Quality of leadership can make all the difference to the standard of safety in any organization, writes Dr. Marcus Cattani.
If your business has safety performance problems turning the organization around can be a tough task. Firstly, you often have to give change a kickstart – create some urgency and overcome the inertia of entrenched habit and routine.
Then you have to deal with the complexity of operating processes, technology, equipment, regulation, organizational culture and of course the most complex of all factors – your people.
Leaders who are planning a journey of improvement need to start with a clear idea of exactly what kind of organisation they are building and design a change program to suit.
In its most simple form, an organization comprises its leadership team, its people and its systems. The way these key factors interact distinguishes your business from its competitors and creates the complexity you need to manage in order to succeed on your improvement journey.
“Leaders who are planning a journey of improvement need to start with a clear idea of exactly what kind of organisation they are building and design a change program to suit.”Dr Marcus Cattani
What’s Your Organisation Type?
The Stuntman Organisation
Characteristics We all love a stuntman – charismatic, skillful and a little bit crazy. They will do things others avoid, so they are expert at managing risk – but Stuntmen rarely die of old age! The Stuntman organisation has an Achilles’ heel: a subtle weakness which is managed most of the time, but when it goes wrong there may be a catastrophe. In reality the Stuntman organisation is led by an entrepreneur who may be successful, but only after their fourth or fifth attempt. But there are many Stuntman organisations who fail catastrophically on the first, second or third time! On the way to success, the Stuntman has broken every bone in his body and is a wreck, but still smiling. The organisation thinks it is managing incident risk well, but when incidents occur remarks such as “where the hell did that come from?” are common. The real cause is more likely to be poor reporting, complacency, measuring the wrong thing, or ineffective management of change.
Leadership Its leaders are inspirational; they have presence, they are loved, their people are ‘followers’. They appear to be comfortable and calm, but they are tough. With vision and decision the Stuntman leader has the potential to rise to the heights of the organisation. The problem is managing their Achilles’ heel; they may decide a path for the organisation which is slightly too high risk, and they can fail dramatically. Stuntmen leaders are defined by their ‘considered’ risk taking and therefore need a trusted team of advisors to guide them away from arrogance or complacency; likely candidates for their Achilles’ heel!
People Stuntmen organisations are full of motivated, competent and willing people. When well-led the Stuntman organisation overtakes others rapidly. Their people are inspired and willing to do high-risk work for their leaders, because they know it makes sense for the greater good. Unfortunately despite their enthusiasm, risk-takers operating in a high-risk environment often have a high risk of an incident.
Systems Stuntman systems are precise and concise, effective and efficient at controlling risk. The systems must be maintained as these organisations move so fast that the system can quickly become ineffective, increasing risk.
The ‘Firefighter’ Organisation
Characteristics of a firefighter organisation
This organisation is struggling to make a difference to its performance, including safety. There are always problems and just when it looks like things are getting better something else happens. The team believes it is as good at fighting fires (i.e. solving problems) as it is at running its real business.
Leaders in these organisations may need to be trained to delegate and manage, so they don’t get involved in everything. The leadership team or the whole organisation may be under-resourced, and need some additional help to change the way things are done (i.e. the culture).
The people in a firefighting organisation may be a bit on edge or frustrated, possibly feeling like something is about to happen, or amazed at how the organisation keeps going despite all its problems. Some team-building and shared problem-solving can make all the difference.
Systems are probably not worth the paper they are written on; out of date; not what actually happens; never reviewed or audited. A review of how the organisation functions is essential.
The ‘Gambler’ Organisation
With some unrealistic long term goals, and short term goals that have little chance of being successful, this organisation is on a journey to disaster. Risk is going up and up. The Gambler keeps going without looking for indicators of performance or learning from past mistakes. Despite poor performance these organisations somehow keep going longer than anyone predicted, possibly getting into financial or legal problems. These organisations are fuelled by optimism which on the surface appears attractive: keep away!
Leadership is either absent or ineffective. ‘Gambler’ leaders want to be one of the lads as that’s where they came from, which doesn’t help anyone. Frequently over-optimistic about their ability, these leaders avoid being a leader and get involved in their team’s jobs, leaving their real tasks until ‘tomorrow’. These leaders and the organisation that put them there are ‘unconsciously incompetent’, in other words, the world is a wonderful place and nothing can go wrong. These leaders need to be trained in the basics!
When you ask employees if they feel safe they say “no”. There is an informal approach to work. Sometimes informal teams evolve and work out how to survive, independent of their leader. People wonder what they are doing working for the organisation, and turnover is often high as people lose confidence in the leadership.
This type of organisation downloads its systems from the internet, or has obtained them from a mate, changed a few names, and left them on the shelf. Any systems that do exist are unlikely to be implemented. A Gambler leader (true story) said to me, when I asked about his systems, “it’s all in my head, mate, I’ve been doing this for 25 years”.
The ‘Policeman’ Organisation
These organisations show a concerted effort to manage risk but the effort is directed in the wrong place. The organisation is acting like a speed trap; it expects everyone to comply forever because they have been fined once. This type of business has generally started compliance to the legislation, started a safety management plan, started people engagement and so on, but these initiatives are not working effectively or consistently yet.
Leaders in a Policeman Organisation take a strongly directive approach; often without providing coaching or guidance, and frequently applying penalties. These leaders are often called “old school” and may not have much knowledge or interest in their impact on the workforce. They may demand “respect” rather than earn it from their team members, although senior leaders will praise them for their productivity. Some “one-on-one” coaching from a peer is a good way to help this leader better manage their team.
Knowing the boss is a stickler for procedure and control may provide some team members with a feeling of security, while others may rebel against their prescriptive operational style. Employees often do their own thing and simply modify their behaviour when the boss is around. This leads to risk-taking, unwritten rules, and incidents.
There are probably lots of procedures which were written when things went wrong before. People are expected to comply with them all, possibly leading to a ‘tick and flick’ (i.e. waste of time) response from the workforce. Engaging the workforce to update and roll out new systems will help make a positive change.
Dr Marcus Cattani
Dr. Cattani is one of Australia’s leading occupational health and safety specialists.
Dr. Marcus Cattani has worked as an academic, occupational hygienist, HSE Manager and consultant in the chemical, manufacturing, engineering and resources industries since 1988. Marcus is passionate about improving the management of injury risk to an acceptable level, and assisting organizations develop the risk management partnerships required to achieve this. Dr. Cattani’s research focusses on the development of educational materials to assist organisations understand and manage risk, and, the development of processes to measure risk.
Marcus is the Chair of the WA Branch of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety, a member of the ECU Sustainability in Education Committee, attends the Chamber of Minerals and Energy OSH Committee, sits on the ECU Vice-Chancellors HSE Awards Committee, and the School OHS Committee.