Steve Beswick once asked a focus group what their current safety vision was. Much head-scratching followed. And after what seemed like an age, the best guess was ‘something to do with zero injuries’. He then revealed that the vision was emblazoned in the very stairwell each one of them had used to reach the meeting room.

So what makes for a good vision? One people can at the very least remember. How can you be sure it inspires people? Steve explains, drawing on his transformative front-line experience.

“You’ve got things like targets, goals and so on, but a vision for me is a picture. A short, word picture of what the organisation should look like, what it will achieve up to a given time threshold.

“Of course you want to eliminate injuries from site – everyone does, but the growing trend with a goal of zero is a confusing message for people to get behind. Worse still, with a vision like that you can blow it on day one, as soon as someone cuts their hand!

“A decent vision is a description, something worthwhile achieving that everyone can buy into, and one that’s developed in a participative way. It’s a destination your people can pull towards.

“At its most basic, an inspiring, realistic vision might be that everyone gets to go home unharmed, or people looking out for each other and speaking up.”

How do you get people invested in one?

“When I’m helping clients develop their vision, I ask them to picture a time in the future (say 5 years hence) and ask them to describe what they would like the safety culture to look like then. What types of things would people be doing and saying at all levels of the business? We might get them to draw it in a rich picture or act out the types of conversations that would take place in this futuristic world.

“We then ask them to compare that with what is happening today and look at where the gaps are. Then it’s about honing a message that includes all those golden nuggets that describe what your vision is, and how people can contribute to it.

“A vision is learning by discovery, it changes with the organisation. It has to be appropriate to the level of maturity of the culture – whether you’re compliant, reactive, learning and so on. It belongs to everyone, not just leaders. You can’t just force it on people, you have to build up to it, warm people to an idea and handhold them along the journey.”

A health-check for your safety vision

With Steve’s help, we’ve compiled this short checklist to help you evaluate whether your safety vision (new or old) is developing along the right lines.

1. Can people quote it back at you?

Visions can be as obvious as you like, plastered everywhere on-site. But if it hasn’t permeated the organisation’s collective conscience a reasonable time after its launch, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

2. Is it reasonably short and punchy?

While there isn’t a hard and fast rule, the vision needs to be succinct and snappy – so roughly between 15-20 words. That not only makes it memorable, it makes it repeatable so it gets shared. Its brevity contributes to the psychological effect of a sticky message.

3. Does it mean something to people?

This might sound like a lofty challenge – choosing a vision that inspires everyone, no matter where they work and at what level.
A good vision will include:

  • A clear goal: what the end designation looks like.
  • Strong motivation: what we will get out of it.
  • Unambiguous guidance: what we need to do to achieve it

4. Where did it come from?

Ideally you’d do a vision from the bottom up, do focus groups and go through several iterations. In reality, visions often begin above. So at least give your workforce a say on the various ideas and options, before you try to sell it back to them.

If your vision came out of nowhere from a boardroom on high, with no involvement from below – don’t expect it to stick.

5. Is it worthwhile believing in?

Sad but true, people are bombarded all day long with messages telling them what to do (and not to do), so you’ve got to answer the question ‘what’s in it for me?’ quickly – what’s the desirable result if people buy into the vision.

6. Does it contain stats?

There’s a time and place for statistics, but your vision isn’t one of them. Keep it free of numbers. It’s a picture with emotional attachment, remember.

Numbers are cold and hard with no room for imagination. They don’t put fire in people’s belly. Use them as supporting evidence, but not for getting people emotionally invested.

7. Does it sound like everyone else?

No doubt you already aspire to be a world-class leader in doing whatever it is you do, but then so do your rivals. Safety is more personal and virtuous than hard-nosed commercial goals, so be sure to keep your vision human-centred and caring – as every effective organisation should aspire to be.