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
Marie-Claire Ross, author of the highly acclaimed book, Transform Your Safety Communication, is hosting a complimentary training webinar to help safety leaders and safety professionals improve how they talk about safety, in order to put safety front of mind for busy employees.
Melbourne, Australia (Date) – Marie-Claire Ross, CEO and Author at Digicast Productions, a safety communication agency, today announced the launch of a free webinar, 3 Secrets for Creating Attention Grabbing Safety Messages. It’s designed specifically for safety leaders who are frustrated that workers are ignoring their safety messages and who want an easier way to get co-workers to improve their safety habits.
Creating a safe workplace is a business imperative for all organisations. Yet, there is a plethora of safety related information readily available through the internet, professional associations, media publications, books and training courses.
What many organisations find is that they are drowning in safety information. There is so much safety intelligence to keep track of that it's difficult for them to decipher what is relevant for their company. What they really want is for someone to shine a light on applicable safety information and help people see what the dangers are and what they need to do to keep workers safe. In effect, workplaces are drowning in safety information, but they're starving for wisdom.
This is the important role of a safety professional. To be able 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. Yet, so many safety professionals discuss safety in such a way that's confusing and obscures how that information relates to people's lives.
Marie-Claire Ross, the author, says that “Safety professionals want their safety leadership messages to be understood and acted upon. This can be challenging when you have language and geography barriers, age differences and people just not listening because they suffer from the highly contagious “it won’t happen to me” bias. Then, there is the issue of trying to get people to listen to what is said, not what they think is being said. So often, safety professionals feel so frustrated that their safety messages are being misinterpreted. Being able to create the right safety message that gets attention, that people can understand, remember and then take the right action upon, is crucial for successful safety leadership.”
This 90 minute free webinar addresses:
- Discover why getting attention is the first step in changing safety behaviours.
- Overcome "we've heard this all before" bias by leveraging 3 emotional triggers.
- Learn 5 simple strategies to get people's full attention and keep it.
The webinar is live on Thursday 17 July at 11am AEST and there are eight other dates to choose from. Those interested should visit http://www.digicast.com.au/safety_messages to register.
Marie-Claire Ross (BA Hons) began her career in market research. She worked with well renowned advertising agencies and communication consultancies, testing communication campaigns for success. Here, she honed her word-savvy skills, writing assorted business reports to engage time-poor executives. For over 13 years, she has run a video production agency writing video scripts to influence, as well as articles on communication that have been published worldwide. Her popular Workplace Communicator blog is read by close to 10,000 people each month. Over the last ten years, she has worked with large industrial companies around the world to improve their safety communication.
About Digicast Productions
Established in 1991, Digicast is a communications agency that specializes in both internal and external communication. Our communication programs work to change behavior from aligning staff with your culture, launching new initiatives and training staff to keep them safe and productive. For more information, visit The Workplace Communicator blog for training tips, www.digicast.com.au/blog.
Contact Marie-Claire Ross
+ 61 3 9696-4400
Recently, I've been reading Accidents Waiting to Happen by Rick Dalyrymple. One of the interesting things he discussed in the book was that safety professionals and the leadership team can often undermine corporate safety efforts.
That got me thinking about all the ways that I've seen companies work unwittingly against occupational health and safety within their organisation.
Here are five common signs:
1. Launch an ineffective safety campaigns - After months of planning, the CEO or GM travels all around the country to launch the new safety management system or the new safety goals. Head office is excited. But employees aren't. Often, when a new safety launch falls flat, there are two main causes: staff morale is low and no-one believes anything will change or the second cause is that poor communication techniques were used (or a combination of the two). One company that I know had employees throw the new training handbook into the bin as they walked out of the door at a safety launch. When employees show contempt like this, common issues include employees never being consulted on how to make improvements, employees feel like they have been treated unfairly in some way (eg: poor pay, unsafe working conditions) or there has been a company merger that has resulted in distrust of the new leader. If you have a good safety culture and employees are happy in their jobs, but the campaign still falls flat, then you have poor communication that is often missing key information to engage. In this instance, a book like Transform your Safety Communication will give you the techniques and templates to create attention grabbing safety messages that change behaviour. No matter how much money you throw at a campaign launch it will work against you, if you have not fixed up the underlining causes of employee unhappiness or disengagement from messages.
