12 Jun Is success too dependent on one senior figurehead at your organisation?
You may have noticed that we recently endured a general election resulting in disproportionate joy for some (16 seat ‘majority’) and major disappointment for others. As a result the bloodied and defeated Labour herd leader has departed. “Am I gone? Hell yes I’m gone”.
Et tu brute indeed
Suddenly we find that the former deity Ed Miliband actually mishandled the election campaign and didn’t focus enough on aspiration, and this is criticism from his former inner circle, his confidants, his staunchest defenders. Oh and his brother of course who kept his powder dry for five years. Such is the nature of politics (and siblings – I know I have several). But prior to the massacre everything Ed uttered was gold dust.
Funny old world ain’t it?
The highlight of the election for me was that after Farage’s resignation Patrick O’Flynn UKIP MEP described the former leader as “snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive”. But sadly Patrick had peaked too early and like a vampire the formerly dead leader rose from the grave and bit poor Patrick’s head off.
Let’s look at this from a safety culture perspective
Believe me there is no finer piece of luck for a safety director than for a safety zealot to appear in the upper ranks of an organisation. Joy be unbounded, suddenly there is support for safety initiatives especially nebulous concepts like culture change.
It’s possible dear readers, and whisper it because walls have ears, that this individual may well recognise that a strong safety culture is the first step on the way to business excellence (hush… competitors’ spies are everywhere).
I have witnessed this effect in numerous organisations and it is electrifying.
But there’s a catch
Unfortunately, as Ed has discovered (and I suspect Mr Cameron may find out soon), naysayers often make the right noises in the hope that this focus on safety will go away and a return to business as usual will ensue (“now we can get rid of all of this green crap”).
Oh and by the way I don’t mean just at board level; the naysayers also exist in the work teams: “Safety gets in the way of doing the job”, “I know what I’m doing I don’t need these rules” etc.
So this is a problem if culture change is too dependent on one (admittedly) senior figurehead. What if this individual is kidnapped by aliens or is moved on to greater things before the culture shift bears fruit?
Senior enthusiasts for safety culture change are a massive benefit but things can become too dependent on one individual.
How to minimise the risk
The answer of course is to spread the load:
- Hold everyone in the management chain accountable for safety targets (preferably proactive ones)
- Establish good coverage by safety professionals throughout the organisation
- Set up safety committees on each site which represent people at all levels and with specific terms of reference
- Identify, train and mentor champions in every part of the organisation
- Support safety initiatives like a culture based safety approach with steering groups
- Strengthen corporate and local safety communications with engaging content rather than a resume of safety performance statistics
This isn’t an exhaustive list but I expect the tone is obvious. In fact most senior safety enthusiasts will make sure that this happens anyway.
Meantime we can all bemoan the irrevocable drift of UK politics towards the American model of electing the man rather than voting on policy. Here’s to an inspirational, dynamic new leader of the Labour party such as Liz Kendall (who?)