OHS - December 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway
Have you ever worked for someone you didn't trust? How motivated were you to give your best? Conversely, when you maintained unshakable trust in your leader and peers, how much discretionary effort did you provide?
Trust is the glue that keeps relationships (personal and professional) together, cultures healthy, and enables the ability to accomplish astonishing results. Like healthy relationships, trust between people typically forms slowly, over time, based on consistent experienced behaviors of other individuals. But with a few inconsistencies, trust can be destroyed.
Figure 1. Positive, Consistent Behavior Over Time Equals Trust
With new leaders or new employees, even if the leader's behaviors are consistent, employees may not trust them yet, but will trust their actions. If the leader is inconsistent, employees will trust neither the leader nor their actions. If the leader consistently behaves in a manner viewed as positive, the trust employees have for the leader will grow over time. This formula, PCB over T (Positive, Consistent Behavior Over Time), equals Trust (see Figure 1). If the leader's behavior is consistently negative, employees won't like them but might sparingly trust them. Employees won't like or trust the leader if their behavior is inconsistent and negative.
It Just Takes One
A public service client wanted to understand what had led to a culture of toxicity in one of their large service areas, which had previously been one of the most desired areas to work in. One example was that disciplinary offenses for behavior that had been the norm for decades were on the rise. As a result, employees were retaliating against management. A union official even hired a private investigator to "find dirt" on one of the leaders to use against him at work and home.
What led to this? Primarily, it was the new leader who came from a career in labor relations and, unfortunately, developed a deeply rooted mistrust for organized labor and their elected officials. This coupled with an inability to clearly communicate expectations of behaviors and results, and a propensity to publicly discipline first and ask questions later when expectations were not met.
A strong culture of trust was destroyed in six months due to one individual and their leadership style. The service area became known throughout the organization as a place you never want to work in, union or management. I've never seen a group punished into excellence or sustainable improvements in performance and culture despite consistent undesirable leadership behaviors. Once the leader left, the process of facilitating healing began, and today it has again become one of the most desirable areas in the group, based on the new leadership's consistently positive behavior over time.
In a recent meeting with a manufacturing client, now one year into executing against their five-year safety excellence strategy led by the new plant manager, the EHS manager shared, "I've been a part of numerous companies that have taken approaches to improve the safety culture, and I've never seen culture change happen so fast." He then shared the results from a meeting the previous day between supervision and management to learn their perceptions about why they believe 2023 is their best year in safety. The first of three themes (what is different this year) shared in that meeting was the significant increase in the number of safety discussions and interactions now occurring daily between supervisors and individual employees.
The plant manager then spoke about the conversations he's had recently with new employees. The second theme was provided by new employees who shared the surprising consistency in safety messaging they experienced at all levels of leadership. The EHS manager then offered the final theme: the consistent and significant difference he's witnessed in his experiences with and continued support received from the new plant leader. All three developing themes exemplify the importance of consistent positive behavior over time.
Consider assessing the experiences of a sampling of individuals at all levels within your organization. Learn what behaviors are observed and perceived as positive and consistent, and which are negative and inconsistent, or worse, negative and consistent. Like trust and discretionary effort, culture is a byproduct. What experiences are shaping your safety culture?
Shawn M. Galloway is the CEO of ProAct Safety and co-author of several bestselling books. As an award-winning consultant, adviser, leadership coach and keynote speaker, he has helped hundreds of organizations within every major industry to improve safety strategy, culture, leadership and engagement. He is also the host of the highly acclaimed weekly podcast series Safety Culture Excellence®.
For more information, call (936) 273-8700 or email info@ProActSafety.com.