Recently, The Phylmar Group’s Mark Katchen, worked with a client looking to acquire a small business of about 65 employees. In his tour of the facility, he was struck by two things:
- The company didn’t have many written programs that supported safety and health regulatory compliance
- It had a great safety record and hands on safety training
Mark had a positive first impression of the business- he felt that it had an empathetic and caring culture. The business had hired former gang members to help educate and support them in their pursuit for better lives and Mark noticed that there was open communication between supervisors and employees. Employees’ relatives were hired, which seem to boost in-house accountability.
The strong company culture was palpable and Mark realized that it started at the top. Since the company’s leader had owned it for more than four decades, he considered his employees as extended family. It was clear that his employees’ well-being was important.
Mark was reminded of when former Secretary of Treasury Paul O’Neill was the CEO of Alcoa. His strategy to fix Alcoa’s ailing financial performance and company culture was to focus on improving its workplace safety. He set a goal to have zero injuries. To implement it, O’Neill inserted himself in the investigation of any severe injures holding the management team accountable. This included reporting the injury to O’Neill within 24 hours of the incident.
In The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, he explains that to make that 24-hour deadline of contacting O’Neill, the vice presidents had to hear about the accident right when it happened. In order for them to do that, they needed to constantly be communicating with their floor managers. Since the floor managers didn’t want to get on O’Neill’s radar, they needed to communicate better with their workers and encourage them to speak up and document when they saw any issues. Therefore, if anything ever happened and the unit presidents had to submit a plan to O’Neill, there was already a box started full of suggestions.
O’Neill successfully improved a large company’s lines of communication across all levels with a simple goal to improve workplace safety by committing to zero accidents. Everyone had to work together to talk about both problems and potential solutions. The outcome was that not only did Alcoa improve their safety records, but quality and productivity improved as well.
Mark says that the 65-employee company was small and felt like family with an underlying feeling that top management truly cared about their employees’ safety. He says that the message among fellow employees was clear, “You’re part of my family. I don’t want you to get hurt”.
These are the lessons that can be learned from this example:
- Employees notice and respond to what seems important to their supervisors
- Daily communication with supervisors about workplace safety can be as simple as making a plan to attend classroom safety training or watching a safety video relative to the job.
- A sense of empathy goes a long way with employees and increases the ability to stay current on safety compliance standards.
- Establishing a culture of caring, encouraging employees to be accountable for their behaviors.
The challenge for a medium or large company is imparting this strong sense of caring to a large, often geographically diverse, workforce. This requires leaders that will personally champion workplace safety.
Think about ways to train your leaders on the benefits of establishing a strong safety culture thereby improving the overall well-being of your company. Perhaps add safety topics to meeting agendas, update leaders on ongoing accident investigations, and perform regular safety audits. Equip supervisors with ongoing resource materials (like safety tips) to use in training.
How do you make your large company feel like a small family?