Culture Cannot Exist without the People

When someone says safety culture, what comes to mind?

Methods?

Systems?

Behaviors?

People?

Standardization?

I was recently at a conference with some peers and a great discussion started about global, organizational culture. I do have to note, I loved the way they talked about their company culture, not just safety culture. Safety was conveyed as an integral piece of the overall culture. In other words, they had no company culture without safety. 

The discussion was focused around creating a system that would create a company culture for their global network. Also, the company had been around for decades. So, they were a highly diverse company. They wanted everyone to use the basic tools, principles, and essentially speak the same cultural language of their company. The basic idea was to take that amazing diversity and create a single culture that could function in synchrony. Their goal was not to take away from the diversity but to use it to sculpt what would become the organizational culture. 

This is what got me to think more about culture across this scale. Can there be nuances of culture (specifically for me the safety component)?

Safety culture is like any other cultural component. It can be based on so many people based factors: location, age, education, and so many more. From the creation of a safety culture standpoint, this is where I feel we fail as companies. The company is driven by a laser focus on lean mentality to standardize. So much so sometimes that the tools and processes are forcefully integrated into the culture. They forget that lean is about having tools to eliminate waste and using the right tool for the right process. The local culture is not a waste. It is something that needs the right tool to be applied. 

Here is a rough example. The idea of peer-to-peer observations has always been a tremulous path. So often, it is not used or implemented in a way that reaches its full potential. If a culture of the location or region is one that does not bode well to that type of interaction, why force it? There are other observation and hazard recognition tools available that can be just as effective.

I love the story of a very dynamic supervisor I worked with. He was amazing. He loved uplifting his people. He was very handshake, high-five, pats on the back, energetic leadership. There was a subset of our team that culturally did not like to be touched. He had to adapt his energy to their culture. And he did! And he continued to be super successful! He did not force his method. He used other motivational tools to achieve the same goal. The overall company culture of inclusive and positive leadership was fully working. There was a nuance to the culture. 

So, how do you create the organizational culture and still allow you sites, regions, and people to maintain their culture? There is no silver bullet approach, but there are some basic principles that will help.

  1. Create a cultural vision statement, and use it as the litmus test.

  2. Teach the tools. Expect the right tools to be used. Don’t expect the same tool to be used everywhere

  3. Focus the culture on embracing problem-solving and continuous improvement.

  4. Talk to the front line employees about culture regularly and ask if it is working

  5. Invest in training and reinforcing the principles and tools of the culture

Culture is the culmination of the people that make up the workplace. A company should have a company culture and should work to educate and reinforce that culture. The organization should also remember that cultures have little differences that make them special. These differences should be inclusive to the culture and embrace those aspects of the people.

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