Expert Commentary

Enterprise Safety Management: Implementing a Framework

My September 2007 article, Enterprise Safety Management: Creating an Injury-Free Workplace, provided an overview of how to establish a truly safe construction site. The January 2008 follow-up, Creating a Framework, set the groundwork for enterprise safety management. Here, we examine aspects of execution.

Construction Safety
August 2008

Any organizational initiative must rest on a foundation that will allow it to be implemented successfully, function effectively as well as flourish. The culture of the organization is the framework within which the people of the organization cope and function. Edgar Schein, an MIT professor (who termed "corporate culture"), maintains that many organizational initiative's failures can be traced to not fully understanding the organizational culture. So, to create an effective enterprise wide safety framework, it is imperative to understand the organizational culture.

So what is organizational culture? There is no simple or single definition. In general terms, it is a set of basic common understandings learned, shared, and used by the members of an organization to manage internal processes as well as function effectively in the internal and external environment. Culture has three levels. The visible or highest level is the behaviors of its members and the artifacts of the organization. At the next level are the organization's shared values. Values to a large extent determine the membership's behaviors. At the deepest level are the assumptions and beliefs of the people within that organization. These are entrenched and difficult to pinpoint and change.

A positive strong and vibrant organizational culture is important to effectively manage. Such a culture will attract and retain capable talent. It engages, energizes and creates momentum. It creates synergy and a positive outlook on work as well as win-win, cooperative thinking. Such a culture enables enhances, empowers, and breeds success.

To effectively initiate change, one must understand all the complexities of culture. Therefore, understanding the three levels of culture is important to the design and implementation of any change initiative. The culture shapes the people and the people shape the culture. More importantly, the leadership of an organization plays a pivotal role in shaping the culture.

It is also important to understand the vision of the organization's senior leadership as it relates to safety. The vision is a "picture" of the future state. The vision must be clearly articulated to the organization. The vision sets the parameters for the creation of the infrastructure as well as the framework which, when appropriately designed and effectively implemented results in an injury free workplace.

Leadership and Management

Both leadership and management are necessary and critical to creating and sustaining a value-based culture as well as creating processes and procedures that foster excellence. Principle-centered leadership involves ethical behavior, causal thinking, inspiring a shared vision, as well as enabling and empowering everyone. It is all about modeling the way, challenging the process, and encouraging others to carry on. Management, on the other hand, is the process of obtaining, deploying, and utilizing a variety of essential resources, especially people, to effectively and efficiently contribute to an organization's success. Managers spend much of their time planning, organizing, controlling, staffing, etc. to achieve the organization's goals.

The critical elements of leadership are the following.

Ethical behavior means leading by strong principles. It involves behaving fairly, ethically, and with integrity. It demonstrates concern for others as well as sharing of control, conducting meaningful communication, and providing relevant information. It also involves empowering others to act and giving credit where it is due.

Causal thinking involves creative, strategic, and transformational thinking. Creative thinking involves coming up with new ideas, anticipating the future, improvement, etc. Strategic thinking is all about connecting creativity with value, and transformational thinking results in the ability to take radically new ideas and make them work.

Inspiring a shared vision is all about getting others to believe in and act on the organizational vision. It's breathing life into other people's hopes and dreams, and forging a unity of purpose to ignite a flame of passion.

Enabling and empowering implies removing barriers so as to assure the success of others. It does this by supporting and involving the individual, encouraging group collaboration and teamwork, and sharing information and power. Leadership is a relationship founded on trust and confidence.

Modeling is about setting the example. It's all about genuinely paying attention by actively listening, understanding, and then showing compassion. Modeling includes working on small wins while thinking win-win in all cases, acting with a sense of urgency, being empathic, and caring about others.

Challenging the process is about confronting and changing the status quo. Doing so means recognizing and removing constraints, being open to taking calculated risks, and pushing the envelope. It is all about being a change agent and early adopter, looking for and creating opportunities for learning and growth in others, and recognizing good ideas or ways.

Encouraging perseverance means genuinely caring about people. It is uplifting and fosters trust and loyalty. Showing a person that they can win is a powerful attribute of leadership. It involves building people's self-confidence by always being positive and helpful, and encouraging and celebrating accomplishments.

