2012 – winter Issue

Leadership - Safety Culture... Yours to Shape

A safety program goes beyond a set of rules for team members to follow. Rules alone will not keep people safe. Behavior keeps people safe. Behavior is driven by a person's beliefs and experiences. Beliefs, experiences and actions work together to form company culture.

The writers of Change the Culture, Change the Game, Roger Connors and Tom Smith, Co-founders of Partners In Leadership, Inc. (, note that company culture is either working for you or working against you. Culture is the way people in your organization collectively think and act. The process of changing culture goes deeper than changing a set of rules you want people to follow. If you aspire to change the culture, you must change the way people think, act, and believe.

For example, Interstates has chosen to attack safety from a behavioral and cultural standpoint. Our desired result is a safe work environment. One approach to achieve our result would be to create a list of things that "?you will do' and "?you will not do'. This establishes clear expectations for behavior; but, it lacks heart. To be effective, we need to create experiences that change people's beliefs "¦ which influence their actions "¦ and that ultimately change the culture.

In Change the Culture, Change the Game, the authors use The RESULTS PYRAMID® to illustrate their point. At the top of the pyramid is "?results'; the objective you want to achieve. Building up to those results are "?experiences' (the base), "?beliefs' and "?actions'. The authors suggest that working only at the top of the pyramid, concentrating on results and actions, limits the outcome. They suggest that nothing moves people to change the way they act faster than getting them to change the way they think. When you are able to identify beliefs that influence people's actions, you will see results. Providing experiences that instill beliefs creates the solid foundation for cultural change.

With this in mind, telling team members to wear certain personal protective equipment (PPE) is a part of nearly every safety program. Our personal beliefs at Interstates have been influenced by our experiences that create the stories that reinforce why we believe things (like PPE) are necessary. These beliefs affect the way we act. At this point in our company history, it would be unheard of to enter a work site without proper PPE. These specific rules are no longer under question by Interstates team members. It's the culture we have created that drives our results. Because the culture is strong in this area, we can focus our attention on other matters not yet part of a productive culture.

Shaping company culture is a primary task for leaders throughout a company. It is hard work. Start by reading. There are many resources available to help companies with change management. Ask for help from a consultant. The main point is to start by acknowledging that you can make a difference and take control of your culture. The ultimate question is not whether your company has a culture. Rather, the question is, does it have the culture that your team needs to be successful?