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6 Steps to Encourage Staff to Embrace Safety Accountability

AccountabilityIf there is one thing that safety managers despair about, the world over, is how to get their staff to be more engaged and responsible for safety.

The good news is that staff want to be more involved in their job.  In fact, by opening up the communication between leaders and staff you can create a vibrant and happy workforce, that all take safety seriously.  

BUT, this means changing how you lead people.  As the leader (and this can be the safety manager, supervisor, product manager, or even CEO etc) you most probably feel the burden of having to solve all the safety problems in your company.

This is where you need to change your mindset and begin to tap into the deep, collective wisdom of your workforce to help tackle your big organisational safety challenges. 

Instead, begin to believe that your staff have unlimited intelligence and can work out solutions.  Start to encourage your team to offer solutions.  It's about asking questions, rather than always talking.  The beauty is that you relinquish the issue of being required to always have all the answers.  While at the same time, it will grow the intelligence of your workforce and stretch them to think beyond their duties.  All you need to do is be their teacher and coach, providing support for them.

"Organisations that most creatively incorporate diversity of thinking will reap the rewards of innovation, growth, wealth and progress." Joel Barker

But best of all, this is how you get people to be responsible for safety and taking more ownership.   By giving them the opportunity to think of solutions.  You might not think that you're staff are even able to think of solutions now, but given the opportunity and a bit of practice, you'll be surprised with what they come up with.

To get them momentum started, I've put together six steps.  Remember, this is a long term process and one that you will need to commit to.  However, the results will be worth it:

  1. Discuss the Safety Problem -  According to Liz Wiseman in the book, Multipliers, the best managers create a collaborative workplace where they debate issues and make decisions based on input from the group (rather than making a decision by themselves).  To get your group started, get them to help you work out why they are not engaged in safety.  Give them the context, as the more context they understand the better they will perform.  Ask them to come up with ideas on how to fix it.  Ask tough questions that challenge any outdated assumptions in your organisation.  Find out what safety challenge they are most concerned about and what needs to be done.  And don't offer solutions.  Instead, get your team to come up with answers and guide them on whether their answers are suitable.  This is important, as by allowing your team to come up with ideas you are growing their collective brainpower.  You're also encouraging them to think more in their jobs (and improve autonomy and even, job satisfaction), which will result in you having to help them less.  This exercise might need a couple of sessions to nut out the problem that everyone wants to work on, but keep going with it.  Remember, the best way to align people to an opportunity is to allow them to discover it for themselves. 
  2. Set a Challenge - Now, that you've worked out a problem that your staff want to fix, it's time to really get them on-board by setting a goal.  Make sure that you stress the common purpose and create an inspiring goal for the group.  If you pick up any personal development book, one of the main things you will learn is to dream big goals with steps on how to go about reaching them.  While having goals is important for individual success, it's also important for group success.  Goals force us to challenge ourselves and they are a perfect vehicle to grow and stretch the collective wisdom and energy of your team.   They also bring everyone together, which is a basic human need as humans like to be part of a successful group that's going places.  As Liz Wiseman mentions, great leaders create a vacuum between what staff currently do and what they need to be able to do.  They create a compelling challenge that creates tension and draws people in.  Just make sure the challenge is hard enough that it encourages people to pursue it, rather than an easy challenge where people will quickly lose interest.  According to Heidi Grant Halvorson in a Harvard Business Review Report, when framing goals use language that suggests a development opportunity with words like “training,” “learning,” and “progress.”  Let people know that they will face challenges and possibly failures. This will remove any anxiety about failing that often causes people to fail.  Research undertaken by Liz Wiseman found that great leaders make challenges easy to understand and concrete.  They make the challenge seem real, by encouraging people to visualise the end result and provide a cheering squad to keep people going (read How to Make New Workplace Behaviours Contagious for more suggestions).  Make sure you create a SMART goal (Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Time-Bound.  For example: Our production department aims to reduce hand injuries to 1 a year by December 2013.
  3. Keep the Momentum Going - When you focus on any goal, roadblocks appear that seem to dampen enthusiasm and progress.  Have regular meetings to find out how people are going with the goal.  Quickly go around the room and ask everyone whether they are facing any challenges with making the goal.  If a challenge is mentioned, discuss ideas on how to solve it.  This is a great way to keep safety conversations open and to generate great ideas and energy.
  4. Celebrate small wins - Ever used a loyalty card where, for example, if you buy 10 coffees you get one free?  Research has found that people are more likely to use a loyalty card if one coffee has already been stamped, so you only have nine to go.  However, if people are given a loyalty card with no stamps, they are less likely to use it.  One way to motivate people is to make them feel that they are closer to the finish line than they thought.  In what ways can you let the team know that they are already on their way?  How can you pre-stamp their coffee card, so to speak?  Make sure you celebrate small wins, as soon as you can.  Keep reinforcing progress made and that change is within reach.
  5. Do a regular public review - Depending on how quickly you get results, do a weekly or monthly review meeting where you publish the results you are getting.  Make it clear to everyone that most of the group is doing the right thing.  This is a a great way to get everyone on board, particularly when you have a few stragglers that refuse to participate. 
  6. Celebrate and start again - Once you have reached the goal, it's time to celebrate and start the process again.  Ever noticed that when a team or elite sports star wins a major tournament or Grand Final that they find it difficult to win again?  It's because they made their first goal and didn't think they needed to set a goal to build momentum the second time around.  So make sure you start working towards a second, new goal.

By encouraging staff to openly discuss safety issues and how to address them, you naturally start to create a culture where people trust that they can speak up and offer ideas.  It also  encourages team members to accept personal responsibility for safety and to become more accountable. This enables you to tap into the collective wisdom of the group, rather than try and create solutions on your own.  As well as encouraging people to think and have more autonomy over their job, you also leverage the collective intelligence so that your organisation, overall, starts making better decisions.  Of course, the better your company gets at thinking, the better it gets at business. 

As the leader, this means seeing yourself more as a teacher encouraging people to improve their performance.  It means stepping back and asking questions, rather than telling people what to do.  It means letting go of the need to be right and making all the decisions.  No individual could ever come up with the number of ideas and solutions that can be found in collective brainpower.

Start seeing and appreciating the genius within your company and be open to the amazing opportunities that exist.


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Image credit: Flickr, Acy Varlan