So safety culture. A phrase that seems to creep into almost any discussion on safety these days - the question is do we actually know what it means or has it become a rainbow statement with little real value or meaning. |
The concept or Organisational Cultures within psychology has a long history and evidence shows the "culture" will always exist in the workplace - there may be variations on that culture, but we can pick out strong consistent themes in most successful companies. Now for many companies the culture differs and how people view the world differs dependent on status. How many companies struggle along with management believing one thing and those at the sharp end having somewhat different views.
There are many definitions of Culture - but in a way I've always liked the simplicity of "the way we do things here". In a way that summarises everything we need to know - successful companies generally have broadly shared views on how things are done within a company underpinned by a shared belief. Probably the best modern examples being Google and Apple - both have strong messages, brand identity and company values are largely shared throughout the company.
Taking it one step further we also know that "belief" and behaviour are linked - a strong health and safety culture requiring both align so the belief in the culture in turn is shown by behaviours in line with the company's way of doing things.
Historically there was a belief that if you changed belief it would in turn change behaviour - effectively train your staff and they'll suddenly believe in the company message and then they will behave in the "required" manner. Pity it's not really true.
We do know that no one can exist when their beliefs don't match with their behaviour - something always gives. The problem with attempting to train belief and values is apart from they tend to be deeper rooted than training will ever reach is that even if the course works and the learners adopt some of the message in the classroom the real world interferes - pressure to deliver results, peer group pressure, other sources like the press or contradictory messages within the company will rapidly wipe out any gains you did achieve.
A health and safety method shown to be more effective is to forget the push concept - (change belief and behaviour will follow) and consider the idea of pulling behaviour forward and dragging belief kicking and screaming behind.
In some ways this is almost returning to old fashioned values - strong supervision was always about controlling behaviours. However there are other monitoring tools that work - be it productivity wall charts with clear targets, response time targets in call centres or returning to the original message safety performance inspections.
When groups are monitored and ranked on real measurable outcomes most of the time people react by attempting to improve - add bonus payments in and boy do they react.
Now many older schemes based themselves around individual targets -which works for sales - but one interesting factor is that when groups are measured and ranked as a whole the stronger (or arguably more compliant) members of the group will exert peer pressure on their colleagues to conform and thus improve the score (and rewards) for the group as a whole.
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