Our team had a problem. We were releasing a key member of our team after having just promoted them to the position. They were successful in their previous role, charismatic, capable, driven and well-liked. However, after witnessing their behavior over that short period of time we realized that they weren’t aligned with what we valued as a company. They had to go, immediately.

We had recently created and implemented a set of core values to help drive our company in one specific direction:

  1. Pioneering Excellence Everyday
  2. Supporting Each other to Put Customers First
  3. Asking the Right Questions to Deliver Excellence

After years of struggling to get everyone in the company aligned (five service division supervisors, a general manager, accounting staff, trainers, consultants and field personnel), we needed something central that defined who we were and what we were about. The benefits of having these values have slowly brought about the changes we needed, and another benefit - an accountability structure for our team. These two elements (a collective target and accountability) are vital for a sustainable culture of any kind.

Culture can mean many things, but it is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the manifestation of human intellectual achievement regarding collectivity.” What influences or subtracts from culture? Can you point to an attitude, management style, supporting employees, organization that directly impacts a company’s culture? Yes, and the list doesn’t stop there. What is the secret sauce that helps some companies grow while others falter? Surprising to some, I have found that paying people more doesn’t necessarily mean a better employee. Rather, I’m going to attempt to prove how beliefs are the foundation for a good safety (or any) culture, and how we must first understand what our people believe in order to determine if we are ultimately aligned with each other. Do we value the same things? This is an important, and crucial, question to ask.

A quick internet search of service contractors will reveal taglines such as, “quality,” “safety first,” “service,” “integrity.” They’re all hinting at the same concept, our culture is “different,” “better,” or “higher quality.” How can every company have the same values? If this is the case, why don’t they all perform equally? Values can’t be something we handpick from a list of adjectives or borrow from companies we admire. They must be created with our team through rigorous conversation and understanding of what our team believes and cares about.

In a previous editorial (link to the data debacle editorial) I recommended asking your team a few questions about your safety program in order to mine for their perspective regarding its simplicity and true applicability. This is the beginning of the “belief understanding” process, but only the beginning. We must understand their beliefs about all elements of our safety program; its implementation, our policies, practices and processes before we can make a change. Some may say, “we didn’t create this, our customer did — 90% of what we do is their requirement.” Touché. Make it your own. Find a way to meet their guidelines with your own style, methods, and processes — one that fits your company’s values.

If your people and management don’t believe in the application of your safety program (or any corporate ideal) it won’t move forward. Rarely do I find that they don’t believe in the concept of safety, but often the program’s implementation is resisted. It may be that your team’s perspectives or beliefs need to change. Then, that is your next step. Foster that change by getting feedback and acting accordingly. You can’t force a group into thinking one way overnight. It takes time, consistency, and a determined focus.

The next step is working with your field level management. You may hire a stellar safety person who believes in the program and holds people accountable for a time, but a culture that is dependent on any one individual will not succeed. Your safety people should be leveraged to facilitate the process, but they cannot be central to it. If you haven’t drafted your core values, gather your management, supervisors, and field level personnel and get to work. There is a great resource in Gino Wickman’s book, “Traction,” on how to do this effectively.

If you have gone through the process of creating and sharing these values, where were they created? By whom? Were field-level employees involved? Do they agree and believe in them? Instead of asking “yes” and “no” questions, you may have to create more involved inquiries to discover what they truly believe. And instead of creating something that looks good on paper, created by marketing and sales people, it should be developed by the people who represent your company on the front line, everyday.

Jonathon Greiner is President and CEO of Basin Safety Consulting Corporation. Basin Safety serves the oil and gas, green energy, coal, electrical, construction, and primary sector industries. They provide technical expertise, supervision and program enhancements to simplify and modernize their customer’s quality, health and safety programs.

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