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Start 2024 By Embedding Health and Safety into Your Company Culture

Embed Health and Safety into Your Company Culture

Peter Drucker's insightful observation that "culture eats strategy for breakfast" highlights the importance of organisational culture in the success of any strategic endeavour. This principle is particularly relevant in the context of embedding health and safety into organisational culture. No matter how robust or well-designed a business or health and safety strategy might be, it will not be effective unless supported and embraced by the organisation's culture.

Understanding the Culture-Strategy Dynamic

Organisational culture forms the bedrock of every policy and strategy. It encompasses the shared values, beliefs, and behaviours of the organisation. If the culture does not prioritise health and safety, strategies to enhance these aspects will struggle to gain traction.

A strategy, even if brilliantly devised, operates in the realm of the theoretical and planned. On the other hand, culture is about the lived, daily experience and practices of the organisation. When strategy and culture clash, the culture almost always prevails.

Let’s explore the statement, "When strategy and culture clash, culture almost always prevails.” This suggests that culture is vital for strategic success.

We know that organisational culture refers to the collective values, beliefs, and behaviours shaping how people interact and work. It's like the organisation's personality. This culture is not just a set of guidelines; it's more about unwritten rules and the organisation's social fabric.

A strategy, in contrast, is a plan or a set of actions designed to achieve a long-term goal. Strategies are often developed at the higher echelons of an organisation. They are intended to guide the organisation towards its objectives.

The clash occurs when the strategies implemented do not align with the prevailing culture. For example, a company might develop a strategy emphasising rapid innovation and risk-taking. However, if the organisational culture is risk-averse and prefers incremental progress, this strategy will likely face resistance. Which all makes sense.

The difficulty lies in the fact that strategy seems easier to measure and more tangible than culture. Culture is a tough nut to crack. Organisations can easily set strategic goals, outline steps to achieve these goals, and measure progress using quantifiable metrics. This clarity and quantifiability make strategy a seemingly more direct and manageable way to influence organisational outcomes.

Strategies often promise quicker results, which appeals to organisations, especially those under pressure from stakeholders like shareholders, board members, or the market, for immediate performance improvements.

Many leaders are trained to think in terms of strategy rather than culture. MBA programs and other leadership training often emphasise strategic planning and management, while the nuances of shaping and managing culture are less prioritised. This education and training bias leads to a focus on strategic planning and execution in professional practice. My MBA program was mostly about strategic planning. So, no wonder.

Some people strive for recognition with strategic initiatives, especially successful ones. These are more visible and likely to be recognised within and outside the organisation. Implementing a new strategy can be seen as a bold, decisive action, often more celebrated than the slow, complex process of cultivating a positive organisational culture. We did say it’s a tough nut to crack.

Then, of course, people often feel they have more control over strategy than culture. Changing or implementing a strategy can be done through executive decisions and directives, whereas changing a culture is a more nebulous, long-term process that requires the buy-in and participation of the entire organisation.

Anyone running a company will understand that changing organisational culture is a challenging and slow process that involves altering deeply ingrained behaviours and beliefs. It's often met with resistance, making leaders opt for strategic changes, which might seem easier to implement and manage.

If culture can prevail…

  • Cultural norms and values are deeply ingrained in the everyday practices of an organisation. Changing these norms is often much more challenging than altering strategic plans, but it is worth it.
  • Employees are more likely to be engaged with practices that align with the existing culture. If a strategy feels alien to the culture, it can lead to disengagement and even active resistance.
  • Culture is maintained not just through formal policies but through informal social interactions and shared experiences. This informal influence is powerful and pervasive, often overshadowing formal strategic directives.
  • Successful strategies often require adapting to the existing culture. A strategy that complements the culture is more likely to be embraced and implemented effectively.