2. Production v. Safety - Sometimes a new initiative is introduced that rewards employees for being more productive. What this often means is that risky behaviour is incentivized which puts out conflicting messages to staff. This often occurs when the production department forgets to consult with the safety department. Even at a subconscious level, employees start to believe that it is better to work faster than to be safe. This means that the company is sending out the wrong message that short term gains of unsafe behaviour outweigh the potential long term risks. As the safety professional, you must always look out for any conflicting messages on safety from other departments and stop them.
3. Rewarding safety - In the book, Drive, by Daniel Pink he goes through a lot of research studies to discover when it's best to reward staff. What he concluded was in business, care needs to be taken with what you get people to focus on.
When offered a reward on completion of a task, staff tend to focus on the reward, resulting in poor performance when undertaking the task. Offering a reward for performance encourages short-term thinking, cheating and unethical behaviour. I'm sure many of you have experienced working for a company offering a financial or a gift card reward for safety which resulted in incidents being omitted from the monthly statistics. (You can read more about this at How to Reward Staff for Safety Performance).
The issue with rewards programs is that they don't work effectively. And to make them work, you need to get people to have "more skin in the game". Interestingly, people are far more driven by a fear of loss than getting a gain.
Companies need to consider introducing a safety incentive scheme where people are given a bonus payment or even an "A+" rating for safety at the start of the year. And then if their safety performance is under par, they lose their rating (or reward). This might seem counter-intuitive for many, but the results will be far, far greater. This will also get staff to focus on being safe, rather than focusing on the monetary reward (which is the issue with current reward system).
4. Using gimmicks - Often, it's believed that safety needs to be made more fun. While, I'm a great believer of adding more fun into the workplace, there are ways to do this. Using gimmicks is not one of them. Avoid adding cute cartoons, slogan, animations or phrases to your safety communication. Adults are not kids and don't have to be treated as such. Also avoid any humour that's not related to the topic at hand or poor safety slogans that are meaningless to what you're trying to achieve.
5. Using Fear-Based Tactics - Using fear to get people to work safely can be highly effective. However, it can back-fire if you also omit the steps to avoid the danger.
It's also highly manipulative and tends to only work for the short-term not long term. While many "old school" safety professionals like to show gory photos and talk about deaths at work sites, it will undermine you safety efforts in the long run. Focus on what you want.
In this day and age, it's important to create a workplace safety culture where both employees and senior management truly value safety. Using short term tactics to influence undermines the importance of workplace health and safety. Instead, focus on long term results using clear and meaningful communication, employee consultation, safety values and focusing on the right behaviours.
Image Credit: Naypong
Over the years, I've had the honour of reading and improving stacks of standard operating procedures (SOPs).
One thing I've found, without a doubt, is that every single company can improve on them. In fact, as a conservative guesstimate, 95% of the SOPs we work from are wrong. This is a major concern because it is a legal requirement to have up-to-date and consistent procedures and policies.
But even more importantly, keeping strict version control of your PowerPoint training presentations or safety operating procedures and ensuring that your trainers are all teaching the same thing is a legislative requirement. If a death were to occur at your company site, the coronial inquest would request that the training materials used on the day the person was inducted and trained be submitted for review. If there is evidence that the PowerPoint version was open and anyone could change it or that the trainer did their own version of training, then that company would be found to be non-compliant training wise.
However, the most common mistakes with policies and procedures include:
- Boring, corporate speak that is based on protecting the company, but not on engaging the worker.
- Out-of-date procedures or policies that are written in such a way that it's difficult to understand the intent.
- They are written to tick a compliance box, but not as a tool to train.
- Unattractive layout with lots of text and few visuals.
- No thought has been given to streamlining or improving procedures for efficiency.
The best policies and procedures must mirror best practices for the company which ensure staff safety, as well as productivity. Unfortunately, most have been written that are not the best practice.
The more you can ensure (and prove) that you standard operating procedures represent your best practices, the more likely you're insurer will reward you with a discount. However, you must be able to specify the steps you have taken to avoid certain risks and how these have been considered in your policies.
Essentially, here are five steps to creating best-in-class standard operating procedures:
- Written with the user in mind - Policies and procedures that have been written to engage the new trainee are always the best at training and refreshing. This means that plain language is used that is conversational, clear and friendly that actually make the employee feel respected and valued. If you need help in this area, read Transform Your Safety Communication and use the templates when updating your procedures.
