Quantum Cultural Change
- By Robert Pater
- Sep 01, 2009
Interested in propelling stronger safety culture? Quantum
Physics proclaims energy moves both in waves of motion and
as individual particles. This describes forces such as sound and
light—and can also be effectively applied to elevating safety
Movement of change oscillates up and down; it's not continuous
by nature. Ever watch the tide roll in? Waves don't always build
incrementally with each wave creeping further up the shore. In reality,
a wave of magnitude five might roll in, followed
by several smaller waves. The sum is forward but not
geometric progression. Human and organizational
nature can work the same way.
Real progression toward sustaining improvements
is much more than scampering up, down,
sideways, repeat if necessary. Regrettably, perhaps a
"sine" of the times, many companies act as if they
don't realize this, and have lots of activity with little
lasting movement forward. But if you wish to propel
significant change, consider these four quantum
1. Develop Time-Lapse Vision to monitor change.
Remember and remind others that desired change is
not smoothly continuous. Setbacks will happen. The
important point is when there's an apparent setback
to adherence to your message, don't give up and
abandon your efforts. ("Why bother? They'll never
change!") Dispassionately determine whether indeed
you may be observing the "smaller waves" rolling
back out, whether you are still progressing toward desired objectives
(though perhaps more indirectly than you would prefer).
A good perspective to develop is Time-Lapse Vision. Impatience
doesn't make waves come in any faster than does continually watching
a newly planted seed make it grow more quickly. A plant's—and
culture's—growth often occurs too gradually to be observed by the
naked eye. Are you, like me, amazed by time-lapse photos of nature
changing? By taking snapshots through a range of measurements of
your culture over a period of time, you'll more accurately be able to
monitor its growth or stasis.
2. Direct the right forces for next level improvements. Like the old
saying, "Dress for the job you want, not the one you have," select
and incorporate one or two characteristics of next-level Safety
Culture (see http://ohsonline.com/articles/2008/05/next-level-safetycultures.
aspx). In choosing what to adopt, you might ask yourself:
- Which actions would provide the biggest impact/leverage, i.e.,
affect the most people over time (including senior management)?
- Which actions are easiest to put into place, even partially?
- Which actions are within your control?
Quantum change is delivered one step at a time, but over and
over each step has to feel readily doable when it's taking place (to reduce
threat, give people an opportunity to comfortably incorporate
changes while still performing other tasks to an acceptable level).
In retrospect, these improvements may seem to have happened
quickly. We've seen "amazing" cultural changes that blossomed
within mere months.
3. Simultaneously enlist both waves and particles. Screen for
changes in group thought about safety. For example, Alaska Tanker
Company CEO and safety evangelist Anil Mathur promotes and
monitors the "quality of the overall safety conversations."
But also turn around the individual packets—those cynical or
angry workers who are influential with their peers. Our experience
is, turned-off or angry employees can often be quickly turned
around to become motivated safety advocates.
Key ingredients in this cultural shift are the right
individual attention, strong contact communications,
practical skillsets, and planned structured opportunities
to make a real difference.
My colleague Ron Bowles works with companies
to select, develop, and support "Multipliers." The best
candidates are line employees who are groomed to
transmit, strengthen, and distribute action/behavioral
improvements; conduit through safety messages; and
bring back feedback essential for course correction.
Provide these "particles" with the particular training
they need to understand, assimilate, and communicate
principles—not just expected policies and
procedures—in their own way. Think of Multipliers
as active signal boosters on the ground level and in
field, much more than just passive carriers of management's
preset message. Remember that diversity
is a fact of physical nature; Quantum Mechanics
contends individual particles act differently.
4. "Quantum" also means "measured." Develop a series of measures
to determine how you are moving in relation to your objectives.
Go beyond clipboard checklists to include interviews ("To
what degree do co-workers use best PPE, on a one-to-five scale?"),
"quality of safety conversations"/level of participation spread in
safety meetings, employee morale, reflections of company commitment
to safety, and more.
Potential energy is a key to understanding physics and safety.
Quantum safety works smoothly when particular leaders provide
challenge, confidence, energy, and support. Challenge others to
try new actions while you issue forth a wave of confidence. Expect
more from people because of their potentials; communicate
continuously you know they can go beyond their current level of
actions. Start right now by expecting more from yourself.
Generate and spread energy through crackling workforce involvement
and from everyone, seeing positive results from any wave
of individual and organizational successes.
This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.