A business dilemma: incidents, culture and leadership

A business dilemma: incidents, culture and leadership

In this article Marcus Cattani describes some of the organisational issues associated with preventing workplace harm and then offer a solution comprising 5 steps.

Professor Patrick Hudson’s talks (YouTube links) provide excellent guidance on the prevention of injuries through leadership, culture and organisational change. He summarises the components which contribute to an effective organisational culture: Leadership; Respect; Informed; Mindful; Just and Fair; Learning. As these components are embedded, an organisation will gradually move up the cultural maturity ‘ladder’. The first step takes the organisation from a ‘pathological’ culture to a ‘reactive’ one, then upwards to ‘calculative’, ‘proactive’, and finally the highest level, a ‘generative’ culture.

This is all good stuff. But what does it mean to you? I suppose it all depends on the culture of the organisation you are working in, particularly if you are not at the top of the ladder. Hudson says whilst every organisation he knows wants to move up the ladder it is “More difficult to improve than most imagine”.

The reason it is so difficult is somewhat a leadership dilemma which Hudson hints at: leaders are the catalyst for the culture so the organisational culture is a reflection of their leadership. If things go wrong, the leadership should have a look at themselves to determine if the problems were caused by them, and if they were they need to work out how to prevent things getting worse. This may involve some difficult decisions.

I visualise these factors in a cycle of either continuous improvement or towards an inevitable ‘trigger’ event*. The cycle is:

  • an organisation wants to avoid trigger events;
  • the leadership team manages the organisation, including its leaders;
  • culture is an outcome of leadership;
  • trigger events happen because of the culture;
  • the leadership team must reflect on the culture to prevent more trigger events.

(*Note: A trigger event is the undesirable outcome of ineffective controls which causes the business to change its behaviour eg: an injury).

All organisations operate in this cycle which may result in:

  • a decreasing level of risk of a trigger event which enables them to move up the ladder as they must have the necessary components in place;
  • a plateauing risk of a trigger event creates performance frustration which itself creates a need for change;
  • an increasing risk of a trigger event which is likely to drop them down the ladder, most likely resulting in more trigger events.

So, it follows that the ‘difficulty to improve’ could be due to two causes:

  • when leadership does not perceive a need for change (i.e. they accept the current level of risk); or;
  • if there have not been events which were perceived as significant enough to initiate change.

Whilst you have a think about the level of risk, leadership and culture in your organisation, I will offer a five step solution to break the cycle:

  1. Educate your leaders in basic injury risk management as this will assist them to understand whether the risk of injury is acceptable or not;
  2. Set a series of standards which define the acceptable level of risk in the business;
  3. Make the leadership team personally accountable for ensuring the standards are in place;
  4. Provide the leadership team with leadership skills, in particular how to comply with the legislation, communicate and engage with employees, and manage a project.
  5. Now if they detect an ‘unacceptable’ level of risk they will work with the employees to manage it to an acceptable level.

This information has been taken from The Journey Program. The Journey Program is a series of leadership tools wrapped in a risk communication framework which assists organisations manage the level of injury risk to an acceptable level, even if they haven’t had a significant event. The Journey Program is available in a series of formats including competency based training, participation workshops or as a self contained package for consultants and organisations. A team of Journey Program consultants are available to assist organisations manage risk.

Marcus Cattani is the author of The Journey Program and would like to hear from you or read your comments.