Lesson 6: Building a Culture

Lesson 6: Building a Culture

The leader is most effective when he or she has the ability to make a task for a follower
meaningful. The task of building a culture of continuous quality improvement in the workplace is likely the most important responsibility of a leader in today ’ s work environment. A central part of quality improvement is a culture of workplace safety and health.

Culture is a combination of the learned beliefs, values, rules, and symbols that are common to a group of people. Kotter and Heskett (1992) describe how strong cultures can have powerful consequences because they enable groups to become proactive in the way they deal with problems confronting the group. Strong cultures also result in most of the managers in a business sharing a set of relatively consistent values and methods of completing work. Hickman (1998) argues that a corporate culture that pushes positive change understands the value of the individuals and the processes that create change. These companies truly believe in their workers and respect their customers, and it shows every day in the way top management acts in the workplace.
They demonstrate a performance – enhancing culture that takes pride in its workers and customers and would never do anything to hurt either group. These companies take the extra step necessary to produce goods and services with zero defects and zero negative consequences for their workers in the production process.
OSHA (2009c) states that the creation of a strong safety culture has the greatest impact on accident reduction of any intervention in any type of workplace. In this type of culture, all employees feel an obligation to immediately report unsafe working conditions and behaviors to their immediate supervisor. Workplace leaders have convinced these employees that reporting potentially unsafe behavior is not only appropriate but will be respected and rewarded.
According to OSHA (2009c), the safety culture can be nurtured by a number of factors:

  • Management and employee norms, assumptions, and beliefs
  • Management and employee attitudes
  • Values
  • Policies and procedures
  • Supervisor priorities, responsibilities, and accountability
  • Production and bottom – line pressures versus quality issues
  • Actions or lack of actions to correct unsafe behaviors
  • Employee training and motivation
  • Employee involvement or buy – in

When these factors are present they can develop and nurture a thick culture, that is, a culture that is widespread and found throughout most of the organization, and that supports the goals of a safe and healthy workplace. A company that encourages the practice of these factors in the workplace creates a culture of excellence that will not tolerate workers ’ suffering injury or illness while at work.
OSHA (2009c) has also identified three basic elements of a safety and health culture:

  1. All individuals within the organization believe they have a right to a safe and
    healthy workplace.
  2.  Each person accepts personal responsibility for ensuring his or her own safety
    and health.
  3. Everyone believes he or she has a duty to protect the safety and health of others.
    The interesting thing about companies with this type of culture is that as they continue
    to grow and prosper because of their culture, they inspire other companies to do the same. The culture is capable of determining the values that the company holds. The company that is successful in embedding the concept of workplace safety in its culture will see fewer risk – taking behaviors in its place of work. This proactive development of a safety culture will usually result in low accident rates, low turnover, low absenteeism, and high productivity. It will also result in higher profits. A portion of the higher profits can be returned to the proactive employees as a bonus, which will motivate other employees to value safety in the workplace.

According to OSHA (2009c), workplace leaders can further the expansion of the safety culture by naming a safety director, investigating accidents immediately, and providing constant training in the relevant areas of safety for all employees, including managers. There is no reason why this type of thick culture cannot be expanded to address all sources of workplace injuries and illnesses including workplace violence, impaired employees, and workers with communicable and chronic diseases. The catalyst for the development and expansion of workplace wellness programs may very well be the inclusion of these programs in the new culture of the workplace.

Keyton (2005) points out that problem solving may be the starting point for the formation of a thick culture. Formal or informal leaders can help worker groups become active in solving workplace problems. Positive experiences with using their expertise to reduce or eliminate workplace injuries will allow the workers in these groups to begin to accept these solutions as normative. New workers then become accepting of these solutions when they are expressed as norms by more senior workers during new worker orientation programs.

Keyton (2005) also suggests that the culture of an organization forms through a process of successful interaction during which the culture is assimilated by everyone in the workplace. This interaction is a learning and teaching experience for workers on how the process of work is accomplished. The leader of the interaction needs to obtain commitment from the workers to a shared set of values. This attempt at culture formation will work only if all workplace members are part of the process. Participation must be voluntary and be a result of the workers buying into the leader ’ s vision of a safe workplace for all workers. It is a continuous process that will never end because there will always be room for improvement in the work process.

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