Energizing Safety: Launching Performance and Culture

The ultimate enemy of change is not resistant people--experience shows these can be turned around remarkably quickly with the right approach.

DO you want to generate the power to change your company's future? Practice energizing safety within your company.

I frequently see organizational safety cultures that just seem to be going through the motions. Rounds of required training, repeated without change year after year. Motivation that relies on pressuring, cajoling, guilting--again, same old. Managers who are strong presenters on other topics but become flustered when they speak about safety. Safety committees that are merely present at meetings but don't take significant actions toward boosting performance.

And, no surprise, these companies' safety records reflect this inertia, seemingly stuck in the mud of an "okay" injury rate. At worst case, safety is seen as boring, impractical, or serving mixed messages. At best, everyone acknowledges safety as important but there's no energy; workers and managers drift into complacency.

But you don't have to settle for this stasis. From our experience, there's highgrade fuel for accelerating into the lane of higher safety performance. I'll cover these and other topics in greater detail in future columns.

1. Wow them--and yourself. Ever taken a science class that was magical and fun? Every Safety training should be the same--filled with the same kinds of demonstrations and participation that brought out "I-didn't-know-that!"s. Complete with practical tips participants can't wait to use and tell others.

Fill your safety communications and training with demonstrations, surprises, and techniques that are exciting and personally doable. Apply the Cirque du Soleil motto, "Invoke . . . Provoke . . . Evoke," to every safety intervention.

2. Do it differently. Discard going through the motions. Throw out the old tell 'em again and again approach. Change it up--this will carry energy even when your delivery isn't totally perfected. Apply new paradigms (for example, we've applied select martial arts methods to injury prevention and safety leadership). Rotate signs and messages; don't leave them to first grow stale, then moldy. Vary your words and examples. Bring other voices in. Surprise them.

3. Be willing to be uncomfortable. If you're not a little nervous about doing something new, it's likely your communications will come across too flat. Or others already think they know what you're going to say and have tuned you out.

The ultimate enemy of change is not resistant people--experience shows these can be turned around remarkably quickly with the right approach. It's more apathy, retirement on active duty, where the lights are on but nobody's home. Clearing out safety cobwebs starts with you as a leader venturing out of your comfort zone. If you wish to see improved actions in others, lead by welcoming receptivity to new ways and procedures.

4. Warm them up with kinesthetics. Get away from a mostly intellectual/wordy/philosophical approach to safety. Thoughts are cool, feelings are warm. Heat up your safety systems by involving everyone in as many ways as possible. Help others feel what you're trying to get across. New PPE? Don't just describe or show it--pass it around for them to pilot-try it.

Too often, safety initiatives attempt to fight a feeling (the adrenaline rush of taking risks) with a thought ("Remember what might go wrong!"). Which have you found wins out with most people? Which has more impact--describing salt or letting people taste it? Can you really learn to proficiently drive a golf ball by only watching tapes of Tiger Woods?

Look for any opportunity to turn safety into hands-on, interactive activities.

5. Offer it, don't push it. Dick Gregory said, "If you've got something good, you don't have to shove it down peoples' throats--they'll steal it from you." Communicate that highest-level safety is much more than just preventing things from occurring that no one really thinks will happen to them. It's about living your life alive, well, having the energy and skills to do what's most personally important. High-level safety boosts morale, health, receptivity, and transfers to loved ones and favorite off-work activities.

6. Turn them loose. Find ways to deputize workers and managers into becoming active agents of safety change. Solicit their preferences, train them as peer catalysts and reinforcement agents, invite them to share their off- and on-work safety knowledge. Go beyond delegation or "forced involvement" to harnessing others' passions, directed toward safety objectives.

There are many more strategies for magnetizing vibrant safety performance and culture. But it's possible to do so even in the most staid organizations; it's happening right now throughout the world. I invite you to set your safety sights and actions high.

This column appeared in the January 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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This article originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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