23 May Harness the power of conversation-led culture change like British Gypsum
You might think reaching a zero-incident target means it’s time to crack open the champagne and relax, but that’s when the hard work really begins:
“It’s harder to design new safety initiatives when you hit zero because people aren’t getting hurt – so that information isn’t relevant anymore and you need to think more proactively.”
Neil Proctor is head of safety at British Gypsum where his team looks after over 1200 employees at factories, mines, technical academies, R&D and corporate locations around the UK. Before their current engagement-led safety programme their legacy systems struggled to give a consistent view of safety within their maturing organisation.
“We’ve moved from reactive to preventative and now we’re focused on the proactive side of safety to push our incident rate deep underground… so it doesn’t rise back to the surface for a long time.”
One highly effective way to shift people’s attitudes from reactive to proactive safety is through robust software that captures insightful data. When paired with practical training, the right system encourages better quality conversations and more staff involvement. That’s how British Gypsum maintain their zero LTA record.
Foresight vs. hindsight
At British Gypsum, Neil spotted an opportunity familiar to anyone at an organisation with a maturing safety culture:
“We already gather lots of high-quality conversation data, but we realised we could do a lot better and put it to more effective use.”
Unlike younger organisations which only learn from incidents after they happen, mature organisations like British Gypsum realise that long-term sustainable safety comes from a more proactive approach. This is where you prevent incidents by monitoring live risk data before those risks and root causes harm your staff.
“We needed to be able to drill down into specific locations within our sites then combine what’s going on with other data like near-misses so we can decide where our next improvement campaign needs to happen.”
Less mature organisations often use disparate spreadsheets or simple paper-based systems to record safety data that isn’t easy to share. In the past, British Gypsum used three separate unsupported systems to capture safety conversations with no consistent like-for-like view across the whole organisation.
So British Gypsum and JOMC joined forces to implement Engage, a social networking application for safety, alongside mentor training and workshops that built trust in the overall culture change programme that Engage is part of.
“Now we get clues and early warnings about where risks are on the frontline, based on what people really talk about.”
To complement improved information systems, Neil suggests there are other preparatory steps you can take which increase your chances of successful culture change.
Any large project is doomed to failure if the people affected aren’t actively involved. Neil acknowledged that when he sponsored a rigorous process of acceptance testing from users across British Gypsum:
“You only have one chance to get it right so we involved a cross-section of people across British Gypsum who tested, improved and re-tested Engage. We kept everyone up-to-date on progress too and trained people as our launch date approached.”
Testing might sound like a trivial step, yet by encouraging feedback and improvements from staff during an extended three month period, Neil and his team gained trust in their new system and programme champions amongst their workforce.
“You shouldn’t be afraid of asking difficult questions of your workforce.” Adds Neil, highlighting an important principle that becomes evident when your culture change programme is finally in place. When people feel comfortable sharing their concerns at the beginning of your programme then they’re more likely to continue that trend of honesty, and talk openly about the hazards and risks they experience in their day-to-day work.
Help people see value
“If you get senior management actively involved too, not just sponsoring your programme, you get a true cross-section of your workforce.”
Neil argues that when leaders, as well as shop-floor staff, are engaged it reinforces the message behind your programme: that everyone has a responsibility to speak up and keep one another safe. It’s a sentiment that’s backed up by all effective social networks, which democratise change by putting powerful tools in everyone’s hands.
“Our biggest fear was that people would see Engage as just something more for them to do, but instead people realise it gives them a voice to talk openly about safety.”
Open conversation between engaged staff transcends boundaries like where people are or what they do in your organisation and unites them behind a common cause – the right to work safely without getting hurt.
Are you ready for engagement-led culture change?
Neil warns that you shouldn’t jump straight in at the deep end with a new approach:
“It’s useful to look at where your culture is first. It’s no good going straight to proactive safety when you’re only just getting used to reactive.”
And before your staff can harness the power of conversation to change attitudes, values and beliefs with tools like Engage, they first need to feel that they work in an environment where it’s acceptable to do that.
“Start with the quality of your conversations, so it’s not just about numbers or box-ticking. It’s good to have targets but you have to know where you are and where you’re going before you set out to change things.”