When organizational behavior specialists talk about “corporate culture,” they are often referring to the set of unwritten rules that influences the attitudes and actions of the members of an organization and that guide their behavior. An organization develops its culture as a long-term coping mechanism for problems that are inherent in its operations.
However, when daily problems appear, organizations make immediate alterations within their culture to respond to these situations. These alterations, known as “climate changes,” signal a change in the level of interest and importance placed on a particular aspect of operations by the organization’s leadership. Unlike culture, which is embedded in the corporate psyche, climate changes only last for a short duration.
One very good example of changing climate is the level of emphasis placed on safety at different times during an organization’s life span. Shortly after an incidence of injury, management puts extra emphasis on safety. This generally lasts until the incident that triggered the response is forgotten, and then the climate gradually shifts back to a more lackadaisical attitude toward safety.
When an organization allows safety to be subject to climate changes instead of making it part of the culture, serious injuries and even fatalities can result. Management’s goal should be to create an environment where injuries are not acceptable and where all members of the organization work to prevent them. Changing the focus from a temporary emphasis on safety procedures to one of continuous improvement will help an organization sustain longer periods without injury.
The first step toward achieving this objective is for senior management to accept ownership of the procedures and processes that will lead to the desired safety outcome of becoming injury free. Leaders are not only responsible for developing safety procedures, but also for ensuring that they work as expected. Keep in mind that development is not done in a vacuum. Senior management must have input from the supervisors and staff who perform the operations in order for them to be effective.
Ownership also includes maintaining the commitment to safety from mid-level managers and supervisors, and paying attention to how well new hazards are being documented and brought to senior management’s attention. Leaders who accept responsibility for safety performance also monitor the factors that influence cultural acceptance, such employees’ level of trust in management, the effectiveness of communication between management and employees, and management’s credibility.
The second step toward achieving the desired safety outcome is to obtain employee buy-in. Start by listening to the way employees describe performance issues and problems. If their statements express the beliefs that achieving an injury-free culture is outside their control or it is someone else’s responsibility, then there are serious barriers that can prevent incorporating the goal into the culture.
Overcoming these obstacles starts when employees are brought into the development process. Once employees have ownership of the new procedures, they no longer feel that creating an injury-free workplace is beyond their control. Making them part of this process also puts responsibility for its success in their hands.
To maintain employee commitment, however, there has to be continual motivation, such as incentives, that keeps employees enthusiastic about the need for ongoing improvement.