Navigating the Clash

We can’t promise that it is easy, but here are a few points to consider while hoping that we are not teaching our grandmothers to suck eggs…

  • Before implementing new strategies, assess the current culture to understand its strengths and limitations.
  • Introducing changes in a way that allows the culture to adapt gradually.
  • Developing strategies that align with, or progressively evolve, the culture.
  • Leaders play a crucial role in modelling behaviours that align with the desired cultural shift. That is why we must start here.

But where does this leave embedding health and safety into the culture?

We have talked before about how some see health and safety as a pain in the proverbial and as a bolt-on product that they have to have. This is disappointing as it is fundamental and foundational to the safety and well-being of your employees.

Therefore, leadership's role cannot be overstated in this endeavour. Leaders are responsible for setting policies and embodying the values of health and safety in every aspect of their conduct.

The Role of Leadership

The journey towards embedding health and safety in your organisational culture begins at the top. Leaders must be the flag-bearers of safety protocols, demonstrating through their actions that the safety and well-being of every employee is a top priority. This commitment goes beyond compliance with legal standards; it's about creating an environment where safety is ingrained in the organisation's ethos, morals and ethics.

Leaders can set a positive example by actively participating in health and safety training, adhering to safety protocols themselves, and being openly and consistently vocal about the importance of health and safety. This visible commitment helps cultivate a culture where safety is respected and valued.

Where to start?

Regular Training and Updates

We believe it has to start with training. Regular training sessions refresh your knowledge and keep you informed about the best practices in health and safety.

Training should be diverse in its delivery, catering to different learning styles. From traditional workshops to interactive e-learning modules, the goal is to make safety training engaging and memorable. It's also important that these training sessions are inclusive, considering employees' different roles, responsibilities, and experiences.

Ligtas Training for Senior Executives and Directors

Ligtas recognises the critical role that senior management plays in creating a safe and healthy work environment. The training programmes are tailored to equip executives and directors with the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively lead the health and safety initiative.

Comprehensive Curriculum

The training covers a wide range of topics, including risk assessment, hazard identification, and the implementation of effective safety policies.

It emphasises the importance of communication and leadership in creating a safety-conscious culture.

Flexible Delivery Options

Ligtas understands the constraints of busy schedules. Training can be delivered over one day, half a day, or even as an intensive one-hour update. There is also an option for an IOSH accredited course in health and safety for Senior Executive and Directors.

Integrating Health and Safety into Daily Operations

Although we have waxed lyrical about culture, embedding health and safety into daily operations requires strategic planning and execution. It involves developing clear, practical policies and ensuring these are communicated effectively to all employees. However, it's not just about having policies; it's about creating systems that make it easy and natural for employees to engage in safe practices.

One effective strategy is to integrate health and safety considerations into the planning stage of all projects and operations. By doing so, safety becomes a default consideration rather than an afterthought. Regular risk assessments, safety briefings before the commencement of any project, and clear channels for reporting hazards are all integral to this process.

Aardman has a long-standing relationship with the team at Ligtas. They provide us with an extremely professional service delivered in a personal style that has engaged with our partners across all levels of the business. This approach has resulted in enthusiastic involvement where change and improvement have been required.

Tony Prescott - Head of Estates Read this case study

Encouraging Employee Participation and Feedback

A top-down approach to health and safety can only be truly effective when complemented by active employee participation. Creating channels for employees to voice their concerns, offer suggestions, and participate in safety committees empowers them and enhances the collective safety knowledge of the organisation.

Feedback mechanisms, such as regular surveys or suggestion boxes, can provide valuable insights into potential risks and areas for improvement. Celebrating safety milestones and recognising employees contributing to a safer workplace can bolster participation and commitment to health and safety practices.

And Finally

Embedding health and safety into a company's culture is an investment in the organisation's and its people's long-term safety and well-being. A safety-first culture ensures compliance, reduces the risk of accidents, and enhances overall employee morale and productivity.

In 2024 and beyond, let us commit to a culture where health and safety are not just policies but are the essence of our daily operations, led by example from the top and embraced by all.

Where Do You Want To Go Today?