Kevin Ian Schmidt

How to Introduce a Change to Your Safety Culture

Before you can introduce a change to your safety culture you have to make sure that you know exactly what it is currently. Remember that a culture is built up over a period through behavior, anecdotes, stories, boundaries of behavior, way of doing things, events that pass without comment, events that cause problems and so on. It is a complex, multi-layered element in the workplace and the belief system about safety has had contributions from all these factors. It is not a single entity but rather a combination of many things that are all intertwined, they are not separate.

The first thing you do is find out what your current safety culture represents, then you must look at what you want it to be in the future and design a plan to bridge the gap. The changes that you want to make may not be big changes but a series of small changes. If you find that there is a major change to be made, break it down into smaller elements. It is strongly advised that this planning exercise include the staff that are going to be affected.

In the back of your mind the reasons why most people resist change in the workplace. People don’t like change because normally, they are not involved in it and the change is imposed on them. This lack of involvement is probably the greatest reason why people resent change and actively fight against it. When this happens, these people will perceive the consequences of the change to be negative and they will persuade anyone that will listen that the change is of no benefit to anyone.

So, planning your change means that you must involve your people as well. And one of the ways of doing this is to get them to look at the current situation and take out the undesirable parts and recommend alternatives. Then you’re able to ask them to help design a vision for the future. If you can get their cooperation at this stage, you are well on the way to establishing a process of change that can be repeated in the future.

Once the vision for the future has been established and discussed, you can then ask your staff about the process of bridging the gap and delegate some of the tasks. You will find that there will be a degree of enthusiasm for change when you follow this process and you will find that this enthusiasm is infectious.

The actual changes themselves can be timetabled by the staff and progress can be discussed in group meetings as a form of feedback.

Check Out: Safety Training Is About Behavior Change

How Good Leadership Will Overcome Resistance to Change

Firstly, we must understand that people in leadership positions are constantly dealing with change. Change is part of being a leader. Sometimes it is the design of change but more frequently it’s the implementation of change. Because of poor planning and a failure to sell the need for change, a myth of considerable proportions has developed in the business world. We are told that people naturally resist change. This has become a major concern for most businesses and many have invested millions learning how to “manage change.”

We are continually bombarded with rhetoric about the urgency and acceleration of change in today’s “fast-paced business world.” The fact is people don’t resist change if the change provides immediate positive consequences for them. Properly presented change and immediate consequences that are both certain and positive is the recipe to ensure that change is readily accepted and supported.

Think about it this way, nobody resists change when the immediate consequences favor it. “Do it this way, and you won’t hurt your fingers.” “Hold it this way, and you will be able to see it better.” “Move your right hand this way, and you will be able to hit the ball straight.” If the correct behavior follows these instructions, and positive consequences occur, you will not have a difficult time getting people to accept change in those situations.

It is only in situations where the immediate consequences of change are punishing, or when the new behavior is not immediately reinforced, that you run into trouble. Often, we are so busy trying to cope with a new environment because of change that we forget to use positive reinforcement to cement it in.

Regrettably, most organizations have a list of historical events where the implementation of change has failed. Because of this, subsequent and future changes are met with a less than enthusiastic approach by the people who are going to be affected by the change. They have learned that change has got unpleasant consequences. Our failure to take an intelligent approach to change has built an environment that actively resists change. The only way we can overcome this is to build trust and this can only occur if our words and actions match. Better leadership that creates an environment of trust will also create an organization that accepts change as part of business life.

Almost every corporate initiative impacts the performer negatively at first. While the staff member may understand that there are long-term benefits to the company and to the individual personally, the immediate consequences of doing things differently are usually negative. New behaviors require extra effort to learn, result in increased mistakes, cause the performers to get behind in their other work, and create stress because people fear they won’t be able to learn or perform as well under new conditions.

To make change a positive experience, we need to be less concerned with managing the change and become much more attentive to managing the consequences associated with change.

How Leaders Use Persuasion to Introduce Change

Introducing change is one of the primary functions of leadership, however, introducing change is a process that can be exceptionally difficult. Resistance to change tends to come from the leader. When change exposes individuals to failure and punishment, they resist. However, when change exposes the individual to positive reinforcement, they actively seek it out. Resistance to change is the indication to the leader that something is wrong with the methods being used to achieve change.

Check Out: Successfully Persuade People That Workplace Injuries Are Preventable

If, during the process of change positive reinforcement is not used or misdirected, resistance will be the result. Effective leaders use a variety of methods of persuasion to create the need for change. One of the most successful tactics is to take a process and ask the question, “Is there a better or smarter way of doing this job?” This question can be posed either to individuals or groups.

Sometimes, it is posed slightly differently making the assumption that there is a better or smarter way. “What is the better or smarter way of doing this job?” When you ask this question you are not necessarily looking for an instant solution, you are provoking thought. Often you have to ask the question more than once and then when you have a selection of answers ask your team which is the most practical and potentially effective one. During the resulting discussion the solution may even undergo a process of refinement and improvement.

Obviously the next question is, “Who is going to do it, how will they do it and when is it going to get done?” The element of persuasion which is being used by the leader is indirect. He or she may know the answers but will refrain from offering a solution. It is a deliberate attempt to involve the group in the solution and come up with ideas to make the job easier, safer, quicker or improve quality. If the leader has sufficient patience, the answers will come from the group. This has the added advantage that they will continue to think about the process even after the change has been installed.

The alternative to this process is one of prescribing change and managing it closely to ensure compliance and implementation. By asking questions the leader has involved the group in the solutions as well as the process of change. This is a much more effective way of managing the process of change by using the group members to come up with solutions and be involved in the implementation. Although this will not completely eradicate resistance it will minimize the effect of it. After several changes have been installed the group will trust the process and accept it readily provided there is sufficient and frequent positive reinforcement.

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