- One curator - Ideally, only one person in the organisation is tasked with ensuring regular updates that are written in the same language and tone. This is an important legal requirement, but it also means that one person is always on the look out for updating procedures when they change. Ideally, they are passionate about training and are particular when it comes to writing and working out a new process step by step. This keeps the policies and procedures alive and breathing.
- Learning Management System - If you have multiple sites and more than 20 staff, you really want to have an online system that provides training and let's people know when their refresher training is due. Ideally, your online system also integrates HR and safety compliance information, as well as having a robust assessment system.
- Training videos - Without a doubt, customised training videos for your workplace are amongst the best training you can have for your staff. High quality training videos can last 5 years or more (in fact, many of our clients are still using videos we made for them over 10 years ago). The combination of both visuals and narration is an extremely powerful learning tool. Couple your training videos with online assessment and you have a first rate system for training large numbers of staff consistently all around the world.
- Full support of senior management - Once the policies and procedures are written, it's important that you have full support by the executive team to train and communicate the procedures. Without this, the policies will never be fully implemented and will just gather dust on a shelf.
According to the book, Accidents Waiting to Happen, by Rick Dalrymple, producing high quality safety operating procedures that includes best practices for reducing future claims, business risks and operational costs, will control insurance claims in the long run. This in turn ensures a profitably run company that will beat its competitors, through streamlining operational processes. In other words, spending the time getting your policies and procedures right will save you a lot of money long term - such as insurance fees, reduced claims, increased efficiency and a reduction in injuries.
What can you do to improve your standard operating procedures?
Recently, I was talking to the Managing Director of a large recruiting firm for safety professionals in the Asia Pacific region about the importance of communication skills.
It was very clear that safety leaders are just expected to be experts in the technical aspects of safety, but it's the ability to communicate about safety that sets apart the great safety leaders from the mediocre. There's a growing demand for sophisticated safety professionals who can influence and engage on safety. And you know what that means - dollars. If you want to earn great money in safety, then you have to improve your communication skills.
But what are communication skills? So many safety professionals think it's all about writing in a way that would make their school teacher proud of them. This means being grammatically correct, no spelling mistakes and using lots of big words. After all, that's how you get an "A" at school or in academia.
In fact, I had a safety professional on a Linkedin group debate with me about how good he was at communication by throwing the word "loquacious" into his defense. What he didn't realise was that he was just confirming what I already knew (ie: he couldn't influence his way out of a paper bag, oh, and no-one would want to work with an ego like that, so zero points for turning off the workplace).
But guess what? Focusing on the technical aspects of your writing makes you boring! Yes, boring. It means you've omitted the most important part of writing in business. And that is being able to coach, influence and engage.
You're not going to influence anyone with a massive document that goes for 10 pages that could have been written in one. As Winston Churchill rightfully said: "This document, by its very length, defends itself from being read."
To be a great leader, you have to be a great communicator. And by that I don't mean a big talker. Or in the words of my boring, outspoken social media friend, "loquacious". In fact, that's quite the opposite of what a good communicator needs to be on safety.
So what makes a great safety communicator? One of the most important things is to consider is that words are extremely powerful. Words can be walls or they can be bridges. As a safety communicator, you need to be constantly building bridges. Constantly working on letting people know they can trust you.
This is so important because if you inadvertently use words the wrong way, people will turn off from you and your message. Your safety communication will be blocked from flowing throughout the organisation.
You will never accomplish an excellent safety culture, if people don't like or trust you. And the only way to build trust is to carefully choose your words and do what you say you will do. Remember, actions speak louder than words.
8 Effective Communication Skills
There are certain communication skills you need to develop to be a great safety leader, they are:
- Ego Be-Gone - A former chairman I used to work with would always say before our business meetings, "Leave your egos at the door, gentleman." He had a terrific point, but sadly, it lost points for ignoring that there was a woman in the room (me!). Of course, apologies and merriment always ensued. However, if you want to be a good communicator it's time to talk from the audience's point of you. Remove "I" and start talking about "we" and "you". You must always show that you respect everyone, no matter what level they are at. You must treat everyone equally from the cleaner right through to the customer. Being a leader is not about you being right, better than others or the centre of attention.
