Follow the leader: Avoiding mixed messages in safety management
followthe leaderavoiding mixed messagesin safety managementanthony raja devadoss 2
2 | carrot or stick? | follow the leaderstick to your values. Companies that perform well onsafety measures are more likely to be high performers in other areastoo. This suggests that having an overall operational strategy for highperformance can extend to safety issues, and possibly too that safetyperformance has a positive impact on general operational performance.Knowing that this link exists then raises the to an industry or a particular role in a way that the broad range of safety issues that can arise ‘inclusivity’ is perhaps the dominant successpivotal question, “How do you make safety having an entirely separate program cannot in any industry. factor when measuring safety culture—thepart of an overall operational strategy for do. It also avoids the ‘flavor of the month’ same rules must apply across the organizationhigh performance?” For example, the Australian-based mining and this is why a values-based approach mentality to safety, where messages, banners company rio tinto links safety performance works so well. If employees feel that the and goals come and go.Part of this answer may lay in the culture, to career progression, which fits with their safety culture is one of blame, negativity andvalues and ways of operating that Employees are already accustomed to core values of accountability and teamwork. chastisement, it is less likely to be effective.companies already employ. One of the translating what the company values mean One of 3m’s core values is to ‘valuebest starting points for assessing the right employee initiative’, and their approach of Looking at safety through the lens of to them and how they apply to their roles,approach to safety for any organization is to incorporating supervisor-led fitness routines company values allows safety messages and therefore it makes sense for safety to becomelook at the values they already follow. This so- into daily meetings to address safety issues initiatives to align neatly with what employees an extension of this rather than a short-termcalled ‘values-based’ approach places safety is a natural extension of this value. After are already doing, thinking and feeling. ideal. A values-based approach also clearlyissues within the existing cultural framework just one year of running the program, their places safety in line with the overall culturalof the organization and uses existing forums, safety scorekeeping systems showed they goals of the company without having tobehaviors and language to incorporate the had reduced their recorded incident rate, add it as a new value to the list. Althoughsafety message into daily working life. and had zero musculoskeletal injuries for the some organizations explicitly state safety as entire year.The clear advantage of a values-based a core value, there is plenty of scope in theapproach is that it may identify particular risks interpretation of most values to incorporate
3 | carrot or stick? | follow the leaderwatch what you say when you’re not talking.Every organization needs to consider the mixed messages that can often comethrough different levels of management, particularly regarding safety issues.While line managers are busy delivering While the supervisor or line manager may All too often, staff in frontline roles can beexplicit directives to staff, senior leaders are be the right person to focus specific safety pro-active about taking extra precautionsoften communicating in an implied fashion initiatives through, senior leaders need to and improve their wellbeing. Then, whenthrough the actual running and conditions recognize the implicit influence of their they start to hear about market pressures,of the workplace. An awful lot can be ‘said’ decisions and actions on safety through to recruitment freezes, budget revisions andthrough the overarching conditions of the lowest levels of the organization. ‘doing more with less’, safety measures arethe workplace. In fact, these things speak the first things to be dropped. It’s thesevolumes about how serious an organization is Direct safety messages, such as those ‘indirect’ messages that have an impact onabout safety. bulletins from the CEO about the importance safety across the entire organization because of safety, are fine, but they don’t have the staff suddenly begin to hear that the bottomstrategic direction, policies, rules of most impact on actual safety practice. It’s line, or market share is more important thanconduct, core values—these can all affect one thing to ask people to think about safety. The internal hierarchy of messagesemployees’ ability to comply with and focus doing things better and in a safer way, but that staff create depending on the timingon safety requirements. And they can conflict what about how this conflicts with messages and number of directions they receive willdirectly with what employees are being told about productivity, cost reduction and often have an unforeseen consequence forby their direct managers. competitiveness? organizational safety.
