“The ideal safety culture is one that will sustain itself when management is not around,” comments Doug Gants, Western Regional Manager of Maintenance for a Fortune 500 company. “You must transfer the level of accountability to each individual each moment of each passing day.”
So how do you do this? How do you get people to be accountable on and off the job? The answer is a difficult one. When you add in the realities of today’s workforce – generational gaps (old/young), skilled labor gaps (experienced/inexperienced) and personality gaps (direct/indirect) – creating and implementing the right solution becomes even more complex.
“You’ve got to have the right attitude if you’re going to make it in this business,” remarks VP of Construction Monty Glover. “You must get inside each individual’s head one at a time and bridge the gap that lurks within each of us.”
This gap that Glover refers to is the one between the “real” and the “ideal.” The “ideal” culture is one where safety is a core value; it’s modeled and embedded into every decision made on the job site. Safety is not so much a focal point but rather a core value embedded in all decision-making on the project from management to the laborer. As a result no one gets hurt, production and scheduling become the focal point and everyone goes home at the end of the day.
The real culture, however, is one where all the gaps overlap. The realities of today’s workforce collide. There is a constant threat of hazards in the environment based on human error and poor judgment.
Richard Gast, VP of Construction for a Fortune 500 company says, “I have six safety professionals on this job site but I have 600 safety people working here.”
Whether the number is six or 6,000, your objective remains the same. As a safety professional today, yours is to get inside each and every mind and bridge the gap between what you talk about (ideal) and what we actually do and decisions we make (real).
Although you as a safety professional are responsible for the masses, your strategy to influence positive change can be targeted to only a select few. These select few most often demonstrate immature behaviors that prevent them from “bridging the gaps.” In all the studies in psychology and business, when it comes to safety your strategy is one individual at a time; bridging each gap one at a time.
Mature Safety Subcultures
Take Business Basics 101 and you’ll soon see that each department within an organization acts like a mini-organization, a subculture within a culture. Statistics show that 20 percent can influence change within 100 percent of the group. You only need to influence 20 percent to affect change. On a five-person crew (subculture) you only need one safety advocate to positively change behavior.
Identify that one person who believes and more importantly understands the hazards of poor decision-making. If you can find a second and third person on the crew, you have more individual conversations to have in helping them bridge the gap between the real (what they know and believe) versus the ideal (what we all want). You align your personal strategy to influence change in one individual (one subculture) at a time and you will see positive behavior change revealed in new statistics.
Frequently talk about safety while modeling and teaching. Safety meetings are great and they certainly nourish the cause of safety. Your greatest challenge is to get the immature folks to identify their behavior. At that point you have them consciously start making mature decisions and begin bridging the gaps.
Here are a few quick tips – techniques that will help in your ability to influence:
Sweet T.E.A. (Thinking, Emotions, Actions): All behavior modification starts with holding new thoughts in your mind. Studies in psychology validate that behavior is a byproduct of thoughts and emotions. Your challenge is to better understand what people are thinking about safety. You do this one individual at a time. One side of the gap begins with whatever is going on in his/her mind, his/her thoughts. Start with identifying that thinking and utilize your communication skills to bridge the gap to the ideal. You are influencing thought and emotion (indirectly behavior) every time you introduce new thoughts in their minds.
Start/Stop Behavior: In order to change behavior, most people would focus on what they do not want. Instead of focusing/thinking about stopping, focus your attention on what you want. Rather than stop smoking, start breathing clean air. Rather than stop cursing, start controlling the tongue. Rather than stop the interruptions during the safety meeting, start respecting the time for safety. The key is to identify what you want and think on that.
JSA (Job Safety Analysis): A successful JSA conducted multiple times throughout the day is the last line of defense. Some say it slows down production; careful study and observation shows when done correctly it improves production. Take an individual that has had all the training, participated in all the safety meetings, even demonstrated success on the job for an extended period of time, and there is still room for immature decision-making because he was thinking about the fight with his wife or his daughter’s surgery. The JSA proves itself positive for the simple fact of thinking before doing; thinking and emotion drive behavior.
Regardless of “top-down” buy in, you still have a job to do. Your reputation is at stake and the individual lives of those you take stewardship over are on the line. You need real strategies on how to change behavior and sustain it when you’re not around. It’s not just about changing unsafe behavior to safe behavior; it’s about creating a new level of awareness, a new level of responsibility and, ultimately, personal accountability.
About the Author: Parrish Taylor is the author and instructor of the soft-skills instructional program Maturity Matters. You can learn more about the “Mature Safety Track” at www.parrishtaylor.com. A veteran in the field of workforce development, Taylor has invested the last 20 years to improve the quality of life (personal and professional) for his clients. To learn more about his consulting and client projects, please visit www.TMCtraining.net.