- Tailor your information - Great communicators know how to word what they saying so that it appeals to their audience. This means you have to know what people are feeling and thinking. The only way to do this is to have regular chats with employees at all levels. You've got to have your fingers on the pulse. It also means you know how to uncover their beliefs that could be holding back safety (we teach this in the SELLSAFE Communication system). You need to think about information that's relevant to your audience and not what you want to talk about. The former chairman I mentioned loved to talk about shares because he was near retirement, while everyone else wanted to talk about business strategies. Let's just say he might have forgotten to leave his ego at the door on those occasions.
- Listen - It seems pretty obvious, but leaders need to be willing to listen, do what they say they will do and care about others. The beautiful thing is that once your workforce know that you care about their health and safety, like really care and not just lip service, then they will do everything they can to support you in your mission. They will trust you. But you need to be willing to listen to what they say (and not criticise it) and show that you have integrity. But if you're ego gets in the way, then you start working against what you're trying to achieve.
- Avoid attacking - Sometimes people wrongly believe that because they are the leader they need to belt people around the head a bit. You know, publicly humiliate them and let them know they're doing a bad job. Sometimes they like to couch it in terms like "I thought you could handle feedback. We need people around here, that want to improve!" No, that's just asserting your authority and quite frankly, it makes everyone hate you. Yes, hate you. If you need to let someone know they need to lift their game, do it with empathy and behind closed doors. Effective communication is about feedback, not failure. And it's not about you. I was once in the officer of a director of safety who was showing me the view of the factory from his window. He noticed a safety manager walking on a pedestrian path, while talking on a mobile phone. He was almost gleeful in his attack on the safety manager. In his eyes, it showed that the safety manager was bad, while the safety director (himself) was better. Again, this kind of thinking turns people off you.
- Open to feedback - If you are communicating correctly, people will update you with how new safety processes are progressing or ask you questions out of safety meeting time. Communication is really a three way process. You send out information, people receive it and then they give you feedback. If that third step isn't happening, then you need to work on it.
- Simplicity - It seems obvious, but learning how to be specific and to the point is the mark of a great communicator. Learn not to waffle. Getting people's attention is one of the first essential steps in changing behaviour, but if you talk too much you'll lose people's attention and the opportunity for change. In the book, Transform your Safety Communication, there is a dedicated chapter to creating simple safety messages that will help if you're unskilled in this area.
- Open to learning - The word "idiot" is a Greek word that actually means someone who is unable to learn from others. It's a mistake to think that because you're the leader, you know what you need to know about communication. Yet, how you communicate needs to keep changing because of different work goals, new employees and technology. Social media has dramatically changed how we communicate. Yet, how many of people have recently changed their communication style?
- Coach - Great communicators are always teaching. They know training doesn't occur during dedicated training sessions, but look for day to day opportunities to coach others on improvement. When they see an employee working unsafely, they work with them to improve, using outcome based language rather than criticism.
Being an effective communicator is a lifelong process that constantly needs tweaking and updating. And being a great communicator has a massive effect on your life - both work and personal.
Recently, I was coaching a safety professional who was about to lose his job and marriage. His inability to coach, influence and engage on safety was about to cost him both his career and relationship.
He was angry at employees and contractors not listening to him and the more they ignored him, the angrier he got. He ended up creating a relatively large workforce of employees who thought he was a joke. Over time, I trained him on how to build bridges, not walls. He had to change. And change fast. Thankfully, for now, his contract has been extended.
Luckily for him, he knew his poor communication skills were costing him dearly.
Great communicators are flexible and know how to change their message when they sense resistance or lack of interest.
What do you need to do to have effective communication skills?
One of the most common frustrations I hear from safety communicators is that they often feel like people aren't listening to them. It can be soul destroying to spend hours carefully creating safety communication, only to find that the leadership team doesn't care about safety or employees are ignoring your safety articles or posters. While in safety meetings, attendees are just plain refusing to pay much attention.
When it comes to communicating about safety, there are three obstacles you face:
- Safety is seen as "boring"
- Safety professionals are also seen as "boring"
- Time poor employees have no time to spare on safety.
Now, before you write a comment that safety is not boring and that you are the most interesting person in the world, I'm not talking about reality here. I'm talking about other people's perceptions.
Every single person in the world has beliefs about how the world operates based on their childhood, past results, education and their environment.
But, here is the real killer, they're not necessarily true. We often take beliefs on-board, despite there being no rigourous proof that they exist.
