By John Kenney, Cotney Consulting Group.
You can substitute grow, develop, establish, create or another word to put in front of culture, but the important word is culture. It is not the elements of your safety program alone that will get you to world-class safety; it is when you impact the culture so that all individuals, without exception, make safety their daily priority. That can only occur in a culture where "safety first" is not just a slogan on a banner hanging in the warehouse but a deep-seated reaction, just like looking both ways before crossing a street. The essential requirement to build, grow, or create world-class safety is to impact the culture within your organization.
How do you describe the culture of a roofing company? One of the best descriptions I know of, and we will use for our discussion, is how the individuals who work in the business think, act, and interact. That personality of the company, good or bad, is evident to all who visit and observe. You should be able to walk into a business and know if safety is cultural because it can be observed in actions, interactions and communications.
I have walked many construction sites and roofing projects in my career and have observed cultures in which the employees feel valued and engaged in their work and others where people cannot wait to leave at the end of their workday. Why is it that on some job sites, the employees do not even make eye contact as you pass, and in others, they smile, greet you, and seem genuinely happy you are there? Why the difference? Both are job sites, but, with certainty, the level of trust on the two sites will be quite different. How do you shift your company to the engaged one? Moving the culture toward one where employees feel engaged requires a growth in the level of trust. A business takes on the personality of its leaders. Therefore, leaders must be responsible for the culture in their business and, in turn, the level of trust present or absent.
The right culture for moving toward and attaining world-class safety is one with a high level of trust. Sounds simple, but how is a trust established? I believe it is with one person at a time. As trust is built with individuals, you can watch their motivation increase. It takes motivated people to get to world-class anything, and changes in employee motivation are gradual. No magic cure can move them from formerly demotivated to now highly motivated. People respond to the development of trust slowly and cautiously. Individuals who have worked hard to develop high levels of trust in their organizations understand the importance of trust. These effective leaders know that you cannot manage change — you must lead it. You earn trust by giving it. That must be understood and personally practiced if the goal is a world-class safety culture.
When people are engaged, the opportunity to build trust exists. What exactly does engaging someone mean? I could give you the definition from a dictionary or google, but what helped me understand it best was a discussion I had with a staff member at a company I was assisting with safety improvements. This individual worked in one of the production teams as a roofer but had been asked to participate in our team that assessed the work practices on their job sites to reduce injury risks. As is often the case with production crew members, he was excited to participate and develop solutions for continuously improving installation practices. When that project ended, I went to his supervisor and reported on what a great job he had done. He had made a real difference, so I recommended that he be promoted to safety team leader on the committee. His new role lacked a formal structure, and I provided him with little supervision. Instead, I extended trust and allowed him to grow into this new role utilizing his unique style. After six months, we reviewed his progress and sat down to talk about this new role and his performance. When I asked how he felt about this role, he said he enjoyed the opportunity. When I asked why he said, "Because I'm engaged." I then asked what he meant by that, and he said, "I'm involved and enjoying making a difference in improving our safety process." Now imagine a culture where most or even many of your employees felt that way about their jobs. Everyone's best day at work is one in which they were involved and made a difference.
Take some time to reflect on how you and your company can provide the opportunity for others to make a difference and be engaged, which will positively impact safety.
About John Kenney
John Kenney is the Chief Executive Officer at Cotney Consulting Group. Prior to starting Cotney, John had 45 years of experience in the construction industry. John began his career by working as a roofing apprentice at a family business in the Northeast. Because of his skill and hard work, he progressed from roofing laborer to foreman, estimator, chief estimator, Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer with his various companies. John has worked for multiple Top 100 Roofing Contractors and is intimately familiar with all aspects of roofing production, estimating, and operations. In his last role, John was responsible for the daily operations and performance of a large commercial roofing contractor. During his tenure, John ran business units associated with delivering excellent workmanship and unparalleled customer service while ensuring healthy net profits for his company.
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