Bucket hanging over a water well

We often use a tool called the attitude/influence matrix to help people understand the different characters inside their organisation and how they affect culture, whether positively or negatively.

There’s all sorts of interesting knowledge that you can get from this matrix, whether that’s self-reflection (“how do I affect culture”) or about other people and how you manage relationships in your business (“what can I do to make that individual into a champion”?)

When you study the matrix you realise that the most powerful character is the well poisoner. These are individuals who have a really strong influence but an incredibly negative attitude. They have a disproportionate effect on culture (in the wrong direction) and always worry me the most when we try to effect more positive safety performance.

Yet if you can change a well poisoner into a champion then the impact is massive, sending such a strong signal about the importance of safety:“well if Jeff even takes it seriously now then safety must be important!”

When you think about it, it’s fairly obvious who the well poisoners are in your business isn’t it? I often spot knowing smiles play over people’s faces at workshops as one or two obvious colleagues come to mind.

Sometimes though, well poisoners aren’t always who you think they are – it’s the subtleties that matter. Here are my top five hidden signs to look out for:

  • They frequently say “my door is always open” if they’re a manager. If they weren’t in the office in the first place and out engaging people instead then they wouldn’t need to worry about the door
  • They don’t challenge unsafe behaviour. Letting unsafe behaviour go as a manager or a colleague is effectively an endorsement
  • They let trivial rules go ignored. The impact of this is magnified by managers but it’s true at all levels. What message does it send about the importance of all rules? Are people allowed to make their own judgement about the importance?
  • They don’t review or ask how well a job was done, even though there was scope for shortcuts and other unsafe behaviour. This sends a strong message that getting the job done is more important than the safety of the people doing it
  • They don’t plan for safety at the beginning of a job. That tells people safety is an afterthought