Workplace Safety Culture: First, Focus on Shared Identity

Dialing in an H2, is it easy?

It was 2003 and I was three weeks into taking the helm of a moving company and the department of transportation was about to shut us down.  The company had received a horrible audit six months prior and nothing had changed. I begged the auditor to give us a few more weeks to become compliant and instill a new (legal) way of doing things.  For safety reasons, truck drivers are only allowed to drive 11 hours in a 24-hour period.  The last thing you want is for a truck driver to fall asleep at the wheel.

I discovered our guys were often driving 18+ hours non-stop.

And that was just one of many habitual violations.  I had 21 days to get this turned around and it wasn’t promising.

I knew I needed to create not only sustainable adherence to the rules and processes by the current team, but have the current team champion “the new way” with incoming team members.  I also knew workplace safety training videos, carrots and sticks, and “change management” would all be useless without real deal team buy-in.  I needed safety to enmesh with their shared identity and team pride.

What I didn’t know was the shared machismo I would face.  The movers took pride in going “above and beyond.”  They enjoyed the adrenaline hit and bragging rights of racing the clock. I was the new “boss lady” with no prior moving or truck driving experience. When I first broached the need to follow the DOT regulations, I not only got eyerolls, I got directly dissed – especially by the influencers on the team, the ones everyone looked up to for their strength and knowledge.

So, I dug deep.  I gathered both my courage and my crew and asked them to give me a chance.  I asked them to give me five minutes of their full attention.  The room got quiet.

First, I spoke to my lack of industry experience and my inability to fully understand what it’s like to be a mover.  Then I praised my crew for their incredible commitment to our company and willingness to go above and beyond. I spoke briefly to the top three regulatory requirements we had to meet. I mentioned how we wouldn’t have a company to come to if we didn’t change.

Then I stated, with heavy pauses and direct eye contact:

“We have a choice.
You have a choice and I have a choice.
And I choose you.
Because while yes, we want to exceed customer expectations and yes, I want this company to succeed, more than anything I want you to be safe.
You are fathers, husbands and sons.
You are loved.
You are needed.
This is more important than beating any clock.
So is not having the blood of someone else’s child on your hands.
To allow your fellow crew member to break the rules is to allow him to risk his life and the lives of others.
And for what?  A move?
I’m asking for your help.  I can’t do this alone.
I need all of you to step up, stand up and join me in this effort.
We have 21 days, and the rest of our lives.
Can I count on you?”

They got it.  They stepped up.  And within 21 days, we created a culture conducive to workplace safety.

The machismo still existed, but bragging rights were about loyalty to the rules, not to breaking them.   Because masked behind the rules was love for oneself, one’s family and for one another.

To learn how to create more shared identity to support workplace safety, grab a copy of Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace. Also available on Amazon.

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With Culture Works in your hands you’ll know exactly how, and what to do to manage your workplace culture.
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