A memory popped in my head on my drive in to work this morning that was inspiration for this installment. It was a reflection on how a safety management program I was involved in administrating for years, one that I had felt to be strong and getting stronger, and how that strength unraveled in the span of what felt like a couple weeks. Who was involved in eroding the positive work environment is secondary to how little effort it took a few people to pulverize the existing cultural capital, and how great an effort it takes to not only stop the assault but eventually rebuild.
In the depths of a feedback loop of workplace negativity (which happens from time to time in this business), I take refuge in the countless stories in print, film and in sports about ideas introduced that turned an overly negative work environment in culture and productivity into an exciting place to go to work where teams accomplished great feats. The stories typically unfold the same from start to finish, but it’s how the idea is built and delivered to the team to gain buy-in, and the resulting rebuild effort that piques my interest. Everyone in the workplace has a stake in the culture, and everyone needs to be on board with the plan and play their part if headway will be made.
When the needle on the culture gauge has dipped into negative territory and the responses within your workplace appears to have limited or no effect, it could be time to step outside of the echo chamber. Some sources I’ve looked to for insight include my colleagues, columns/blogs/books on workplace heath, and from loved ones. Ideological beliefs and principles, core values or prepackaged strategies of management are, at best, meaningful to owners and management as a dollar store compass of sorts to navigate broad macro-challenges tied to continual economic growth. There is real work that needs to take place that recognizes the dynamic nature of a workplace cultural health-crisis that a corporate mission statement or mantra can’t perform.
Compelling leadership to your analysis of the damage, and the ideas and/or options to respond effectively can be a challenge to put it mildly. The effort required to prepare a solid case will extend outside of business hours as workplace leaders are probably not seeking your contributions on billable time. Having access to safety performance metrics related to your portfolio is an absolute must as they are early indicators of cultural rough waters ahead. If you are not collecting data on safety performance, start today, as it is key information for the presentation of objective feedback rather than feedback of the emotional or anecdotal variety. Don’t expect your efforts to deliver a short-term rebound or that they will even be accepted in the end. The energy invested has never been wasted in my experience and has manifested in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.