Creating Simplicity From Complexity
Safety to some people is a complex, confusing and frustrating expectation of their jobs and is often lumped on them without adequate consideration being given on how that employee is meant to be implementing or meeting what is being expected of them.
Developing a basic understanding of the human psyche, understanding how the workforce is perceiving the safety strategy of the company is key for any successful safety strategy.
Often, if you strip back the layers, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that your workforce believes that the majority of the ‘safety stuff’ in their organization is the result of the perception among the workforce that their leaders are really only interesting in hiding behind convoluted and ass-covering meetings and paperwork, useless and irrelevant policies and procedures, and that the safety function is essentially a bewildering and confusing department that has lost its real purpose of ‘caring’ about the workforce. The workforce see the layers and complexity, what they don't see is themselves as a part of this.
The reality is that the individual doesn’t fundamentally change when they arrive at work in the morning, they might well be a different version of themselves, but their beliefs, values, needs and communication strategies will stay the same. So, with this in mind, engaging the workforce in the organisations safety strategy, and ensuring an awareness of expectations whilst they’re at work and doing so in a way that demonstrates you’ve thought about what they need, is fundamental to any successful business.
Yes, there’s always going to be the legal, budgetary & operational expectations that are necessary, but challenging yourself each day remove confusion and focus on simplicity will sow the seeds for worker engagement and performance improvement. Workers are able to focus on what matters without fear. If leaders can successfully peel away the layers of complexity by diligently focusing on simplicity, they’re demonstrating an empathy to their workers.
Below are some considerations for safety leadership to consider when developing their safety strategy:
Establish the Context: Determine right from the very start, what are you doing and why are you doing it. Is it simply providing information, or is it to develop competency? Be prepared to be able to explain your context in just one sentence.
Lighten the Load: Remove the barriers that distract the reader. Make it simple by making it easy. Removing the barriers to effective learning. Consider the use of hierarchical learning (the important things first), consider the use of visual content rather than too many words (we can recall a movie better than we recall a book).
Make it Relevant: Avoid ‘generic’ HSE material. In today’s day and age, it’s very simple to be a victim of the ‘google effect’. Finding a presentation or material that’s relevant to your safety strategy is easier than ever. But what parts are important, what parts matter and are relevant to your workforce – what’s really critical to them. Remove the fluff, if it’s not relevant, don’t include it. This can take some skill, and it’s worth ensuring you undertake some dry-runs and ensure that you’ve got the details that are relevant, and that they make sense. When people are confused, they become disinterested and disengaged.
Make It Stick: As humans, we tend to be able to absorb information that is familiar or relevant to us easier. The book, Made to Stick (Chip & Dan Heath) provides some excellent practical ideas on making ideas ‘sticky’. Ensuring ‘stickiness’ is critical. The simplest of techniques can make an idea stick. Using cues or signals that your audience with can greatly improve your efforts. Each of us is much better able to recall a song when a tune is attached.
Remember the Worker: Consider yourself as the learner, look at the world through the worker's lens and not your own. This will provide you with the empathy and develop your ability to establish to proper context. Use techniques that will trigger your curiosity as this will inspire learning and understand. We can all give examples of long, boring and completely unforgettable HSE training. The ones that we do recall are those that stimulated our senses. We recall the stories we were told, and the lecturers that treated us as people and not robots and that were willing to have a conversation and create a connection with the workforce.
Question the Complexity: The necessity for complexity should always be questioned. The world, humans and even the workplace can be infinitely complex, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that your safety strategy needs to be.
Leaders should never forget what matters, the phrase that ‘Managers Manage Systems, Leaders Lead People’ is a great example of what is needed for organizations that want to embed their safety strategy.