How it matters to you as a safety communicator is that our beliefs actually filter what communication we pay attention to and take action on. The important thing to know here is that every person that you talk to filters what you say, so that it matches their world view.
For example, I believe that dark chocolate is a health food, when eaten in small amounts and that it's good for me. You might believe that chocolate is bad for you and that I just believe what I want to, to justify my actions. So who's right? Well, it doesn't really matter.
What matters is that if you are trying to sell me a new health, dark chocolate bar, I'm more likely to buy it. But if you try and sell the chocolate bar on the basis of it being a health food to a person who doesn't believe that, you're going to face an uphill battle.
In other words, it's easy to sell the benefits of safety to those who believe in it. It's like preaching to the converted.
When it comes to safety, you've got to sell the benefits of safety to those who believe it matters and those who don't.
The key to doing this is finding out their beliefs on safety. Finding out whether they believe it's important to their health.
Once you know whether safety or doesn't matter to them, then you have a better understanding of what to say to them, so they will listen to you when you talk about safety.
The good news is that if people believe that safety is important (and they mean that, not just say that for your benefit), then you can easily talk to them about a new safety process or procedure. You can do this by following some of the easy plug and play templates which can be found in the book, Transform your Safety Communication.
The bad news is that if they don't believe that safety is important, then you've got a whole lot of work ahead of you. The first one is uncovering why they don't believe safety is important. Then, you need to find a suitable argument to turn that belief around. You need to show them why that belief isn't true.
In other words, you've got to really plan what to say to the unconverted. You've got to get really clever. Knowledge is one of the ways to break through the shackles of a limiting environment.
One of the secrets to this is never assuming that because safety is fascinating to you that it is to everyone else. You've got to break it down and work out where you can make it interesting.
And just one other little tip about being heard. It's all about timing. Make sure that when you are talking about safety you have everyone full's attention. It's a big mistake to think that you can interrupt people at any time and talk to them about safety. You have to choose the right moment.
A lot of safety practitioners can often get so excited about a new safety process that they have devised, that they just want to get out and tell everyone. However, just telling people all about a safety process when they are busy doing something else, works against what you are trying to achieve. It's a poor safety communication tactic. Always make sure people have time to listen.
As a safety professional, it's vital that you can get your fellow workers in alignment with the company safety goals, so that everyone is working safely and productively.
One of the important skills for a safety professional, that I mention in the article, Seven Tips to Cultivating Your Personal Safety Brand, is that safety professionals need to the friendliest person in the building. They must get along with just about everyone in the organisation. They have to be a people person.
And the reason isn't to become every-one's friend (although, that's highly advisable, it's not always achievable). It's to build trust. Because the irony is that if you want to create a safe workplace, people have to trust you. People might not always like you, but they trust that you have their best interests at heart.
When people trust you, they will feel safe to speak up about safety issues, work that little bit harder and go to you when they want safety information. In other words, they will feel safe that you care about them and their health. And that your not just another member of management telling them what to do, in a veiled attempt to save costs or improve productivity.
Building trust is fundamental to leadership and an important component of encouraging employees to want to work safely. And it's been that way for millennia.
Back in the day when humans where roaming the African savannah, it was in our best interests to live in tribes. Becoming part of a tribe meant we could fall asleep soundly knowing that others were looking out for saber toothed tigers and snakes. And that we could eat if we were too sick to hunt because fellow tribespeople would help us out. We were able to trust that other people would look out for us and they could trust that we would look after them.
In the workplace, employees need to see and feel evidence that their workplaces are safe and that their fellow co-workers are looking out for them. More importantly, workers need to trust that their boss and their safety manager really care.
In the Workplace Culture Model for High Performing Companies, I recommend that there are three areas business leaders need to balance for a safe workplace: Unity, Compassionate Leadership and Communication.
Once these three inter-related factors are working in unison, you hit trust, the sweet spot. This is when people feel safe at work.
Workers look to senior leaders to see that safety is a priority and that they are safe from harm. They get this from clear communication that is transparent, authentic and has no trace of hypocrisy. They see it from a unified workplace where people work together and look out for each other. And they feel it from compassionate leaders who care about them. This in turn enables workers to feel safe to excel and take risks in their career, knowing they are protected from getting injured at work or from being bullied or harassed by colleagues (you can read more about improving your safety culture in this free report:Workplace Safety Culture).
Is your Communication Style Working Against you?
Every communication we make is an action, a cause set in motion. All communication has some kind of effect on ourselves and others.
