why they need to create attention grabbing safety messages. Oh yes, and they never like to be proved wrong.
In the words of Phil LaDuke, "Telling me to be careful is very different to saving my life."
3. Compliance rules, ok! - The next type is just so left-brained that life is all about safety rules and sticking to them. Of course, we all know that life becomes a pretty hard act to follow when you stick to rules religiously. A bit like a Reverend who talks a lot about the evils of sex and is secretly seeing a mistress. These types have lots of issues when rules change, preferring to stick with the golden days of compliance. They also love to read through legal documents and court cases and can roll off the numbers and outcomes to legislation in their sleep. Not someone you want to go out with a share a beer, unless you can get them really, really drunk. Then watch them going wild with breaking safety rules. Of course, they'll still be able to tell you which law they broke.
4. Too cool for school - The next type believes that because they know everything, they don't need training. Instead, they should be training others, but because of their amazing knowledge and experience they're not open to learning. There's a reason why the Greek word for idiot actually means someone who can't learn from others. This type just likes to cherry pick information from books or grab free information from the web and put it together themselves. Sadly, they don't quite realise that they're missing out on the really good stuff that makes the 10% difference to their results.
5. Anti consultants, young people and women - The ego is very much about separation. Not trusting others. So safety professionals with big egos tend to distrust anyone different. Namely, external consultants, young people ("they don't know anything"), women ("they don't know anything"), new employees ("they don't know anything") and of course, different races ("they don't know anything in English").
In summary, safety professionals that let their ego get in the way, don't really care about the safety of others. It's all about them, how much they know and how much power they have in telling people what to do and of course, in being right.
They're averse to collaborating, sharing and learning. Paradoxically, all the things you need to create a safety workplace culture. Quite frankly, having them in charge of writing safety documents is a complete disaster. They always come from the personal agenda of being better than others, so they will never write in a way that produces a holistic safety outcome. It's all about the process, not the results.
Of course, the fact that you read this right down here to this last paragraph means that you don't have a big out of control ego. And you're open to learning, so please register for our free training webinar - 3 Secrets for Creating Attention-Grabbing Safety Messages.
Recently, I was talking to Julie Honore from Safesearch, a safety professional recruitment company that specialise in finding safety staff in Asia, Australia and the Middle East. She told me that there is a growing demand for sophisticated safety professionals that can coach, influence and engage on safety.
It is now just expected that safety professional have technical ability, but it is having the right communication skills that makes all the difference between a mediocre safety practitioner and an extraordinary one. That difference can turn into thousands of dollars of extra pay every year and a swift progression up the corporate ladder. And when I say thousands of dollars, we can easily be talking about $40,000 - $70,000 more - per year.
Now, one thing I seem to have in common with lots of consultants to safety professionals is that well, we all find that safety professinoals never seem to think they need to improve in....anything. Particularly communication. And when it comes to influence, it's not something they seem to be consciously aware of. Now, I'm not saying that's every single safety professional. To be honest here, it is the ones who have been staying in the same position year after year. Often complaining about the company they work for.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, there's a reason why you don't get promoted. Why your contract expires and doesn't get renewed. And why, senior management doesn't take you seriously.
As a safety leader, your effectiveness is determined by how clearly and quickly you can spread the positive influence of safety-related activities throughout an organisation.
If you want to get people on board, you have to sell why safety processes and compliance are important to the individual. Why it should matter to them.
In other words, being able to sell the importance of safety, so that you get everyone aligned with the company safety goals. Essentially, that means learning how to sell safety, but in a way that is collaborative and engaging. It also means having the linear thinking required to create a new safety strategy - the goals required, the actions and the end result. Together, with the right brained skills to enable others to connect to the safety vision and work towards it.
It's up to you to develop the leadership skills to positively shape the safety culture
Assuming that you want to keep moving up the corporate ladder, here are some areas that signal where you need to work on:
1. Safety culture influence - it's common knowledge that for safety to infiltrate throughout a company it needs the full support of the CEO and executive team. Companies that are great at safety truly value safety and this comes from the top and trickles down to all levels. If you find that your senior leadership team aren't interested in safety or refuse to support you with communicating safety, then it's your job to convince them the benefits of safety. The big question is, do you know how to do this? Do you know how to create a convincing business case that will highlight to senior management the financial costs to the business from injury claims and insurance costs? If you find that they don't care about safety, then you need to work on making them care.
2. Influencing safety to all levels - For safety to be truly valued in a company, it needs to be championed by senior management and then you need to help them with influencing the rest of the workforce to align with the safety goals. Do you have the communication skills to write engaging safety articles, content for toolbox talks and motivating safety speeches? It's critical that you know how to write about safety that makes it meaningful to others, that you know how to use the right pictures, know techniques to make information easy to understand and easy to remember. If you need help in this area, then the book Transform Your Safety Communication is a great reference book to use.
3. Lack of Commitment - Commitment is such a wonderful thing. Real leadership is about being 100% committed to working to achieve your vision and doing it to help more people. It's not about how you look and what results you get (because initially your results might get worse before they get better, it's about long term results, not short term), but it's about how driven you are to making a difference. Sticking to the course, when things get tough (and they always do!).
It's the committed safety leaders who are the true "movers and shakers", who will do anything to get positive change occurring. They avoid lip service, instead they advocate taking real action. This means keeping appointments, taking complaints about safety issues seriously, doing what you say you will do, caring about people getting injured and being unafraid to make changes when things go bad. You can read more about this at Are you as Committed to Safety as you Think? You've got to ask yourself whether you're truly committed to improving safety and that you'll do what it takes. Or are you only interested in writing information on safety and being the expert and commanding respect?
4. No Action - It's one thing to tell people to work safely, but it's another to see people actually changing their behaviour. If you're writing and talking about safety, but nothing seems to stick, then you need to look at ways to get people to take action. There are lots of strategies you can use and you can learn about them in a complimentary training webinar that we have on for a short time called "3 Secrets to Creating Attention Grabbing Safety Messages." This also means that people talk to you about safety and see you as a safety resource. If you're not getting this, then you know that it's time to improve.
5. Communication gets blocked - many organisations have areas in the company where safety communication, in particular, gets "lost" and doesn't seem to get distributed. Or if it does it has been altered to the point the main message is diluted. While this can be symptomatic of a company operating in competitive silos, it still needs your influence skills to unblock the flow of communication. Do you know how to convince those to distribute your information? Do you know how to improve how you write about safety so it's more engaging? It's really important that you develop a strong network within the organisation you work for to improve the flow of communication.
6. Coaching on safety - When you see someone doing the wrong safety process, do you know how to coach them to improve or do you just criticise? It's important that your communication is about feedback, not failure. Knowing how to influence people one on one in safety is so important for developing the right safety culture.
Safety professionals need to improve how they communicate with their workforce so that their message resonate. This means learning new skills, so that you can connect and communicate ideas and concepts. Likewise, being a safety leader means having the skills to network with everyone throughout the organisation, in order to quickly transmit ideas and get buy-in.
But your role goes much deeper than that. To be a highly effective safety practitioner, you need to be able to influence the thoughts, actions and behaviours at your workplace, so that employees follow the safety goals, thereby creating the right safety culture.
But you have to be committed to wanting to make a difference. And the question is are you really committed to creating a safe workplace and being a true safety influencer?
Image Credit: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos