Compliance Corner: Commitment, My Favorite Core of Our Safety Program

radar gun Commitment is one of the four cores of proACTive, ACTenviro’s company safety program, and is my new favorite word. I am sure you can imagine that, operating in the arena of occupational safety and health, our culture revolves around compliance. One of my goals with proACTive is to transition us from a culture of mere compliance to one of safety commitment. I need to have a culture where people are actively caring for one another. When it comes to employees, I believe there are three kinds: non-compliant, compliant and committed: (1) Non-compliant – “I will not follow your safety rules, because I am convinced the only way to complete this project is to take risks and shortcuts.” (2) Compliant – “I will follow your safety procedures, as long as someone (a manager, a supervisor or a peer observer) is watching me. But when that person leaves, I’ll take more risks and shortcuts.” (3) Committed – “I will follow the safety procedures in the moment of choice, when nobody is watching. This is who I am.” Where do you want your culture to be? For us, the answer is obvious – we want every employee to be committed to safety, not just compliant. So, the bigger question is, how do we get our non-compliant and compliant employees to be committed to safety in that moment of choice when nobody is watching? The best way to transform workers’ attitudes toward safety might be to rethink the company management approach. We had a guest speaker, Bill Sims, author of Green Beans & Ice Cream: the Remarkable Power of Positive Reinforcement, at a team meeting in 2018. We learned from him that the management system of choice for 99 percent of companies today is what he calls “leave alone / zap!” Here’s an illustrative example: have you ever walked past a group of employees doing everything safely and said nothing to them, and then immediately said something to the first employee doing something wrong? If you answered yes, then you’ve engaged in leave alone / zap. Does leave alone/zap change behavior? You bet it does. And that’s why it’s the favorite weapon of choice for most folks. Here is an example Bill Sims shared with our team: Think about it today as you drive home, when you might be driving about 10 mph over the speed limit, along with everyone else in the pack of cars. At this point, you are non-compliant, until you see the police officer pointing his radar gun at you. What do you (and everyone else) do to avoid being “zapped” with a speeding ticket? You hit the brakes. You (and the entire pack of cars) have just graduated to being compliant with the rules that the police want you to follow, at least for a while. How long does this shift in behavior last? About 30 seconds, and then you breathe a sigh of relief as the police officer disappears from your rearview mirror. Whew – he almost got you! Now, what’s your next behavior? For most of us, we hit the gas pedal and speed back up, and once again, we become non-compliant. From this short example, it is clear that punishment, negative reinforcement and “leave alone / zap” management systems fail to produce commitment, and they fail to change worker behavior in the moment of choice, when nobody is watching. The key is to get employees committed to safety, to do the right thing in that moment of choice. More punishment and negative reinforcement will get you more compliance, but it won’t get you commitment. To truly get commitment requires something that’s rarely delivered by today’s managers and leaders: workforce engagement and positive reinforcement. At ACTenviro, we know that employees who are psychologically aligned with our mission and values will be intrinsically motivated and better performers. Stay tuned as I reveal the 2nd of our four cores in June! – Krista Wood Harsono, Director of Compliance
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