Dec 5, 2018
An organizational Transformation is no small task, with the seemingly impossible demand to reach hundreds, thousands, or even hundred thousands of people sometimes on every continent on the planet. I spoke with JMJ Global Client Manager Billy Gibbons about the value of commitment and what it takes to cause a cultural safety Transformation in large organizations that can reach around the world.
JWF: When we say that we cause Transformation in an organization, or that we Transform a safety culture, what does that mean?
BG: What Transformation in a safety culture means is that, first, we help identify for the organization, starting with key leadership individuals, what it is that they are committed to—genuinely committed to.
In organizations, people say they want certain things, like safety, and they’re going about activities to make these things happen that aren’t always sourced from a genuine, authentic, known and spoken commitment to achieving these. So when we say we Transform a safety culture, the first place we start is by helping them really get connected with what they mean by ‘creating safety.’ What are they really, really committed to? Are they committed to getting a better rate? Are they committed to better insurance rates? Are they committed to making sure they have lower turnover? Or are they genuinely committed to they don’t want to see anybody get hurt?
Then we go and find out the current status of this commitment in their organization. If they say they’re committed to something, we go and see what they have created so far that has them making or not making this commitment become a reality.
After we have gotten a good look at their current commitment and their current results, we help them formulate an authentic commitment to creating a place where nobody gets hurt and no incidents happen. We help them declare that commitment with themselves and with everyone in their organization.
Then, we work to put their commitment into action in every layer of the organization. This generally starts at the top. I think the biggest thing that you can see when you start realizing that people are Transforming is that they recognize that they as leaders can’t just say that they’re committed. They have to actually feel it and be authentic in their speaking of this commitment.
We coach people to be able to speak powerfully about their commitment. As a result of this powerful speaking, other people can themselves ‘get’ the commitment and want to help make it a reality. This is when true Transformation is occurring. People are able to speak about their commitment and are able to enroll and engage others in that commitment. At every level in the organization, people start feeling like, ‘Wow, before we were just following the rules. Now we’re actually living a genuine authentic value or commitment for the people around us.’
People start to really understand that their safety and the safety of the people around them is an authentic commitment of the organization. That’s very different from following safety rules ‘because we have to.’ It enables a cultural Transformation because everyone is becoming truly committed to ensuring that people go home in the same or better shape than when they came in that day.
Everything we say and everything we do is aligned with the commitment that we’ve declared. When that happens, then you’ve Transformed a culture from doing what you’re supposed to do, to doing what you’re genuinely committed to doing.
JWF: An organization might be spread out all over the globe. How do you actually engage that level of commitment and have it connect across a global organization?
BG: We first work with the most senior people in the organization—those people at the corporate level or the presidential level or the executive level—to help them formulate their own commitment. We cannot really start working where the rubber meets the road (or where the work boots hit the gravel, so to speak) without ensuring that all the structures for fulfillment of a commitment are in place by senior leadership.
We need to go wherever that organization does work to help ensure the commitment is transferred, comes alive and thrives in the local culture. But it needs to be seeded and held by a corporate structure that supports the commitment. Whether decisions are made at the local level, the senior level or the executive level, they all must be consistent with the commitment established.
To Transform an organization like this truly takes time to ensure that you’ve seeded and embedded the commitment in every senior leader in all locations. That, of course, starts with senior executives. This means spending dedicated time with them helping Transform their personal relationship with safety so they can begin to see how their personal relationship and their personal commitment affects everyone they speak with. It affects literally everyone they reach, including their finance people, their operations people and their HR people. This commitment affects everything they do and everyone they impact, so we want to start at the top to eventually reach every level in the organization.
JWF: When this happens, when this Transformation starts to occur, when people start to really connect with their commitment like that, what do you see, hear, feel inside of a culture?
BG: What you often hear when Transformation has really succeeded and takes hold is, “I thought I would never hear Joe, senior leader, fill in the blank, ever say anything about my safety. I didn’t even know if he even knew my name, but the fact that he knows my wife’s name and the fact that he talks to me personally and shows me that he absolutely cares—I never thought that would happen.”
You start hearing people say statements that have the words “care,” “concern,” “personal,” “my family.” You hear people talk about how they look proactively for what they can do to make sure things are safe, and they look to define risk and eliminate it instead of looking for the rules that tell them how to be safe. It’s really an “and/and,” not an “either/or.” They start not only looking for ways that they can be sure they’re doing the right things, but they look for ways that they can improve safety. That’s what you start seeing.
You also start hearing people saying things like, “Wow, I never noticed this. Now when I go home and I talk to my wife or I talk to my husband or I talk to my teenage kids, I have a completely different relationship to what I think is safe.” Their family’s safety becomes their concern and commitment. It’s not that people aren’t already committed, but when you really get connected to that commitment, you start hearing and seeing that people expect that commitment. It’s not just in work but at home, in their family life, in their personal life, the way they drive and the way they operate their own tools at home and so on.
JMJ suggested that perhaps there was a bigger opportunity here. Rather than just reinforcing the rules, what might provide a better overall outcome?
You hear people starting to step up and say, “I have an idea.” The have ideas about how to improve safety, whereas you wouldn’t have that in a culture that’s merely looking to meet the safety standards. When you have a truly exceptional, Transformed safety culture, you have people stepping up, offering innovative ideas about how to improve the work, how to make it safer, how to make it better, how to make it more productive and higher quality.
What you start experiencing in a Transformed safety culture is that people care. They care because their leaders and other people care for them. So, they start showing up better in every possible way. It affects everything more than just improved safety performance. It affects the way the quality of work life that people experience, as well as home life.
JWF: If you were speaking with a senior person in an organization right now who is unfamiliar with this, or who might be struggling with their own safety culture, is there any advice that you would impart?
BG: I would suggest they take an honest look at the level of authentic care and concern that they sense in their organization. Ask honestly, “What is the level of care that people have for each other? Is it sufficient to reflect a deep commitment to safety that the organization has?”
If not, what would it take to have people feel like they can come to work and run their organization with the same values that they have as an individual? What would it take to do that and not compromise people’s safety?
It’s about leaders expressing their true values, not having their values separate from business results. If they feel they their personal values are separate from their business results, then perhaps there is some other commitment they could find as an organization. Then, determine how they would run their organization differently sourced from this new commitment.
I would also encourage them to know that their deep-seeded commitment they may have for the safety, health and well-being of their work force does not and should not ever compete with good business results. These are synergistic. If there’s anything in the company that tells them otherwise, this needs to be revealed and exposed inside their organization. They need to create a shared commitment where people can get outstanding safety results where care and concern is a constant and get good business results. Those two go together.