In business, culture predicts outcome. For example, Adoflson & Peterson Construction, won the EHS 2010 America’s Safest Company Award. The company went on to attain 4.4 million consecutive hours worked without a lost time accident. Another safe company finalist, Armstrong World Industries, Inc is ranked as a top 5 building products company, with the highest free cash flow per share rating. There are many more examples like these that demonstrate the positive relationship between strong safety cultures and successful business outcomes.
Company safety is a direct reflection of the decisions leaders make, the things they say, the systems they implement and oversee, and the value they place on safety with respect to other objectives. It is a combination of company policy- the official rules, and company culture- what employees actually do and say.
There should always be alignment between safety policies and company culture. If company culture doesn’t support all safety policies, then there is a problem.
Addressing the problem looks at the policy first. Ask two questions:
- Is it in compliance with the latest regulatory updates?
- Is it specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely (SMART)?
If the answer to either is no, then the policy needs to change.
If the problem is not the policy, then the culture needs to change. Safety isn’t something that can be delegated; it has to be part of workplace vales for everyone, from the CEO to each worker. If your company culture is not in alignment with company policy, it is time to change the culture.
How to Change Company Culture
Now is a perfect time for your company to adopt a safety culture. The process is different, depending on if your company is in a stage of growth or a stage of turbulence. If you have been with your company for more than a few years, you know about this. The chart below is from the classic resource, Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow. It is a model of how organizations develop. Basically, it shows that long stages of growth, or evolution, are interrupted by periods of turbulence, or revolution as a company adjusts to market pressures and the company’s growing size.
Approach for Stages of Evolution
During stages of evolution, business goes smoothly and market environments are healthy; profits come relatively easy. Generally, adopting a safety culture would look like a policy shift. To employees, the decision would look like a proactive investment in their well-being. Characteristics of a change during evolution:
- Usually starts with senior management
- Employees see it as a policy shift
- Focuses on goals like trust, innovation, or fairness
Approach for Stages of Revolution
Stages of revolution could also be called crisis situations. They can be a reaction to tougher markets- like a recession, or from internal pressures- like an unexpected spike in employee turnover. During a crisis, company policies and practices come under review, and companies that are unable to abandon past practices and adopt organizational changes are likely to either fold or level off in growth. The critical task for management is to find a new set of organizational practices that will become the basis for the next stage of growth.
Characteristics of a change during evolution:
- Usually involves more levels of management
- Employees see it as a break from current policy
- Focuses on goals like team-building, management credibility, or precautionary steps
Adopting best safety practices at any time takes planning and tenacity. But it is worth it. Keep in mind the famous line from Tom Northup, a thought leader and author in organizational management, “All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they are now getting. If we want different results, we must change the way we do things.”