Crucial factors for a culture of accountability
By Brie DeLisi
One of the main concerns we hear from our clients is that they want their employees to be accountable when it comes to safety – to follow the safety requirements, to own their mistakes, to speak up in unsafe situations, to look for opportunities for improvement, etc. Accountability and safety ownership is, after all, a sign of very mature safety cultures. In these cultures, there are typically fewer injuries and increased levels of productivity.
What does it take to get your culture to drive accountability?
The most important aspect to drive accountability is to ensure the systems are built to completely support the employee. It is unfair to expect employees to own safety if there are issues with procedures not aligning with job tasks or an expectation for them to report but then nothing happens. This failure in the systems demonstrates that leadership does not ‘own’ safety, why should the employee? Systems to review may include: procedures, policies, reporting, communications, training, equipment, maintenance, etc.
Systems training and communications
Once these updated systems are in place, it is important to train employees on the requirements, as it is likely they have been revamped, as well as the expectations of employees and the potential rewards and consequences. This should include face-to-face discussions, a forum for FAQ, opportunity for a coaching period and verification of understanding.
If there is an expectation for employees to own safety and bring up concerns, there needs to be a feedback loop in place to support them. Employees need to know that they were heard and what action will be taken, and if no action can be taken, they should be informed of the reasoning. If this doesn’t happen, they will not report because they are under the impression that it went into a ‘black hole.’
Mostly carrot, a little of the stick
Discipline is a common go-to when leaders want accountability from their employees. Unfortunately, if there is only discipline, there is an element of negative reinforcement in which employees realize they only get attention when they do something wrong – and that’s better than no attention at all. Discipline should be limited to only willful violations of understood safety requirements. Positive reinforcement is most important, as it will engrain in the employee that their behavior was recognized, valued and they’ll want to do it again to get that good feeling. Leaders may need to be to be trained in this area as it doesn’t always come naturally. Recognition doesn’t need to be a gift or monetary value, it can be as simple as “hey, thank you for pointing out this issue – we’re going to take care of it as soon as possible” or “you did a good thing back there coaching the new guy on proper procedures.”
Both recognition and discipline need to be consistent in application and must be issued to everyone equally. If employees see that leaders are treated with more leniency, they will experience feelings of injustice and resentment, leading them to disown safety. Leadership needs to be held to the same standards as front-line employees, to be role models of the safety culture and accountability.
These aspects take time and careful consideration, but the results will prove themselves in creating a culture in which everyone feels accountable, they will take ownership of safety for themselves and for others – that effort will pay dividends in the long run.