Culture is your company’s values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, and attitudes. You cannot actually see culture, except through how your people behave in the work place. As a leader you might think, ‘so what? Why does culture matter? It all just management jargon!’
Typically, I find leaders are over 20% more optimistic about what is happening in their businesses. Many assure me they have policies and procedures, and regularly run audits to meet compliance. They tell me, ‘We are all sorted! We’re on the WSMP programme and ISO accredited, so no problems.’ Well here’s an example of the impact of culture on our local fleet operators.
My business has been working in the transport and logistic industry since 2010 and over that time engaged over 3000 employees. We know the fleet operators in NZ that have a good culture are attracting great staff, are working efficiently together and are winning contracts as a result. We work with leaders to help them understand their workplace culture and make changes to mitigate risk and improve performance. Some of these activities include;
Finding out exactly what is going on in the business (measuring culture),
Getting worker participation,
Making practical step-by-step action plans,
Working with front line leaders and managers, and
Getting contractors on-board with safety.
When looking at their business what many managers misunderstand is that, having the right things and doing them is different. For example, it would be fair to say that most companies HAVE procedures for pre-start checks. However, the better question (and the one you must ask under the new Health and Safety at Work Act) is, are they consistently being DONE?
Inpact of Culture Example
My experience shows that 25% of drivers (conservatively) are not regularly doing pre-start checks. So why, when almost all know they should? Many drivers seem to believe there is no point, because even when they report faults such as a broken curtain or side mirror, they still have to drive the vehicles because the bosses value making the delivery over safety, so why should they bother to do pre-start checks.
The drivers underlying assumptions (often regardless of the intent of their manager) seems to be that having roadworthy vehicles is secondary to other business needs. In addition, they want to keep their job so would rather jump into their cab and do the trip than refuse to make the trip because the vehicle is unsafe.
It is not unusual to see policies and procedures for fleet maintenance, emergency planning, on-site contractor management, etc. as just a tick box exercise. Where this is the case it typically creates a reactive culture in the workplace, where ‘firefighting’ to manage complaints or incidents is the norm. This type of culture results in high stress for managers/owners, lots of incidents and insurance claims, and as a result good staff become hard to attract and keep.
For leaders who want know what’s really happening in the workplace and want to improve the culture, it has to be a conscious decision. Trying to change culture because you ‘say so’ or through training programmes won’t affect people’s beliefs. Here are some options you could try:
Fire a lot of people. That really shakes things up and gets change going – especially if they are replaced with new people who you hope come in with a different attitude, but in a market where staff are hard to come by that may not be a good idea.
Buy some training. This is the normal approach many take without really understanding what training they need.
Involve your people in improving things. For example, many would be better off working with staff to get the right process in place before wasting money on expensive and time consuming training. So often they want to do a good job and have the ideas to improve your business.
In 2010 we collaborated with NZI Lumley to create the Traction® Programme; to measure and change the culture of Transport and Logistic companies. Those using the programme learn what best practice looks like and measure themselves against industry standards.
Staff are involved and give their practical ideas for small and big changes, and in the process get invested in your success. Instead of being the receiving end of the change, they lead it. And because they understand the work and the current systems and processes, they have ideas on the best way to implement the changes needed to support the new culture and business strategies.
This programme addresses many of the changes in our new Health and Safety at Work act, and deliver practical and measurable returns.
“The Traction® Programme enabled our company to gain a good grasp of our Health and Safety standards as well as to reveal the attitudes within our business. The feedback provided positive ideas from the staff to improve performance.”
Craig Harris (LG Anderson Transport)
I will leave you with this final thought, ‘the costs of having a reactive culture isn’t a line on the balance sheet but the cost is nonetheless real. Should you decide to improve your company culture, you will find The Hidden Profit Centre. Choosing Option 3, understanding and changing behaviours and attitudes will not be easy, but then anything worthwhile having seldom is.’