4 | carrot or stick? | follow the leaderlinking Productivity, cost savingsand efficiencies together with safety messages is key—they cannot stand alone and therefore in opposition to each other.Innately, employees will prioritize important for senior leaders to remembermanagement messages, and this may not be that even safety initiatives and practices thatin the order that delivers the best outcomes are employ-driven will be better received iffor the company. they have active leadership support, or that they might fail without it.For most employees, their relationship withtheir direct manager or supervisor is the The fact is, a high-performing organizationdefining factor in how they feel about their with high productivity is more often thanwork, their role and the company as a whole. not a safe organization too—they goIn fact, for most people, their immediate hand-in-hand. Reducing turnover, reducingmanager is the company. Therefore, it makes accidents and injury and improving processessense for these leaders to be integral in to reduce or eliminate risks is what managersthe way safety is managed, promoted and are often asking, but this isn’t always whatperceived across the organization. But it’s employees hear.
5 | carrot or stick? | follow the leaderstyle is imPortant, trust is everything.So, let’s assume you get your values right, and the employmentconditions are heading in the right direction. What aboutleadership style? Is there one that’s better or worse forencouraging a safety culture? Well, the short answer is yes.The idea of ‘transformational leadership’—the • inspiring: they set high standards and through the hierarchical structure and thenkind of leadership that makes change happen communicate a vision that resonates acted upon—is that safety needs to be aon an ongoing and seamless fashion—is not continuous improvement process. Relyingnew, but it takes on a new meaning when • influencing: they provide a sense of on a culture where people wait to be toldwe consider how it might effect the uptake purpose and mission, and instill a sense of what to do, when to do it, and how to do it,of safety messages and the outcomes across pride and optimism in reaching it is unlikely to maintain high safety standardsan entire organization. There are four basic over the long term. Nor is it likely to deliver These four attributes are particularlyelements to the transformational leadership the high performance culture that can relevant to safety messages and behaviorsstyle, which can serve to be particularly integrate safety into it. because they turn the focus away from arelevant to safety behaviors of employees. top-down, hierarchical management style Encouraging transformational leadershipTransformational leaders tend to be: where safety is ‘mandatory’ and focuses styles can provide some of the answers to the instead on the positives and collective questions of creating the right conditions for• challenging: they provide new ideas to outcomes of safety measures. safety consciousness in the workplace, but improve problem-solving increasingly, the focus on leadership style has The greatest motivation to move away a missing piece: trust.• engaging: they help employees commit from traditional, transactional leadership to change styles—where messages are conveyed down
6 | carrot or stick? | follow the leaderit is one thing to motivate, influence and challengethe workforce to operate at its best, but safety issues are part of a biggerpicture of corporate social responsibility and ethical business practices.Taking on board some of the transformational Regardless of the level of the leader and This model of leadership, with trust at itsleadership style messages to move to a what they do, it’s important that they have center, may offer a framework for whichself-motivated and engaged workforce credibility to the audience. Every leader will safety can be applied. This kind of leadershipis part of the answer to improving safety need to ensure they take into account their requires leaders to rely on positive aspects ofand productivity simultaneously, but senior ability to: employees—their positive motivations andleaders will also need to think about the actions to inspire and engage. It requires aauthenticity of their leadership. They will • Be specific about what ‘safety’ looks like focus on self-motivation, self-awareness andincreasingly need to take on board the task of self-regulation. And it also requires a new • Be credible to who they’re speaking tobuilding trust in their workforce and a sense level of openness and honesty.of mutual obligation. • Be open, honest and positive in Publically displaying results and being open providing feedback to input from all parts of the organization • Be accountable for outcomes are key to developing a trust-based, transformational leadership style.
