The Future of Safety is Why-Based

Simon Marshall

In recent years, many people have become dissatisfied with the amount of energy and effort spent on safety, which increasingly doesn’t generate the performance expected. It often seems like we are continuing to put more and more in, and are getting less and less out. The more we focus on the deficit, the larger it seems to be. In fact, there is a growing feeling that the way safety is being managed can create a drain on overall performance, sometimes even making safety worse.

Where most current approaches to safety focus is on eliminating “negatives”, Why-Based Safety is a positive and inspiring approach, evoking effective safety leadership focused on harvesting what is going right and building on it. It is about connecting with people in a very human and personal way, understanding what really matters most to them, what challenges they face and building from there.

Why-Based Safety starts with three core ideas:

Keep Safety Connected with the organisation’s Why (the company’s higher purpose, cause or belief; the very reason it exists). This will naturally unleash passion, innovation and care. Although it is still popular around to world to say so, safety is not the top priority, not job #1, and not the single most important thing that organisations pay attention to every day. Safety however is an enabler of a company’s purpose, which is always rooted in serving others and in this way is a critical ‘How’ an organisation fulfils on it’s ‘Why’. It is entirely inconsistent to have a Why in service of and contributing positively to others (customers, the public, etc.) whilst harming your people. When we lose this perspective, and try and make safety the centre of the world of work, we make work unproductive, and paradoxically, less safe. However, when people are viscerally connected to the company’s Why, they experience a great sense of fulfilment and accomplishment and become both more productive and safe.

Let People Be the Solution, not a problem to be solved or managed. By connecting with people and creating a genuine condition of trust, and care, people will naturallychoose to follow policies and procedures.  When provided with the right support, we all will adapt, learn and grow…becoming more safe and productive in our work. The reverse of this idea, which is all too common, is the perspective that people are unable to work safely on their own, and thus need rules and procedures, systems and processes to keep them under control. When something goes wrong, it’s because “somebody somewhere didn’t do what they were supposed to do.” The compulsion to create more control, especially following an incident, leads to more rules and procedures to be added on top of the existing rules and procedures creating the potential for work to become “unworkable.” We believe there is a better way where policies and procedures are fully in service of enabling people rather than restricting or trying to control them.

Build on Strengths – In most high-risk work environments today, safety is still measured by the absence of negatives, a sum of the total days missed from work or recordable injuries. However, by playing to people’s natural strengths of noticing when things just ‘don’t feel right’, or being aware of when policies and procedures no longer fully cover the changing conditions and then intervening, are the keys to all for us to stay safe.

Catching something in the process of going wrong, not after it has gone wrong, is the key to creating safe work. At their best, people are highly innovative and resilient, and we believe that increasing these capabilities is the key to the next generation of safety. From the perspective of Why- Based Safety, safety is the presence of positives –  people doing more and more of the right things.

Why-Based Safety draws from Simon Sinek’s ground-breaking Start With Why movement, which is spreading rapidly as a result of its simplicity and basis in human biology. The approach is also based on the latest safety science thinking, drawing from Sidney Dekker, Erik Hollnagel, and the Safety Differently lab.

We’re interested in your views as to how safety is positioned in your organisation, is it primarily focused on stopping bad things happening or enabling more of the good things we all want? Is your organisation’s Why clear and compelling and how connected are you and your people to it? Please let us know….

Why-Based Safety is a service of WhyNot Partnering, an organisation that works globally and was established to help organisations create breakthroughs in both safety and performance.

About
Simon is the author of Why-Based Organisational Development and WhyNot’s Leadership Curriculum, and has extensive experience in leadership development, cultural and organisational change and executive coaching.

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