I don’t believe this dimension gets the ongoing scrutiny and attention it deserves. And this dimension is so basic, so fundamental, and so familiar; it can easily get overlooked, and create big problems that relate directly to safety, productivity, and morale. The importance often slips and slides so insidiously, so imperceptibly, and so gradually, that it gets away from our notice much too painlessly. That is, until the pain, and push-back from our workers is heard more loudly and disruptively.
One of the more disturbing findings that leaders often read about when I complete a safety climate survey and conduct various safety focus groups within their organizations, is the perception gap that exists regarding materials, tools, and equipment. Oftentimes many employees don’t believe they have all the tools and equipment needed to do their jobs safely, especially when compared to the views of their supervisors, managers, and senior leaders. At the same time, many employees don’t believe their tools and equipment are well maintained. Even in many very good organizations, it isn’t unusual to see only 60 to 70 percent of surveyed workers who believe they have the necessary tools and equipment to work safely – tools and equipment that are also well maintained.
In contrast, front-line supervisors typically have better opinions regarding the tools and equipment used by their personnel. With these leaders, roughly 75 to 85 percent feel that employees have what they need in to work in a safe manner. Moving further away from the work, up the organizational ladder, close to 100% of senior leaders often believe workers have what is needed in order to work safely. Of course, there are outliers to these kinds of findings, but generalizations like this, often hold true.
There is nothing that can bring about more employee frustration, resistance, detachment, and anger than not having the right tools and equipment needed for their jobs. By having good tools and equipment, which are well maintained, you develop increased levels of employee trust and commitment to safety. In addition, the vision you have for greater levels of safety achievement is much more of a possibility because workers become more engaged in safety and the shared vision.
All of this leads to a secondary theme within this narrative, which goes beyond materials, tools, and equipment. And that is, we have to use multiple-means to move our leaders to action. For most leaders, findings such as these can be quite perplexing; however, there is also good news. For one, numbers-driven leaders often need this kind of survey data in order to take more definitive steps. And these types of perception gaps (as they relate to tools and equipment) are usually closely-tied to logistical and budgetary issues that can be fixed with relative ease. So by all means, use data from climate surveys, BBS data, and historical data – all of which have an intellectual, logical, and cognitive appeal. Also use stories that have an emotional aspect that will help call your leaders to action and will also help to close a variety of perception gaps, beyond those already discussed. And certainly, all of this requires that you further listen to your employees, and take action, where you can and should take action.
You may be saying, all of this is so basic and commonsensical. Well, yes it is, but common sense is not all that common today. We often think that getting to higher levels of sustained achievement takes more sophisticated and complex approaches, which it sometimes it does. However, workers and organizational leaders regularly get lost in their busyness and lose sight of the basics – what’s fundamental to their jobs. Nonetheless, we have to ensure the right tools and equipment are available, well maintained, and accessible. And we have to assure that we work hard to close other known perception gaps, too. For our workers and leaders, their perception, is their reality, and people act on their view of their own particular realities. Realities that sometimes need to change through our decisive and supportive actions.
Improving this very basic cultural dimension is critically important for building trust and getting people to believe in your vision for safety. In fact, so basic, that it can easily be overlooked or dismissed.
For you, it may be time to engage your leaders a bit differently by using good data, and most importantly by listening to your leaders and employees a bit more so you can take appropriate actions for sustainable improvement.
Finally, it may be time to survey your people and gain a more objective understanding of what your workers think and feel in order to get this fundamental dimension right – like right away!