Management is all about getting things done. Managers link goals to effort. They plan for converting resource into outputs. Managers must have a balanced concern for production as well as people. Managers must motivate the workforce. Managers play a key role in providing the employees with meaningful work and job satisfaction. Managers must treat the workforce with respect, show fairness, and provide recognition. An empowered workforce is involved, effective, and productive. Management is necessary but leadership is essential.

Communication and Metrics

Communication is defined as the process of passing information and understanding. Communication and the flow of information are critical to effective management. People need information to make meaningful decisions; therefore, the availability, accuracy, and timeliness of information is vital. Stephen Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, lists empathic communication as one of the seven habits (seek first to understand, then to be understood) of successful people.

Communication and information create the link between plans and actions. Neither leadership nor motivation can bring about action without communication. Effective communication is three dimensional: it must flow up and down the chain of command; it must flow across various departments (horizontally); and it must flow in and out of the organizations. Information comes from processed data. Therefore, the collection and analysis of data is important to management and decision making.

To meet the organization's goals and objectives, management must manage performance. To effectively manage performance and drive the desirable organizational behavior, management needs metrics and should create standards, objectives, and targets. These metrics become the basis for an ongoing process of communicating expectations, providing coaching and feedback, so as to reinforce the desired employee action and behaviors.

Employees must clearly know the organizations expectations and must be empowered and enabled to achieve the goal. So, workers and all levels of management must have clearly established expectations and must be held accountable for them. Of course, it is understood that the organization must provide the resources, the knowledge, the information, the tools, and the equipment to enable the employees to be successful.

Organizational Systems

Another area that needs to be scrutinized is the organizations systems. These establish how things get done. These processes and procedures play a role in supporting or undermining the injury-free goal of the organization. This requires an in-depth study of how and why things are done the way they are both at the operational level, the business practices level and the organizational structure and systems level. It is the role of leadership to challenge the accepted means and methods to identify barriers to accomplishing an injury-free workplace.

An injury-free workplace can only be achieved by looking at the organization holistically. Safety must be integrated into the very fabric of the organization and must be aligned with the organization's business goals. To accomplish this we need a framework of excellence that rests on a solid foundation of safety best practices. This includes all the state-of-the-art safety policies and procedures utilized by the best-in-class organizations in managing their safety performance. These practices must be in harmony with the organization's culture, climate, values, and vision. This is then enhanced by the following six keys to achieve an injury-free workplace:

  • Planning and risk assessment
  • Resource management
  • Behavioral and human dynamics
  • Performance management and metrics
  • Systems analysis and continuous improvement
  • Innovation, learning and change management

These key elements, along with proactive leadership, create a culture that supports an injury-free workplace.

Alignment and Execution

Growth and profit are ultimately the result of alignment between people, strategy, process, and customers. Alignment gives mangers at every level of the organization the ability to:

  • Deploy strategy
  • Focus on the customer (stakeholder)
  • Effectively develop people
  • Continuously improve internal systems

System integration and alignment establishes a culture that results in stellar levels of employee involvement and satisfaction, customer loyalty, and superior financial results. Alignment and system integration magnify and intensify the efforts and outcomes of the four cornerstones and create an injury free work environment.

Enterprise Safety Model

Enterprise Safety Model

It takes the right kind of culture, climate, and leadership to engage and involve people. Managers who focus on managing exclusively somewhat miss the mark, for one manages things and leads people! Execution is about people making things happen and engaging in the "right" organizational behaviors.

Better execution is an area that most organizations need to also focus on in order to improve performance. Many organizations focus on strategy, leadership, metrics, the processes, the systems, and other aspects of the business but take execution for granted. It is, after all, what managers do everyday. A fundamental aspect of executions is to take ownership and initiative in achieving any goal. An organization with a culture of execution performs well, fulfills its promises, and meets its goals.

Productive Injury-Free Workplace

Excellence in safety can only be achieved through an integrated, strategy-driven, performance-based safety management process. Enterprise safety management creates the integrated and aligned framework for the organization with which to create an injury-free workplace. Obviously, we need to approach the process holistically. Safety should be fully integrated into the organization's operations, and safety outcomes should be aligned with business goals. Therefore, the safety process will become woven into the very fabric of the organization and achieving an injury-free workplace will naturally flow from the operation.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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