7 | carrot or stick? | follow the leadernever say you didn’t know. Let’s say you get thetransformational, values-based approach working, and it’s working brilliantly.You’re seeing the results, you’re communicating them and employees arefeeling good on all levels. There’s one sure fire way to turn that result onits head in an instant and kiss your investment goodbye. When an incidentdoes happen, and particularly if it’s a large, public one, it’s to say thingslike, ““I wasn’t aware that was happening” or “that wasn’t my decision”.The uncomfortable truth about safety at work Leadership, and employees’ perceptions of in safety and productivity is lost. The first is Perhaps one of the most powerful things anyis that every bad decision and every injury their leaders, is one of the most important that big mistakes, and terrible accidents have company can do to promote safety is to stopand every error has a root cause. Sometimes factors in the formation of a positive safety an immediate impact on the production—it asking “how safe are we as an organization”it will be the poor judgement of an individual culture. Decision-making tends to snowball halts, and the fallout is ongoing. Second, and instead ask, “how trustworthy are we?”employee, but when systemic failures arise in organizations and one small comment when executives have to front inquiries After all, it’s not really about safety, it’s aboutand big mistakes happen, the leadership or change to policy can have far-reaching and panels, their focus is no longer on the trust. If we change the question we’re asking,team has to step up and take responsibility, effects. If organizations are to preach self- business, it’s on defending what’s already often we’ll get a very different outcome.even if they weren’t there when the mistake regulation, personal responsibility and self- failed and this is likely to drive the real causeswas made. monitoring, it must extend to the most senior of safety issues underground. levels if it’s to work.And the bigger the error, the more critical it is Last, but not least, statements such as “Ithat someone important takes the wrap. This There is no formula to say to what extent don’t recall” or “I wasn’t present at the time”is not because they are necessarily ‘to blame’, leaders should be held accountable for when asked to explain the origins of thesebut rather that leadership is what people actions of their staff, even when they are not errors have a negative impact on share price.need most in times of crisis. Yet, so often we present. But there are indicators that when The value of the company is damaged onsee decades of investment in safety ‘talk’ responsibility is shifted around and no one every level, sometimes never to be fullycome to nothing when things go wrong. steps up to take it, a great deal of investment recovered.
8 | carrot or stick? | follow the leadera culture of high-Performancecan, and should, naturallyinclude safety Performance.Companies that achieve one will likely achieve the other. Andif there were no other reason to pursue the goal of bettersafety performance, surely this is compelling enough.To start the journey, leaders will need to Safety is clearly about performance andlook long and hard at the implicit conditions productivity, but it’s also about trust. To turnof the workplace and how they promote or a strong safety culture into a competitiveimpede safety performance, as well as the advantage, senior leaders will need toleadership styles of their management team. consider how their own behavior andDo they have the skills and information to be decisions will impact the issue. And above all,transformational? To inspire and generate a this will mean asking not “how safe are we?”real sense of mutual benefit and obligation but instead, “how trustworthy are we?”around the safety cause? And what of thecompany values? These statements that arethe backbone of company culture—are theyrobust enough to take on the safety andwellbeing challenge?
this is Part 2 of carrot or stick?, a whitePaPer series exPloringsafety management issues in the workPlace for the aPac region.aBout the authorAnthony RAjA DevADoss is currently the vice President—APAC with theoutsourcing & Consulting Group of Kelly services. From network services,engineering to e-business solutions, Anthony Raja has worked in both India andMalaysia, within technical roles to the Chief executive officer. he has received hisBachelors degree in science and his MBA in Marketing & Postgraduate Diplomain Computing. he holds membership in various local and international associationssuch as the MIM, human Capital Institute & Association of Career Professionals International. he isthe head of Policy enablement & Government Liaison with outsourcing Malaysia and a memberof the Industry Advisory Board for the Graduate school of Business, UnIRAZAK. he has beenrecently appointed to the hR Capacity Building task force by the Ministry of human Resources,Govt of Malaysia. Anthony is also a member of the hRoA APAC Chapter Board. http://my.linkedin.com/in/anthonyraja http://twitter.com/anthonyrajaaBout kellyocgKellyOCG is the Outsourcing and Consulting Group of Fortune 500 workforce solutions provider,Kelly Services, Inc. KellyOCG is a global leader in innovative talent management solutions in theareas of Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO), Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), ContingentWorkforce Outsourcing (CWO), including Independent Contractor Solutions, Human ResourcesConsulting, Career Transition and Organizational Effectiveness, and Executive Search.Further information about KellyOCG may be found at kellyocg.com. EXIT
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