Making ‘Speaking up’ a value

Does the culture in your organization support and make possible, the consistent and rigorous use of safety processes and systems?

There is one frustration that comes up regularly with people at various levels we speak to. Despite the existence of best in class/world class safety processes and systems, rules and regulations are NOT applied consistently or safety performance varies considerably. Leaders continue investing in HSE departments, new safety training and initiatives, safety days etc., yet they struggle to understand why they still see variable results across plants, business units, regions or countries. Part of the challenge here, is knowing what the tolerance for risk is, at any given plant, or on any given shift. What gets accepted? What gets challenged? Ultimately this can come down to the leaders who are present (or not) at any particular moment, but this also depends on ‘how things are done here’ – or in other words, whether there is a culture that supports safety across your organization.

One sign of a mature culture, is the regularity and quality of conversations about safety. These conversations do need formal structures such as shift handovers, meetings, or safety moments. They are embedded into ‘the way we work’ and part of a company DNA. Crucially, they are not necessarily dependent on a proactive HSE function. Indeed, it is normal and natural for these conversations to take place ‘in the line’ (operations and maintenance). Moreover, they are not exclusively conversations between full-time employees, contractors also play a key role in a mature culture and understand what is expected of them.

How confident are you that your colleagues are proactively doing this, as a natural part of how you work? Three questions that can help you understand if this is happening in your organisation are:

  1. Are colleagues willing to raise safety concerns with their superiors? (How do you know this is happening?)
  2. Are colleagues willing to talk with to their peers, when they believe what they are working at risk, or potentially jeopardising their own safety or the safety of others?
  3. Do supervisors and managers in your organisation encourage safety conversations, inquiry and dissenting voices? Do they listen actively and then act upon safety concerns?

The good news is, creating a culture where ‘speaking up’ is a value, is perfectly possible to achieve through setting the expectation, role-modelling the behaviour and providing reinforcing feedback when it happens. You don’t need to invest in software, equipment or machinery… but you do need to impress upon your supervisors and managers, that they have a responsibility to engage colleagues. The rewards are impressive and go above just safety improvements, impacting efficiency and quality also.

A key part of the iB&X approach to improving safety, quality and efficiency outcomes, is to introduce and reinforce key roles and responsibilities in five core, everyday HSE processes. From the initial set-up and design of any work with a client, we build on an initial senior management alignment session, where the goals and desired way of working is agreed. We work with a project team that includes representation from all departments. Together we map out how colleagues at each level of the organization will be impacted, engaged and encouraged to play their part in creating a culture that supports safe work, where short-cuts and at-risk work is not acceptable.