Culture: When working with industries I have been unable to find a good diagnostic that gives one a handle on the strengths, status quo and weakness of the overall organization. What has worked with many organizations is a series of interviews using open-ended questions that dig down into the employees’ personal opinions as to what the cultural realities seem to be. The questions deal with things like strengths, weaknesses, predominant focus, important personalities, what gets dropped and lived with and the like.
In determining safety culture realities I prefer using Dr. Dan Petersen’s Safety Perception Survey. This statistically validated diagnostic survey very quickly uncovers what is good, what is not paid attention to, and what is broken in the safety culture. We often fill in this quantitative diagnostic with qualitative information on the safety culture by using similar open-ended interview questions. From the quantitative and qualitative information there is a pretty good picture of what the real culture issues are as well as strengths one can build on in the improvement process.
Accountabilities: The accountabilities (activities) of the people responsible for the work are an absolute necessity for any organization to improve. This includes people at the top, the middle and the front line. From an operations standpoint accountabilities for execs, middle managers, supervisors and workface employees are almost always well spelled out, though not always correct for the objectives of an organization.
Safety accountabilities are quite different. Here safety accountabilities are often not spelled out in much detail at all. Safety accountabilities become very fuzzy the higher up the organization one looks, causing good safety performance to suffer at each level of the organization. The solution process begins with a serious effort by the people involved to carefully develop value added activities for important safety processes at all levels of the organization. This kicks off the Engagement phase of culture improvement.
Engagement: The father of the quality revolution, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, emphasized the engagement of the people doing the work as key to solving the problems encountered with the work being done, or as I have heard countless times; “You pay for the body and the mind comes for free.” The problem with grassroots approaches that do not actively involve the supervision, middle management and upper management levels is that the mental, physical and monetary capabilities of these important people slow down, or terminate, the engagement improvement process. The continuous improvement teams that deliver solutions to cultural problems need the engagement of a good cross section of the whole organization. A part of this far-reaching engagement process must also include an appropriate amount of structure in the process of developing solutions. There are techniques that have been proven to be effective in bringing people together to solve issues they face. In the engagement process the team members must be trained so they don’t have to discover all by themselves what works, and what does not.
For organizational and safety improvement it is important to use the three fundamentals of Culture, Accountabilities and Engagement. Are you employing this proven formula today?