Jan 30, 2018
In this episode, I want to talk about changing workplace culture. I have had a couple of episodes on Safety Culture already. And all of that still applies. Again, for the discussion let’s define the term:
Culture is the character and personality of your organization. It's what makes your organization unique and is the sum of its values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes.
This is key: the values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes. These are what drive behavior, specifically, what helps workers make CHOICES that we then see in actions or behaviors.
The reason I bring this up is that for the last year or so I have been talking to colleagues, reading and chatting in online groups and I keep reading about a common theme out there by so-called “thought leaders’ and ‘guru’s’ in organizational development and safety culture development. As many of you know I had been in consulting for a decade specializing in these areas; culture development. And yes, I have an opinion on this as you may have guessed.
So let me use a specific example of what I am talking about; I have seen a number of LinkedIn posts and articles about NOT talking too much about regulations or starting a conversation with “OSHA says…”. or similar discussions. While we can all agree that not having to drag in the references to regulations is good; we often have to go to those minimum standards. The reason? It is a sign of a “bad” safety culture.
Workplace culture often drives HOW we communicate about safety. The mistake most folks make is they manage by aspirational cultural values or from a future state. Here is what I mean; I see a lot of professionals pick up a book about culture this and culture that or read The Toyota Way and then look at their work culture and think, “yeah, we need to be like this!”
Problem; You are NOT like that. You need a roadmap to get there, yes. But do NOT approach your work culture as if they already are, based on what you wish were true about your work culture. These aspirations are commendable but sets you up for failure.
You manage from where you ARE, not where you wish to be. So I have some examples of what I mean. If you think you should not have to talk about minimum regulations because you feel your culture is so much beyond this yet you continually get challenged by leaders and coaches to “show me where I have to do this” or “where does it say I have to do that?” then you are not there yet!
You can try and avoid stating regulations or reciting the unfortunate phrase “according to OSHA…” but at some point, you will have to simply because your culture is still at that place. I have heard time and time again and have had key maintenance and leadership personnel flat out ask, “What is the policy or regulation on this or that?” And if they are seeking validation, give it to them. These are folks that just need to be consulted. Give them the info because this is what they are saying they need as a basis for their work. OR justification for how they work. You may eventually get past this point but if this is where you are now…manage from there.
Another sign of where you are is when key personnel asks what the minimum amount of effort needed is to get by? Or, when you attempt to go above and beyond but the workforce pushes back with “we never had to do this before…”
These are clear signs of YOU needing to understand where your work culture is right NOW, not wishing where you would like them to be. Again, those aspirations should motivate us to discover where we are (or current state) and determine the difference between that and the ideal (or future) state. This is the gap we need to work to close. That way we can devise a change plan that is realistic and addresses the areas that need developed and not focus on things we will never be able to improve.
So, if you are tired of having to say, “According to the Standard…” then ask WHY you are still having to say it. If you try to improve something beyond minimum compliance and get pushback, ask WHAT it is folks are resisting. It may just be the change and not the specific safety rule. So you may want to shift focus to change management in general. Go ask the quality folks or the lean folks if they have issues implementing even small changes to tasks or the work environment. Chances are they do.
So don’t get wrapped around the axle that your SAFETY culture is broken, when it may just be a PEOPLE thing. Strive to work with the other teams to find common obstacles and barriers. Safety needs to STOP operating in a vacuum and collaborate with other areas of the business to strategically align efforts to improve workplace culture.
If you are reading a book about workplace safety culture, fine. I recommend several on my resources page. But again, don’t get so wrapped up in your silo and think that this is unique to YOUR department. Most likely it is not. And if you have something figured out, like an aspect of the culture that you can improve, then you need to reach out and share this with others. Look into some management of change approaches. Helping workers deal with change.
You have a change plan, laid out timelines for training on this initiative you want to implement, how long before everyone gets the new equipment, etc. You know, a project management process. But do you have a process for change? One example is the ADKAR Model (again, just ONE example). This is a framework for understanding change at an individual level. It has 5 elements or building blocks, that must be in place for real change:
Awareness: this represents a person’s awareness of the nature of the change, why it is being made and the risk of NOT changing.
Desire: This represents the willingness to support and engage in the change.
Knowledge: This represents the information, training, and education needed to know HOW to change.
Ability: This represents the realization or the execution of the change. It addresses turning the knowledge into action.
Reinforcement: This represents those internal and external factors that sustain change.
The elements of the ADKAR model fall into the natural order of how one person experiences change. Desire cannot come before awareness because it is the awareness of the need for change that stimulates our desire or triggers our resistance to that change.
Knowledge cannot come before desire because we do not seek to know how to do something we do not want to do.
Ability cannot come before knowledge because we cannot implement what we do not know.
Reinforcement cannot come before ability because we can only recognize and appreciate what has been achieved.
The lifecycle for ADKAR begins after a change has been identified. From this starting point, the model provides a framework and sequence for managing the people side of change.
In the workplace, ADKAR provides a solid foundation for change management activities, including readiness assessments, sponsorship, communications, coaching, training, recognition and resistance management.
Look, there are other models. This is but one that I have used and have seen success in the past. But I want to point you in the right direction to get started addressing what I stated earlier, that is identifying the change that is needed is one thing, having a process to facilitate the change, ensuring its success is another.
This is a tool that can help. Stop managing from where you wish you were. Identify where you are today and get started laying out a plan to achieve successful, lasting change.
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