That's why as a safety professional, your communication style is so important when keeping the safety of others in the workplace in check. Yet, so often safety professionals communicate in a way that works against building trust. It works against their credibility. In fact, many safety professionals unwittingly let people believe their safety doesn't matter.
The result is that when the safety practitioner turns up, everyone tunes out. The expectation is that the grumpy policeman or woman is about to demand compliance. While on a subconscious level, everyone knows that safety is all about the safety professional and how much they know, it's not about people and keeping them alive.
Some that this is done is:
- Making it about them - The secret to any good leader is that they never make their message about themselves. They don't use "I" in their speeches. A poor safety manager says "I need you to all reach our safety goals" or "I need you to do this new process that I developed this way." A great safety manager says "We need to reach this safety goal, together we can make it a reality, so that you go home safe to your family every night" or "This is how you do this process."
- Make people wrong - This is one area where I frequently see safety professionals make mistakes and sadly, some of them don't even understand why it's so damaging to their workplace and their reputation. Ask yourself, how do you let someone know that they've done the wrong safety process? Do you humiliate them in front of others? Do you tell them "You're doing it wrong! Do it this way like I told you?" As I say to trainees in my SELLSAFE Communication system course, communication is about feedback, not failure. Always focus on the solution, not the problem. If you're focusing on what people did wrong, it's your ego doing the talking. It's about you being right. When you do this, people will instantly turn off from your message and, you.
- Show no interest - Most safety professionals get this right, but there are always a few that would prefer to lock themselves into their sterile, cubicle and not get their shoes dirty. If you want people to trust you, you have to get out there and talk to them. Find out about their lives, their interests, their families. And don't talk about safety. Show that you care. I had a safety professional recently tell me he didn't do small talk and how irritated he'd get when people wanted to chat with him. He also wondered why his contract was ending prematurely.
- Lack of follow through - Humans are very good at quickly assessing whether a person means what they they say. This means if you tell people to not use their mobile phone while walking through the factory floor, but you do it once a week, no-one will believe you or take you seriously. It also means showing up for meetings on time and taking action on what you said you would. You can't expect people to take action, if you don't. I recently had 26 appointments with safety leaders around the world who said that on a scale of 1 to 10, they were a 10 for being committed to changing their safety results. 50% didn't show up. What do you think that says about their commitment to improving safety? How do you think they rate with their commitment for caring about others at their workforce?
Essentially, to be the best safety leader, employees need to trust that the decisions you make about their health and safety have been made in the best interests of the group. They want to know that you care.
When you miss an appointment or a phone call or don’t do what you said you would what you’re effectively saying is that your word isn’t important or inspiring enough to other people.
As a safety communicator, you need to believe that your word is important and that you can inspire others.
When you let people down like that, you’re also slowly eroding any trust they have with you.
You can think of trust as being similar to a trust account (taken from a concept in the brilliant book by Robin Sharma, The Saint, Surfer and CEO).
Think about every person within your organisation (and the same goes for your personal life) and that with every single person you have a trust accout. To be able to get your safety information moving throughout an organisation, you want to build trust accounts with every person with a positive credit. You put deposits in every time you follow through with a commitment, you show interest in them, provide help or give a compliment.
While you take a withdrawal from their trust account when you forget to return a phone call, fail to show up to a meeting, don't do what you said you would, criticise them or speak poorly about them behind their back.
It Comes Down to Trust
You might know safety compliance information better than anyone else in the world. But if you can't humanise it and make it relevant for others, so that they trust that you care about them, it doesn't matter. You'll never get your team mates to care about safety.
“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care”
― John C. Maxwell
Employees look to safety leaders to help them get through all the confusion of safety. At a high functioning workplace, where safety leaders are trusted, there is always a level at which employees trust the safety leader to provide the right advice and give good guidance. You can see this, when employees will go out of their way to visit the safety professional and provide feedback about a safety process or request more information.
A great safety leader knows that safety is not about how much they know and getting approval for their knowledge. It's also not about criticizing people in the workplace and then defending their approach with "Oh, can't they handle feedback?" A great safety leader knows that their role is all about people. It's all about caring enough to personalise safety information to make it meaningful. Essentially, it's about saving lives.
So safety leader, what can you improve with your communication style so that people know they can trust you because they know deep down you’re looking out for them?
Image Credit: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos