Extending Your Leadership Reach: Making Central and Local Connections
Entice and excite participation among personnel at distant sites by removing their barriers to involvement.
- By Robert Pater
- Mar 01, 2007
HOW can your leadership be both spread and
focused? This is a critical tension faced by many companies with
multiple operations. Stretching, on one hand, to encourage individual
sites to determine their own safety interventions; tightening, on the
other, toward exerting expert central controls so far-flung plants
attain desired, consistent results.
In command-and-control, "do-as-we-say" leadership, corporate
headquarters made decisions, specified expectations, demanded
implementation, and then monitored results. This concentric approach
has several advantages: Weaving the same interventions throughout the
company builds corporate identity, strengthens culture, and can
facilitate planning high-quality--vs. hit-and-miss--interventions. In
addition, the company can apply the same metrics everywhere for
evaluation and accountability. And identical applications may be easier
to support/institute/reinforce companywide.
Sounds nice--on paper. But ripple-out programming doesn't often work
in a multicultural, time-zone-skewed world. Headquarters may be seen as
disconnected from local issues or not recognizing the differences in
cultures between graveyard and day shifts within the same plant, much
less between countries. Check-in conference calls or e-mails don't have
the same power to rev up results as real-time visits. Further,
resistance to a distant power source can result in bare-bones
commitment or halfhearted implementation to seemingly cookie-cutter
Ripple-out programming doesn't often work in a multicultural, time-zone-skewed world.
In response, many companies have swung their safety controls
pendulum toward localized decision-making. The advantages: Sites better
know their own workforce and specific needs, so they can select or
tweak interventions to fit. This often results in greater buy-in. But
if sites don't get desired results, corporate patience with "do your
own thing" safety can sour. Additionally, some companies' business plan
requires a unified safety culture, whether for consistency, regulating
agency approval, or efficient allocation of resources.
Breakthrough strategists extract the strengths of different
approaches while minimizing their weaknesses. Here are actions
corporate can adopt to boost safety in distant operations. (If you work
on a site level, consider requesting HQ to provide this support):
1. Scan and Scope. Select content-rich applications with
universal application, either developed internally or from outside.
These should be based on commonly useful skills (e.g., heightening risk
alertness, decision-making, balance, safety leadership, etc.). For
example, Phelps-Dodge screens in, then internally publicizes, a select
set of interventions for reducing soft-tissue injuries in their range
of worldwide operations, from mining to manufacturing.
2. Clear the Path. Centrally negotiate contractual issues
(including pricing) that might otherwise stymie easy plant-level
adoption. Some companies go so far as to purchase worldwide rights to
vendor-created programs (or even the vendor itself) in order to own the
application, thereby tweaking and distributing without restrictions.
3. Spread the Word. Recommend and publicize a limited set of
key initiatives for potential site adoption. Examples include: making
promotional videos available for download, offering exposure at
conferences, and webletters with corporate consultation at site level.
It's critical to offer possibilities, inform, and energize sites on
many levels with executives, supervisors, and workers.
4. Melt the Ice. Entice and excite participation by removing
barriers to involvement. Corporate can host (pay for) a pilot program
in select sites that volunteer to become first wave participants. This
generates "local" data and promotes early buy-in, overcoming initial
financial obstacles or "won't work here" objections.
5. Support the Start. Partner with sites by partially
subsidizing next level of implementation. Specify which elements are
core to the initiative and which may be "localized." This strategy
simultaneously maintains consistency while inviting site-level
adjustments and promoting ownership.
6. Sustain the Returns. Create and maintain a centralized
source for evaluating and reinforcing adopted corporate interventions.
"Heroize" effective local customizations. Promote Best Use Practices
throughout the corporation; keep initiatives alive and thriving by
developing a process for incorporating these practices into next
generation of programming.
Develop vehicles where sites can readily communicate with one
another about obstacles seen and overcome--via the intranet, conference
calls, video, or other mass media delivery.
Don't restrict this to statistical wins--look for and disseminate anecdotal improvements, as well.
7. Accelerate the Momentum. Help sites build on successes.
For example, create pre-implementation agreements with plants,
specifying how they will reinforce initiatives (e.g., coaching on topic
one, two or four hours/month). As does one international food products
company, reward those sites that have met agreed-upon metrics in
sites build on successes. For example, create pre-implementation
agreements with plants, specifying how they will reinforce initiatives.
There are many creative strategies for balancing corporate
direction-setting with local customization and ownership. By planning
for a range of approaches, you can have your safety cake and eat it,
alloying the strengths of consistency, culture, creativity, and control.
This column appeared in the March 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.