Reactionary vs. Proactive Culture

A while ago I was asked a very poignant question by a member that was new to the organization. The question was “why does it seem that every decision made by management is given without notice to the lower levels? The decisions always seems to be very last second without any sustainability of the “mandatory” process changes. Why does it seem the decision makers are incapable of seeing the issues in this?”.

The answer lies in the deep rooted culture of the organization. In my personal and professional experience I have seen many organizations that hold to the idea that things are fine if they don’t hear about them. The safety program is usually a victim of this complacent ideology. The site safety managers are hard at work keeping things running smoothly and reducing serious mishaps. The only time management is reminded of the safety program is when a serious injury occurs. This creates the time period I like to call the “panic mode”. This is a period that highlights the reactive culture of management; policies are implemented immediately, quick fixes are thrown into place, and the words “this won’t happen again” are introduced at every meeting.

The issue with this is that these fixes are typically ineffective, they lack a truly thought out planning process. There isn’t any real follow up process in place and within a month the organization is running the way it always has. This isn’t just an issue with safety programs either, this type of panic mode can be seen in every decision made by the management teams. Where does the responsibility belong? How do we change the culture from reactive to proactive?

The safety program is always a function of management. True, site managers are employed to ensure all regulations are being met, but many times these safety managers fall prey to the pervasive culture of complacency. A truly proactive culture HAS to originate from the top of the organization. This requires the management teams to ensure all employees are comfortable reporting any safety concern they have. Management has to work with the safety managers to effectively plan fixes to concerns and create a process for following up. This also imparts the message to the employees that their safety is truly a concern of their management teams. When the management teams and site safety managers are working together for the employees, a proactive safety culture is introduced. Again, this isn’t specific to just the safety program, proactive approaches can be applied to every aspect of an organization.

Most safety managers do an excellent job of keeping the employees from getting injured. This needs to be communicated to the organization on a regular basis. The safety managers have a responsibility to keep their program in everyone’s mind, especially to all employees. This is can be accomplished in many different ways, the important thing is that safety is introduced as a positive program and that it is personalized for the work site. Many construction safety managers utilize “Toolbox Talks” before the workers head out for the morning, keeping safety briefings relevant to the employees, and including all employees in the safety processes. This creates an environment where all employees, regardless of where they fall in the hierarchy, are keeping safety in mind.

The bottom line is that a reactive culture does not create effective safety processes. A proactive safety culture creates an environment where small issues are kept from turning into major injuries.