Much of my career has been focused on two primary types businesses: Startups and Turnarounds. A company has just opened and needs someone to write the programs, perform the training, and create sustainability has many of the same challenges as a company that admits to not having robust safety systems and has a deep desire to create a safe culture. They both have very similar opportunities as far as the way a safety program has to be implemented and nurtured. It is through working in these situations that I realized that creating a real safety system takes Compassion, Consistency, and Continuous Improvement (the 3Cs).
My wife is an avid gardener. As for me, I find it interesting but not as satisfying. That, though, does not stop me from partaking in the fruits (or vegetables) of her labor. I find many similarities between what shes does and what I do. There some very core concepts that have to be applied over and over to make a successful garden or safety program. To begin, it takes the right soil. The ground has to be ready for the seeds to be planted. In this same way an organization has to be ready to begin the journey of not only a safety transformation but a people transformation. This is where compassion comes into the equation. Compassion is the soil in which a safety program should be planted. If the soil is wrong, the seeds will not grow. If an organization does not have the right attitude toward a safety program, it will not produce the results they are driving for.
Next, a garden takes seeds, planting, watering, and tending. It is a lot of work watching over little plants until they can grow to be big plants and produce fruit. In the early stages they take so much more work, but even when they are big the work is not done. The plants can produce on their own, but with the right type of care and tending they have the ability to be so much more productive. For a safety program, this is summed up with consistency. The program has to be nurtured and energy invested continuously. Lots of energy in the beginning but never no energy. There always has to be a level of focus on those programs and behaviors. It is a consistent message to the people in the organization that safety matters and is worth that continual investment in the programs and people. Just if a garden is abandoned, a safety system may fall completely apart. The best case would be that the system is still there and producing minimal results. Consistency to the process has to be a critical component.
Each year when the garden is complete and all the fruits and vegetables are brought in, my wife immediately starts planning how she will plant next year. She goes through a process of evaluating what went well and what could be improved. Maybe she has way too many green beans and not enough cucumbers. One year, the zucchini and squash cross pollinated causing some odd coloration of those two items. Her goal is find a better way of doing the same process next year. What can be improved to make the garden more fitting to her needs. Again, this is how continuous improvement should work with any safety system. A program should be evaluated on how effective it is, the ease or useability of the processes, and how it can still be better tailored to the needs of an organization. Without continuous improvement the system cannot keep getting better. It becomes old and stagnant. If my wife did not find better ways to tend the garden each year, she would continue to waste valuable time and effort to never truly maximize her return. That sounds a lot like a safety system! By not improving the system, it creates waste in various forms that should be eliminated to created better gains and stronger participation.
There are many great books and articles that represent continuous improvement. The whole lean culture is an amazing process driven approach to creating sustainable results. By far my favorite book is “The Toyota Way.” It is a practical look at how lean should support where the product is made. A safety program should provide a great service to its customer. There should never be a time in a safety program where the declaration is made “We are done. We have create a safe place.” This is ripe for errors to start to creep in. It is through a systemic process of evaluation and improvement that a safety program stays fresh, practical, and most importantly functional.