Culture and culture change are buzzwords of the moment in our industry. It seems that no inquiry into any major incident is complete without finding an inadequate safety culture as one of the root causes to be addressed. This is with good reason though, because cultural faults are in fact a root cause of any such disaster.

To improve culture you must first understand the weaker areas, and this means carrying out a culture assessment. My contribution to this subject is to show you how to compromise the assessment and completely devalue the process, much in the style of Chat Magazine having a Kat Moon from Eastenders special.

Don’t brief people involved in the survey

All culture assessments involve completion of a questionnaire, and the most thorough involve focus group sets to really establish people’s perceptions of their culture. If people are just presented with the questionnaire or worse with a focus group interview without understanding the background things can go badly wrong. People might assume:

  • It’s a management plot to reveal whistle blowers (read trouble-makers) and to deal with them
  • There’s some hidden agenda so a positive response is the safest course of action
  • This is the first stage of a process of blaming people for their own accidents

Don’t prepare for the focus groups

It says a lot about an organisation when the day set aside for the focus groups arrives and people haven’t been allocated time slots. So they arrive piecemeal and as a result less people are involved than originally expected. This is an extension of not briefing people properly on the process.

Try to rig the outcome

When the assessment is part of an imposed process people might suspect that the outcomes are career-limiting so they could be tempted to rig the results. Have you ever experienced Myers Briggs being used as a blunt instrument for these purposes?
Detonator plunger
You could do this by selecting the right people for focus groups or making sure that the awkward ones are unavailable for the discussions. Or maybe you could remove some completed questionnaires that give a heavily negative view.

Frankly, what’s the point? If leaders really are interested in improving the safety of their people then they should see a sound culture assessment process for what it is: part of a process to prevent people being hurt.

Mixed focus group sets

If the culture assessment process is to work it relies on people giving their honest opinions. A good way to bias the results in a positive direction is to ensure that people complete the questionnaires or attend the focus groups in the presence of their boss or someone even more senior.

The impact of this (and I’ve seen it) is that the senior person declares their position and unsurprisingly the other people follow suit.

Don’t provide any feedback once the report is issued

People who’ve contributed to the survey expect to see the output; usually a summarised form of the full report highlighting the main areas of interest.

If people don’t get the feedback they wonder why they bothered making a contribution, or assume that the results were so disastrous that they’re not fit to be seen by the wider population.

Refuse to accept the results

Well I would say this wouldn’t I? But if this assessment isn’t right what can be done? Do more surveys until the right results are achieved? This could be a long road.

Do nothing as a result of the assessment

Er …needs no further explanation.

In conclusion

Adopt all or some of the above and your culture assessment will be devalued to varying degrees. Alternatively do the opposite and get a valuable indication of where your safety culture stands, what its strengths are and the areas which need attention.