Why-Based Safety: 4 Steps to Get Started

Rick Strycker

Why-Based Safety: 4 Steps to Get Started

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of a five-part series examining safety in the workplace and how context shapes behaviours, beliefs and actions.

5 of 5 dots

In our last article, we told you the story of how one company’s project was halted, legal implications were not far away and productivity and morale had reached a low – all because the implications of beliefs surrounding safety were not fully understood.

The primary disconnect on this project was that one of the groups believed that perfect safety was the reason for the project and the other group believed that getting the project done on time was the reason. They were both partially right and partially wrong. Once they got clear about the owner’s view of the project, and connected with what was important to all of them (quality, safety, performance), they could begin working together again.

Reflecting on our work with this company, there were a few steps that we provided that got the teams working again, and which are repeatable with any company struggling with this issue or with other similar ones:

  1. Discovery – The first step was to listen deeply to what is going on, not to take sides, but to understand where they are stuck.  We listened for commitment (explicit and implicit). We listened for what really matters to people beneath any particular position they seem to be taking, including the frustration they are feeling and expressing. This foundation of listening created a grounded view of reality from which we could make suggestions about how to move things forward in a productive way.
  2. Create a Shared View of Current Reality – After Discovery, there was a much deeper understanding of the issues, expectations (both met and unmet) and commitments at play in the project. This step often includes putting a report together, but what is most important is that leaders are willing to talk openly about themselves, about their perceptions of each other, and about their relationship to the project’s success factors. During this step, we test the appetite for change, and choose what specific work is most important in order to ensure the project is safe and productive at the same time.
  3. Build a Shared Future – amongst the primary players. This starts with a session to fully discover the project’s Why, its purpose, its mission and the sense of possibility that was present in the beginning. This is followed by the tough conversations required to ensure everyone listens and hears all perspectives, and then coming up with real solutions that will move the project forward.
  4. Coaching Support – This ensures the commitments made in the above step will remain in existence for the duration of the project and that there is some assurance people will not fall back into the same storylines that almost put them out of business.

The work didn’t end with everybody thinking exactly alike or agreeing about every detail of project execution. But it did result in people engaging in one conversation about the project, about their Why, and hence, what they were doing there in the first place. From this sense of alignment, a center of gravity was formed around how the project’s success can be built upon. The most important result was that the key people on the project’s leadership team stopped sabotaging each other and starting looking for ways to help each other win. Without this context of a shared purpose, the project would almost certainly fall back into fragmentation – and nonperformance.

Given where things were at the beginning of the work, it was not predictable that this project team would right itself, and complete the project successfully. It was more likely that the construction manager would be fired, or possibly even the project manager. At the rate that incidents were increasing, it was also getting more likely that a serious incident would occur. Or, I was told by a senior executive who was watching over the project, that if things didn’t turn around pretty quickly, they would pull the plug on the project altogether.

WhyNot Partnering is designed to address situations just like this, or those where people have come up to their limits and need a breakthrough. In our work, we understand that breakthroughs most often occur when people get motivated to go beyond their limited beliefs and mindsets and cause something to happen that wasn’t predictable. Why-based Safety is about returning safety to its rightful place, in support of a company’s real purpose, its Why. As such, safety supports the real priorities of the business, and only becomes the priority itself in those instances when safety and production collide.

Why-Based Safety is a service of WhyNot Partnering, an organisation that works globally and was established to help organisations create breakthroughs in performance by connecting with purpose and enabling people to be and do their best work. Please click here to follow us on LinkedIn, to hear more about our work.

Rick is an organisational psychologist with expertise in personal and organisational transformation, leadership development, ontological design, strategy, assessment and diagnostics, and executive coaching.

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