Cultures Norm, Until They Can't

August 09 2021
By: Shawn M. Galloway

When you have a strong culture and there are infrequent changes to its members, the culture can norm incoming individuals on the common stories, beliefs and behaviors that are encouraged, and behaviors not allowed. However, when the tribe begins to be overloaded by an influx of new people, things are missed, forgotten. If the way work is performed or not performed has truly become cultural, thus habitual amongst the group, they may forget to share this with incoming people.

Cultures Norm, Until They Can't Recently, when visiting a site I'm coaching on their 5-year EHS strategy, the Plant Manager shared with me he had recently observed a new employee perform an unsafe behavior; a behavior that hasn't been observed in years. He said, "I thought we had gotten past this." The conversation led to the realization that this unacceptable risk had become viewed by all employees as something we would just never do. However, no one trained the new employee or even mentioned it during the entire onboarding period. No one spoke to the risks we never take anymore.

Consider obtaining the input of a mixture of tenured individuals who work in a common area or process. Gain their perspectives on the risk we should never take. As an aside, this is a great opportunity to ensure you and the workforce are aligned on the perceived acceptable vs. unacceptable risks. Then, ensure this list becomes a key discussion during onboarding and coached on to reinforce by their peers when performing the work.

"We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us." — Sir. Winston Church

Shawn M. Galloway

Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.

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