Changing Safety Norms

A norm is a behavioral aspect of how someone perceives they should act when encountering a situation. In the case of a norm, the perception shapes the reality. For example, a company’s employees have the perception that safety is not important. They make choices to put themselves in unnecessary risk because of the perception.

The last post about norms described ways that they can create a positive and negative safety environment. This post will focus on how to change a social norm. The first aspect of change that is critical to remember is that change takes time. A social norm is about culture and behavior. A culture is not created overnight! Here are my three C’s of culture change: Clarity, Commitment, Consistency. In full disclosure, there are many articles about culture and communication that rely on these or versions of these principles.

Three_Cs

A quick sidebar: Most of my career has been start-ups and turnarounds. In these cases, I was either creating the culture from scratch or I was providing the leadership to make a significant cultural shift. Through these “trial by fire” situations, I began to see that there is a process to creating a safety culture. The focus has to on the process and not on the result (an important lean principle). After doing this a few times and as I was describing my work history, someone asked me how did it time and time again. I thought about the question for a moment and then answered. It was from that answer that I discovered these three simple to understand but complex to implement strategies.

Clarity: The message has to be simple and crystal clear. “We want out team to go home the way they came to work.” There has to be no doubt of what is important. Too many times, I have seen a safety talk turn into a production update or a state of the business address. If the message is safety, it should be focuses only on safety. The message cannot be confused.

Commitment: The effort and resources have to be available and utilized. If the message is safety, then safety issues have to be addressed and corrected. Not everything can be fixed at once, but visible and communicated plans can be created. These plans then have to be executed on time as planned.

Consistency: Once the process is in place, like any other continuous improvement, the work never stops. Just because the safety work order backlog is complete does not mean we can stop. Safety issues still have to be addressed and corrected. If safety is not always improving, then it is not being effective. This is where the culture is changed. The visions is set. The resources are working. Now, we have to keep the focus time and time and time again.

It is the culture that is created that will ultimately change the safety norm. To create a positive safety culture and social norm, it takes an extraordinary amount of work and dedication. Every ounce of work invested is pays off in dividends. Unfortunately, it only takes a short amount of time to erode the culture and create a negative social norm. The focus of the organization should be to keep their values in line with the clarity of the vision for a safe workplace.

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