hange Management for Safety Derailers_Look Out for These Red Flag Conditions

Change Management for Safety Derailers: Look Out for These Red Flag Conditions

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Change management for safety (and anything else) is often critically important but almost always more challenging than expected. Before addressing red flags that derail change efforts, here’s a recap of some reminders to make effective, lasting change for safety.

Step one is to mobilize your stakeholders with a clear “to be” vision and an agile change strategy that considers the readiness of your workforce. This involves establishing an aligned governance coalition to manage all efforts. Step two is to create momentum by communicating your vision through a network of change ambassadors, establishing new organizational skills and capabilities, and empowering change action and experimentation. The final step is to embed the change in organizational systems by building reinforcement tools, measuring progress, and developing new organizational habits. This requires persevering though inevitable resistance but also celebrating quick wins to show progress. Advertising improvements from change efforts demonstrates leadership commitment to change but also the capacity to make changes stick.

Derailers of Change

Despite our best efforts, certain conditions and personality styles sometimes hinder or even derail change efforts. Here are a few common derailers to watch out for when attempting organizational change for safety.

TAKE MY BALL AND GO HOME occurs when the designated leader of a group wants everything to go there way and turns negative when there are too many alternative ideas discussed. Their initial enthusiasm is blunted when others don’t immediately see and agree with this person’s vision. This discouragement leads to disinterest (or even active resistance) from the leader which hinders change progress. 

GET OFF MY LAWN thinking occurs when people feel like new ideas that go against the grain are viewed suspiciously because it conflicts with what’s “always been done.” This may include safety norms that have been passed down from generations. Hearing things like, “We’ve done it 20 years this way and never got hurt” are signs of this condition.

FAKE NEWS occurs when people are reluctant to accept and believe new data, trends, and information that is inconsistent with currently held beliefs. This ranges from new equipment to (especially) new procedures or safety rules. Granted, new rules are sometimes blanket policies that are overreactions to incidents. In most cases, however, we have new protocols (and technology) to increase the probability of keeping people safe. Actively resisting this change only serves to increase risk in the workforce. 

– The GENERAL PATTON phenomenon occurs when the emergent leader is overly aggressive and dominates all decision making. This often happens when a member of the team has a higher rank than others. While this isn’t inherently bad, there are times when subpar leaders use their authority (or belief that they know more than others) to disregard or discredit ideas from others. This results in other people shutting down since their suggestions won’t be heard or enacted anyway.

BLACK HOLES happen when information from the change process isn’t shared with the larger organization including goals, progress, and improvements made. This is a common malady. Change leaders need to be highly transparent and communicative with safety improvement efforts. This includes acknowledging times when change efforts haven’t succeeded yet to expected levels. It’s critical to share with the larger organization the ”why” behind change efforts, the expected benefits of this change, and advertising improvements when effective change occurs. This increases buy-in with change and helps make change efforts “stick.”

JUST HERE FOR THE DONUTS occurs when people aren’t truly invested in change efforts and are more concerned with their own standing or career aspirations. People may be on change committees for other reasons that truly making lasting safety improvement. One way to try and avoid this is to more vigilant in selecting the change management team but also making sure that all voices are heard so that people feel like they’re a genuine part of the change efforts. This may turn some of the “just here for the donuts” members into active, engaged participants.

Overall, organizational change is hard. This is especially true with safety improvement efforts and programs. So, remember to mobilize, gain momentum, and embed change. And nip these derailers in the bud so that your commitment to improvement isn’t sabotaged.


A Novel Way to Incentivize Safety: Case Study