We are asking the questions, but do we care about the answers?

As part of many safety audits, there are times where employees and supervisors are brought together to answer questions about safety programs, experiences, and feelings. The process is to ask open ended questions to draw out the employees to talk about what they are witnessing and experiencing in the workplace. The goal of these audit protocols should be to help the sites leadership see from the outside what the culture and people on the inside are creating. 

This process is perceived as an outside group taking a true interest in the goals and feelings of the people at the site. So the real question from these audit processes is: If we are asking the right questions and getting the true answers; what are we doing with the data?

What happens if the findings are that the culture is broken and workforce is burned out? Is there blame assigned to the site or even worse to the HSE Manager? If the site is showing some real development with people and culture is the site rewarded and recognized? If there are real issues that come up that require resources or capital outside the sites ability, is the audit team helping support the work to get those resources allocated to the site?

Too many times (not only in audits) people are asked the questions, the data is collected, there is a presentation of the information, there are some short term exchanges on change and process, but there is not sustainable, culture focused, and appropriate solutions provided.  

What this is really about is if we are really ready to ask the questions. If the organization is ready to make the plunge and ask the culture questions, there has to be a method to address and create real solutions. As safety professionals, creating culture not only in the workforce but in the leadership and management is one of the greatest challenges. The answers are more important than the questions when it comes to building trust among the workforce. I once heard trust defined as empathy combined with action. The questions create a sense of empathy but the real challenge is turning that into action. And one could say that real empathy creates action. 

Creating a sense of trust in the workforce is one of the key components of Maslow’s hierarchy. Without trust, there is no basis for people to give the best. Without trust, there is no giving more than the minimal. Without trust, there is dysfunction to a higher degree. When we ask the questions and we act toward a solution, trust is created. We create a culture in which we can find solutions. We can create a culture where the questions are no longer as important as the issue are apparent as part of the dynamic continual improvement process. 

So when the audit comes to town, the questions are asked, and the answers are given; there must be a process to create solutions to the cultural needs. If the solutions are limited to a site or group and not evaluated on a inter-organizational level, there is a significant loss of sustainability and effectiveness.  

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